It has been just over a year since the bloody clash between Indian and Chinese troops at the Galwan Valley. Since then, despite the partial disengagement between Indian and Chinese forces in the Galwan area and other parts of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as well as complete disengagement at Pangong Lake, tensions remain high. The risk of conflict, inadvertent or otherwise, continues to persist. On some levels that danger is even more pronounced at the present time. China’s current troop deployments and dispositions in the LAC area has increased Indian uncertainty about Beijing’s commitment to make troop reductions in the region. At the Qatar Economic Forum today, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that despite promises made, China’s “close-up deployment still continues, especially in Ladakh.”
China is improving its military and civilian infrastructure in Tibet and Xingjian, two border provinces along its border with India. China is upgrading five airbases in that region and building three new ones as well. Logistical facilities for the Chinese military are also being expanded at a hurried pace. Simultaneously, new civilian infrastructure links which would be invaluable to the military in times of crisis and war are being constructed. Highways and rail links in particular.
The purpose behind these preparations is clear: In the event of a future Sino-Indian conflict China intends to bring overwhelming force to bear in a minimal amount of time. What remains is determining if the nature China’s moves here are defensive-minded or offensive.
For India, the writing on the wall was made clear after the Galwan clash. China, not Pakistan is now the main enemy. This realization has caused India to increase its partnership in the Quad, an informal anti-China alliance of sorts that also includes the United States, Japan and Australia. Further, China’s new assertiveness has also turned Indian foreign policy and defense priorities upside down. Beijing is not going to ease the pressure and it will probably expand farther into the economic realm in coming months.
This is where India is facing its real predicament. Excluding Chinese companies from doing business in India is nearly impossible. A large part of this is because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increasing demand for pharmaceutical ingredients and India’s present dependence on China for antibiotics and painkillers means New Delhi will not be able to adopt stringent anti-China policies in the foreseeable future. This economic dependence runs the risk of becoming India’s Achilles’ heel in its growing competition with the People’s Republic of China.