President Xi Jinping (centre) with other leaders of the Communist Party of China | Representational image: Reuters via ANI
President Xi Jinping (centre) with other leaders of the Communist Party of China | Representational image: Reuters via ANI
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The Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its 100th anniversary later this July, a hugely significant achievement for a nation that has, by sheer willpower and hard work, cut through the poverty of decades to reach the top of the global pyramid. Harrison Salisbury’s ‘The New Emperors begins with a memorable account of bedraggled but wonderstruck Chinese soldiers, having overcome Chiang Kai-Shek and other internal challenges, finally arriving Beijing in 1949; no doubt, they are anticipating the rising fortunes of the Communist Party they have forfeited their lives to.

Cut to the present as Indian and Chinese soldiers undertake a trust-and-verify disengagement in the high Himalayas in Ladakh, beginning with the Pangong Tso north and south banks. Withdrawal is also taking place from the Kailash Range, which Indian soldiers climbed in late August, taking the Chinese by surprise. That key manoeuvre is widely believed to have helped turn the direction of the ongoing face-off in India’s favour.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s measured statement in Parliament on the step-by-step disengagement is, rightly, not a declaration of victory – it’s too soon for that. No, it gives voice to the determination that India is ready to talk to the Chinese till the cows come home, but not under forced aggression.

Moreover, while Singh did not use the phrase “status quo ante” in his statement, he made it clear that both sides will return to the positions they occupied before the aggression in April 2020.

Imagine the headlines, including in the Communist Party-run Global Times, which loves to taunt India for the smallest trifle — interestingly, though, since the announcement of the disengagement, there has been very little of that.

Its celebrated editor, Hu Xijin, has taken time to be dismissive of an India-US partnership based on democratic values — “It’s hypocritical and empty,” is what he called it — but hasn’t said a word about either the objectives of the border aggression or why the soldiers are now withdrawing from Ladakh.


Also read: India and US must know the new Cold War is a different beast – China isn’t USSR


Political-military complementing each other 

So, who made the first call offering an olive branch? Some say it was the Indian side that repeated one simple message to the Chinese over nine months: You are ruining the relationship with a fellow Asian nation. You may be the stronger, economic power but India will not back off. Let’s return to the principles that you signed off on, on not disturbing peace and tranquility on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who was ambassador in China for five years before he became foreign secretary and then joined politics, has remarked how China’s aggression across the LAC in Ladakh has “profoundly disturbed” the relationship and proposed “8 consults and 3 mutuals” to resolve it.

Behind the foreign minister’s stated determination was, of course, the political will articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh. But a fourth player, who has stayed out of the limelight so far, is Army Chief Gen. M.M. Naravane, who is believed to have backed the political vision by insisting that the Army had the will and the wherewithal to block the Chinese.

Remember that Gen. Naravane is a China hand, has been a defence attache in Myanmar and has substantial experience in counter-insurgency both in the NorthEast and in Kashmir. (He is, no doubt, watching closely the changing dynamics of the coup in Myanmar these days.) A thinking soldier, Naravane recently gave voice to India’s troubling “delivery deficit” to promises of regional connectivity in a speech at the defence think-tank, United Services Institute, and pointed to an unsettled regional security environment characterised by Chinese belligerence.

“The rising footprints of China in India’s neighbourhood and its attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo along our disputed borders have created an environment of confrontation and mutual distrust,” Naravane said.

So when the Chinese upped the ante by mobilising just across the LAC soon after the Galwan valley clash on 15-16 June in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives – and according to Russian news agency Tass, 45 Chinese soldiers were killed – Gen. Naravane’s Army responded right back. From Ladakh in the western sector to Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern sector, the Indian Army was mobilised to prevent any further aggression.

What is less known is that Indian soldiers are far more battle-hardened than the Chinese – they have held the Siachen heights against Pakistan since 1984 in terrible conditions; the Commander of the 14 Corps in Leh deals with both Siachen and Ladakh. While Chinese soldiers have trained in Tibet’s Qinghai plateau to get acclimatised to bitter cold conditions — in Ladakh they have had “hotpot” delivered to them by drones and had access to extra oxygen from bedside generators – they are believed to be rotated faster than Indian soldiers.

The Indian Army’s willingness to stand up to the Chinese gave the political leadership the space to hold firm. While the rest of the world watched, India, with one-fifth the economy of China, faced off against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Ladakh.

Imagine the impact on China’s reputation when President Xi Jinping and the rest of the Central Committee meet in July to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding — with Indian troops still eyeball to eyeball with the Chinese?


Also read: Ladakh shows Russia won’t choose between India and China. It doesn’t want to


What China must ask of itself

On 24-25 December, President Xi gathered the Politburo for a “Democratic Life Meeting” session, in which all 25 members were supposed to indulge in self-criticism in order to strengthen the CCP and the nation, slated to take over as the world’s largest economy in 2028, five years before it was expected to do so.

The theme of this session was to “earnestly learn the thought of unique socialism in China in the new age of Xi Jinping.” Meaning, the CCP leader was telling his comrades they better follow the path he has laid out for them – dissent, of course, would be met with the Chinese version of the Gulag.

It is not known if the Ladakh aggression was discussed at the Politburo session or whether President Xi indulged in some self-criticism and rectification. Meanwhile, two pieces from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), an influential think-tank directly controlled by China’s external intelligence and security ministry, the Ministry of State Security, give some idea of Chinese thinking on the subject.

The first piece, datelined August 2020, says “de-coupling the border issue from the overall relationship is the fundamental principle to be adhered to”. The Indian side did exactly the opposite – telling the Chinese that the border aggression would be hostage to the entire relationship if they didn’t back down.

A more recent piece by Hu Shisheng in CICIR, written after Indian soldiers climbed the Kailash Range, is more revealing. It refers to “India’s tough foreign policy featuring “high risk, high yield” pursued by the Modi administration towards China. The subsequent measures of India’s tough diplomacy towards China have become more frequent, reflecting both a desire to seek revenge and a deep level of India’s logic….As a result, the moment has arrived for China and India to restructure their relations, otherwise their relationship can hardly be continued.”

Hu Shisheng is no ordinary Chinese strategist. He is the director of CICIR’s South Asia institute, with a BA in Hindi and an MA in Sanskrit and Pali from Peking University. What he says is certainly a reflection of the CCP’s thinking – it has been vetted by the authorities, for sure.

It seems as if the penny has finally dropped in Beijing that the Modi government isn’t giving in to China’s aggression.

In 2003, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to Beijing, a Special Representative mechanism was set up to discuss the boundary, mutually give and take, and settle the problem left over by history. But 18 years have passed and there has been no movement. China’s attempt at trying to change the shape of the boundary has not worked either.

So what does China want? Does it want to live in genuine peace with its neighbours or enforce an uneasy truce, just because it is the economically and militarily stronger nation? As the CCP celebrates its 100th anniversary, Xi Jinping and the party must ask that question.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. I am a fauji veteran. Most of us have been chaffing under ‘peacenik’ constraints put on us by all Governments till now for dealing with Pakistan and China. Late Col. Babu MVC who died in Galawan was from my school and my NDA and I can imagine how he must have been chaffing at all the constraints put on him and his troops and not being able to hit back at the Chinese the way his school and NDA has taught him. I am sure his soul would be proud the way his troops devastated Chinese after his brutal death. Why did the politicos put these constraints, especially when the fauj did not want them, is something best left to peoples imagination. But now we have a PM who is not corrupt or obliged to tolerate corruption. Like he explained about India’s successful response to Covid19 – he trusted his professional advisors. He trusted the then Army Chief and hit back in Uri. He trusted his Air Chief, and we had Balakot and now, he trusted Gen. Naravane, and we have Ladakh. We the faujis are even happier that we are getting our India-built equipment, free of any kickbacks or controversies. That is how a Government should run in these modern time – professionally and not by a darbari culture of Princelings.

  2. I will welcome an article from Ms Jyoti Malhotra on how much land China occupied after 1952 war? How much more they occupied till 2014? Was this first attempt to grab land since 2014? RaGa said, at a rally, that we would have thrown out Chinese troups in 15 minutes.. (LoL)
    Also the effect of Congress government not to allow private sector to produce arms/equipment in India but buy the same from private parties in Europe/US for obvious reasons.

  3. What ever be the reason unless otherwise if we are not changing our political system, nations mindset and strong in economic background we can not compete china..

  4. Was China getting a better deal with this withdrawal, why give up the captured kailash range, modi needs to answer this. What was the whole purpose of capture of heights to give it away and go back?

  5. Founders of ThePrint should really ponder over the fact that they are asking for donations from readers with a disclaimer below every published article of theirs. “Views are personal.”

    If the views are so personal, why publish them on the website and ask readers to pay for them? More often that not, articles from ThePrint have an agenda, a very cheap way of creating an opinion and writing them off as personal views.

    Either remove the ‘Views are personal’ if you have confidence in your authors or remove these authors if you do not have confidence in their views. Why hide behind these kind of disclaimers?

    Hope this rings a bell!

  6. I think Jyothi Malhotra is a better columnist than an interviewer. This is a very good article. I hope that she will stick to her core competence than dabble in YouTube videos!

    The long and short of the recent face off and Chinese retreat is that now China knows that India cannot be pushed around. China now knows that it has a non-aggressive but tough neighbour to its south.

  7. We should not wait any more rather we should activate QUAD as soon as possible, China always have sinister behavior towards India rise, they see India rise are obstacle in their global leader ambition, if not go by QUAD nation it will be a geopolitical challenges for us in years to come and China definitely keep checking us on various front. We also need to accelerate our economic development agenda without delaying any more and without involving private company and citizen in running business we will never achieve competencies to compete with global stage instead they same old govt official keep involve in self serving attitude and keep holding country progress.

  8. Excellent write-up. Cohesive analysis. Brilliant Chinese side analysis and over-all 5 star article. Our generations must preserve this to be viewed after 5 decades

  9. I don’t agree with the viewpoint. The motive behind China’s apparent aggression in Ladakh is totally misread. The purpose, it seems, was not to capture a few border posts or finger points. The purpose was to pin India to its northern border. India was consequently constrained to reorient its defense priorities and expenditure. This is like a game of chess. Since India had to focus on its northern border, it has no room left to pose any threat to China in the Indian Ocean. Where is the money to modernize our navy? Whatever we had has been spent to fortify our defenses along the Chinese border. Will India still play its Indian Ocean game against China? That is a moot point.

  10. Outcomes of military conflicts are NOT solely depedendant on the relative military capacity and certaily NOT on the relative size of the economies. The results of Korea, Vietnam Afganistan and recently the war in Yaman are some of the examples to prove this point.
    The creative imagination in planning by the military commanders, the pride of the fighters, the will and determination of top leadership and the relative capacity to accept adversity are far more reliable indicators to the expected results.
    It is surprising how some media in India featuring many military analysts including some retired decorated Generals always predicts doom and gloom in case of confrontation with either Pakistan or with China.
    Barring funding from hostile entities, the negative attitute on display points to either poor morale in the military leadership or dirty politics that fails to distinguish between political party in power and the nation that is INDIA !

  11. Thoughtful observers have spoken of the need for a new modus vivendi. The world has changed a lot since 1988, not favourably to the earlier idea of near parity. At the same time 5 : 1 does not mean China can afford to take liberties, least of all with India’s territorial integrity. What is required is an honest, no frills conversation, an acknowledgment of asymmetry and a shared quest for both peaceful coexistence and enlarging the scope of economic engagement, including long term investment. 2. It would help for India to put its economic house in order. For it to have more friends in the neighbourhood. A national discourse, led by the channels, that is less muscular and virile. A very nuanced relationship with the United States. Aware that when two elephants either fight or make love, the grass gets trampled upon.

    • “…enlarging the scope of economic engagement, including long term investment. 2. It would help for India to put its economic house in order.” – do you really believe that solutions are so black and white especially when the adversary is China? Honestly, you are a dreamer when it comes to China.

      Well there is NO Berlin Wall to break here, but let’s hope China shows it good intentions by acknowledging India as an equal entity in shaping the future of Asia.

    • I honestly think you either act idealistic / moralistic OR are naive. But unfortunately you want the current dispensation in India to take the whole burden. For you, Xi is a saint.

  12. The climb down by Beijing seems to be a result of various factors, India’s resolve being most critical. The geo political upheavals post pandemic has altered the world’s view towards China. Note that prior to the pandemic and Trump, no country stood up to China regardless of China’s behaviour. The blatant disregard for UNCLOS ruling in favour of Philippines hardly provoked any nation, including Obama’s US. This resulted in militarising the South China Sea unhindered. India’s response to China’s naked aggression in Ladakh changed the perception across the globe. Today, country after country is pushing back China, unmindful of Chinese retaliation. Perhaps better sense prevails in Beijing today. A stalemate in Ladakh works against China’s objectives and yields diminishing marginal utility. Hence, prudence gave way to belligerence. This backing down is unlikely to be forgotten or forgiven. India can never let its guard down. But China will not risk a border clash anytime soon. Instead it will use all other methods and means to hurt India, beginning with our neighbours. India, therefore, needs to build strong bonds with neighbours and coalitions with other powers. The Quad is likely to prove a potent thorn in China’s aims. One is sceptical about China’s blatant adventurism finding newer pastures. It would be interesting to see if Xi succeeds in strengthening his position post the July convention. There is every likelihood that he could be deposed by then.

  13. Why Jyoti has suddenly anti China instead of her usual anti Modi stance? Now, she will get many critics from China and none of her existing critics from India are going to change their views about her! Anyway, Jyoti if you did not get this before at the time Doklam, it is so simple- Modi cannot and will not wipe himself out politically for compromising on national interest. And Indian Armed Forces are no pushovers. After the Galwan incident, it was very clear- 1. This is the last time China did this mischief 2. LAC will turn into LOC 3. India will retaliate and it did but differently in Kailash Range 4. Armed Forces will be given full powers and funds to deal with the Chinese 5. China enjoying 60 billion plus trade surplus will be brought down substantially very soon. We must thank Xi for doing what he did; ordinary Indians have got what they wanted in defense area from their government and the Armed Forces. Henceforth, it is indigenous push and Atmanirbhar Bharat with China as the main enemy to deal with and US as potential ally, in case of need.

  14. The Chinese were depending on their ” ALL WEATHER FRIENDS ” to make things difficult for India by adding border tension to the COVID situation. The URI and Balakot some how seem to put such fear of unpredictability that the FRIEND was not willing to take any chances, and some videos’ circulating of the Pak Parliament tend to confirm that.
    Any success of CAA and now the farmers’ protest would have only added to the Chinese designs and pleasure but that was not be, despite some of our own making common cause with them.

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