India To Shift 50,000 Troops To Its Northern Border

Last week we discussed the new strategic realities India is contending with at the present time as China is replacing Pakistan as the nation’s primary adversary. The solidifying Chinese military footprint in areas near the Sino-Indian frontier was touched upon, as was the absence of a similar response by India. Whatever the hesitancies were that prevented New Delhi from formulating an effective countermove appear to have disappeared. The Indian military will be shifting 50,000 troops towards the border region in an effort to increase the number of options available to Indian commanders. The shifting of these forces to the north will reduce the number of troops allocated to the defense of India’s western border with Pakistan. This is a prime indication of the shift in strategic focus from Pakistan to China.

The timing of this move must be taken into account as well. India has just been ravaged by a recent wave of COVID-19 cases and the economy is contracting at a dangerously rapid pace. There will be less money available for defense in future budget cycles, meaning this shift of troops needs to take place now. However, even as this troop movement plays out and India continues to realign its strategic priorities, China continues to hold an advantage along the border.

This is an area that we will certainly explore a bit later in the week, along with today’s drone attack on an Indian Air Force installation in Kashmir. Tomorrow’s post will take a look at the dueling NATO and Russian naval exercises now kicking off in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Hope everyone has had a good weekend!

Sino-Indian Relations One Year After Galwan

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.

The Difficulties In Building A Unified Front Against Myanmar’s Military Regime

On Friday the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Myanmar, as well as a condemnation of its military’s seizure of power in February. The resolution was not unanimous by any means with over thirty-five nation abstaining. Predictably, China and Russia were two of them. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, yet they do carry a considerable amount of political weight provided that a majority of world and regional powers support their passage. In this case aside from China, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand were the other Southeast Asian nations that abstained. Belarus was the only nation to oppose the resolution.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry rejected the UN resolution, calling it a document “based on one-sided sweeping allegations and false assumptions.” The government has also sent a letter of objection to the office of the UN General Secretary.

Despite the resolution, a growing number of nations in Asia are reluctant to apply financial pressure on the regime in Myanmar. Stringent measures such as these run the risk of increasing China’s regional influence. India and Japan in particular have factored this into their respective policies regarding Myanmar. For the United States, the positions some of its allies in Asia have taken on Myanmar undermines its broad policy of defending democracies. This policy has become a keynote of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. India and China have also avoided joining Western democracies applying sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human-rights abuses in Xinjiang.

It appears the United States will have to face the fact that a united front against the military regime is simply not possible in the current climate. In principle, there’s minimal opposition to the theme of defending democracies and ensuring the safety of democratically elected regimes. However, once economic and geopolitical realities enter the equation, lofty principles take a back seat for most nation-states. Preventing China’s regional influence from rising, for example, is considerably more significant to New Delhi and Tokyo then punishing the military regime in Myanmar.

Apparently, this is something the Biden administration has overlooked

Sino-Indian Border Crisis Drags On

The standoff between India and China along their shared border area in the Himalayan region continues. The mutual troop withdrawals which took place earlier in the year, and subsequent rounds of negotiations, have failed to bring the crisis closer to a conclusion. In fact, negotiations have stalled and do not appear to be going anywhere. India’s attention is not on the northern border at present. The COVID-19 resurgence has gripped the national focus while Sino-Indian relations continue to worsen.

Meanwhile, on the Chinese side of the border, the People’s Liberation Army is reinforcing military positions and rotating troops along the border. The number of soldiers at the border has not changed, but China’s shift to ‘depth-areas’ has made reinforcing the border with additional forces much easier. This makes clear that China is in no hurry to de-escalate tensions. Quite the opposite. China has paid considerable attention to the military infrastructure in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) region. Beijing is constructing roads, military encampments, air defense positions and more. Several PLAAF airbases have increased their ability to bed down more combat aircraft.

India has not responded in kind. Its present forces in the region, including the Galwan Valley, have not been reinforced this year. Nor have they been rotated. Diplomatically, India has not made a major issue of the Chinese military activity. Given the present situation on the sub-continent, it is unlikely to do so any time in the near future.

Author’s Note: Apology for the short post. Allergies have been a major problem this week, but are beginning to improve.

India, COVID-19 and Pandemic Geopolitics

As India struggles beneath the weight of a major COVID-19 outbreak, promises of assistance are coming from around the world, most notably from Beijing and Washington. Not surprisingly, it is the words and actions of the United States and China that are attracting the lion’s share of attention and commentary from inside of India at the present time. The Indian government has remained silent on China’s offers to provide medical assistance, and with good reason. There is a great deal of suspicion about China’s motivations, both in government circles and in the population at large. The sentiment is that China is not concerned about India and is only looking to use the moment as an opportunity to highlight the Biden administration’s failure to respond swiftly and decisively to India’s latest outbreak. Washington and New Delhi have enjoyed a good relationship over the last five years, in large part due to the importance each nation has placed on countering China. Beijing would love nothing more than to drive a wedge in between the two nations and highlight how the US reluctance to help India has compounded the effects of this latest outbreak for India’s citizenry. In fact, for the past few days the CCP-backed Global Times has criticized the US for dragging its heels in providing aid to India.

This type of criticism is a major reason for New Delhi having not accepted China’s offer of assistance. Public opinion is a powerful weapon and taking Beijing’s offer would’ve painted the US as an unreliable partner. With anti-China sentiment still high and the border dispute unresolved, the Indian government is compelled to consider how its moves will appear both domestically and on the international stage. Needless to say, last thing the Indian government needs is to paint itself into a corner geopolitically.

Fortunately for India, there are a great number of other nations willing to help, the majority of whom are not handicapped by a geopolitical agenda driving its humanitarian aid. Oxygen supplies in many Indian hospitals have been depleted. Great Britain and Singapore are two nations who’ve delivered on their promises, providing oxygen tanks and ventilators. France has sent oxygen production units, while Germany and Canada have also stated their intentions to provide assistance.