The adage, a good general knows when to retreat, applies to both India and China equally well at a time when New Delhi and Beijing have made similar announcements about withdrawing their armies in Ladakh to safe distance from each other. It is yet to be discerned whether the two armies have gone back to the pre-conflict spot. The withdrawal seems to have been agreed and implemented as a result of the talks between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Those who are raising doubts about India’s upper hand in the Ladakh standoff and subsequent events should do some introspection and determine for themselves if they are really doing a service to the country and the cause of its defence.
As it stands, India has multiple options to deal with a belligerent China even as many of them have not yet been put to use effectively so far.
Hitting China’s economic growth
China’s main grouse seems to be India’s perceived tilt towards the US, with which it is involved in a trade war, and the subsequent economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. New Delhi has maintained a strict balance in the US-China trade war, continuing normal business relations with Beijing. But the Chinese bravado in Ladakh had to be met with equal military might and economic retaliation.
So far, China has gotten away with its hit-and-run policy and using its proxies to stymie New Delhi’s peace and progress initiatives in the region. Riding on the anti-China sentiments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a Rs 20 lakh crore economic package aimed at self-reliance (Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan) and massive revival of the Indian manufacturing sector.
But with a blanket ban on Chinese imports and a hostile anti-China market, New Delhi could well ensure Beijing’s economic growth targets for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s centenary bash in 2021 go awry.
Stand against Hong Kong oppression
Another option that New Delhi has not yet played to its fullest possible extent is joining the anti-China coalition at different levels. At the international level, as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), New Delhi is yet to assert its position.
With emerging world opinion against China’s unilateral and high handedness in Hong Kong, a UN resolution against Beijing’s suppression of fundamental rights there would be embarrassing for President Xi Jinping at this stage.
The resolution could also call for an investigation against China for concealing information about the emergence of coronavirus and add to Jinping’s mounting domestic troubles. Contrary to popular belief, there are reports of resentment among the Chinese population over the way the Covid-19 situation has been handled. Besides, there is also mounting opposition to the central leadership’s treatment of the veteran leaders of the CCP. The party’s local leaders and officials are increasingly coming under attack for job loss and economic setback. The estimated job loss is to the tune of 60 to 100 million.
The Tibet flashpoint
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials who, according to him, are involved in restricting foreigners’ access to Tibet. The US argument is that while Chinese officials have unrestricted access to all areas of the US, China continues to restrict entry of US diplomats, tourists, journalists and academics in Tibet. Pompeo’s significant statement also reiterated the commitment of the US to support “meaningful autonomy for Tibetans”. The Dalai Lama has been advocating meaningful autonomy but Beijing has labelled him a separatist. Reacting to visa restriction by the US, China has warned of retaliation with counter measures.
Infrastructure development and economic progress of Tibet is very much possible even as it enjoys autonomous status with greater political freedom and religious liberty. So far, the Tibetan leadership-in-exile has managed to stave off a violent reaction to Chinese atrocities in Tibet. But sooner or later, a new breed of leaders could come up among the vast Tibetan community all over the world. If such elements join the global anti-China coalition, the consequences could be detrimental to the peace and progress of the region.
Taking the fight to the sea
There are reports about the US Navy increasing its presence and sprucing up its bases in the Indo-Pacific region even as the cold war between Washington and Beijing is escalating. Recently, the US Navy has carried out substantial improvements to the remote Second World War vintage Wake Island outpost, located between Japan and Hawaii in the Pacific close to China’s Nine Dash Line.
The island is reportedly outside the medium range ballistic missiles of China and North Korea. India has a strategic advantage in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which is the most preferred and viable shipping route for Chinese goods and oil trade. All that India needs to do is scale up its naval capabilities in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and block the choke point in the Malacca Strait.
It is one thing to expect the Modi government to be transparent and keep the people informed of the emerging situation and threat perceptions. But to goad the government to reveal every single move against China and put it in the public domain is not in keeping with security and strategic parameters.
Nevertheless, there can be no two opinions on the suggestions that it would be appropriate for the Modi government to apprise the people of the ground realities and give assurance of the optimum level of preparedness to face any eventuality.
The author is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and former editor of Organiser. Views are personal.