While the involvement in North Sikkim was resolved on the basis of mutually agreed protocols, those in East Ladakh remained, which led to speculation about China’s intentions.
Both military officers were cautious on a strategic and operational level. At the tactical level, however, encounters arise due to different perceptions of where the actual boundary is, since the LAC is not delimited on site. While allusions are resolved on site, the problems associated with building infrastructure such as roads and defenses are invariably longer and require a combination of military and diplomatic initiatives.
China can hardly afford any risky adventurism in the Himalayas, given the myriad of internal and external challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. A conflict with India, its key regional strategic competitor, will not only exacerbate its problems, but will also seriously hamper its stated path to global superpower by 2050. The challenges facing Xi Jinping today include China’s shrinking economy, its newly sparked trade war with the United States, the exit of some manufacturing companies, and the slowdown in its ambitious Belt and Road initiative. The protests in Hong Kong, Taiwan’s intransigence, and the global demand to investigate its role in the coronavirus pandemic have also added to its concerns.
Apart from Pakistan, which is its strategic all-weather partner in the region, Beijing’s assertive behavior combined with its alleged role in pandemics in Asian countries, where it became friendly as part of its containment strategy against India, has become anti-Chinese Mood led. India would do well to use this to its advantage.
China is aware of the current combat potential of the Indian military and has seen that since the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 across the still controversial Himalayan border, it has developed into an accountable, responsive and powerful element of national power. Both military have been training together for many years to improve interoperability for humanitarian aid, disaster relief and counter-terrorism. Understanding each other’s military capabilities contributes to deterrence as each side realizes the dire consequences of a conflict. India has shown, under current political leadership, its propensity to use violence when provoked. The volatile and complex proxy war arena of Jammu and Kashmir has continued to help the Indian army put its soldiers to the test.
Although conflict is a distant possibility in the near future, India needs to seriously develop its anti-aggression military capabilities and, if that fails, fight to win wars for the country. It is certainly not a good idea to rely on external powers to wage India’s wars. As an emerging great power, India has to carry its own large stick.
For greater economic and geo-strategic gains, a peaceful solution is the answer. There is enough space in the world for the two Asian giants to grow at the same time.