Post the violent June 15 Galwan Valley clashes, India has shown the confidence of standing solo against China in any future border dispute despite the United States’ offer of forming a Quad alliance against Beijing, a Europe-based think tank said.
Since the clashes in Eastern Ladakh, several negotiations between India and China have taken place. Though they have yielded some results as troops of both countries started pulling back in some of the disputed sectors, Chinese troops are still present in the Depsang Plains region, Gogra, and the Fingers region along the Pangong Tso.
“In the initial phase of disengagement at Pangong Tso, the Chinese moved back from Finger 4 to Finger 5, but continued with their deployment on the ridge line. India is insisting that China move back from Finger 5 to its old position on the Finger 8 spur. In the face of repeated demands by the Chinese negotiators that India move its troops back from the forward areas, India has refused to consider any de-escalation until the disengagement process through the withdrawal of Chinese intrusions is complete,” the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) said in its commentary.
“Just like in Doklam in 2017, the firmness and resolve displayed by the Indian political and military leadership in the face of the Chinese transgressions have surprised China,” the think tank said.
Citing a recent report by the Indian Defence Ministry, EFSAS said, “While engagement and dialogue at military and diplomatic level are continuing to arrive at a mutually acceptable consensus, the present standoff is likely to be prolonged.”
In other words, both countries are prepared to “dig in for the winter despite the harsh climatic conditions that prevail at such high altitudes. India has mounted a massive logistics and stocking exercise similar to what it does every year to retain its hold over the even more unwelcoming Siachen glacier”.
This preparedness by India shows that it is strong enough to counter any serious confrontation at the border despite China offering a lucrative offer of focusing on improvement of the bilateral relations instead of the border issue.
“There has been an argument in Indian public opinion on the boundary question, which worries me, suggesting the Indian government adjust its policy towards China, and change its stance on issues related to Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and the South China Sea to put pressure on China…(Both sides need to) correctly analyse and view each other’s strategic intentions and prevent misinterpretation and miscalculation in a positive, open and inclusive attitude,” Sun Weidong, Chinese Ambassador to India was quoted as saying at a webinar on ‘India-China Relations: The Way Forward’ organised on July 30.
He further said, “The purpose of clarification of Line of Actual Control (LAC) is to maintain peace and tranquillity. When we look back into history, if one side has unilaterally stated its own perception on the LAC during the negotiations, then that will lead to disputes. That is why this process cannot…move on. I think that this is a departure from the original purpose.”
“The important thing is that we must follow those agreements and continue our discussion and consultation along the diplomatic channels and also among corps commanders, and also find out a way to de-escalate the situation and restore peace and tranquillity,” he added.
According to EFSAS, “China has periodically been needling India at the border and routinely violating agreements reached between the two sides to maintain peace and tranquillity there, India has now been bitten enough times to realise the futility, even counter-productivity, of dealing with the border issue in isolation.”
“Despite the temptation to take the easy road proposed by the Chinese, India believes that it is now resolute and strong enough to sustain a serious confrontation at the border in order to secure the future from unpredictable and unprovoked acts of aggression by China,” the think tank added.
“India realises as well the potential serious consequences of a Chinese intrusion that goes out of hand, as the one on June 15 in Galwan well-nigh did,” the commentary stated.
“While India hopes that the current standoff will be resolved through dialogue, it has also left little doubt about its preparedness for conflict escalation in order to safeguard its territory. It may, therefore, be the optimal option for India and China to work out a mutually acceptable solution that involves a face-saving Chinese exit. Russia, as India’s traditional partner and China’s newfound ally, could potentially play a useful role in hammering this out,” it said.
Meanwhile, several offers of “help” from the US to India have been made since the Galwan clashes.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was quoted as saying, during a Congressional hearing on July 30, “They talk about bringing socialism with Chinese characteristics to the world. Claims that they have now made for real estate in Bhutan, the incursion that took place in India, these are indicative of Chinese intentions, and they are testing, they are probing the world to see if we are going to stand up to their threats and their bullying.”
“I am more confident than I was a year ago that the world is prepared to do that. There is a lot more work to do and we need to be serious about it. Our diplomatic efforts are working and momentum is building to mitigate the threats that the Chinese Communist Party presents,” he said.
Proposing a new alliance to counter China, Pompeo said, “Our Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) — the US, Australia, India, and Japan — has been reinvigorated. We have worked hard at this. Our diplomats have done wonderful work. I am very proud of the progress we are making.”
“The challenge of China demands exertion, energy from democracies — those in Europe, those in Africa, those in South America, and especially those in the Indo-Pacific region,” he further said.
Earlier this week, Chairman and Ranking Democrat Member Eliot Engel and Ranking Republican Member Michael McCaul wrote on behalf of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs to India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar saying that they wanted to demonstrate the strong bipartisan support for the India-US relationship.
“Members of both parties recognise the impact that a strong US-India partnership will have on the trajectory of the 21st century. As Prime Minister Modi said in February this year, our ties ‘are no longer just another partnership. It is a far greater and closer relationship’. This closer relationship is all the more important as India faces aggression from China along your shared border, which is part of the Chinese government’s consistent pattern of unlawful and belligerent territorial aggression across the Indo-Pacific. The United States will remain steadfast in support of India’s efforts to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the letter read.
Citing another instance of US trying to woo India, EFSAS said, “In early July, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows stressed that the US will continue to stand strong in the ongoing conflict between India and China. He alleged that no one in China’s periphery was safe from Chinese aggression.”
On July 2, Republican Senator Rick Scott wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying, “Communist China believes that in order for them to be strong, America, India and other freedom-loving countries must be weaker. They are cracking down on freedom and autonomy in Hong Kong, and continue to threaten Taiwan and India. As you continue to stand against Communist China and General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi (Jinping), I want to offer help in any way I can to the Republic of India, the world’s largest democracy and our ally. The United States will always defend our allies and those fighting for freedom.”
Instead of accepting the US’ help, India has maintained that it will not join the US and other countries who have been victims of China’s aggressive behaviour unless pushed to the brink.
The EFSAS quoted Jaishankar at a virtual conference held on July 20, “Non-alignment was a term of a particular era and geopolitical landscape. One aspect was independence, which remains a factor of continuity for us.”
“The consequence of repositioning of the United States, that the big umbrella is now smaller than it used to be, has allowed many other countries to play more autonomous roles. It does not affect us as much because we were never part of an alliance system and we will never be. But countries who depended more on the US are finding they have to take a call themselves on many issues,” he said.
The EFSAS stated that the US should move “beyond general assurances of standing by India and spelt out exactly what it was willing to offer to attract India enough to take the plunge and the risk” of aligning with forces against China.