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Domestic constraints will impinge on the China policy

By Vivek Katju

Neither the proposition that both India and China have enough space to grow nor the attempt to foster a close personal understanding between the top leaders of the two nations, can obscure the reality that the latter is India’s greatest strategic threat. The challenge is compounded by its nexus with Pakistan. Its recent move to establish new facts on the ground along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is only the latest manifestation of its innate hostility.

The public grief and anger at the loss of 20 Indian Army personnel in the Galwan Valley are not easy to assuage. But this should not lead to emotion governing policy choices. Rather, the country’s political and security classes have to introspect calmly on the continuing validity of the basic postulates of India’s China policy set in place by late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 and pursued by every government since. This demands, above all, to use a cricketing analogy, avoiding a domestic political spin and the adoption of Rahul Dravid’s careful rock-solid play, confidently conservative, never defensive.

Besides the China factor, there are domestic economic, social and political realities that impinge on India’s current external engagements which merit hard-headed examination. The economic expansion over the past two decades and, consequently, the emergence of a substantial market with growing potential contributed to the rise of the country’s global standing.

Covid-19 has disrupted and damaged the economy, which had already slowed down prior to the outbreak. Notwithstanding the desire of some global businesses to look seriously at India as they decide to move part of their operations out of China, questions will inevitably arise about India’s immediate and mid-term future. These will increase and lead to doubts if perceptions arise of the weakening of the country’s social fabric and the cohesion of its political class.

Indian foreign policy managers will necessarily have to take into account the present and anticipate future global perceptions about India. They will also have to assess the resources available for the implementation of foreign policy objectives.

Their analysis on both fronts can neither be based on exuberant expectations nor on pessimism. The watch words have to be balance and caution combined with trust in the nation’s resilience in charting the course.

While the pandemic has exposed governance lapses, social faultlines and the economic frailties of all countries, it will lead to a focus on models of development pursued by emerging and poor countries.

India, too, cannot escape scrutiny in this. Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn on how India has dealt with the situation as compared with other emerging economies, especially China. In this context, only the most knowledgeable foreign observers will make allowances for India’s size and diversity and the complexities of its quasi-federal polity and consequent administrative constraints.

The Narendra Modi government has announced a slew of reforms. This is positive and forward-looking, and will create a measure of confidence of India’s determination to address the situation on many economic fronts. However, the government’s focus on self-reliance needs to be placed in the context of the valid aspiration for an increased manufacturing base, including in hi-tech areas. This is because the term is associated with an earlier time and with a radically different ideological development model.

In this troubling background, Indian decision-makers will have to primarily focus on the core aspects of engagements. This must necessarily begin with South Asia where China is chipping away at Indian interests.

India’s attempts at greater integration of this region need to be invigorated, coupled with the message that it will not accept any compromise of its security interests. No fresh initiatives with Pakistan are needed until it overcomes its paroxysms of outrage consequent to changes in Jammu and Kashmir last year. The approach to Afghanistan needs an injection of realism with regard to the Taliban.

Other core areas that need attention are the upgradation of the relationship with the United States, cultivating affinities with democratic countries in the Indo-Pacific region, and maintaining a balanced approach towards West Asia. India’s diplomatic energies need to remain focused on these, and not get diffused at a time when the primary area of concern has inevitably got to be domestic — the management of perhaps the greatest challenge independent India has faced arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

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India, China military reach consensus to disengage

New Delhi: After 11 hours long Corps Commander level talks between India and China, government sources said that the dialogue was held in a cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere and there was a “mutual consensus to disengage”.

“Modalities for disengagement from all friction areas in Eastern Ladakh were discussed,” government sources added.

The corps commanders of two countries’ military met at Moldo to resolve the border issue and ease tension in Eastern Ladakh. This is the second such meeting after the first one on June 6 to defuse the tensions in Eastern Ladakh.

The meeting between 14 Corps commander Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin happened on the lines of the one they held at the Chushul-Moldo border personnel meeting (BPM) point in eastern Ladakh on June 6.

Before this, Major General level dialogue took place for three consecutive days after the barbaric attack at patrolling point 14 in Galwan Valley on June 15 night where 20 Indian soldiers were killed. The three talks were to ease out the tense situation and to get released 10 Indian soldiers, including four officers, who were in Chinese captivity.

Major General Abhijit Bapat, who is the Commander of the 3 Division of the Indian Army, had raised several points with the Chinese with regard to the incident on the night intervening June 15-16.

The clash occurred at the South bank of Galwan river, which flows in an east-west direction before its confluence with Shayok river, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed.

It is the first casualties faced by Indian Army in a clash with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army since 1975 when an Indian patrol was ambushed by Chinese troops in Arunachal Pradesh.

China’s PLA troopers “savagely attacked” Indian Army personnel, according to sources in the government with knowledge of the details of the June 15-16 night clashes between the two army soldiers.

Several Indian Army soldiers are currently “critically injured” and are undergoing treatment.

Chinese PLA troops return to Galwan Valley

New Delhi: Defying the agreed mutual consensus to disengage, Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops have returned to Patrolling Post 14 on the Line of Actual Control in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh where the barbaric June 15 attack, in which 20 Indian Army soldiers were killed, occurred.

The PLA has even set up tents and an observation point exactly where it was on June 15, sources said, adding that the Chinese have returned with huge reinforcements even after they have agreed to withdraw their troops and dismantle their setups.

The Chinese Army deployment is a major concern for the Indian government, but the forces in Eastern Ladakh are ready for any conflict, sources said.

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India has closed military gap with China along border

By Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

India has the upper hand in military deployments along its border with China, says a recent Harvard University assessment. If the Chinese attacked, co-author Frank O’Donnell of the US Naval War College told HT, “due to the larger permanent military presence of Indian forces vis-a-vis Chinese forces along the border areas, India would eventually be able to force China back across the LAC, although casualties would be extremely high on both sides.” One unknown in such a conflict would be China’s ability to use cyberattacks to disable Indian communications and logistics.

Over the past dozen years India has not only closed the gap with China in this military theatre, it may now have a slender superiority. Indian officials largely concur with this view though prefer to stress India does not enjoy a position of complete dominance. Chinese military assessments began recognizing this problem from the mid-2000s and this may have contributed to its border belligerence.

India and China have a similar number of soldiers along the border, a little over 200,000 each, but a portion of Chinese troops are reserved for the Russian border and handling insurgents in Tibet and Xinjiang.

India holds a slight edge in fighter aircraft numbers but, more importantly, its Su-30s are superior to any Chinese fighters in the area and its base network allows it to better survive the missile exchanges that would follow. “India has more and better aircraft along the border, more experienced air crews, as well as a resilient basing position,” says O’Donnell.

“China is regularly operating with a permanent Indian conventional force advantage along its border areas,” says the report. It notes this is not “typically acknowledged” in Indian debates and optimists regarding the military balance against China were “a minority” in India.

For decades, going by the People’s Liberation Army’s journal, Science of Military Strategy, India was rated only as China’s number four external security concern. This has begun to change.

The China National Defence Daily by 2013 spoke of India’s “surge of forces” along the border. A 2017 Nanfang Daily survey of Chinese strategic thinkers said some were worrying that “the defensive strategy of the Indian Army has shifted . . . toward the offensive.”

Two Chinese experts on territorial issues warned in 2014 that “keeping our military’s advantage in the Sino-Indian border area is not only a national defense requirement, but also to prevent China from being disadvantaged in border negotiations.” There is more literature in the Chinese language about India catching up in terms of military infrastructure and force deployment after the Doklam crisis, says General G. L. Narasimhan Rao, head of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary China.

India is far from being in a position of military preponderance. Indian defense officials point to the “touch and go nature” of the mountain environment means a numerical advantage in men and aircraft can be wiped out by inclement weather.

China keeps most of its military firepower along its Pacific coast and would almost certainly redeploy to go for a “round two,” warns O’Donnell. M. Taylor Fravel, an MIT professor who has written on China’s border policies, says that “China has just over 10 percent of its ground forces [in its western theatre], a very large part of the country, and not even all these troops are focused on India.”

But because China does not want to deploy a large fraction of its forces in Tibet or Xinjiang, he added, “I think this disparity in the local balance makes China especially sensitive to changes that improve India’s position.” Did India’s steady military improvement trigger Beijing is harder to ascertain. O’Donnell thinks China’s greater border aggression is a general trend evident in its behavior with all its neighbors and not just about India.

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