The Chinese are at it again. On the weekend, the PLA troops tried to occupy areas on the Indian side of the Pangong Lake in Ladakh but were foiled by the Indian Army, which preemptively moved into the areas the Chinese targeted. It was a provocative move meant to test the preparedness of the Indian troops to repulse any further aggression by the Chinese. The real surprise is that despite engaging India in diplomatic and military talks to settle the recent tense situation on the border created by their occupation of Indian territory in April-May, the Chinese still had the audacity to indulge in an adventurist action. Quite clearly, they cannot be trusted. On the second day too, the Chinese troops tried in vain to occupy tactical heights, which are indisputably on the Indian side. The irony is that after playing aggressor, China accused India of `illegally trespassing the Line of Actual Control.’ The Ministry of External Affairs, rejecting the Chinese claim, said even as the ground commanders of the two sides were in discussion to de-escalate the situation, “Chinese troops again engaged in provocative action which was thwarted by defensive action by the Indian side…” What is behind the Chinese belligerence? It is in its DNA to use force to browbeat neighbours be it those in the South or East China Seas, and to defy the international court of justice, but its aggression against India seeks to accomplish a larger objective. It is probably to keep India diverted from growing its economy as per its real potential and, in time, to emerge an equally strong power. On the other hand, China wants to be the lone super power in Asia, and, in time, in world, ready to take on the might of the US, which due to a few policy missteps, is clearly in decline. No Indian government will be ready to play second fiddle to China, whatever the costs in vastly enhanced resources for defending her territorial integrity. After the pandemic-induced `lay-off’ in April-May by the security forces, which allowed the PLA to smuggle itself into the Indian territory, it is clear that the Modi Government is determined to repulse the Chinese aggression. The on-going talks with China concern their withdrawal to the pre-April positions on the disputed LAC. China clearly is not serious about settling the disputed border issue. Its refusal to exchange maps in order to settle the issue in spite of repeated demands by India in the decades-long negotiating process indicates its ulterior design. It wants to keep a potential power in its vicinity unsettled, exploiting its superior military and economic prowess. However, despite the Wuhan-origin Covid-19 pandemic which has engulfed the entire world, bar China itself, India’s determination to defend itself cannot be underestimated.
Even though the rival troops now stand eyeball-to-eyeball at the LAC in Ladakh, consequences of an actual war are too horrendous to contemplate. Without doubt, both sides will suffer human and economic losses. If the real motive behind lighting a spark at the India border was President Xi Jinping’s way to deflect domestic criticism from the CCP and others following the failure of his pet Belt and Road Initiative, and the costly trade war with the US, he ought to re-think. India is no pushover, whatever be the weaknesses in its defence forces. Meanwhile, the growing isolation of China, stemming from its arrogant behaviour, is an undeniable fact. Western countries are strongly resisting its assertive behaviour. In this context, the proposed meeting of the Quad --- India, Japan, Australia and US --- foreign ministers in October in New Delhi is important. China perceives Quad with suspicion, believing it to be against it. Since all four nations face the threat of economic and/or territorial nature, Beijing cannot complain if they work together, not only on security-related issues but on increased economic and cultural cooperation as well. Xi Jinping may not realise but China is fast becoming a rogue country, increasingly despised by the civilised world. Drunk with economic and military power, the fall can be greater once all those whom it threatens close ranks to exploit its numerous domestic and international vulnerabilities. On its part, the Indian leadership should prepare the people for any eventuality on the border to defend its honour.