Sino-Indian clash stems from India’s becoming a US pawn in Asia
At first glance, the India-China clash in Ladakh appears to be a typical border dispute leading to violence. But it has deep roots in the on-going global geo-political scenario.
The contours of the geo-political scenario are: India is ideologically opposed to China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and its related projects, particularly the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); India is also a ‘close ally’ of the US in the existing chessboard of global geo-politics; India follows US policy vis-à-vis China; and India is trying to flex its muscles and lock itself into conflicts to create new political divisions in the region.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s China policy stems from US President Trump’s on-going ‘trade war’ and his recent threat to turn the ‘trade war’ into a cold war by cutting off relations with China.
This policy has its roots in the belief that China, largely focused on its connectivity projects, will have little room to respond militarily, and that a ‘muscular approach’ will be more sustainable than diplomacy and negotiations over a period of time, allowing both the US and its allies, such as India, to stem Chinese influence in the region and beyond, including countries, such as Nepal, which were previously under exclusive Indian influence.
This, however, is an inaccurate assessment of the reality. For instance, Nepal recently passed legislation that allows the Nepalese government to change the country’s map and lay claim to land that is currently under Indian control. Whereas the mere passage of a bill by parliament would have little effect on the ground, it will still establish a new reality i.e., Nepal, which is now under significant Chinese influence, is locking itself in a border conflict with India. This means that India will now be contesting territorial claims on at least three of its borders---China, Pakistan and Nepal.
By igniting a conflict with China, the Indian intention was certainly to stem China’s strategy of creating a chain of allies surrounding India and forcing it into a territorial fait accompli wherein it will have little scope for opposing Chinese connectivity projects and act as a US pawn in the region.
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The Trump administration would certainly want to have India locked in a long-term conflict with China and the Chinese Communist Party and thus strengthen its Indo-Pacific strategy in military terms.
When seen in this context, the ‘actions against China’ remarks made by the Trump administration on May 29 explain the international context against which a concerted policy of ‘punishing’ China is being followed by the US and its allies, including India.
Trump’s offer of mediation between India and China notwithstanding, his charge sheet against China includes China’s so-called ‘illegal occupation’ of territories in the Pacific ocean “threatening freedom of navigation and international trade.”
This rhetoric is similar to Indian claims about Kashmir and the Chinese presence in the region, which is the underlying reason for Indian actions in the region, including its decision to declare Aksai China an ‘integral part’ of India. By doing so, India crossed the redline vis-à-vis China.
The move logically connects with India’s infrastructural projects in the region, particularly the bridge over the Galwan ‘nallah’ that the Chinese had objected to and which led to the current standoff. The bridge is part of a network of feeder roads that India is building to connect the strategically important Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road, inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh last year.
This is deeply connected with Indian hopes to establish control over Pakistan controlled part of Kashmir, a region through which China’s billion-dollar CPEC runs and is the key to physically connecting China with the Middle East and Europe as well.
Indian activity in Galwan connects directly with the US policy of confronting China and Chinese connectivity projects. By weakening the Chinese position in the region and by pushing back China’s military presence, India hopes to strengthen its claims on the entire Jammu & Kashmir region, including the part controlled by Pakistan. By damaging China, albeit wishfully, India hopes to set itself as a regional hegemon under US auspices.
While such thinking is not grounded in facts, the Hindutva brand of nationalism that the Modi sarkar has been selling to its voters does make it sound like a realistic and achievable dream.
This explains why India’s humiliation has not led to a thorough re-assessment of its policies on the basis of realism, and why the popular response, rooted as it is in a popular and mythical belief in India’s military capacity vis-à-vis China, has been a loud clamour for ‘retaliation.’