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PM SIGNALS A CHINA RESET

Author: Kanwal Sibal
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date:  June 18, 2020

The gravity of the developing India-China conflict in Ladakh is apparent from Prime Minister Modi’s address. After days of consciously downplaying the seriousness of the confrontation in order to give military and diplomatic level dialogue a chance, and failing to defuse the ground situation satisfactorily, the political leadership has accepted the need to take the nation into confidence about China’s challenge.

PM was not wrong to keep silent on the stand-off for as long as he could. Once at the highest political level the situation is summed up in a particular manner publicly, policy and action have to be determined accordingly. It was wrong for critics to ask the PM to pronounce on the situation while the potential of a negotiated solution had not been exhausted. Premature positioning at that level would have hardened positions on both sides.

As in the past when such incidents have occurred, whether at Depsang, Chumar of Doklam (though on a smaller scale and more restricted in scope), quiet engagement and diplomacy having worked reasonably well, in the case of the latest confrontation too a negotiated way out, based on the agreed border mechanisms, had to be explored preferentially for Galwan, too. If, say, President Xi had spelt out his thinking publicly, it would have meant that China was disavowing the border management mechanisms and framing a solution on its own terms, which would have been unacceptable to India.

Now that PM has spoken, we can conclude that the situation has become more serious than anticipated- and that the hope of a negotiated solution has palpably receded. PM’s central message is solemn and tough. He has assured the nation that the supreme sacrifice made by our soldiers will not go waste, and, however the situation evolves, India is determined to protect not only every inch of Indian territory but also its self-respect. There will be no compromise with India’s territorial integrity. India, in other words, will not yield to China’s bullying or its territorial nibbling.

The punch line in PM’s speech was his clear warning to China that it should have no doubt that if it continues to provoke India it will receive a decisive answer. The import of this shouldn’t be disregarded by China, however much its leadership may have uncontrolled ambitions and flexes its muscles with some other countries.

The repercussions of the crisis China has created on the border will be many. The LAC concept has now become unviable, its lack of clarity now exposed.  The dangerous potential of the lack of clarity of the LAC has got exposed. The self-congratulatory line that no bullets have been fired on the border by either side for 45 years as a testimony to the wisdom of both sides in managing the border dispute has got exhausted of meaning. The border management agreements that dealt with the symptoms but not the disease- giving China time to contain tensions on the border with India without losing leverage, and allowing it to concentrate in priority on the challenges it faces in the western Pacific,-have finally proved their limits.

New rules of engagement will have to be devised by India to deal with the situation from now on. Stone pelting and use of iron rods by modern, well armed and trained militaries is a spectacle that would befit only Stone Age warriors.

The India-China relations are headed for a major reset, whatever the outcome of the present confrontation. It can’t be ‘business as usual’ even if ties cannot be sundered completely. China’s ambitions have to be curbed, for which, militarily India has to be resolute. But more is needed on the political front where China keeps hitting at our core interests without a reciprocal Indian response. Apart from reaching out to the Dalai Lama visibly and inviting the Taiwanese Foreign Minister we should formally exclude Huawei from 5G trials, a step that will find worldwide wide echoes.

 

 
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