China talks about disengagement on LAC, but will India lower its guard?
Hints coming in from the Chinese side suggest Beijing doesn’t want to flare up tension with India on the border in Eastern Ladakh anymore
Almost a week after the Ministry of External Affairs statement that respecting and strictly abiding by the Line of Actual Control is the basis of peace and tranquillity in the border areas and five days after 17th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs, the Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday said, “border troops have disengaged in most localities.”
In the Pangong Tso Lake area, where China has amassed 40,000 troops, tension still prevails between the two sides even as both India and China are preparing for the fifth round of commander –level talks. It is expected to figure prominently during the commander-level talks.
Chinese troops had come up to Finger 4 on the north bank, 8 km west of Fnger 8 which India says marks the LAC. Though the Chinese PLA vacated the Finger 4 base area, they still occupy positions on the ridgeline at Finger 4. However, hints coming in from the Chinese side suggest Beijing doesn’t want to flare up tension with India on the border in Eastern Ladakh anymore and it may disengage post the forthcoming commander-level talks.
Avoid lowering guard on LAC
Given the past behaviour of China with its neighbouring countries, including India, trusting Beijing will be foolhardy, feel several analysts. “China wants to cool India's front due to pressure from the United States of America in the South China Sea. China will come back with greater force when pressure is off. India should not let down guard or border and continue with policy of economic retribution,” Ambassador Ahok Sajjanhar said in his tweet.
After banning 59 Chinese apps earlier in June, India last week restricted the functioning of 47 apps which are clones or variants of banned Chinese apps. The Ministry of Information and Technology had cited the threat to “sovereignty and integrity” of the country as the reason behind disallowing these 59 Chinese apps.
“Invoking its power under section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provision of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 and in view of the emergent nature of threats, the Ministry of Information Technology has decided to block 59 apps since in view of information available they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” the Ministry of Information Technology had said in a press note on June 29.
Economic costs for misadventure
This was followed by India putting a blanket ban on the participation of Chinese companies in Indian highway projects, including through the joint venture route. It rescinded Chinese plans to invest in India’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector. Then tightening the noose around Chinese business houses eyeing the Indian market for investment, India has restricted Chinese companies from bidding for public sector contracts.
The Centre has directed that no order for goods, services or turnkey projects, including consultancy as well as non-consultancy work, shall be given to companies from countries that share a land border with India unless they are registered with a competent authority in India. This apart, political and security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs will be compulsory.
This move is considered to have a far reaching impact on Chinese companies providing goods and services to India. But then India too will suffer. Still it seems, it is willing to bear costs in the short run in order to have larger gains later on. “Such moves are a calculated response to shape Chinese calculus on the border issue which is getting serious by the day in the absence of any commitment by the Chinese to resolve it amicably,” Harsh Pant, head of the strategic studies at Observer Research Foundation was quoted by Bloomberg.com as saying.
Strategic move in Indo-Pacific region
Beyond trade, India is also using its strategic heft with Quad-comprising the US, Australia and Japan to give China a tough time in Indo-Pacific region. Shedding its inhibition and ignoring sensitivity of Beijing, India is considering inviting Australia to the annual Malabar naval exercise. A formal decision in this context is likely to be taken in the next couple of weeks.
Overall objective is to provide effective military deterrence to China by bringing like-minded countries on one platform. Just recently, US Navy’s largest warship USS Nimitz (which is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier) along with its Carrier Strike Group (CSG) conducted a Passex exercise with the Indian Navy off the coast of Andaman and Nicobar. Two days after Passex exercise between Indian and US naval forces in the Indian Ocean, Australian, Japanese and the US navies held their trilateral exercise in the Philippine Sea. Some experts see it as symbolic ‘Quad’ naval drills in the Indian Ocean and the Philippines Sea. This offered a hint to a future plan of all four democratic countries in the region.
On the diplomatic front too, India has sent a subtle message to China that it would not hesitate to review its one-China policy. It has appointed 1999-batch IFS officer and current Joint Secretary in Americas division of the Ministry of External Affairs, Gourangalal Das as the new envoy to Taipei. Formal announcement to this regard is expected to be made soon. Das is going to be the Director-General of the India-Taipei Association which serves as the unofficial diplomatic representative of India in Taipei.
For the first time India is going to appoint its representative in Taiwan which is so far recognized by only 15 small countries of the world. Then weeks ahead of the Galwan Valley incident where 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives in the mediaeval age type fight with Chinese soldiers, who used stones, nail studded wooden clubs and iron rods to attack Indian soldiers, BJP parliamentarians Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan attended the swearing-in ceremony of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in a virtual format.
These two parliamentarians were among the 92 dignitaries from 41 countries who had attended the swearing-in ceremony, using digital technology. Besides, thoughts are given over increasing trade and investment ties with Taiwan. At the moment, three of the largest contractors for Apple iPhones-Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron are expanding their production facilities for iPhones in India. Wistron and Foxconn have planned to invest Rs 7,500 crore in India over a five year period. The two way trade between India and Taiwan is currently $7 billion.
Yet punch to China came when India raised China’s draconian new security law for Hong Kong at Geneva-based Human Rights Council. This law gives China unprecedented powers to launch a crackdown against dissent under the garb of tackling crimes of secession, terrorism, subversion and collusion with foreign elements. Without taking China’s name, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva Rajiv Chander said New Delhi is “keeping a close watch on recent development in Hong Kong”. He also expressed his hope that “the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.”
India had never taken such a bold intervention in China’s internal matters. But now gloves are out against China; whether India will have the same feeling and respect for Chinese leaders is a million dollar question. Whether Chinese President Xi Jinping will ever get the grand red carpet welcome that he had received during his visits in September 2014 and October 2019—is in the realm of speculation. Post the Galwan incident, India seems to have changed the rule of its business with China. Wounds of the 1962 War have reopened and now, India will not give China an opportunity to stab it in the back.