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Monthly Archives: MAY 2020


SINO-INDIAN RELATIONS
Balance of trade appears to be a major factor behind China flexing its muscles
28.05.20 - VIPIN PUBBY
Balance of trade appears to be a major factor behind China flexing its muscles



INDIAN AND CHINESE army troops getting involved in minor physical clashes, including  pushing and punching each other along the 3500 kilometres unmarked border, are not uncommon. Most of such unarmed disputes are resolved with the intervention of higher local military authorities.

Since there are no clear markers for the border in the high mountainous region, the normal practice is for army personal to patrol the areas believed to be the boundary and return to their baracks. Skirmishes take place when army patrols from both sides come face to face in the same area at the same time.

At times the hostilities increase and there have been at least three major build-ups during the last few years. The first one was at Depsang in northern Ladakh during 2013, second at Chumar In eastern Ladakh in 2014 and the third at Doklam in 2017.

The latest build-up in the eastern Ladakh region is the worst so far and there are several factors which are believed to have led to the situation.
 
The clashes, though not with arms and ammunition, have led to both sides increasing army deployment near the border. The situation is getting tense with the Chinese also deploying fighter aircraft at a forward base close to Pangyong lake half of which is in the territory held by China.

The most significant aspect of the latest tension is the coordinated actions of China with those of Pakistan on the one side and Nepal on the other. Pakistan has suddenly escalated firing from across the line of control in Kashmir region. Simultaneously there is an increase in the terrorist activity in Kashmir Valley. These two activities are definitely co-related. 

It must be kept in mind that this is the first summer after Article 370 was abrogated in August last year. Some escalation in terrorist activity following infiltration of terrorists from across the border was expected. The timing of the Chinese incursion around this period could be a deliberate attempt to divert focus of the indian army.

Similarly Nepal, which has been considered to be an ally of India, has started towing the Chinese line. It recently came out with a map showing some chunks of land in its map which had been with India. It also objected to a strategic road to the border which india has constructed. China is believed to have pressurised the current Nepal government, led by Nepal Communist Party, to take the latest stand.

Besides the regional factors, China is also getting cautious of India and the United States of America forging closer ties. The Covid pandemic has added to the worries of China with many countries, including America and India, talking critical of China and threatening trade ties.
 
American President Donald Trump has called for an independent inquiry into the origin of the virus and the role of China. He has also announced major cut in the trade between the two countries. Prime minister Narendra Modi too has given a call for self-reliance which would adversely impact imports from China.

This appears to be a major factor for China flexing its muscles. It is giving a strong signal to India to maintain status quo as far as trade and imports from China are concerned. It may use this factor as a bargaining chip to deescalate in Ladakh region. 

It has reasons to do so. India imports goods worth 515.63 billion Yuan (approximately US $ 74.72 billion) as per 2019 official figures. On the other hand Indian exports to China goods worth merely 123.89 billion Yuan (about US  $ 17.95 billion). China would certainly not like to disrupt that equation. 

While local army commanders are trying to resolve the latest dispute along Ladakh, the situation appears to be spinning out of their control. Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday asked his country’s army to scale up battle preparedness. Xi, who heads the two million strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA) told commanders to plan for the worst-case scenario and asked them to resolutely defend the country’s sovereignty. This is by far the most strong statement that has come out of China during the current stand off.

Prime Minister Modi too has taken a high level meeting with the National Security Advisor, the  Chief of Defence Staff and the three services chiefs to review the situation.

Even as US President Trump has made an unsolicited offer to mediate, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman has said that the border area situation "is overall stable and controllable” and added that the two countries "were capable of resolving issues properly through dialogue and consultation”. In diplomatic terms this would mean that the Chinese would like to discuss not just the border situation but all other issues as well including the vital one on trade. Simultaneously Nepal has also brought down the temperatures by delaying decision to claim more land from India. It is clear now that the build up at the border was aimed more at putting pressure on India to maintain status quo over trade.

The coronavirus pandemic has already caused extensive damage to the world  economy even through the total extent of the damage is still to be assessed. It is time the two most populous countries must deescalate at the border and take diplomatic initiative to resolve all issues. The focus must remain to reviving the economy.
 

(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)

 
 
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