Where are India and China heading

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by Maj Gen Harsh Kakar (Retd)
Rajnath Singh, while addressing the Federation of Indian
Chambers of Commerce stated, ‘The unprovoked aggression on our
Himalayan frontiers is a reminder of how the world is changing,
how existing agreements are being challenged, how power is being
asserted not just in the Himalayas but across the Indo-Pacific…and
how uncertain the future of the region and world could be in this
backdrop.’ Earlier, addressing the same meet, the External Affairs
Minister, S Jaishankar, stated, ‘Events of this year have been very
disturbing. They have raised some very basic concerns. They have
happened because the other party has not abided by agreements
that we have had with them about respecting and observing Line of
Actual Control and not bringing forces to the area. So, in a sense, I
would say in your world, you will be dealing with somebody who
has violated the terms of the contract.’
Indian leaders, who till recently avoided mentioning China
directly, have begun doing so. For this, the government faced flak
from the opposition and strategic elite of the country. This was
possibly being done on the premise that ongoing talks between the
army corps commanders and the WMCC (Working Mechanism for
Consultation and Coordination) would determine a solution. India
avoided crossing Chinese red lines.
The change signals that Indo-China relations are moving
nowhere except possibly downhill. There is unlikely to be any early
resolution to the current ongoing crisis. The major reason is
breaking down of trust between the two.
The last Corps Commanders meeting was held on 06 Nov, post
which India rejected Chinese proposals. Since then, there has been
no further proposal from the Chinese side. Post the Indian quid pro
quo action in end Aug, China has been demanding the withdrawal of
India from these heights, which India refuses. India is aware that if

it vacates these heights prior to Chinese withdrawal, it could lead
to China grabbing them while refusing to adhere to its own
agreements. The latest WMCC meeting, held over the weekend,
only mentioned continuing to work towards ensuring complete
disengagement in all friction points along the LAC.
The lack of trust was aggravated by the Galwan incident. The
incident also stalled any further Chinese advance. It realised that
Indian forces would act with vengeance if it attempted anything
beyond where it is currently deployed.
Currently, both sides have dug in for the winters. Realistically,
there were limited choices. In Doklam, the Chinese agreeing to pull
back from the standoff is being claimed as surrendering to Indian
determination. The fact that China continues to maintain additional
forces in Doklam is an indicator that the situation may change at
any stage. In Ladakh, China could not pull back as doing so would
have impacted its reputation and global standing. It had no choice,
other than pushing India to act first, which India refuses.
Alternatively, it could expand the conflict which would be no
guarantee of success.
Initially, when China deployed in Ladakh for the winters, its
global mouthpiece, The Global Times, unleashed propaganda
warfare claiming high altitude accommodation for its soldiers, hot
food delivered by drones etc. It soon realised that these gimmicks
are far from reality and its medical casualties are mounting daily.
This self-launched propaganda warfare has vanished as China faces
reality.
Inputs from China indicate that their Chinese Western Theatre
Commander, General Zhao Zongqi, has been removed from
command and replaced by Zhang Xudong. He was the instigator of
Doklam and Ladakh. Zhao was a hardliner and had always wanted
to teach India a lesson. It is also rumoured that Zhao, who crossed

the age limit of 65 in Apr this year, launched the Ladakh action,
seeking a promotion within the CMC.
Zhang, on the other hand, has never served in the Western
Theatre Command (WTC). Unlike his predecessor, he is neither a
member of the Central Committee or the National People's
Congress. Moving an outsider into the WTC, especially when the
standoff is ongoing, cannot be without a reason. It does appear
that Xi and the CMC seek to take direct control of the standoff and
may in the coming months display a more flexible approach. As
Claude Arpi states, ‘It probably means that Chengdu, the WTC seat,
will be side lined and orders will come directly from the CMC and
the PLA Army (Ground Force) in Beijing. Chairman Xi wanted
probably to remove a hardliner who had already created trouble
for the Emperor during the Doklam confrontation. It is one
possibility.’
China, facing a multitude of global pressures, may not
contemplate a strong military action to fulfil its objective of
achieving its claimed lines. Failure to achieve desired objectives
could spell the death knell for Xi Jinping. On the contrary, China
could enhance hybrid warfare seeking to impact the Indian
economy, its global standing and alliances. India is already facing a
series of cyber-attacks which could be Chinese coordinated. The
cost of maintaining additional forces in Ladakh would be an added
expenditure to the Indian exchequer at a time when the economy
is yet to recover from the pandemic.
Support to insurgent groups in the North East while pushing
Pak to up the militancy in the valley and re-ignite the Khalistan
cause is well established. It would continue attempting to push
India for talks on its terms, not for territory alone but more for face
saving.

2021 is the centenary year for the Chinese communist party.
This is the occasion when Xi Jinping would have sought to gift the
Chinese public with regions which they have claimed but never
annexed. These include territories it claims from India and
reunification of Taiwan. Neither of the two would be a pushover
unless China plans to launch hard operations. Simultaneously, in its
centenary year, China can never project a defeat. It would signal
the end for the CCP. Hence, unlikely for China to attempt any
further action, unless success is assured.
The Indian Ocean region, where the Indian navy is in a
dominating position may not be within the Chinese game plan in
the near future. Even the Chinese have accepted this fact. The
Global Times stated in an article of 17 th Dec, ‘India has also taken
the lead in planning small-scale multilateral cooperation
mechanisms in the Indian Ocean.’ It would come into the picture in
a couple of years as the Chinese navy expands. This long-term
threat must get the desired attention as Indian defence industry is
slow in production and is known for slippages. The Chinese can
never be permitted to dominate the Indian Ocean.
The Indian government and the armed forces need to look
ahead, beyond the winters, as to what could be the Chinese game
plan. Historically some standoffs have continued for years before
being resolved, Sumdorong Chu being an example. So could be the
case of Ladakh. Simultaneously, China could expand its area of
confrontation to include other sectors, including Uttarakhand and
Arunachal. The army remains prepared and deployed as also has
identified its own objectives in the region as a quid pro quo to any
Chinese misadventure. Finally, the change in command at the WTC
could be a signal for the Chinese adopting a more flexible approach
and seeking a face saver. The next round of military talks could
provide the key to Chinese intentions.

2021 would be the year to watch. India must keep its guard up
and ensure that it is prepared to hold onto its gains.
(First published in CENJOWS. The views of the author may not
correspond to the views of this organization)