With the world’s attention focused on Taiwan lately, Sunday’s talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders slipped beneath the radar of many newsreaders across the globe. The discussions were the latest in a series of corps and army-level talks aimed at defusing a standoff at the border which has gone on for over a year. Since the clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed border, both nations have claimed they desire a resolution to the standoff. Their actions, however, tell another story as the military presence on both sides of the border continues to increase.
Sunday’s talks failed to make progress and on the following day India and China pointed fingers at each other. The Indian Defense Ministry placed blame on “unilateral attempts by the Chinese side to alter the status quo.” Indian commanders put forward reasonable suggestions at the latest round of talks but China’s representatives were not in agreement and resisted them. A spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army placed responsibility for the lack of progress on India, claiming Indian demands are unreasonable and unrealistic.
Both nations have raised the number of troops stationed in the border region and are actively building up infrastructure intended to keep large forces stationed there during the dangerous winter seasons. Current Chinese troop levels are estimated at 50,000 near the border with tens of thousands more men, and their equipment, within a day’s travel. India has kept pace with the buildup, deploying tens of thousands of its own troops, and weaponry to the border.
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 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.
There has been a considerable amount of maneuvering by the People’s Republic of China, and India over the weekend on the South Asia/Western Pacific gameboard. Each nation-state’s moves are calculated to widen and expand contemporary avenues aimed at mid to long term strategic national goals.
For China, their latest move appears designed to give off the impression of de-escalation in the Ladakh region. The People’s Liberation Army has moved 10,000 of its troops out of rear areas in in the area of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Sources have confirmed the movement from training areas traditionally used by PLA forces in eastern Ladakh, located roughly 100 miles beyond the Indian area of the LAC. The troops had been there since April, a short time before tensions in that area started to rise. It is worth mentioning that although the Chinese troops are departing, their heavy equipment will remain in place.This raises the possibility that the purpose of the move is logistics. Maintaining a large force in a region with such extreme winter weather is difficult, to say the least. Another caveat to the troop movement is that China is not pulling troops off of the frontline positions. The balance of forces along the LAC will remain unchanged.
Author’s Note: Apologies. Half way through writing this I became slightly ill and have decided to cut the entry short. I will put up a second part on Tuesday. Again, very sorry. Seems like the chemo side effects aren’t entirely out of my system yet.
There is a long history of tension and conflict on the Sino-Indian border. Certain areas along the 3,800-kilometer-long frontier have been in dispute for decades, and in some spots even longer. In the past half-century, standoffs and skirmishes between Chinese and Indian troops have occurred from time to time. Agreements were signed between New Delhi and Beijing to ensure peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and promises were made to resolve the contentious border issues. Not surprisingly, none of these promises would ever bear fruit. The significance of the LAC issues ebbed and flowed with the shifts in global priorities and the international order over the years. The best that could be said was that for the past forty years there were no deadly clashes in the border area.
That streak came to an inglorious end in June, 2020 when Chinese and Indian troops met in the Galwan River valley. No small arms were used, the confrontation was, instead, a melee with swords, sticks, and rocks used as the primary weapons. When it ended 20 Indian and 43 Chinese soldiers were dead and the situation along the Sino-Indian border appeared to be in danger of escalating into a major military confrontation between the two Asian powers. Over the summer, and into the autumn months tension remained high. There was dialogue between the governments and militaries, but no firm de-escalation, and disengagement measures came about. Force buildups continued, as well as provocative troop movements in and around the LAC.
The border area is stable at the moment. Winter fast approaching in the Himalayas and will hamper military operations and movement to a large degree, but this does not guarantee that the winter season will be a quiet one. There are many new facets to the current Sino-Indian crisis that were not present in the past, such as the nuclear element, as well as India’s role as the US counterweight to China. These two facets contribute to making the stakes of this Sino-Indian crisis substantially high.
I have much to say on the Sino-Indian situation, and on their relations in general. As a result, one entry, no matter how detailed, is not going to suffice. So, expect another two entries on the Sino-Indian Crisis in the coming week. If Tuesday weren’t Election Day here in the US I would wrap it up by then. Unfortunately, this won’t be possible so I will post Part II on Monday, and Part III next Thursday.