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Indian Army top brass discuss threats from China, Pakistan

New Delhi: Amid border standoff with China, the Indian Army held a commanders’ conference led by General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Thursday to review the operational situation at the border with China and Pakistan. Indian Army Commanders’ Conference is an apex level biannual event, which formulates important policy decisions through collegiate deliberations.

The conference was attended by senior officers of the Army including the vice chief of the army staff, all commanders, principal staff officers (PSOs) of the Army Headquarters and other senior officers.

In the two-day conference, the Army top brass discussed the current position of Chinese People’s Liberation Army positions in disputed areas at Gogra, Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang at Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.

China has enhanced troops, artillery and armour deployment in three sectors of Line of Actual Control — western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) sectors.

A year after the Galwan valley clash in Eastern Ladakh, China is still sitting at the Line of Actual Control and India has geared up for a long grind. Indian and Chinese military delegates had 11 rounds of talks to resolve border disputes at friction points.

During the commanders’ conference meeting, Army top brass discussed how to be better prepared to face Chinese belligerence in Ladakh over the last year as a final resolution seems far off. India has enhanced military infrastructure, increased troop deployment to 50,000 to 60,000, and constructed better roads connectivity for quick mobilisation.

Last month, General Naravane said that the troops are on high alert at Line of Actual Control and are keeping watch on Chinese People’s Liberation Army activities.

The Indian Army chief stated that India wants the status quo ante of April 2020 to be restored. He also stated that India has made it clear to China that de-escalation will only be considered once disengagement is completed to the mutual satisfaction of both the sides.

He had said that Indian troops are on high alert and deployments have not thinned after the disengagement in Pangong River.

General Naravane said that India is currently concentrating on resolving outstanding problems at other friction points like Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang at Line of Actual Control.

The army chief also stated that trust levels between two countries are low but pointed out that the trust deficit should not hinder the negotiation process.

At Galwan valley, the clash took place on June 15 last year sparking a war like situation. Later by the end of August last year there was a further build up across and Pangong Lake at 14,000 feet turning it into a battle zone as India occupied key mountain tops at the Kailash Range overlooking the southern bank of the lake.

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Seven years on, Modi faces three challenges

By Shashi Shekhar

The beginning of the third year of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term would be an apt occasion to look at the early days of this innings. He began as a run-hungry batsman, eager to notch up a big score, belting out sixes and fours to every corner of the ground.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government divided Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and abrogated Article 370 in one fell swoop. A new Union Territory, Ladakh, emerged and J&K’s full state status was done away with. The practice of triple talaq was declared illegal. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) always had these issues in its sights, but Modi is the one who grasped the nettle.

His vow of making India a $5-trillion economy by 2024 meant removing certain hurdles to growth. He zeroed in on non-performing assets of public sector banks as one and a merger of 19 banks into four was executed. Despite unprecedented opposition from farmers and the Opposition, agri-sector laws were changed and the path to the privatisation of government undertakings was cleared. Modi meant to show that he would not hold back on economic reform.

Then disaster struck in the form of the lethal coronavirus.

Of the three major challenges facing the government, this has been the biggest the NDA has faced by far.

The government claims that everyone will be vaccinated by December but so far there is little to inspire confidence in this assertion. A vaccination drive for those above 18 years has been announced, but hundreds of vaccination centres are running short of vaccines for this cohort. In fact, the whole vaccination strategy, which was to be a model for the world, is now in trouble. Vaccines are in short supply and prior commitments made to foreign nations for vaccine supplies cannot be fulfilled.

The state governments ruled by opposition parties are up in arms about the paucity of vaccines and have accused the government of ignoring the threat from the virus for political gain.

The pandemic may eventually peter out but it has seriously damaged the economy.

The second challenge Modi faces is political. Next year, assembly elections will be held in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa and Manipur.

The groundwork for these has begun. Despite the victories in Assam and Puducherry, the defeat in West Bengal has dented the BJP’s reputation as an invincible election machine. During Modi 2.0, the party has won only four out of 10 state elections. In these, the role of the allies was crucial. That is why many political critics feel that even though there is no alternative to Modi at the Centre, the voters prefer strong state-level parties in the assembly elections.

As of March 2018, the NDA was ruling 21 states, with 71% of the country’s population. In April 2019, it was reduced to 18 states. However, in terms of demography, now 49% of the population is ruled by the NDA.

The third challenge to the Modi government is from across the borders. China is still up to its old tricks. Will Modi be able to get China to retreat from the border areas it has encroached on?

These are all daunting challenges for PM Modi. His track record on meeting difficult situations head-on is well known. He is a past master at political manoeuvrings. Will he rise to the occasion now as well?

It remains to be seen but this is why the eighth year of his prime ministership or his second term as pradhan sevak as he likes to term himself, will prove interesting to both his admirers and critics.

(The opinion piece appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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In India-China relationship, the question of trade deficit

By Vedant Monger

Given that a large chunk of the imports from China goes into the production process, an ideal strategy would take advantage of this deficit, accelerate domestic manufacturing via assembling and find newer destinations to market output.

For more than a decade, India’s large trade deficit with China has been a growing concern. The focus of the issue, however, has largely been political. With the confrontation along the border and the pandemic leading to a campaign for self-reliance, the question of trading with a country that is also clearly a strategic adversary has gained renewed policy interest.

Final consumer goods are quite often, in public perception, (mis)understood as constituting the biggest chunk of Indian imports from China. While the absolute numbers definitely seem large, what do the facts suggest?

Based on the Broad Economic Classification categories, goods for final consumption, in 2020, accounted for 7.48% of imports from China. However, about 63% of imports were in the intermediate consumption category, which is defined as “goods and services used up in the course of production within the accounting period”. The import of capital goods comprised 16% of imports from China. As things stand, about 80% of imports from China are used in the production process.

Another finer level of analysis resorts to examining the trade in parts and components (P&C) — items such as blades, engines, electronic instruments, motors, which aggregate or supplement larger final goods such as gas turbines or mobile cranes. India’s share of imports in this category over the years has been fairly low and steady, hovering around the 10% mark.

But over the course of the last two decades, the share of P&C in imports from China rose from about 12% in 1998 to about 22% in 2020. Similarly, the share of China in India’s P&C imports rose from a paltry 5% in 2001 to about 35% in 2021. In summary, what we observe is an increased Chinese role in the Indian production process. Ironically, China itself sources a lot of inputs from the East Asian economies with which it holds deficits.

Are there any policy options to reduce this deficit? Resorting to taxing these intermediate goods heavily and/or trying to produce them domestically would be returning to the early import-substitution years (an economic disaster). Neither can one source these inputs from other countries easily — China has a proximity privilege, which, in trade empirics, is a strong determinant of bilateral trade flows. 

Unless transport costs are enormously reduced, it makes no economic sense to source these from other countries. And even if the government were to tax final consumer goods, it would not be adequate to correct the deficit.

(The Op-Ed appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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China willing to discuss restoring LAC status quo of April 2020

Beijing: China on Thursday said that India’s proposal for the restoration of the status quo of April 2020 in eastern Ladakh could be discussed at the next meetings between the two countries.

China also said that there is no delay in holding talks with India to discuss the disengagement of troops from the remaining friction points in eastern Ladakh, amid reports about the likelihood of the 11th round of corps commander-level talks on Friday.

Asked to confirm the date for the 11th round of China-India Corps Commander-level meeting to discuss further disengagement in eastern Ladakh, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here that “China and India are in communication on the holding of the 11th round of talks.”

“As for the specific date for the upcoming talks, I have no information,” he said.

The spokesman also denied any delay in holding of the 11th round of talks when pointed out that it is going to be about two months since the first disengagement has taken place and a month since the 10th round of talks on the disengagement of troops.

“There is no delayed meeting as you cited. I want to stress that the merits of the situation at the India-China border are very clear and the responsibility does not rest with the Chinese side,” Zhao said.

“We hope the Indian side will work with China to follow through the important consensus of our two state leaders, abide by relevant agreements and treaties to de-escalate the tension at the border,” he said.

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How India can meet the China challenge

By Gautam Bambawale and Ajay Shah

China’s military aggression in Ladakh, which continues to date, led many of us to ask: How does India respond to and meet the China challenge? 

Our armed forces have responded magnificently in the immediate and near term. However, the India-China relationship is a long-term game, which is not merely about military affairs but also about economics, science, technology and innovation. One of the reasons for Chinese aggression toward India is the huge discrepancy in economic, military and national power, which has emerged between the two over the past decade.

In the short-run, India will have to build balancing coalitions with like-minded countries. Quad is one example. There are three groups of countries we can contemplate for such coalitions: Major democracies of the world; countries bordering China; and India’s neighbours. The United States (US), Japan, France, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Russia spring to mind. There are roughly 20 such countries. 

India needs to build deep partnerships with these coalitions of nation-States, going beyond treaties and agreements to forge linkages between peoples and institutions. Education, travel and tourism, cooperation among scientists and innovators need to be nurtured. Good partnerships are grounded in give-and-take, where each country reshapes its domestic policy in ways that are favourable to the other. 

India will have to rise to this challenge, and go beyond being wedded to a narrow vision of strategic autonomy.

Strategic planners in Indian firms need to rethink business plans in the light of these complexities. In some areas, where China-centric sourcing and technological dependence can elevate business risk, a selective retreat from economic engagement with China, and increased emphasis upon the global market, is optimal. 

A critical element of the journey lies in innovation policy. India needs to match and improve upon China’s achievements in fostering research institutions and intellectuals that inhabit them. 

By 2047, if we can maintain 8% GDP growth per annum, then India will be a $64-trillion-dollar economy in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms. In the same period, if China grows at 5% per annum, it will be a $86-trillion economy in PPP terms. In other words, the current mismatch will reduce significantly.

The judicious use of self-reliance (atmanirbhar), grounded in self-confidence (atmavishwas), where a confident India engages with the world without insecurity, forms alliances with like-minded countries, and leverages democracy and a skilled workforce to good effect, is the path through which the China challenge can be addressed.

(The opinion piece appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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What Pangong means for Asian geopolitics

By C Uday Bhaskar

In a nutshell, after nine rounds of talks between the military commanders, both sides have agreed to a process which will see Chinese troops pulling back east of Finger 8, while Indian troops will remain at Finger 3 near the Dhan Singh Thapa Post. The area between Finger 4 and Finger 8 will be a no-man’s land, with a temporary cessation of patrols and related military activities by both sides, pending further agreement between the two countries.

It is significant that China has agreed to pull back from a position of relative tactical advantage and one may conjecture that the Indian occupation of the Kailash heights enabled this compromise.

Many questions have been raised in India about the nature of this disengagement process and whether it is a fair deal. The Congress has termed the “creation of a buffer zone” as a “surrender of Indian interests”. In a written response, the ministry of defence has asserted that “India has not conceded any territory as a result of this agreement”. On the contrary, the statement says, India has “enforced observance and respect for LAC and prevented any unilateral change in the status quo”.

While the disengagement process is a work-in-progress, it merits notice that the cessation of patrolling by both sides, in what is now a no-man’s land, is on the Indian side of LAC — that is west of Finger 8. Whether this will be a temporary arrangement for the Indian troops, pending further resolution of the long-festering territorial tangle between India and China, or whether it becomes the new status quo remains a key question.

Of immediate concern also is the status of the Depsang plateau and the Y junction where China has acquired a tactical advantage that can jeopardise India’s access to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and air assets in that region.

Will the current disengagement and the acceptance of a temporary suspension by India of patrolling rights in one area lead to greater malleability in managing LAC — remember China has been reluctant in clarifying LAC despite repeated Indian attempts — and provide a road map for transiting to an agreed border? That would be the most desirable outcome, in which case the current compromise by India would be a prudent political determination. An equitable and consensually settled border remains the elusive Holy Grail for Delhi.

However, if this is only a brief pause for Beijing and President Xi Jinping as China prepares for a major political event — the July centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of China — and the PLA subsequently reverts to its pattern of territorial assertiveness at LAC, then the curate’s egg analogy would come into play. Delhi may rue the accommodations it has made in the current disengagement process.

Whatever the final outcome, it will have an impact on external interlocutors such as the United States (US), Russia and China’s other neighbors. While Delhi’s resolve to resist Beijing’s aggressive bellicosity effectively will be noted by the smaller nations, the Delhi-Beijing bilateral dynamic will also shape — and be shaped by — the US-China-India triangle. 

President Joe Biden has signalled that the US will hold Beijing’s feet to the fire over the Indo-Pacific and the principles of freedom of navigation and territorial integrity, with a continued focus on reinvigorating Quad.

How China reads this message, and how it wishes to orient itself in relation to contested territoriality will shape many outcomes in Asia and beyond. Pangong is the bellwether.

(The Op-Ed appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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Putin looking forward to visiting India

New Delhi/Moscow: The dates for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India this year, at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are being finalized as the two countries look to strengthen their strategic partnership.

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who is on an official two-day visit to Moscow, revealed this on Wednesday.

The move assumes significance in view of the recent developments in India’s relations with the US and China. The government has taken strong objection to the US social media platforms enabling mobilization of violent protesters against India’s farm reforms and other internal decisions. At the same time, India’s military has disengaged with China along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, after a 10-month-long stand-off.

“Clearly there is a lot that is happening in the relationship. It is a very very important relationship for both countries. I think we will see some developments in the next few months that would reinforce the close and strategic partnership that we both enjoy,” Shringla said in a video link from Moscow, underlining the significance of his visit.

Shringla is holding India-Russia foreign office consultations with deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov. The two sides are reviewing the entire gamut of bilateral relations, including the forthcoming high-level exchanges, the ministry of external affairs said in a statement.

Speaking from Moscow, Shringla said that he had a “very good meeting” with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who emphasised the importance of the strategic relationship between India and Russia. The foreign secretary extended an invitation to him on behalf of the external affairs ministry for a visit to India. He said Lavrov is looking forward to the meeting at the earliest.

The two sides also spoke about the annual summit. Lavrov told Shringla that President Putin is looking forward to his visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The visit will take place on a date to be decided between the two sides,” Shringla said in Moscow.

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India full of confidence, evident at borders: Modi

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the India of today is full of self-confidence which got also reflected at the frontiers.

Congratulating the IT industry for its growth even during the pandemic-hit year in his address at the Nasscom Technology & Leadership Forum 2021, Modi said that it is important not to think ourselves as weak in the face of challenges and nor should we run away from these challenges.

His comments came after China and India last week started their simultaneous withdrawal of troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh after a nine month-long stand-off.

“India has confidence we will keep India secure,” he said.

Modi said the government is well aware that future leadership cannot develop in shackles. “Therefore, the government is trying to free the tech industry from unnecessary regulation.”

Lauding India’s IT industry for continuing to run its operations smoothly even during the period of severe restrictions when most of the people were inside the four walls of their houses, Modi said that the industry is expected to continue its growth momentum and achieve new milestones.

“When the chips were down, the core of India’s IT industry kept things running. The last year’s statistics may surprise the world, but India isn’t surprised knowing your ability. When every sector was severely affected by the pandemic, you registered a growth of 2 per cent,” Modi said.

Modi said that the government is taking numerous steps to free the IT industry from unnecessary regulations.

Saying that the National Digital Communications Policy is a step towards that direction, the Prime Minister also mentioned recently announced liberalised regulations on geospatial data, making it freely available in the country for innovation and IT companies.

The change is made specifically for Indian companies through updating the current guidelines pertaining to developing map technologies.

“Geospatial reforms will not only strengthen the IT sector but help us in building ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’,” he said.

“This step will empower our tech start-up ecosystem,” he added.

He said that India will not be able to build future leadership in an environment of constraints.

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India, China agree to disengage at Pangong lake: Rajnath

New Delhi: India and China have reached an agreement on disengagement in the north and south banks of Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh, said Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in the Upper House of Parliament on Thursday, making it clear that India has not conceded anything during these talks.

Chinese troops will move back to Finger 8 and Indian troops will pull back to the Dhan Singh Thapa post between Finger 2 and 3 of the north bank of Pangong Tso, said Singh adding that there would be temporary moratorium on military activities, including patrolling to the traditional areas.

The minister said: “The Chinese side will keep its troop presence in the North Bank area to the east of Finger 8. Reciprocally, the Indian troops will be based at their permanent base at Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3.”

The minister said that both the countries also agreed to have a temporary moratorium on military activities on both sides of the North Bank, including patrolling the traditional areas.

Patrolling will be resumed only when both sides reach an agreement in diplomatic and military talks that would be held subsequently. The minister said a similar action would be taken in the South Bank area by both sides.

On August 30, India had occupied critical mountain heights on the southern bank of the Pangong Lake like Rechin La, Rezang La, Mukpari, and Tabletop that were unmanned till then. India also made some deployments near the Blacktop. The dominance at these peaks allowed India to dominate Spanggur Gap under Chinese control and also the Moldo garrison on the Chinese side.

As per the minister, Indian troops have now to withdraw from these heights also.

He said that the disengagement is the result of a well-thought out approach and sustained talks with the Chinese side.

The minister also informed the House that it has also agreed to convene the next meeting of the senior commanders within 48 hours after the complete disengagement in the Pangong Lake area so as to address and resolve all other remaining issues.

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