China’s frustration with India : An Analysis

Dr Shailendra K Deolankar

1. India’s undefined border with China at the LAC

The incursion attempt by the Chinese troops near Yangtse in the Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh is a hoax. However, the timing of this incursion has strategic importance. The border between India and China is called the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is not physically drawn on the ground. Hence, it has more importance. India’s border with Pakistan is well-defined, but this is not the case with its eastern border with China. The Indo-Pak border is well-defined by many agreements between the two. However, there is no formal border agreement between India and China. Although a 1,000 km long McMahon Line separates the two countries, it is a long stretch of extraordinarily remote, mountainous terrain and riverbeds. As a result, the line which separates the troops stationed by both countries has become the actual border. Hence, it is called the LAC.

However, China has a habit of disrespecting this border, and this is called China’s incursion. In 1975, there were a few bloody engagements between the Chinese and the Indian troops. Nearly 45 years later, on 15th June 2020, there was a similar face-off at Galwan Valley.

On 9th December 2022, Chinese troops again tried to march ahead, and disrespected the status quo. This unprovoked aggression by the Chinese could have resulted in a bloody clash. However, the Indian troops were well-prepared to handle this high-handed behaviour; India pushed the enemy back to the LAC.

2. Constant incursions by China into Indian territory over the past 60 years

We should note that China has tried to intrude into Indian territory by crossing the LAC hundreds of times in the past 60 years. Hence, the recent incursion attempt is not surprising for India. India and China signed the first border agreement in 1996. They signed four more agreements by 2013. However, none of them include any clause that defines the border. Hence, China uses this loophole to fulfil its territorial aspirations. Recently, China has gone a step further and enhanced its military infrastructure significantly along the border and has repeatedly tried to escalate the matter with bloody clashes. As a result, these days, the atmosphere at the LAC is always tense. China wants it this way to create pressure on India, and the incursion is a part of a well-thought-out strategy. This multipronged strategy aims to tackle many issues (concerning civil unrest and its foreign policy debacles) together. Please note that the recent clash in the Tawang region happened a day after Dr S Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister of India, warned China not to disturb the status quo. He had participated in an event on 8th December 2022, where he maintained that no one should unilaterally undermine the bilateral agreements to maintain the status quo, while any incursion would violate those agreements. He further warned, “Despite this, if China intrudes into Indian territory, the Indian troops will give them a befitting reply”. Following this warning, the Chinese troops tried to intrude into Indian territory the next day. This incursion is aimed at showcasing Chinese military prowess to the world. Its ally Pakistan also tries to intrude into Indian territory. However, the new India has effectively dismantled all such plans.

3. Infrastructure development benefits Ladakh’s border with China

China has tried to intrude into western Ladakh several times in the past two years. However, it could not succeed since India rapidly developed the border infrastructure after the Doklam standoff in 2017, and hence, it was well-prepared to handle any aggression. Realising its strategic importance, India quickly developed basic infrastructure in the Ladakh region. Earlier, it used to take days to reach the LAC. Thanks to the infrastructure development, it takes just a couple of hours to cover the same distance. This region witnessed unprecedented growth in the development of motorable roads, airbases, tunnels and bridges. It enhanced its connectivity with the rest of India.

Earlier, when Chinese troops used to enter Indian territory, and find civilians – shepherds, cowherds and goatherds with their sheep, cattle and goats. It has completely changed in the recent times. These days, the Chinese troops find Indian soldiers when they attempt to cross the LAC into Indian territory.

4. Post-Doklam situation between India and China

Till 2009-10, India had adopted a different (defensive) defence strategy that left the region underdeveloped. However, this changed for the better after the Doklam standoff in 2017.

India rapidly developed the border infrastructure, and the world saw the results of the faceoff with the Chinese troops in Galwan and eastern Ladakh in 2020. Therefore, China wants to target the Eastern border as it seems vulnerable. China has historically claimed the State of Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory. The Chinese maps still include Arunachal Pradesh as Zangnan in China. China treats Zangnan as south Tibet and stakes a claim on the region. Tawang (A District in Arunachal Pradesh) has been on the Chinese radar for decades. China always protested when the Dalai Lama (Spiritual leader and former head of Tibet) or Indian leaders visited Tawang. India has tolerated this arrogant and high-handed behaviour despite Tawang being an integral part of India. The Chinese leadership seems keen to escalate the border dispute with India.

5. China’s aspirations to be the unchallenged power in Asia

There is a reason for China’s increased aggression. India has assumed the G20 (Group of Twenty) Presidency for a year. G20 is an Inter Governmental forum comprising the 19 most powerful countries in the world in addition to the European Union (EU). G20 was founded in 1999 and was revived in 2008. Since 2008, it has convened at least once a year. India will host the G20 summit in 2023 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.

India has treated this summit as a national festival and has organised various events in several States. The G20 leaders will visit India in September 2023. These will include the Heads of State (Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Chancellors) of the US, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, and other developed Nations. It will boost India’s stature as a global leader. This does not go well with Chinese leadership since their supreme leader, Xi Jinping, aspires for China to be the unchallenged power in Asia. Hence, he does not like any other country to compete with China on the economic or military front.

It is sad that when China adopted an aggressive stance on geopolitical issues, India remained a silent spectator. India has recognised Tibet as Chinese territory. India has also recognised the ‘One China’ policy that claims authority over Hong Kong and Taiwan. With such endorsements, China was used to India’s tacit support for its aggressive foreign policies. However, this has changed drastically in the recent past. India has started to challenge Chinese aggression and its expansionist activities. It has also given a befitting reply in a language China understands very well. Hence, China feels offended.

These days, the world sees India as a reliable alternative to China. The Coronavirus-inflicted crisis taught a critical lesson to the global leaders who heavily relied upon China as a global manufacturing hub. India can take advantage of this opportunity and be the dominant global supply chain partner. Also, multinational firms are trying to diversify their manufacturing away from China, and they are keen to find an alternative to make sizeable investments in the future. Again, India can capitalise on its stable political environment and resilient economy to convince these global firms to invest in the largest Democracy. These events are the prime reason China is utterly frustrated with India.

The other reason for China’s impatience with India is its close ties with the US. China becomes restless as these Democracies get closer. It resorts to border escalation or similar activities to divert India’s attention. China has long aimed to restrict India to Asia, and Chinese foreign policies revolve around containing India. India has recently joined the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), commonly known as the QUAD. The US has supported India’s stance on several occasions. Joe Biden, the US President, tweeted – ‘India is a strong partner of the United States, and I look forward to supporting my friend Prime Minister Modi during India’s G20 Presidency’. Xi Jinping will also attend the G20 summit. Hence, he will not escalate the border dispute. India-China relations reached a new low after the Galwan clash. The chemistry between Modi and Xi took a backseat. The two leaders just managed a handshake in Bali, Indonesia.

They refused to speak with each other.

This reveals a stressful bilateral relationship between the two Nations. The Tawang faceoff took place against this backdrop. However, this is not surprising. History is replete with examples of China trying to bully its neighbouring countries only to showcase China as the supreme leader. China’s strategy is to ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’ – Keep the border dispute alive through repeated incursions and engagements. However, after the Galwan faceoff, China realised that this was not the same India it faced in 1962, but a powerful country which believes in returning the favour to its enemies – tit for tat. Hence, China will not escalate this border issue beyond a certain point as it is not in its best interests.

6. China’s Tawang adventure is to distract the world from its domestic issues

China has witnessed large-scale protests against the Communist regime in the past few weeks. The protestors also challenged the dictatorship of Xi Jinping. Although the State-owned media in China wanted to brush aside these protests as public anger against the ‘Zero-Covid’ policy, the Chinese revolted against Xi Jinping and his policies.

It is important to note that this was the second-largest public protest against the regime after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests for getting democratic rights.

Several members of the Communist party and outsiders have raised concerns over Xi Jinping’s third term as President. However, Xi Jinping was successful in suppressing these voices. The recent protests have challenged the authority of Xi Jinping once again. He believed that he had subjugated his opponents and no one could question his Presidency-for-life. These protests have changed this perception.

President Xi Jinping seems vulnerable to such challenges in the times to come. Hence, President Xi Jinping might have played the Tawang card to arouse nationalistic feelings and distract the protestors. Such a strategy may pacify some angry protestors and give the leadership more time to manage the situation. China has used such techniques in the past as well. There is a section of Communist leaders who oppose President Xi Jinping and his policies. Hence, President Xi Jinping might have played the Tawang card to bolster his position as a hardcore nationalistic leader.

China has built some villages along the eastern border adjoining Arunachal Pradesh in Bhutan. Hence, India needs to be alert to these developments from the security standpoint. India should enhance the security framework of the Siliguri Corridor, commonly known as the Chicken’s Neck, that connects the eight States of North-East India to the rest of the country.

It seems to be a well-thought-out strategy – Build villages in the guise of providing shelter to the needy people; convert such villages into military camps or war centres. China employed a similar technique in the South China Sea. It built colonies on many hitherto uninhabited islands and later converted them into military naval bases. India should realise the danger along the eastern border and beef up security measures in the region (read Arunachal Pradesh). China has kept a watchful eye on the infrastructure development in Arunachal Pradesh, which witnessed the construction of new roads and airbases. Hence, India should access and enhance security measures along its eastern border.

Conclusion

Although the Chinese aggression along LAC near Tawang region on 9th December 2022 is worrisome for India, China may not escalate it any further. China has border disputes with 19 other countries. It rightfully owns 40% of its land, but it acquired 60% of its landmass from its neighbours. China does not engage with more than one enemy at a time. Therefore, it will employ other methods to keep India on its toes. For this, it will try to disparage India’s global stature or instill a sense of fear among the Indian troops and ordinary Indian citizens. China will fan the flames of discontent about the political leadership of India.

– Dr Shailendra K Deolankar (Foreign Policy and International Affairs Expert)

China has long aimed to restrict India to Asia, and Chinese foreign policies revolve around containing India !

China will try to disparage India’s global stature or instill a sense of fear in the Indian troops and ordinary citizens !

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