Signalling belligerence

Events over the last week have made it clear that the situation in eastern Ladakh remains grim. There is a clear disjunct between China’s, entirely erroneous, description of the disengagement process as almost complete and India’s, factual, understanding of the ground reality regarding the deployment of People’s Liberation Army troops. Military and diplomatic-level talks between the two sides have made little progress. The Chinese ambassador to India, late last week, reiterated the Chinese position and stuck to Beijing’s narrative of the Galwan incident, blaming India.

All of this points to a clear signal from the Chinese. Talks or no talks, Beijing is telling New Delhi that it will not budge. The chutzpah here is staggering. China wants the Indian side to pull back from what is Indian territory; it wants patrolling powers curtailed; it wants to convert the new facts on the ground it has created by violating past pacts into the new reality; it wants India to give up on its own territorial claims in the region; and all this while, it also expects Delhi to be held responsible for the stand-off in the first place.

There is little doubt that events over the past three months have shown China is India’s most dangerous strategic adversary. In the immediate context, Delhi has to focus on retaining and boosting its military strength at the Line of Actual Control. It should also come up with creative ways to exert military pressure on China, perhaps in other geographies where Beijing is more vulnerable, to force it to step back — while factoring in the risks of escalation carefully. It must continue to tell China that Beijing’s fond hope of retaining the economic benefits of the relationship while posing a security threat will not be entertained. It must cement international partnerships, and actively participate in the global narrative against China’s belligerence, for hedging is no longer a viable option. It must prepare for not just a long winter in Ladakh, but a difficult decade ahead where India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty will be challenged from two fronts. And it must focus on the domestic front to ensure political stability, social harmony, and most importantly, economic growth and national unity to be able to take on China. Beijing’s signals leave India with no choice but to respond accordingly.

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