India-China Border Tension: A Tough Challenge for India and PM Modi


Military level talks between India and China to De-escalate the Current Tensions are on. Lt. General Harinder Singh has met his Chinese counterpart for three high-level military discussions so far, the last being on Tuesday. The discussions have been inconclusive, suggesting that more military and diplomatic meetings will be required to end the stalemate. Both side had “emphasized the need for an expeditious, phased and step-wise de-escalation as a priority”, at the meeting held at the Chushul-Moldo Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) point in eastern Ladakh. The previous two meetings, on June 6 and June 22, had been held on the Chinese territory at Moldo. Indian and Chinese troops have been involved in a face-off at multiple locations in the region. The friction points include North Bank of Pangong Tso, Hot Springs, Vohra Post and Galwan Valley.

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While at Pangong Tso, China has built substantial structures till Finger 4, which is 8 km west of India’s claim of LAC at Finger 8; they have also built some structures at Patrolling Point 14 in the Galwan Valley. China has also crossed the border at Despang Plains, which is close to India’s strategically-important Daulat Beg Oldie post near Karakoram Pass in the north. The other major concern has been the heavy military build-up in the depth areas by China, which has been mirrored by India by moving in additional divisions and air defence assets.

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 India’s Foreign policy :

Both nations now face dilemmas as they seek to avoid that prospect, after their month long standoff degenerated into a bloody fracas in mid-June, leaving 20 Indian soldiers dead alongside an unknown number of Chinese. De-escalating the crisis will be hard enough. More important is how each side rethinks the countries’ long-term relationship as strategic competitors.

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Of the two India faces tougher challenges, with limited military options, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to boycott Chinese goods as part of a more general turn toward self-reliance and protectionism- a strategy that would be precisely the wrong way to tackle the long-term threat of a rising China. India might be able to hold its own along the parts of its Himalayan border. But in general it remains by far the weaker power militarily. New Delhi has upped its armed forces spending of late to about $71.1 Billion, the world’s third-highest, after China and United States. But its military is still underequipped and dogged by procurement corruption scandals in the past. Facing a dreadful coronavirus-driven recession, India’s economic position over the coming few years is unlikely to be much stronger. Any response Modi pursues will then be complicated by the decisive anti-Chinese turn in Indian public opinion.

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As a #BoycottChina social media campaign gains speed, protestors smashing Chinese-made smartphones hint at larger frustrations over India’s unbalanced trade relationship with China. India’s trade deficit with China was roughly $57 Billion last year, a giant figure when bilateral trade totals just $92.5 Billion. About half of India’s electronic imports come from China, as do two-thirds of the materials it needs to make drugs for the lucrative generic pharmaceuticals sector. In both the cases, the Indian government will do its best to boost domestic production, although earlier efforts to achieve this goal have achieved little. The real risks of launching mini trade war against China are longer-term: it will encourage India to continue its slide toward the dead end of economic self-reliance. Under Modi it has already taken tentative steps down this path. Attempts to transform India into a manufacturing and exporting powerhouse have not succeeded yet. Modi passed on the chance to enter the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an Indo-Pacific trade pact. Powerful voices within his ruling Hindu Nationalist party dislike trade and economic openness on principle, hankering for a return to an earlier era of hopeless economic isolation.

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Over recent weeks, China’s decision to pursue minor tactical advantages in the Himalayas has come at the huge strategic cost of transforming India from a skeptical neighbor into something much more clearly resembling a geopolitical adversary. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was in Moscow seeking fast-tracking of spares for tanks, aircraft, guns and platforms in the pipeline for delivery to the Indian armed forces. Without war material, realistic combat training in intended war theatre is not possible. The army also lacks the habitat and ecosystem for operational logistics for large additional numbers at altitudes of over 10,000 feet. Since China negotiates form a position of strength, its altering of the status quo on the ground in Ladakh was both an end in itself and the means to get Modi to favourably consider its two major demands: restoration of the status quo ante in Ladakh; and neutrality in engaging with China and the United States when the two lock horns in the geopolitical struggle of this century.

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