Chinese troops have reportedly begun to withdraw from the Galwan Valley and even the Pangong Tso in Ladakh Monday, hours after national security adviser Ajit Doval spoke to Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi Sunday, during which Doval is believed to have insisted on a “full and enduring restoration of peace and tranquility.”
According to reports, a three-kilometre buffer zone has been created between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh; both sides are moving tents, troops and vehicles back to their own side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC); the exercise is being verified by drones. At Pangong Tso, the withdrawal is still thin because the Galwan and Shyok rivers are in spate, but physical verification will also take place soon.
Fact remains, whether the full withdrawal process takes a few days or weeks or months, the Chinese side seems to have blinked. Two months after Chinese troops intruded across the LAC, they are going back, empty-handed.
The US steps in
The one thing the Chinese are surely taking back is the ill-will of a fellow Asian power, far poorer but strong in the knowledge that it has many more friends than Beijing does today.
Think about it. Who came down on China’s side as it decided to aggressively cross the LAC and decide it must take back territory it once owned during the Qing dynasty?
Even those most indebted to China, such as Laos (where the Chinese are building a high-speed railway to connect to China) and Djibouti (where the Chinese have built a military base), didn’t come out in open support of the dragon.
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In contrast, India had lined up some of the world’s quietest as well as most voluble players, some of them powerful members of the United Nations Security Council.
The Americans were the most garrulous, of course, with US President Donald Trump saying last week that “China’s aggressive stance along the India-China border fits in with a larger pattern of Chinese aggression in other parts of the world…”.
Trump was right. Only last week, Russians and Chinese got into a social media spat when some Chinese media claimed ownership of Russia’s eastern city Vladivostok, saying it had once been part of the Qing dynasty’s Manchurian homeland but was annexed by Russia when China lost the Second Opium War to Britain and France in 1860.
Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had described the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a “rogue actor” and accused the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of escalating “border tensions with India.”
Certainly, the US is having a massive tiff with China over trade and the fact that Beijing didn’t let on early about the coronavirus pandemic thereby causing untold harm to America – but the Ladakh border clash has been much more than a casualty.
So the US moved two aircraft carriers into the South China Sea Saturday, in what amounted to a significant show of strength, insisting on freedom of navigation. While Pompeo called external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, promising help.
Russia steps in
As for the Russians, they agreed to speed up “certain missiles and bombs” during the recent visit of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to Moscow, when a full review of the bilateral defence relationship took place.
Significantly, Russia quietly turned down the Chinese request not to sell arms to India, said officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, even though Russia depends quite a bit on arms sales to China to shore up its own GDP. The CCP’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, took to Facebook to send China’s message to Russia.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the decision to operationalise the India-Russia BrahMos missile.
A new ‘coalition of the willing’
Right through, South Block was reaching out to other key nations. From Japan (“Had a good talk with FS Shringla. Appreciated his briefing on the situation along LAC,” tweeted Japanese ambassador Satoshi Suzuki) to Australia, the world began to line up behind India.
Even Pakistan, China’s strategic ally and partner, refrained from taking advantage of the situation to open a second front.
Beijing is still claiming Galwan Valley, but even Wang Yi realises it cannot stand up to the combined might of the coalition of the willing that is ranged on the other side.
Certainly, the last 24 hours have belonged to PM Modi. He has successfully called China’s bluff by daring it to keep Indian territory. His comments on the 19 June all-party meeting, that “no one entered Indian territory, no posts were occupied” may still ring true.
In retrospect, it seems clear that when he spoke in Leh last Friday, Modi had already stitched up his partnerships so he could freely rail against the “era of expansionism,” a not-so-subtle allusion to China.
Certainly, the long haul to a full withdrawal has begun. It is likely India will now cement its new friendships with free trade agreements, including with the European Union and the US. Modi needs all the friends he can get if it wants to think of confronting China on a sustained basis — even at the cost of good ties with the RSS’ Swadeshi Jagran Manch.
The Ladakh crisis is a moment of reckoning all around. Besides invigorating old friendships and recasting India’s influence in the neighbourhood, Modi must reach out anew to the opposition at home. Foreign policy is far too risky a business to allow political divisions.
As for Rahul Gandhi, if he wants to become Congress president, he must learn to be more responsible. Attacking a duly elected prime minister on national security issues may get him some brownie points, but it is hardly the hallmark of a serious politician.
Views are personal.
This article has been updated to reflect changes.
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