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China hasn’t restored pre-April 2020 status quo. New Delhi’s muted response is also to blame

S Jaishankar said that China is a bigger economy and there is no merit in picking a fight. By this logic, Vietnam would not have fought the US or pushed back China.

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The adversarial relations between India and China have reached one of the lowest levels since the 1962 war. The prime reason for this is China’s increased transgressions on the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh since April-May 2020, which has resulted in a continued standoff. India’s demand has been plain and simple—reversion to pre-April 2020 positions. But major Chinese incursions continue in Depsang plains and Demchok.

In other areas, some progress has been made in restoring the status quo but not in ideal terms. These should only be taken as an intermediate step to the final move toward pre-April-May 2020 positions.

The unanswered question then is why is China conducting itself in this particular way with India. Has New Delhi’s response been muted compared to what it should have been? China yielded substantial ground to Russia and even Vietnam (a supposedly weaker nation compared not only to China but also India) as the response of these countries was firm, resolute, proactive, and aggressive. A closer and more objective analysis reveals that the response of India has been muted on a consistent basis.

Also read: India-China military talks have run their course. Live with status quo or sign a new agreement

PostIndependence: India became independent on 15 August 1947 whereas the People’s Republic of China was formed after more than two years on 1 October 1949. India had the golden opportunity to sign its border pact with Tibet, a de-facto independent state from 1912 till it was annexed by China in 1951. The two-year independence gap could have been used by India but it lacked a proactive border policy.

Pre-1962 positions: The month-long 1962 war between India and China apparently ended after a unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal by China. But China continues to occupy some pre-conflict positions. There are major challenges to the resolution of the border standoff but LAC has also not been identified by both countries for the understanding of a common alignment. Even for LAC, China needs to revert to its 1 October 1949 positions or at least to the positions as existing on 8 September 1962. India’s political, diplomatic and military interactions have also largely remained silent on these positions or found a place in mutual agreements.

The Shaksgam Valley: Pakistan was quick to cede the Shaksgam Valley to China during the signing of the 1963 border settlement agreement between them. Though the agreement did say that once the Jammu & Kashmir issue is resolved with India, the border negotiations with China will re-open. Pakistan has no legitimacy to cede this Indian territory under its adverse possession to China but even on this issue, India has been largely silent. The inclusion of Shaksgam Valley must form an important part of boundary or LAC talks between India and China.

Arunachal overtures: China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh as Southern Tibet is without merit because the entire annexation of Tibet is a forced occupation by Beijing. It has consistently raised objections to the visits of central government dignitaries to Arunachal Pradesh including the prime minister, defence minister and others. Not only this, it has also renamed certain locations in Arunachal Pradesh with Tibetan names, an audacity normally not observed elsewhere in the world. In 2007, China denied visa to IAS officer Ganesh Koyu of Arunachal Pradesh who was part of a team travelling to China for a management programme.

It will be worth examining the number of places India has renamed in Aksai Chin, an area administered by China but claimed by New Delhi as part of the Leh district. It will also be worth examining as to how many times we have raised objections to Chinese delegates visiting Aksai chin?It is clear that irrespective of governments in power, India has hardly given it back to China on the issue. Its primary response has been one of staying mute.

Galwan and beyond: While it is appropriate to blame China for transgressions across LAC at multiple locations in Eastern Ladakh, an objective analysis is needed to identify the cause. Even a non-military person will understand that such large transgressions don’t happen overnight. Letting things go back to the levels of April-May 2020 are mere reflections of India’s ‘muted response philosophy’ despite the adverse effects. Even the Kailash range advantages were let off without reaching the comprehensive pull back commitment by China to pre-April 2020 locations. Now that there is some clarity on China’s fatalities during the Galwan clashes of 2020, it is obvious that this incident was disastrous compared to all conflicts between the two countries except the 1962 war.

Also read: “Was our economy very big…” Rahul Gandhi on EAM Jaishankar’s remark on China

Economic logic: The Narendra Modi government has made it clear in almost all its interactions with China that bilateral relations cannot improve unless borders become peaceful. This has been stated earlier by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar quite forcefully but it was a strange comment coming from him that China is a bigger economy and there is no merit in picking a fight. This is to reinforce our belief as a nation that we only want to be a ‘mute responder’ to China’s aggressive actions. Had this been a sustainable logic, Vietnam would not have fought the US or pushed China back. Moreover, if the economy was the prime criterion to mount a response, then Ukraine would not have been fighting Russia for more than a year now.

Perhaps the central government is taking these decisions in the national interest because it has a large quantum of inputs that are unavailable in the public domain. But India needs to re-calibrate its national strategy toward China in a completely different way altogether. We need to believe in our strengths and not succumb to the misplaced superiority of our adversary who wins in the mind first.

Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd) is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He can be contacted at and tweets from @chanakyaoracle. Views are personal.

(Edited by Ratan Priya)

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