At a time when India is grappling with a grave economic crisis, exacerbated by the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, China has stepped up its aggression with a massive military build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), including construction of new heliports and surface-to-air missile sites. The latest flare-up indicates that the negotiations to resolve border conflict are not making any headway. The Chinese provocative action and India’s pre-emptive move come against the backdrop of deadlocked diplomatic-military talks in resolving the four-month-old violent face-offs in the Galwan Valley of the Ladakh region. The events in Ladakh make it clear that Beijing wants to activate the entire LAC and provoke India into a reaction or cow down in submission through the use of psychological warfare. Enlarging the area of conflict from the North to the South of Pangong Tso is indicative of China’s growing territorial ambitions and the greed to control more land. Indian troops have effectively thwarted the transgressions by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the southern bank of the Pangong Tso to unilaterally alter the status on the ground. The army has now gained control of most heights in and around the southern bank of Pangong Tso under the Chushul sector. The domination of hilltops and passes in this region was always part of India’s “military options”. Since both sides began military and diplomatic engagement three months ago over the LAC situation, the de-escalation process has been moving at a snail’s pace.
In order to continue checking China, it is critical that India’s armed forces proactively deal with the PLA in all the theatres. However, the situation should be handled responsibly and either side should not take any provocative action or escalate matters and ensure peace and tranquillity as per bilateral agreements and protocol. Simultaneously, conscious efforts must be made to gradually reduce trade dependence on China. India’s bilateral relationship with China cannot be disassociated from the border issue. And, the India-China border issue is closely linked with the Tibetan issue. Given Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hawkish stance towards Tibet and India, it would be naïve to expect a quick resolution of the border issue. India must take lead in rallying international support for the Tibetan cause, a move that might help checkmate China’s expansionist ways. Strategic experts have been warning that China is not interested in equilibrium with any of its Asian neighbours, least of all with India. Its efforts are clearly to build a hierarchical Asian order, with itself at the top. The latest string of border incursions highlights Jinping’s muscular revisionism, which has led him to open multiple fronts simultaneously – from the South and East China seas and the Himalayas to Hong Kong and Taiwan.
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