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There has been a barrage of analyses from ‘experts’ in deciphering the reasons behind the recent Chinese assertions against India. All the analyses are individual and experiential interpolations because it is very difficult to ferret the Chinese rationale behind their actions. What stands out is the relative degree of assertiveness, confidence and a bit of arrogance on the part of India which was absent in earlier times. The conciliatory mood has given way to aggressive replies and countermoves. Is it related to COVID-19? Yes and No. India’s coalition diplomacy coupled with its display of leadership in marshalling global response and providing medicines is a ‘new normal’ and a threat to China. China prefers India to be a subordinate partner in Asia and world affairs. A resurgent India is a threat to its ambitions and spoke on its concept of subjugation of peripheral nations. India is additionally burdened by expenditures of maintaining additional force, hasty procurements and tackling economic and security fronts simultaneously. It may not be retaliation in COVID times because there were no direct actions taken by India on the COVID issue in comparison to the rest of the world. It has been provoking an anti-China agenda among the populace, using the legal handle to restrict trade and commerce and continuing with military-level disengagement talks as scalable features of the response. The present crisis could be related to China’s ‘baser instincts’ – Larger territory, absolute power, and obeisance from all. China longs to be Number One (Zhongguo di yi).
The recent incidents of military nudging by China, covering an arc of approx. 1000 kilometres from Daulet Beg Oldi in Ladakh to Naku La in North Sikkim are timed during a pandemic crisis and severe economic downturn. It is an opportune moment to test, assess and exert influence. The conditions prevailing in India during the 1962 war was of unpreparedness physically and political apathy to matters defence. Both conditions are absent now which leads us to ponder whether China made a strategic blunder. Arthashastra considers an enemy in trouble with his subjects oppressed, ill-treated and victim to pestilence, epidemics as an opportune moment to be offensive. China has all these symptoms. Perhaps, India’s strong stance may be a strain of the Kautilyan thought. From the Chinese view, it is annoyance against an impudent India.
From Uri to Balakot to Ladakh to the denial mode in the high seas, the Indian Army, Navy and the Airforce have demonstrated their capabilities of deliverance when called upon to do so. Freedom from political interference to plan and execute operations is the singular reason for the demonstrated success in all three actions. It is a direct reflection on the capacity and capability of our commanders in planning and executing operations, tactical-level leadership of officers and the fighting ability of our men. It also demonstrates the adaptability of our troops in difficult situations and in handling modern weapons and equipment in combat. The political hierarchy hereinafter cannot have any doubts on the might of the armed forces.
The ground situation of pre-emptive deployments in Ladakh, enhanced logistics to maintain the deployed force, forward deployments of the Air Force and the Indian Navy assumes permanency. The trust deficit is the biggest impediment in normalized relations between countries. China has historically and even now given enough evidence of their untrustworthiness. The present political dispensation is not naïve, nor are they lotus-eaters. Therefore, the army has to endure a situation of permanency in Eastern Ladakh. The army’s focus will be on force management, logistic sustenance, communications among other issues.
The background of ‘undeclared war’ sets the tone and tenor for a new normal in International Relations. In the world of national interests, the chief methods of international conflict management were the traditional diplomatic, military, and economic means of influence, up to and including the threat or use of force. It is usual to say that diplomacy precedes armed conflict. Use of the armed forces has been the last resort in conflict resolution. India has shown a ‘new normal’ in International Relations. The analogy of a military terminology of ‘Firm Base’ used by the army in tactical battles sums up the change in negotiating for peace. A firm base is nothing but a secure area of tactical importance for launching an offensive operation. If you elevate the tactical concept to the national level, the armed forces have provided a firm base for the nation to carry out its diplomatic war. In Ladakh, the battle is won by occupying heights. By occupying the Kailash range and higher features of Pangong Tso North, we have trapped the Chinese into a costly trap of attempting counteroffensive. The ‘Quad’ diplomacy and establishing force parity in Ladakh seems to have reversed the concept and known theories of International relations. The new normal has been to gain a spatial advantage by offensive actions followed by negotiations. Unhesitating overtures on the use of ITBP pricks the sensibility of the Chinese. Tibet is China’s sensitivity and a lever for deft use. These positional advantages provide a pedestal for negotiation and hence a new normal in IR. It may appear as an abstraction but today, we have established tactical advantage prior to negotiating for peace.
How does India solve the issue? We have the Chinese coming around to the negotiation table and offering the 1959 line and India promptly rejecting it. The lexicon of border studies requires absolute clarity. ‘Boundary’ is usually used in reference to the line which divides the territory or maritime space of two States, while a ‘border’ is what has to be crossed in order to enter a state. The LAC is a boundary. Drawing a political border is the only way out for both countries. International laws and guidelines on border demarcations can set the framework for delimitation. But will China listen to international guidelines? Between the Mac Mohan line and the 1959 Zou En Lai offer the ground for demarcation is a mutual affair between the two countries. We may have a common ground between the two lines can form the basis of taking the next step forward. Irrespective of the framework for resolution, we should ensure that bilateralism does not precede delimitation. Cooperation and participation in economic well-being must start with settled borders.
The subject of international security and sustainable development is extraordinarily wide-ranging and involves three crucial issues to be addressed; how to live (development); how to live with each other (security) and how to live with nature (sustainability). Kautilya’s philosophy is based on the concept of Trivarga – Artha (material well-being) and Vriddhi-(sustenance or livelihood), Dharma (righteousness on all actions) and Kama (desires). A pragmatic application of Kautilyan philosophy is a likely solution to any crisis. The narrative now shifts from preemptive bids to forcing contracts by India, having secured positional and diplomatic advantage.
(Major General Murali Gopalakrishnan (Retd.) was a former Artillery Commander, Deputy Commandant and Chief Instructor at the Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of C3S.)