India has grown weary and wary of China’s increasing aggression over the disputed India-China borders
The 2020 China–India skirmishes are part of an ongoing military standoff between China and India. Since 5 May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops have reportedly engaged in aggressive melee, face-offs, and skirmishes at locations along the Sino-Indian border. The clashes culminated in a melee fighting on 15/16 June 2020 which resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers (including an officer) and 43 Chinese soldiers (including an officer) although Chinese authorities denied the casualty figures on its side.
The June deadly brawl indicates a significant escalation of conflicts between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants over border demarcations and disputes. India faces trade imbalance heavily in favor of China. The two countries failed to resolve their border dispute and Indian media outlets have repeatedly reported Chinese military incursions into Indian territory. Both countries have steadily established military infrastructure along the border areas. India says China’s “premeditated” attack on its troops in the strategically important Galwan Valley in Ladakh is a violation of the rules of engagement that has managed to prevent bloodshed in the region for nearly five decades.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping has met eighteen times since Modi’s election as Prime Minister of India in 2014. Until now, both countries have managed to respect and navigate their critically complex relationship peacefully. After the Galwan Valley brawl that left scores of Indian soldiers dead, the people of India are forced to reconsider their country’s relationship with China.
India will be loath to easily forget their country’s crushing defeat at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army during the 1962 border conflict with China. While the 1962 defeat inspired a shift in India’s foreign policy from idealism to realpolitik together with considerable advancement in its military and regional concerns, the country remained untangled with the United States of America.
India’s former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had fomented the Chini Bhai Bhai (India and China are brothers) idealism that helped foster the pursuit of peace between the two countries. But as China betrayed India in the 1960s, fast forward to 2020, and it seems China has once again stabbed India in the back. India is currently on a foreign policy precipice where it can no longer afford to sit on the fence or have its feet on land and water. As the country works towards de-escalation of conflict with China, the scale of recent killing ensures that business-as-usual is no longer an option.
Washington’s desire for stronger ties with India is a well-known fact, and China’s increasing provocation of India thrusts the country in a more favorable position to clasp arms with the US, unlike the 1960s when India was reluctant to gravitate towards the United States. The US has long courted India as an economic partner and counterweight to an expansionist and assertive China.
India has hesitated to explicitly align with the United States apparently to avoid provoking China even as the Indian Prime Minister has energetically pursued improved diplomacy with America. Several scholars have observed that India has simply morphed its cold-war strategy of “non-alignment” with the US to “multi-alignment” with both the US and China, which implicitly denotes aversion to alliances. China’s intensified aggravation of India effectively forces India to yet morph this strategy into an explicit alliance with America.
In recent years, India has steadily moved towards a more genial partnership with the US which is widely understood as a broader push to counter-balance China’s growing power and status both economically and on the world’s stage. To wit, India has only recently joined security groups such as QUAD and JAI with like-minded democracies like America, Japan, and Australia. Modi has also spearheaded enhanced relations with Israel- a notable ally of the United States- while moving slowly but steadily deeper into America’s circle.
As more and more countries expressed muted disappointment of China’s secretive handling of the coronavirus pandemic, India took a clear stand, albeit in a subtle manner, against the Chinese government’s handling of the highly infectious virus. Indian media peddled an anti-China narrative often calling for a boycott of Chinese products. Political figures also pointed out China’s lack of transparency in handling the outbreak and its attempts to silence whistle-blowers, going so far as questioning the Chinese model of governance. India, along with Australia and the European Union, imposed certain restrictions on Chinese investments in their countries, further demonstrating this subtle approach.
Unsurprisingly, India’s subtle demonstrations did not go unnoticed by China. The Global Times, a state-owned Chinese news media published an editorial in May warning India off of the US and not to allow itself to be used as a pawn against China. Brookings scholar Tanvi Madan went as far as saying the June 16 border brawl that claimed the lives of Indian soldiers was China’s way of putting India at its place due to India’s persistent cavorting with the US. “As US-China tensions escalate over a wide range of issues covering almost every realm, some are predicting that the world’s two largest economies are about to enter a new Cold War. At this juncture, India needs to be careful about being involved in the US-China rivalry,” the Global Times article said.
However, the deadly Galwan Valley attack on Indian soldiers appears to be driving India deeper into the waiting embrace of the United States regardless of China’s warnings. The “ambush” that left more than twenty Indian soldiers dead is bound to radically shift India’s attitude towards China. With China’s army significantly larger and more financed than India’s, sustained response to Chinese aggression means India will have to utilize its military, economic, and political options.
Indian government officials had said the deadly brawl will not impact trade relation between India and China, but various types of action were taken on the economic front including cancellation and additional scrutiny of certain contracts with Chinese firms, and calls were also made to stop the entry of the Chinese into strategic markets in India such as the telecom sector.
India has recently placed a ban on 59 Chinese apps including TikTok, WeChat, Helo. The government said in a press release late on Monday that it banned 59 Chinese mobile applications, including top social media platforms such as TikTok, Helo, and WeChat, to counter the threat posed by these applications to the country’s “sovereignty and security.” However, the timing of the ban is indicative of rising tensions between both countries following the deadly Galwan Valley clash.
India is clearly at a point where it can no longer pretend to be in love with multiple spouses. In the context of its relation with China, India needs likeminded allies and the recent border skirmishes will force India to abandon its former “non-alignment” stance in favor of explicit ties with the West. As former Indian foreign secretary Gokhale recently stated, “In the post-COVID age, enjoying the best of both worlds may no longer be an option.” As the tragic events along its border with China have shown, India may have finally learned this lesson the hard way.
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Tags: China Chinese India Narendra Modi Xi Jinping America