The Galwan Valley clashes on the cold night of 15 June has opened a new chapter in Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) tactics towards the realisation of its hegemonisticagenda. The death of 20 Indian soldiers – a first on the LAC since 1975- has the potential to permanently alter the prism through which India steers its China strategy and also transform India-China dynamics.
CCP’s Motivations and Strategy
As the world tries to fix accountability on the origins of COVID-19, the CCP continues its belligerence in the South China Sea by drawing the Nine Dash line, a grim expression of its thirst for expansionism. Despite repeated attempts by India to define the LAC, China has shunned Indian initiatives and continues to prefer a LAC neither marked on ground nor drawn on maps.
Following Sun Tzu’s dictum of ‘All warfare is based on deception’, the CCP has been utilising the tactic of ‘two steps forward and one step backward’ and keep nibbling at Indian territory.
The CCP’s strategy for India utilises ‘blow hot and cold’ based on domestic and global compulsions. The stand-off in Doklam was followed by ‘Wuhan and Mamallapuram spirit’ to soften India’s stand on the ‘Quad’ policy framework. At the core of this policy is Xi Jinping’s dream to re-assert China as the ‘Middle Kingdom’ – through incremental territorial gains.
Galwan Valley is strategically important for India since the mountain-tops on either side overlook the crucial Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road that connects Sub-Sector North (SSN) with the rest of Ladakh. The deadly encounter of 15 June indicates PLA’s strategy of escalation and holding on to their gains. In fact, the Chinese Foreign Ministry went on to claim the entire Galwan valley, for the first time! The current crisis involves new intrusion points which were not part of the Aksai Chin dispute – signifying CCP’s penchant for creating new areas of interest, new buffer zones, new standards of behaviour and new realities on the ground.
India, on the other hand, with its tradition of ‘Panchsheel’, has always tried to resolve situations through diplomatic channels. In line with the ‘Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC’ signed in 1993, the Indian Army has been maintaining a firm stand with minimal use of offensive force. However, as China has grown in strength – economically and militarily – its aggressive actions on the LAC have only increased.
The martyrdom of Indian soldiers necessitates firm and resolute action from the Indian side. Any retreat at this juncture would be taken as a sign of weakness, further emboldening the CCP to broaden its strategy of ‘salami-slicing’. Prime Minister Modi declared on 17 June, “India’s integrity and sovereignty are supreme for us, and no one can stop us from defending it. Nobody should have an iota of doubt about this”.
India Should Develop a Sino-Strategy for the Long Haul
While PLA maintains a numerical advantage, a recent study by the BelferCenter at the Harvard Kennedy School suggests that India maintains an edge in high-altitude mountain warfare. India should also use its maritime capability by deploying warships near the Malacca Strait, China’s jugular vein – to signal to the CCP that it means business. India enjoys a strategic advantage in the area and can choke Chinese shipping routes. Recently, naval expert and creator of Harpoon war game series, Larry Bond said that China has a real concern that India could close the Straits. “If India wanted to cut off trade with China, all that they have to do is park a bunch of ships at the Straits of Malacca. And that’s it, nothing else is getting through that way,” he observed.
A strong and firm diplomatic blitzkrieg – for a favourable international opinion–is also the need of the hour. In the long-term, India should shed its cloak of ‘Strategic Autonomy’ and take resolute actions. The recently announced Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and India is a step in this direction which needs to be expanded to other Quad partners to present a common front against the hegemonic CCP. Further, India should also form a unified group of maritime countries antagonised by the CCP’s actions to re-balance power in the Indo-Pacific.
The Galwan incident is an inflexion point, aptly described by former NSA ShivshankarMenon, “What the Chinese have done is a massive escalation. This is going to have a huge effect on our relationship.” India, therefore, needs to utilise the changing global contours post-COVID 19 to counter the CCP’s zero-sum game in all geopolitical spheres: military, economic and diplomatic.