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India-China skirmish in Galwan prompts fears of conflict: Report

News Agencies | Updated on: 6 July 2020, 12:46 IST

The violent stand-off between the Indian and Chinese border troops in Eastern Ladakh last month has raised questions about China's strategic calculations on the rise of India and also prompted fears about armed conflicts between the nuclear powers, according to an analytical piece published in South China Morning Post.

Shi Jiangtao, a former diplomat and author of the article, said that China's attention was already fixed on a new Cold War with the United States when the new tension on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India erupted last month following the deadliest clash between the two sides in over 50 years.

While the two countries have shown interest in de-escalation and agreed to disengage, there is little sign so far that heightened tensions will dissipate soon.

Both sides have instead amassed large numbers of troops and weapons, along the LAC, since the Galwan valley clash. Along with an undisclosed number of Chinese casualties, twenty Indian soldiers were killed in the face-off in eastern Ladakh, where the two countries also fought their brief but bloody 1962 War.

Shi, citing a few political observers, said that it would be a "nightmarish scenario" for Beijing to ratchet up tensions and further alienate New Delhi in the face of worsening ties with Washington and the biggest international backlash in decades over China's diplomatic overreach and its culpability in the coronavirus pandemic.

While Chinese President Xi Jinping and his top diplomats have sought to further improve bilateral relations to an unprecedented level in the last two years, Beijing's boldness in reinforcing its troops at the LAC has underlined its growing dilemma about its neighbour, the author said.

With India's rise as a regional power, the shifting balance of power between India and Pakistan and the emergence of India's alliance with the US, New Delhi has occupied a higher place in Beijing's agenda.

Pang Zhongying, an international affairs analyst at the Ocean University of China, was quoted as saying that India had transformed itself in the past two decades from a giant in South Asia to an Asian power.

"Relations with India rank high in China's foreign policy agenda, especially those pertaining to its periphery region. It is really unfortunate for Beijing to be distracted by the dangerous border stand-off with India when it needs to focus on the free-falling China-US relations as part of a multi-front crisis diplomatically and economically," he said.

According to the author, India sees China as its main threat, but China considers India as a secondary challenge due to Beijing's focus on dealing with Washington in the western Pacific.

But India's increasingly nationalist and adventurist foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Washington's rolling out of its Indo-Pacific strategy, three months after the 2017 Doklam stand-off, apparently aimed at Beijing, have "sent China into a frenzy of damage control".

"For China, the Doklam stand-off raised fundamental questions regarding the nature of India's threat," said Yun Sun, a senior fellow at the Stimson Centre in Washington.

Despite India's increasing importance to China from Beijing's perspective, "China's vision for Asia is strictly hierarchical, with the country at the top and does not consider India an equal," Sun said.

"Since then, the US factor has become the most important consideration in China's policy towards India. For China, the prospect of facing the American military at sea and the Indian military along its southern border and in the Indian Ocean becomes much more real and dangerous with defence cooperation between the US and India," Sun was quoted as saying.

She said that China was in no hurry to resolve the border issue as it could be used as the "leverage to bog down India in the region and undermine its global potential".

However, an increasingly isolated China also needs India to counter the US offensive globally through various multilateral organisations, according to the Post.

"Tactically, China appears to be aiming for what it achieved in the 1962 war ... and believes it needs to stand up to India whatever the cost," Sun said.

Other experts, especially those in India, echoed similar sentiments that China has often adopted stalling tactics on the border issue, even as New Delhi is eager to settle the issue.

Dibyesh Anand, a scholar on international relations at Westminster University in London, said that China's reputation among the Indians was damaged by the unresolved border issue and Beijing's condescension.

"A key factor from the Chinese perspective is the idea of being 'the big brother', the only emerging power, while from India's side. It is the idea of being recognised and respected as equal to China by the international community," he said. 


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First published: 6 July 2020, 12:46 IST