India is right to be firm on China | HT Editorial
India has signalled it will not back down at any of the border confrontations it has with China. Presumably, this means that the Narendra Modi government will settle for nothing less than Chinese troops moving back to their original positions and the status quo ante being restored along the Line of Actual Control. There can be no question of this being the correct stance: The experience of all China’s neighbours has been that concessions are treated as weakness, not friendship. Beijing may have hoped that its surprise mobilisation at three points in Ladakh and Sikkim will result in a quick round of the misnamed Chinese checkers. Instead, both sides are settling for something more akin to the ancient Middle Kingdom game of go, a grinding battle of manoeuvre that will go on through the summer.
The Galwan Valley confrontation is the latest in a series of confrontations triggered by Chinese attempts to hinder, if not block, India’s infrastructure construction along the border. India has fast-tracked road construction to the Daulat Beg Oldie area of northern Ladakh since repeated standoffs in that region. The construction of a connecting road into the Galwan Valley was seemingly the trigger for China to send in thousands of soldiers. While China has sought to hinder construction before, the size of its intervention is unusual and indicates there may be greater ambitions involved. China’s description of the situation as “stable and controllable” is mildly reassuring. But the motives hardly matter. The Indian stance must be the same regardless. The difficult part will be calibrating India’s response to apply pressure on China and establish the credibility of India’s response. New Delhi must be prepared to show that if events along the border get out of hand, they will have a serious impact on other parts of the bilateral ties.
China has long sought stability on its southern border as well as the dominance of the terrain. As India has ramped up its infrastructure, a process that has also included the deployment of fighters, new artillery, cruise missiles and, most recently, American helicopters and airlift, its dominance is coming under threat. India’s bold moves regarding Kashmir and China’s deteriorating geopolitical environment may be leading Beijing to up the ante. If so, it is all the more reason for India to stand firm.