NEW DELHI: The Galwan clashes, the bloodiest India and China have ever experienced since at least 1975, shows the rising ferocity of the India-China engagement on the borders. With one of the largest losses in recent years, an Indian retaliation is assured. But on a larger scale, China lost India on Tuesday.
In many ways, this government, like previous ones, has been guilty of being almost indulgent of Chinese intrusions into Indian territory which have become more insistent and violent in the past few years. The stock explanation from ministers, even the defence minister, is about “differing perceptions of the LAC”. In fact, it may be this that has emboldened the Chinese to take greater liberties.
At this point, the Chinese are well entrenched in
, while the Galwan Valley has become a face-off point. In far away Naku La, a Chinese presence has persisted at a place between the point India sees as the LAC (a ridge) and a stone wall (which China claims is the LAC).
It is to be seen whether the de-escalation process continues or whether the Chinese dig in even further. At any rate, even without further clashes, the stand-off is likely to continue through the summer and get more belligerent. India has promised to continue building its border infrastructure, even as the risk of inviting further face-offs with the Chinese.
Why China undertook these intrusions into Indian territory remains the top question of this year. The best guess scenario involves punishing India for its greater involvement with “anti-China” allies like the Quad. It could be a consequence of
needing to divert attention away from a series of troubles like
, economic slump and a slow de-coupling with the US. It could also be a way to send a message to the US and other countries who China believes is ranged against it — by messing with India, putting it off balance and humiliated with loss of men and territory.
China may have seriously miscalculated. For one, India is now almost politically bound to take action, if the Modi government isn’t to be seen as a global walkover. Second, China’s actions in the past weeks achieved precisely the opposite of what it wanted — it has pushed India into much closer partnerships with the west. Third, much more than a military retaliation, India is likely to take more economic steps against China.
Certainly, this year will not see a Wuhan-III. The India-China 70th anniversary celebrations have just been shot to pieces — PM
and Xi had planned 70 events this year. Modi will not visit China, not with the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and officers on his mind. On the multilateral front, with India in the UN Security Council, New Delhi is likely to push back against China appropriating the top jobs in the UN.
After India put Chinese investments on a prior approval list, there is talk in the government of slowly weaponising the Indian market which, frankly, is the largest that China can hope for now. Chinese companies are unlikely to get Indian government — or many private sector — contracts any time soon.
Most important, Huawei’s already dim chances of bagging India’s 5G market just got a lot dimmer. But first, India will have to work much harder to get the Chinese off Indian territory.