PM Modi in China
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping inside a house boat, during the Wuhan summit in April 2018 | PTI
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India and China are sitting on a tinderbox and any misunderstanding can spark off a deadly chain of events that will prove costly for both.

The tensions that first broke out in May along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh reached new heights on Monday with the Chinese firing warning shots near the southern bank of Pangong Tso in a bid to bully Indian soldiers.

This was officially the first time that shots were fired along the LAC since 1975. Back then too, it was the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that had first opened fire in Arunachal Pradesh.

Both sides have issued multiple public statements warning the other of stern action. And it is now impossible for Indian and China to climb down from the stand each has taken. Several rounds of military and diplomatic talks haven’t yielded much and only high-level political talks can now ensure things don’t go out of hand.

This is why it is important for both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping to have a face-saver to make sure that they are not seen as weak when they initiate total de-escalation and disengagement.

Also read: China wanted ‘no escalation’ on hotline call in the day, tried to capture territory at night

Dial for peace

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said this week that the LAC situation called for “very, very deep conversations” between the two sides at a “political level”. And that is exactly what is needed – Prime Minister Modi and President Xi need to pick up the phone and talk. But the problem is that neither side wants to dial first.

So, finding a face-saving solution is imperative for both countries.

And that face-saver could be a broader understanding and agreement on border issues, a give-and-take kind of deal on areas being currently dominated by both sides, and creation of an equal buffer zone.

There is no doubt that the Indian Army was taken by surprise when China diverted troops from its exercise to capture Indian territory in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Gogra, and Hot Springs area in May.

However, since then, the Army has doubled down along the entire LAC and has now captured dominating heights in the southern banks of Pangong Tso even as the soldiers climbed up the ridgelines in the northern bank and are sitting at a dominating position against the Chinese who have captured territory up to the ridgelines of Finger 4.

Both sides have also amassed over 80,000 troops together at the LAC besides hundreds of artillery guns, tanks, armoured personnel vehicles and air defence systems. India has also put its Air Force and Navy on full operational alert.

Neither New Delhi nor Beijing is looking at a war situation, and even if there is one eventually, neither is going to defeat the other hands down.

Also read: This is what led China to open fire in Ladakh on Monday for the first time in 45 years

War will help none

There is no doubt that the Chinese have a larger and stronger military, which is backed by new technology and state-of-the-art systems, albeit untested but it still looks good on paper. India, too, is no pushover and has a large military. It is the only country in South Asia capable of standing up to a belligerent China.

Any armed conflict between the two sides will look bad on China, which is already facing a global pushback over the coronavirus pandemic and its expansionist agenda. Casualties of Chinese soldiers will dent President Xi’s image.

China — which has not seen death in conflict since the 1979 war with Vietnam, notwithstanding the death of its soldiers in the Galwan Valley that they are yet to acknowledge— has more to lose than India since body bags back home will not only bring in sorrow and bitterness, but also affect its global ambitions.

It is not that India can afford a war with China either. Despite the fire in the belly of Indian soldiers to stay put and give a befitting reply to Chinese aggression, war at this juncture would be costly — both for Modi as a leader and the Indian economy, which is already weak.

But does this mean that India should not stand up to China? No. India is doing the right thing by putting its military on high alert and preparing for the long haul.

But the only icebreaker in the high Himalayan mountains will be political talks. And to talk, both India and China need a face-saver.

Views are personal.

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15 Comments Share Your Views


  1. China has more financial muscle and they have conquered their Covid crisis. Their economy has not got affected much.

    India is in deep shit now due to Covid. States may not be able to pay salaries 3-4 months down the line.

    The Chinese know that India cannot sustain a long drawn out standoff .

    Time for government to be careful with the money they spend. Shed excess staff. It is long overdue. Ministers and bureaucrats have many perks – they need to cut down on their privileges and expenses. If we are serious about reviving our economy and at same time protecting our borders it is time for all political parties to cut costs, work for nation’s benefit and not for themselves.

  2. This is what happens when “leaders” invest in maximalist rhetoric for political gain.
    Now when statesmanship is the need of the hour the “leader” is straitjacketed by his own grandstanding.

  3. If we didn’t stop China now as it still has to get a lot of military capabilities it will be really hard in 2035 as the U.S Defence Report says that China will be difficult to deal with in 2035 and the same reports first lines says that People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has outnumbered US Navy in vessels. A conflict of future will be hard as Modi may not be Prime Minister to take the hard decision in future but, Xi Jinping is sworn as a lifetime.

    • The present Indian situation
      1. India is in a very weak position – China would just need to destroy the heavy war making capability of the nation and bring in help from turkey, Syria, and Afghanistan – these fighters will finish off India.
      2. India has never been more divided – the Government and its policy of CAA / NRC and Ayodhya decision has created huge rift bewteen its citizens and the divisive politics of Modi has further polarized India and its citizens on lines of religion.
      3. the Economy has been hit – and when the economy is bad the general mood of the nation is one of helplessness.
      4, The Covid -19 situation has created a huge rift between Indian – the migrant labors are very unhappy with the government.
      India’s actions
      India had started its game with China in 2014 already – and it culminated in 2020 when India came out directly with its intentions
      1. Raisina dialogue
      2. banning sale of face masks to china at the time when china needed them the most – even sale of mask making material was banned – in Jan 31, 2020.
      3. in the initial stages of the pandemic – how indian media has been attacking China – wuhan virus etc.
      Why China would go to war with India.
      India is not yet a super power but it has established its intentions very clearly – India’s intentions when it built the DBO road – which has no economic value – only strategic military value to show aggression towards CPEC etc.
      its constants increase in its budget – its threats about taiwan – Tibet – and talk about Hong Kong. etc.
      These are signals that show that India is very much interested in playing the big boy America game … so when a nation that does not have the required economic power and yet shows such extravagant ambitions and desire to antagonize China
      the best option would be to nip it in the bud. attack it swiftly and decisively – and how that would be achieved is something one will have to guess.
      I think Amit Shah – and Modi created this problem when Amit shah said – I am ready to sacrifice my life for aksai chin – that very day – the chinese started taking this very seriously – now they want Amit shah to come to the front and sacrifice his life for Aksai chin.

  4. “Prime Minister Modi and President Xi need to pick up the phone and talk. But the problem is that neither side wants to dial first?” When did Modi even say “China” or “Xi”?

  5. With the meeting between the two Foreign Ministers remaining unproductive, war is looking likely. Lt Gen Hasnain feels an all out or a full fledged border war are unlikely. Either local skirmishes or an extended stalemate. Option Four is what we should hope for. The harsh Ladakhi winter will sensitise both sides to the cost and futility of seeking to protect such a wild, rugged frontier by a permanent presence. It will also give them time to think how best to restore calm to a relationship that was always low on trust but which had been managed with deftness. 45 years of good work has been washed away.

  6. Historically including this time, China has been the aggressor and started action across Indian border.
    Why India should have the responsibility of giving a face saver to China. Why can’t China do that to India??
    It is China that needs to go back to April ‘20 position.

  7. Why do we need a face saver when we didn’t start it. Stand your grounds and no flexibility, we are ready to pay the cost while making enemy pay more. Not just in war but a total disarrangement from decades to come. Gloves need to be taken off and China Pak nexus needs to be broken.

  8. Unless both Pakistan and China become democracies the border issues will continue, they may escalate to some levels, but the with the ultimate deterrence in place any side being pushed into a corner is highly unlikely.
    We must continue to prepare ourselves to live with this old Covid-19 which neither has a vaccine nor a cure. The Indian population is mature to understand the nature of this problem and will not resort to bringing down governments on this issue unless a visible screw up takes place with involvement of vested interests.
    Every dispensation since independence has done its best with due regards to the conditions and prevailing then.

    • better be careful what you desire
      If China became a democracy – like India – they will have no one to control their muscle flexing – at least now they are talking to India from – 2014 – the first time when India sent its warships to South China Sea to do freedom of navigation exercises – they have been asking – what purpose does they serve India …

      If China was a democracy like USA – India – considering the military might and the power they yield … there would be no talking – they would straight attack India and by today 90% of India would be ash.


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