India must build up international pressure on China, both politically and economically, while working towards a resolution of the Galwan valley standoff, former diplomats have said.
Calling this standoff one of the biggest challenges faced by the NDA government, K C Singh, a former diplomat, said it calls for a complete rethink of India’s China policy. G Parthasarthy, a former diplomat and strategy expert, said China’s occupation of the Galwan valley has geopolitical consequences and we are in for a long haul.
Terming it PM Narendra Modi’s Nehru moment of 1962, Singh said China has been planning this incursion for a while but India seems to have been caught by surprise.
“Last August, China objected to Article 370 abrogation that led to the notification of Ladakh boundaries in September and upset three neighbours, including Nepal. We ignored the first warning signs. In September, the PM attended a ‘Howdy Modi’ in Houston that signalled our growing ties with the US. This was followed by President Donald Trump’s visit to India this March. Then followed the pandemic and the growing global chorus against China led by Trump who called it the Wuhan virus. Should it be a surprise that PLA, despite pandemic in India, intruded at multiple spots across the LAC in Ladakh?” said Singh.
While former military commanders dismissed any comparison with the Kargil incursion, Singh said it is worse than Kargil. “Unlike Kargil where the Pakistanis claimed the intruders were not their soldiers, PLA troops are at Galwan with heavy weaponry. While Pakistani intruders were trying to dominate the Leh heights, here they are trying to seek dominance over India’s new road to Daulat Beg Oldie, besides the critical Karakoram Pass.”
Parthasarthy said the Chinese are very nervous of India getting near Aksai Chin through infrastructure development. “It is through this link that most of the supplies flow to Baltistan,” he pointed out.
Calling China’s claim on Galwan Valley disingenuous, Parthasarthy said it was part of British India and then India. “We established a post there in 1962.”
Singh said President Xi Jinping may have multiple motives behind this move, including the desire to distract from domestic socio-economic distress. He recounted how most of the Chinese agreements with India had coincided with economic downturn. “They hit a wall in 1989 because of sanctions that followed the Tiananmen massacre, subsequently the economy slowed down in 1989-1990 and that is why they were amenable to the 1993 and 1996 agreements.”
Singh said China is also upset with India’s desire to acquire tactical and strategic advantage by upgrading its infrastructure and wants to stop India from doing that.
“China is wary of India’s emerging alliances with other nations as well. Trump said we don’t want a G-7 but a D-10, there is talk of a Quad Plus, to include other democracies of Indo-Pacific, besides the present members Japan, Australia, India and US. I led the first meeting in 2007, as an additional secretary. In 2017, the plan was revived at the ministerial level,” Singh added.
Pointing out that abrogation of Article 370 gave China a chance to consolidate forces against India, Singh said a country’s domestic policy can’t be its own agenda, and there is a link between domestic politics and international relations. The abrogation worked to the advantage of China by getting two neighbours against us, he said. “They managed to exploit Nepalese concerns. So intruding into Ladakh their left flank has an irate Nepal and to their right runs CPEC through Gilgit Baltistan, the northern fringe of an already anti-India Pakistan.”
On the way forward, Parthasarthy said, “We are in for a long haul. There is no easy way out.”
On Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh’s call to take a hard line on China, Parthasarthy, who was an Army captain posted at Pathankot during the 1965 war when Amarinder was, said, “I can never fault him. He is speaking out in anguish at the death of so many men.”
Singh, however, said the government must avoid an emotional reaction. “We should not look for instant retribution, real or projected. The government’s dilemma today is how to keep its hyper-nationalist base patient and not baying for Chinese blood, while it devises a mix of military, diplomatic and economic pressure. As for Galwan valley, the status quo is unacceptable and the nation will reject it. Our defence forces have to be prepared for Kargil II if China does not relent.”
“Also, see where China is vulnerable. Plan something where we have an advantage,” he added.
Both the former diplomats underscored the need to build domestic and international consensus on the issue. Parthasarthy said, “We have to express our displeasure to them internationally. They have been bullying a lot of countries in Asia. Given the arrogance of their behaviour, it is time India joined others in telling China about the illegality of its behaviour, be it seizure of territory in Ladakh, Vietnam or in the Philippines.”
Parthasarthy pointed out that China has been very nervous about being blamed for coronavirus. “We should put a squeeze on them. They can’t eat rats, bats and then put the whole humanity to suffering and pretend they have no responsibility.”
Making a strong case for putting economic pressure on China, Singh said, “China may relent if businesses move away, the markets abroad are affected, and they are unable to keep their growth rate high.”
Cautioning that China doesn’t plan for 10 years but for 100, unlike India where the governments only think of the next elections, he stressed the importance of leaving the back door open for orderly retreat by China without losing face.
Both the diplomats called for encouraging dialogue. As Singh put it, “Keep the talks going, calculating whether delay and winter affect us or China more. But time should not allow China to harden defences selectively, as I am sure they have a fallback position i.e. some locations that they really want for strategic dominance.”
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