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Three Years Since Galwan : Sino-India Relations

Updated: Jun 16

On this day, C3S remembers the 20 brave Indian soldiers who attained veergati in securing the nation during the Galwan Valley conflict.

Three Years Since Galwan : Sino-India Relations

Every year during the Galwan clash anniversary, China has been using the incident to enhance favorable public opinion towards Xi Jinping’s leadership and stimulate patriotism among its people. It's disheartening to note that China has used this event as a propaganda tool to portray PLA’s military might and woo its youth to emulate the PLA and its practices (Caiyu, 2021). China misses no opportunity to blame India for all the conflicts it has had with the latter including the 1962 India-China War, 2020 Galwan clash or the 2022 Yangtze Clash. In 2022, an exhibition hosted in China’s military museum sought to portray anti-India sentiments, casting India as the aggressor.

India has responded to China’s border incursions by undertaking a series of measures. The Indian government introduced its Vibrant Villages Programme (VVP), involving infrastructural development and opening up of villages across the Sino-Indian border (Ministry of Home Affairs, 2022).

Apart from these unconventional measures, China has been developing border infrastructures across eastern, middle and western sectors along the LAC. China has been expanding its village programme opposite to LAC across Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh (Peri, 2023). China has recently called for building a great wall of steel across the borders, calling for all stakeholders (party and government departments, the military, law enforcement agencies) to collectively contribute to border security. (Ministry of National Defense, 2023). As claimed by the Indian Army chief General Manoj Pande, since the Galwan clash, China has deployed around 50,000 troops and heavy weaponry with operational preparedness (Times of India, 2023).

The relations between both the countries are strained and prospects for recalibration are minimal because of China’s obstinance. China has been refusing to opt for complete disengagement from the friction points situated in Depsang and Demchok (The Wire, 2023). Further, they have been preventing Indian soldiers from accessing the patrolling points from Finger 8 up to Finger 4 (Peri, 2023).

In the aftermath of the Galwan conflict, relations between the two countries have reached a new low. The most recent event that indicates this is the expulsion of journalists from both sides. The last Indian journalist, a Press Trust of India reporter from China was asked to leave the country by June 2023 refusing to renew the visas of Indian journalists. Similarly, India refused to renew visas for journalists from Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television (Sreelakshmi, 2023).

The Galwan Clash: Geopolitical Implications

The Galwan conflict occurred at a time when the global geopolitical scenario was characterized by the cut throat China-US competition and rising significance of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

The unrelenting stance of China and the latter’s expansionist maneuvers has caused massive trust deficit among countries paving way for greater multilateralism. It is in this light, the world has been a witness to the emergence of regional security groupings such as QUAD, IPOI and RSCI.

At the economic front, states have chosen to diversify their economic engagements and develop alternative supply chains vis- a- vis China’s economic preponderance. For instance, as part of the Indo-Pacific Economic Partnership (IPEF) 14 countries including the US, India, Australia, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia concluded a supply chain agreement to reduce their reliance on China (Times of India, 2023). IPEF aims at providing trade facilitation, diversification of sources, and logistics connectivity to member countries to thwart global supply shocks (Okun, 2023). The Supply Chain Resilience Initiative by India, Japan and Australia seeks to safeguard global supply chains from

being China centric and be resilient in the face of shocks like the pandemic (Panda, n.d.).

At the geostrategic level, China’s belligerence has impelled regional

groupings such as QUAD to amplify their initiatives to ensure a rules based international

order and ensure peace and stability across the Indian ocean. At the Hiroshima summit, th

e QUAD countries released a joint statement emphasizing the need for a region where n

o country dominates or gets dominated and called for an international environment devoid of coercive forces where states can pursue independent foreign policy in the truest sense (The White House, 2023). QUAD has come to expand its forum by including some Southeast Asian nations such as the Philippines, a state that declared that it is not alone in dealing with China (Heydarian, 2023).

China’s hostile behavior has pushed some Southeast Asian countries to distance themselves from China and to diversify their partnerships with other countries. For instance, China’s maritime militia boats maneuvered in the Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone when ASEAN countries and India were conducting their Maritime Exercise (Chen & Kaushik, 2023). The 2022 East Asia Summit called for the ASEAN member countries “to embrace open and inclusive multilateralism, pragmatism and mutual respect” as they perceived themselves entangled with strategic challenges (Aljazeera, 2022). The rationale behind the introduction of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) is the rise in economic and military powers in the Indo-Pacific that ASEAN perceives as increasing the chances of a zero-sum game situation in the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific (ASEAN, 2019). One of the significant reasons for ASEAN to upgrade its relation with India to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (ASEAN, 2022) is their weariness about China’s tactical maneuvers across the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific region (Deccan Herald, 2023).

Fijian Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka disallowed China to train their soldiers citing that the country’s justice and democratic system was different from that of China and suggested that it would rather be willing to engage with Australia and New Zealand on those lines (Mishra, 2023).

The Pacific Island states have chosen to engage with countries like India with their growing mistrust with China (Mishra, 2023). For instance, the Indian Prime Minister, Modi received a ceremonial welcome from Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, James Marape when he visited the country. In the Forum for India-Pacific Islands cooperation (FIPIC) summit, Modi also claimed that India delivered essential medicines, wheat and sugar to the Pacific island nations during the Covid times while some states did not do so, indirectly referring to China (The Indian Express, 2023). The third FIPIC summit and the announcement of the 12 point development plan marks an important feat in the relations between the region and India amidst the increasing presence of China in the region (Mishra, 2023).

In comparison to China’s vaccine exports, India received laurels in global forums for its timely help for delivering vaccines to the global south countries (Sen, 2021). For instance, the African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) group and CARICOM grouping appreciated India for its Vaccine Maitri program. On the contrary, Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand and Malaysia were skeptical of China’s vaccine, Sinovac’s efficiency and chose to opt for alternative options (Myers, 2021).

Furthermore, China’s image went downhill with the emergence of the Covid pandemic. China refused to accept the fact that Covid originated in its territory, Wuhan (Calvert & Arbuthnott, 2023) and has disallowed initiatives taken to investigate the origin of the virus.

India’s Economic Engagement and Political Dissonance with China

Despite severe political tensions between India and China, the trade relations between the two have been ongoing (Ministry of Commerce and Industry, 2023) (Observatory of Economic Complexity, n.d.). Although India has promoted self-reliance in the form of Make in India, Atmanibharat and introduced PLI schemes to boost indigenous manufacturing and employment (Invest India, n.d.), it's still dependent on China for critical imports for example: 70% of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) is from China to manufacture India’s pharmaceutical products (Panda, 2022).

The trade deficit widened to $77.6 billion from $72.9 billion in FY22. India’s imports from China increased more than it was during pre-covid times to $94.5 billion. Thus, India seems to differentiate strategic priorities from its economic or trade engagements with China.

In the strategic realm, the undemarcated border has been the root cause of the Sino-Indian border conflict. Despite several Corps-Commander level talks, the border issue seems to continue. India has made it clear that its relation with China will not normalize until peace is restored at the border. On the other hand, India’s economic engagements would continue with China while it pursues its political differences with the latter. Any scope for border conflict resolution is when both India and China agree to meet each other’s conception of territorial sovereignty.


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