The Chinese incursion into areas claimed by both nations would continue for some time. The Indian armed forces are deployed matching China in force levels at multiple locations in Ladakh. The deployment may be separated by a few hundred meters, but it clearly displays Indian intent of no backing down. The violent clash at Galwan sent a message that under no circumstances would Indian forces bends and are determined to deny China a free run. India announced and honoured its casualties, while China continues to hide true figures, fearing it would break the myth of invincibility of the PLA.
Militarily, India continues to ward off Chinese ingress, while it simultaneously desires a return to status quo ante, the situation where both nations were prior to early May. Military and diplomatic talks continue at multiple levels hoping to break the deadlock, however not much progress can be expected. China, which took the first unethical step of venturing into India cannot be seen to be backing off early, nor can it expand the conflict, other than launching an all-out war, hence the standoff.
The standoff may be drawn as the weather remains conducive. When winters approach, problems increase. These would be constructing troop habitat and maintaining administrative echelons for supporting troops. This is where India has an advantage as its lines of communication are shorter and it has been following the system of winter stocking for decades. If China decides to maintain its troops through the same period, then it would need to commence preparing for it now. If it does not do so, then it may be contemplating withdrawal at some stage.
China cannot be seen to have moved into the region, aggravated the situation and pulled back without any gains. It would seek a face saver at the end of the day. Had talks progressed smoothly, and possible solutions appeared around the corner, India would have worked to provide an acceptable solution. However, Galwan and Chinese reluctance to implement decisions taken in talks has led to a change in the Indian mindset. India now appears to deny this face saver. Hence, it has begun expanding the conflict into multiple domains, attempting to enhance pressure on China.
The current standoff is also being monitored globally and the world is watching Indian reactions with interest. India holding its ground would provide a boost to other nations which whom China is in border disputes with. There is global support for India as Chinese offensive actions in every sphere, military, wolf diplomacy and economic, have led to it losing friends and credibility at a rapid rate.
Militarily India has been conveying the right signals to China. Its deployment along the entire LAC, from Ladakh to Arunachal, displays Indian intent. India has never been a pushover. China had assumed that it held the element of surprise, but Indian reactions and counter deployment forced them onto the defensive. It is currently a battle of holding ground and watching who would blink first.
India initially commenced expanding the level of conflict by application of economic actions. While aware that there is a vast difference in the economy, it has hit those segments which would hurt China, investment, major contracts, mobile apps and imports. This, apart from impacting China, opens doors for Indian industry. These decisions have hurt the Chinese. Statements have flowed from multiple Chinese sources, its mouthpiece The Global Times, spokesperson from Beijing and its ambassador in India. Their claims that India is violating WTO norms and is breaking existing agreements have had no impact on Indian decisions. Even if status quo ante is restored, these decisions would remain in place. China is the loser at the end of the day.
India displayed its intention to open a diplomatic offensive by raising Hong Kong at the UN Human Rights Council and backing the global demand for investigating the origin of the Coronavirus in Wuhan. Its actions, both economic and diplomatic, have been backed globally and may soon be replicated by other countries.
The latest nail in the coffin of Indian response was the visit by the Indian PM to Ladakh. The visit was symbolic, as Nimu is some distance away from the frontlines, but his speech there, both to the soldiers on the ground and those recovering in the hospital conveyed a strong message within the nation and globally. It was intended to open a new front of operations, which was information warfare and it did. His visit and addresses impacted the Chinese, especially as they came from the Indian head of state.
His honouring Indian casualties was hitting hard at China which has still to honour their dead. He never mentioned China, but the intent was understood. His words conveyed that India would not bend and would only accept status quo ante. His stating, ‘the era of expansionism is over, it is the era of development,’ led to a reaction from the Chinese embassy, which sought to defend China by stating that they had resolved border disputes with 12 of their 14 neighbours. It however, missed the fact that China currently has disputes with 18 countries, adding more at regular intervals.
The response from Beijing was equally strong. It stated, ‘Neither side should make any move which may complicate the border situation.’ The Chinese spokesperson even mentioned that New Delhi should avoid a strategic miscalculation with China. However, it was China which commenced the current incursion; hence, the miscalculation has been from their end and they have to rectify it.
India has launched its offensive on multiple non-kinetic fronts. Each Indian action, no matter how small or symbolic has impacted China. The final message from India is that there would not be a Wuhan III or a Chennai II in the near future. The trust deficit is high and bridging it is the responsibility of China. Chinese unilateral actions would compel India to move closer to the west, which is just what China wanted India to avoid. The coming days would determine how China responds towards resolving the standoff and what face-saving options do it provides. Militarily, India hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst.
(The writer is veteran, columnist, security and strategic analyst
who retired as Major General of Indian Army)