The Prime Minister told a meeting of the Opposition leaders on Friday that ‘no one has entered Indian territory or captured any military post. ’ Then, what was that deadly brawl between the Indian soldiers and the Chinese troops all about in which twenty of our brave-hearts perished? They died defending territory we claim to be our own. Two days before the PM’s shocking claim Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar had sparred with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, arguing that the Indian soldiers were killed while removing a tent on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. It can be argued that no one had entered territory which was indisputably Indian. Such word-play does not hide the fact that the Chinese had intruded into the Indian side of the LAC in the Galwan valley and at several other points along the disputed 3,440 sq km border.
Could it be that there is more than meets the eye in Modi’s assertion? Before we rush to accuse him of surrender, we may consider the likelihood of an effective and strong response against the brutal killing of our soldiers. Moreover, the impression that comes across from the PM’s statement does not square with his public image as a strong and decisive leader. Besides, the costs of such a ‘surrender’ to Modi the leader could be irredeemably high. He cannot be seen to be going down the Nehruvian road of defeat and abject surrender. Therefore, we trust we may yet be surprised by action on the border to avenge the deaths of our soldiers. When, where and how the Indian military will swing into action is not known. But anyone familiar with Modi’s track record will know that he never forgets a slight, a betrayal. He has reason to feel personally let down by ‘my friend Xi Jinping’ whom he had gone out of the way to court, holding back criticism when China most deservedly invited rap on the knuckles for its actions in regard to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, WHO et al.
The continuing buildup of the two militaries at the LAC following the Galwan valley clash also indicates that India will not allow the Chinese barbarity to go unpunished. Failure to respond will embolden a rogue China. Having moved into the Indian side of the LAC as part of its strategic plan to further secure its all-weather road linking the restive Tibet to the troubled Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, it illegally occupied the Galwan heights. From here it can target the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg road which is the life-line for our military in the forward positions in Aksai Chin. China did not lay claim to the Galwan valley till this all-weather road was ready. But the immediate question troubling Indians is whether we can evict China from the disputed land it has occupied since early April.
Meanwhile, this business of boycotting Chinese goods can be grossly overdone. Yes, boycott by all means wherever quality and cost match the Chinese products. But rejecting Chinese goods in favour of shoddy and costlier home-made goods will be akin to cutting one’s nose to spite your face. India accounts for only three percent of the total Chinese exports. Such a boycott would barely impact Chinese economy. Instead, it makes sense not to be overly concerned with the Chinese sensibilities and team up with other nations on the receiving end of the Chinese belligerence. The way Xi Jinping, who anointed himself President-for-life, conducts his foreign policy, chances are very soon aside from North Korea he will have no other nation to consider as China’s friend. China exploits its military and economic power to bully its neighbours and increasingly to browbeat Europeans and North Americans alike. Numerous instances of Chinese bullying have forced a re-think in the West.
Recently, a group of American intellectuals suggested that just as NATO was formed in the wake of the Second World War to defend against a potential military threat from Stalinist Russia, there now was need for a joint forum to repulse the economic aggression by an over-confident China which refuses to respect established norms of global trade and diplomacy. The short point is that the world at large has to forge a unity of purpose to fight the Chinese dadagiri. Whatever the reason why China does it — the most credible seems to be that Xi having anointed himself president for life needs to constantly prove himself to keep his ambitious rivals at bay — it cannot be allowed to menace the whole world. Hurting it economically too will require wider cooperation. Meanwhile, let us keep our fingers crossed. And hope that Modi’s riposte to the Chinese perfidy is strong and successful.