Many of our readers, by now, know the Indo-China conflict (rather skirmishes) in Eastern Ladakh. Most of us already read the news of how a ferocious Bihar regiment thwarted a Chinese aggression at Galwan valley. India has shown to the country and to the world who and how many of Indian soldiers are martyred. On the other hand one of the world’s ambitious superpower China has hidden its casualties. It is well know from various international sources that 100+ Chinese soldiers lost lives in the Galwan valley skirmish. The incursions by China into an unwritten but agreed upon no-man’s land (also known as non-demarcated line of actual control LAC) that started in late May led to the tensions, fissures, actions and casualties. India reacted at multiple levels to thwart the challenge of China. This article is to go into details of India’s reaction and what could be the actions and reactions between the two big Asian neighbors.
For reference to the conflict, here is a very big picture map of India and China.
Just to understand the nature of skirmish dispute let us take this Pangong Lake satellite map that was put excellently by Twitter user d-atis (@detresfa_) who does Imagery intelligence in his tweet https://twitter.com/detresfa_/status/1266815515000889344 (as shown below). See the claim lines to understand the “no man’s land”.
Different plots around Indo Chinese skirmishes
China is a world power. You go to any nook and corner in the world and Made in China purchase is most common. Entire world’s supply chains are originating from China these days. It is a world power whether one wants to see from a cold war view point of US and Russia or from country’s pulls and leverages perspective. Many things stack in its favor in the current global affairs. From a negativity perspective as well, the global supply chain of the Corona virus pandemic started from China and its management supply chains are also from China. From all that background and coming to Indo-China skirmishes let us see the plots.
China is expanding its global leader position via its Belt and Road Initiative-BRI(formerly known as OBOR One Belt One Road). BRI is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations. It is considered a centerpiece of Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping’s foreign policy. As part of this initiative it invested in Pakistan where its flagship CPEC which is also part of BRI goes through the Ladakh portions (Gilgit Baltistan) currently under control of Pakistan. India has protested CPEC as it passes through the disputed lands that India considers as its territory.
In addition, the lazy India that never bothered losing border lands suddenly from 2014 started putting border infrastructure as close to borders, LOC and LAC in mountains of both western front and also eastern front of Arunachal Pradesh. The apprehension is India many take over the occupied lands in Pakistan as the country is under collapse for a while. This will put the entire BRI in this region questionable and not viable for Chinese goals. Hence it may have decided to take advantage before it is too late and salami slice as much as possible and take all advantage positions such as Depsang, Galwan valley and Pangong Tso.
Another point is for Xi Jinping, he needs to assert his power by showing the world that is seething with anger against China due to COVID pandemic spread.
The world is seething with anger against China due to spread of COVID. However, the world does not have all the means to teach China a lesson in the current global scenario. Trade restrictions will hurt china but won’t do too much. The whole world’s supply chains are embedded to Chinese manufacturing.
There are 23 countries including India and Russia with whom China has claims over territories. To get a glimpse of Chinese claims refer this article – https://chinanewsstories.com/2013/12/01/china-claims-territories-of-23-countries-but-only-has-borders-with-14/
Many of these countries do not have either man power or battle readiness to take on the economic might of China with its military-manufacturing complex. Some of them have military advantageous power such as Russia. Current sole super power of the world, USA supports most of the South East Asia in the seas with its fleet but everyone are short of direct conflict. The only country that is battle hardened and has abilities and willingness to take on China is India. So every country around the world is looking towards India to take on China. There a huge amount of material and moral support to India.
While India has to take the China head on to safeguard its territorial integrity, it also has to guard itself to not get into serious non-retractable conflict with China. In the end the damage coming out has to be compensable in its own march towards becoming a developed nation by eradicating poverty via its own infrastructure and manufacturing development. While keeping that in perspective, it just can’t allow any further loss to territory it has lost in 1962 and also due to poor border management right into 21st century. In that pursuit it had a visible and long term border infrastructure constructions. It also has to recover lost territories for its own geopolitical standing and it’s own paths for trade and commerce via rail and road to Central Asia.
While it considers overwhelming support of the world, it treads cautiously in a defensive offence position. It has multiple avenues to checkmate China. It can use other sectors of the long border of China and it can do similar salami slicing in other areas. It can give run for its money in the seas. China is dependent of Sea lanes for its trade and commerce.
Geopolitical games of the world around Indo-Chinese skirmishes
- Western world is wary of the rise of both China and India. Though the west is happy to see India take on China head on, in the bigger picture both India and China fighting and getting massively bruised is in their best interest. It will delay their rise while West’s demography is declining. It gives a cushion to settle.
- Pakistan and Kashmir problems are creations of western world’s Second World War output. These got solidified as part of Cold war to stop a directly communicating corridor for Soviet Union into Bay of Bengal via India. In the event of this conflict ending in India’s advantage and demise of Pakistan, the Gilgit Baltistan areas could become portions of India’s control. This will give a direct access to India and Central Asia and Europe. This will be rise of India as future economic giant. Hence west is wary to fully help India against China. The west wants Pakistan as checkpoint against India and India as check point against India. India knows this game and hence does not get into any alliances and it want to take help in the form of material purchases and use it for war/skirmishes against China.
Bottom line – Everyone wants to shoot from India’s shoulders but not allow India to become another giant of the future. The slow shifting of supply chains from China, talks of alliances and negotiation on arms purchases and collaboration in navy logistics are the things that are happening. Everyone is negotiating about future.
Politics are no more local. Even local panchayat level losses are seen as dent in Mod’s image due to mass influx of social media. Narendra Modi is a hurdle for both China and also India’s opposition. China did not face casualties for a long time for its salami slicing sojourns until Narendra Modi became India’s mass leader. The influx of data analytics based orchestration has changed the democracies and the level the thoughts can be engineered. For China or the India’s opposition or those who see Modi as some invincible needs orchestration of thought processing. It has to be convincing. The best opportunity is use the 1962 situation and the no-man lands of Indo-Chinese LAC. Using satellite images of before and after, Chinese new constructions (actually few grenades and bulldozers will remove them), the gangs have colluded and started showing Modi lost in the form of lands that were actually left uninhabited by both Indian and Chinese armies. But both go to those areas and do their markings. Basically, if Indian government cannot take the LAC/border back to 1961 levels these gangs can show as something Modi lost.
But average Indian seems to be not biting this propaganda. Their trust is very high based on this India Today’s mood of the nation polls.
But the credibility or anything can be changed with a sustained effort. The effort could be real due to mass causalities that China can force on India or due to temporary land grab.
Challenge for the government:
- in this social media era it has to manage perceptions and counter the propaganda
- Safeguard the territorial integrity of India
- Keep the future of its geopolitical goals intact
Actions so far to meet above challenges
- Bihar regiment has given unpleasant surprise to China and it’s slow but aggressive salami-slicing got a big dent. It also sent a message to world that China may be super power but it is no different than rouge armies like Pakistan or Taliban who can hide their soldiers’ death bodies and deny the causalities.
- This skirmish at Galwan valley point has changed the course as it is now a loss of face to Xi Jinping. He needs a face saver via some land grab or win on Indo-Chinese border. Hence the Chinese have changed their commanders and posted most trusted ones to Ladakh theatre.
- India has massively moved its troops to all theatres. Ladakh, Arunachal, Sikkim. As a glimpse, here is an image that a brilliant Rohit Vats (@KesariDhwaj) had put couple of months ago (now lot more troops are added)
- Everyone is focusing too much on Army and material. Look at how every single working boat of navy is in waters of Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean coordinating with QUAD( Australia, Japan, USA and India). India has positioned its ships in Malacca straights and collaborating with USA’s aircraft carriers.
- While holding the positions, India and Chinese military level talks are being conducted to see if China can go back to pre-May positions.
- Most importantly, China gets deterred only when the world starts hurting its economy. Unless countries start cutting its trade in a significant way, it will not hurt much but for the countries to act, China holds the ace of supply chains of the world. In this area India though gets hurt, it hasn’t got into Chinese supply chains that badly. The government has acted swiftly and does the following economic activities that will hurt China. Importantly China will be worried that what if Indian actions become global trends.
- On June 29th India banned 59 mobile/internet apps that include the popular TikTok. It’s parent company ByteDance could lose about $6 billion annually
- Power gear imports from China banned – it is about $2.8 billion annually
- By December 2021, traders of India boycott Chinese goods to reach 1 lac crores that’s 15 billion per year loss.
- 4.2 billion dollars from automotive spare parts annually
- rail/road infrastructure projects cancelled comes to another 2-3 billion dollars
Just these losses are coming to about 22 billion dollars. Agreed this is not a bit dent in a mammoth economic powerhouse like China. But this sets the tone and pattern for others.
Now let us see the positive investments. About $10 billion from google, $1.2 billion from Walmart, a billion dollar from FOXCONN, $5.7 billion from facebook, 97 million from Qualcom, and many others. All these may have gone to China if it has positive name like before it started claiming and threatening every other neighbor.
Latest news at the time of writing this article from economic boycott of China perspective 24.7% of Chinese exports to India crashed. Trade drops by 18%.
Now if one adds up direct impact of economic restrictions (these are continuing with more additions every day) to that of military preparedness of multiple land and sea theaters of India, and it’s to intent to stop Chinese aggression, it is possible China may think and retreat. It is also possible like any rouge communist/despot based leadership to attack India for their face saving. However, China is not some Pakistan. It has a large population that it has to take care and can’t risk a destructive war. It will try it’s best to do a limited border skirmish. Even in that with a resurgent and aggressive defensive-offence posture of India the dividends for China can be none. Time will tell what will happen but this round goes to India due to its 20 martyrs form Bihar regiment.
About author – Gnani Mahapatra is a data scientist working from Tampa Florida in private sector consulting. He was from Berhampur Orissa and did his bachelors from Utkal University and masters from Andhra University. He reads politics and geopolitics very closely.