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‘Chinese actions are extremely risky … If they adopt a more belligerent stance it could complicate a resolution

Publication: The Times of India
Date:  June 1, 2020
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-interviews-blog/chinese-actions-are-extremely-risky-if-they-adopt-a-more-belligerent-stance-it-could-complicate-a-resolution/

Incursions by Chinese troops in the unsettled boundary zone with India are not unusual. But the recent incursion in Ladakh is widely regarded as extraordinary. DS Hooda, who headed the strategically important Northern command of Indian Army between 2014 and 2016, explains the reasons to Ajay Sura:

Q.: How different is the present situation from the 73 days Doklam standoff of 2017?

A.: To me, it is significantly different. Doklam was a localised crisis, and we were aware of the demands of the two sides; the Chinese wanted to build the road and we did not want that. The red lines were clear. In the current situation, there is no such clarity. There are multiple intrusions, some in areas like Galwan, where there has never been a dispute about the alignment of the LAC. The Chinese intentions also seem opaque, although I must admit that those involved in the diplomatic negotiations would perhaps have a more complete picture.

Q.: Last month saw confrontations in Ladakh and Sikkim. What’s China up to, especially near the Ladakh region?

A.: The Chinese motive is obviously to pressurise India. We could speculate on whether it is linked to local tensions along the LAC in eastern Ladakh or to the larger geopolitical power play in which China finds itself under tremendous international pressure. I think the more critical issue is the consequences of Chinese actions. And I think the Chinese actions are extremely risky considering that military pressure by them on the LAC in the past (Chumar, Doklam etc) has not really succeeded. If they adopt a more belligerent stance this time, it could complicate a resolution of the crisis.

Q.: Is the construction of the road in Galwan valley, that connects to Daulat Beg Oldi airbase, the trigger for the current standoff?

A.: There is a lot of talk about this road being the trigger for the current standoff. The fact is that this road is not new and has been in existence for a long time. Improvements have been made on the road and a new bridge inaugurated by the raksha mantri last year, but the road was always there. Similarly, there has been a lot of infrastructure development taking place all along the India-China LAC. These objections by the Chinese are just excuses that are given when it suits them to justify their aggressive behaviour.

Q.: Do you think diplomacy will work in this situation?

A.: Diplomacy is perhaps the only thing that will work in the current situation. When soldiers face off against each other in a territorial contest, there is very little give on the ground, and therefore meetings between opposing military commanders will yield limited results. It is heartening to read about the recent conciliatory statements of the Chinese ambassador and let us hope that diplomatic negotiations can find a path out of the current standoff. However, I do think that it could be a long haul.

Q.: What, according to you, is the permanent solution to the standoffs?

A.: The permanent solution is obviously to come to a common understanding of the LAC by demarcating it on maps that can be ratified by both sides. If that happens, there will be no ‘differing perceptions’ of the LAC that result in faceoffs and transgressions. This will require a little give and take by both sides but will result in an immediate calming of the borders. Unfortunately, there has been some reluctance on the Chinese side, and this gives rise to a suspicion that they wish to continue using the border as a pressure point on India.

Q.: President Xi Jinping has ordered the PLA to scale up its battle preparedness. At the same time, China has cited Covid-19 for its decision to evacuate its citizens from India. What is your assessment?

A.: I don’t think that President Xi’s address to the PLA or the decision to evacuate its citizens is a message directed explicitly towards India. I think it is a message that conveys to the world that there are rising geopolitical tensions, in particular the US-China cold war and that Beijing is fully prepared to meet what the president called “worst case scenarios”.

Q.: What’s your assessment of the Nepal government’s aggressive posture towards India?

A.: Any differences that India has with its neighbours will undoubtedly be exploited by China, and so it is for us to bridge those differences directly with our neighbours. The border issue with Nepal in the Kalapani area is not new, and both countries should look to resolve this mutually without bickering and ascribing motives. India and Nepal have very strong social and cultural linkages and a very special relationship that can provide the basis for an acceptable resolution of the problem.


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