|The Author is Former Chief of Staff (COS), Central Command, Indian Army. He is an expert on Siachen and Ladakh with experience in counter insurgency operations in J&K and North East and is also an expert on Information Warfare.|
It has been eight months since the stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Eastern Ladakh region was first reported. The escalation of violence by China resulting in 20 Indian soldiers being martyred enraged the entire nation asking for blood. The Indian Government had no choice but let the military commanders at local level seize initiative at every opportunity putting the diplomacy on the back burners.
China’s initial confidence that it can bulldoze India waned as the Indian Army upped the ante on August 29 by regaining control over five hill tops and now has a commanding position on the Kailash range. China’s state-media continued with it’s psychological warfare – that the Chinese have better winter-clothing, weapons, supplies of better food to front line troops, flying the latest fighter aircraft, missiles and so on. The situation however, on ground continues to be 180 degree opposite with seasoned and battle hardened Indian soldiers stoutly holding the ground and the Chinese PLA chocolate soldiers failing and falling in extreme weather conditions.
The political, diplomatic and military costs for China are rising due to its intervention in the western sector. The more the border stalemate continues, the more it tends to lose on multiple fronts.
To resolve the border stand-off, India resorted to diplomacy, confidence-building measures, military mobilisation, and reaching out to the stakeholders and the initiatives were welcome. Has India done enough? May be not!!! But China definitely has lost the plot as it seems from the way India is being sought and the snubbing China is getting.
The subtle manner in which India is being sought is evident from the statement of leading US law maker and co-chair, Senate India Caucus Mark Werner, “India will need to get off the fence and realise that the authoritarian capitalism model that China is putting out, you can’t be on the fence on that, you have got to decide whether you are going to align with democracies. Clearly India is the world’s largest democracy and I believe it will align with that group." He continued to say that New Delhi needs to adopt an approach to tackle Beijing that incorporate the military, economic and technological stand points.
The above statement comes in the backdrop of recent commentary by Dr Jaisankar, at the sixth edition of MED Dialogue on December 04, 2020, where he categorically articulated that “The era of alliances is diluted. Though Washington compel us for the same, however, India has to leverage the multipolarity of the world and work the same to it’s own advantage”. At the same time he nowhere suggested that India won’t join any alliances.
Speaking at a Webinar by Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, the Foreign Minister said that the relationship between India and China had been “significantly damaged” this year. On the LAC tensions, he was candid. “We had multiple agreements starting from 1993 that essentially asked both parties not to bring large forces to the boundary. Now for some reason, for which the Chinese have given us five different explanations, the Chinese have violated it. The Chinese have literally brought tens of thousands of soldiers in full military preparation mode right up to the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. Naturally, the relationship would be profoundly disturbed by this.” Finally, he underscored that “we are very clear that maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC is the basis for the rest of the relationship to progress.” Later in the week, speaking at a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry event, Jaishankar made no bones while saying that India was “being tested.” He added, “what has happened in eastern Ladakh was not actually in China’s interest. The goodwill which was so carefully developed have dissipated and it has significantly impacted public sentiment in India."
This is in sharp contrast to China’s commentary. China’s Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong attended an online photo exhibition called: ‘Beautiful India Beautiful China: Dragon and Elephant Dance Together for Win-Win Outcomes.’ At the event, he called for both sides to “redouble our efforts to meet each other halfway, strengthen dialogue and exchanges, and overcome difficulties and challenges, in order to put China-India relations on the track of healthy and stable development.”
China is loosing it’s ground is also evident from the response of India’s immediate neighbourhood. When China’s defence minister visited Nepal, he got a cold shoulder with the cancellation of earlier scheduled meetings and protocols. There was a snub from Bangladesh with a tweet on Twitter from the Foreign Ministry of an unscheduled surprise visit which had to be cancelled. Only the visit to Pakistan, the all weather ally went as scheduled.
To counter the USA support it may be pushing Russia. Otherwise why should Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov make statements on Indo-Pacific Exercises which have been going for sometime, where in he said, “India is currently an object of the Western countries’ persistent, aggressive and devious policy as they are trying to engage it in anti-China games by promoting Indo-Pacific strategies, the so-called ‘Quad’ while at the same time, the West is attempting to undermine our close partnership and privileged relations with India.”
MEA immediately responded, “India has always pursued an independent foreign policy based on its national interest. India’s relationship with each country is independent of its relations with third countries...We hope that this is well understood and appreciated by all our partners.”
It is much evident now that the tough Indian soldier will respond to any aggressive design with greater aggression and resolve imbued with confidence of better fighting capability than it’s PLA counterpart. China is now convinced of this fact. On the diplomatic front, it has lost ground with same neighbours, who it was cultivating against India. The Cyber and Information Warfare has reached the stage of diminishing returns. The public sentiments are against the CCP at home and abroad. The confidence and the conviction in response to comments and situations by the MEA and even the political leadership clearly indicates that they are in full control of the situation. So is definitely the case with China.