The Chinese challenge is here to stay. Here are some steps India can quickly take to counter it
This story first appeared in The Times of India
We’re all satellite imagery experts now. We know how many tents the Chinese are erecting at the junction of Galwan and Shyok rivers in eastern Ladakh, can plot their precise locations and extrapolate their intentions. But we’re yet to admit a fundamental truth to ourselves.
The Chinese are not going anywhere. After the casualties suffered by both sides on the night of June 15 they have only come in larger numbers, amassed troops and artillery, ranged all along the boundary in Ladakh. The fact that we’re debating over whether they are 100m out or 200m in is exactly what China wants us to do.
Military commanders may continue to meet, joint secretaries can go over the same ground about returning to the status quo ante, it’s not working where it should. China has absolutely no reason to go back from areas they occupy, just because Indians feel outraged.
Indians, meanwhile, are parsing through the controlled commentary Chinese ‘experts’ and Americans who interpret China for Indians put out, to divine what the emperor of the Middle Kingdom is thinking. Almost all the commentary sort of concludes that India’s actions are responsible for China being a toxic, territorially ‘hangry’ power. Indians are playing the Chinese game.
Neither Article 370 nor DSDBO road is to blame. Indians need to internalise this. China wants Indians to think this, so the next time a road is built or a strike corps raised, an Indian government will think twice.
With troops fully deployed on both sides of the LAC, there will be more face-offs, more violence, more deaths. We should understand we will take huge costs, but we need to do that today for a better tomorrow. We should have done that yesterday, but Indian governments are suckers for China.
Indian casualties will be well-known and publicised. Chinese casualties will be secret. Indians have a simpler task – to put out more credible accounts of Chinese losses because for China, even a single death is a loss of face. That’s a vulnerability waiting to be exploited.
China has severely controlled the information flow regarding the confrontation or the clashes in Ladakh internally. That means only one thing – China means to tie down Indians in endless talks and negotiations about disengagement both at the military and MEA levels.
India has no choice but to expand and diversify the theatre of this conflict. India’s perceived inaction is already creating a groundswell of popular opinion against the Modi government. India should become the irrational power now.
There are already signs that India is looking at taking “control” of the conflict in different theatres. On the seas, preferably in the western Indian Ocean, Chinese ships should be harassed or interdicted – the longer the logistical lines for China the better. Let the Chinese navy leave the western Pacific and three US aircraft carrier groups and move westwards to the Indian Ocean to protect their ships. China’s modernisation of its Djibouti base or militarisation of Gwadar is still work in progress, that can be retarded further.
India should consider holding a Malabar exercise with all four Quad members as soon as possible. It’s the best kind of strategic messaging we can muster at this point.
India should step off the bench and join the Five Eyes network. It’s one thing to get executive summaries from them, another to be actually part of it. India has refrained from joining so far, but a network of intel sharing on China is crucial now.
We should stop Chinese imports strategically in a way that minimises the hurt to our industry, not by gut feeling alone. A CFIUS-like agency, housed within MEA, is well overdue. If there was some soft pedalling on 5G earlier, there’s none now. Huawei has lost its potentially largest market. Chinese investments in the tech sector, electric mobility, fintech, renewables etc are under a swinging hatchet now. In retrospect, we did the right thing by walking out of RCEP. But it’s time this government moved rapidly on three key FTAs – with the US, EU and Taiwan.
Finally, the government has to get its political and diplomatic messaging right. Not just for Xi Jinping and the CCP, but also for our own people. But who will tell the PM that his own spin shop is his government’s worst enemy?