Galwan has reshaped Indian resolve

Inscrutable China

Srikanth Kondapalli

Even though a disengagement and de-escalation process to reduce tensions on the borders was announced by the Special Representatives of India and China, NSA Ajit Doval and State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on July 5, the Galwan incident of June 15, when 20 Indian army personnel were killed in a “planned and pre-meditated” manner, has led to a new resolve in Indian postures vis-à-vis China.

Firstly, at the bilateral level, the impact is being felt acutely following the two sides mobilising military forces and the discourse changing from one of bonhomie, as in the two ‘informal summit’ meetings between the two leaders at Wuhan and Chennai, to adversarial.

For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Ladakh on July 3 to boost the morale of the troops as well as to give them political signals of a free hand in any military operations henceforth. He criticised the “expansionist” agenda of China, a remark he first made in February 2014 at Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh and later in September 2014 in Japan. During the interactions with the military personnel, he alluded to Sudarshanachakra [the ultimate weapon wielded by Krishna in Hindu mythology]. For more than a decade, China prided in developing shashoujian [the “assassin’s mace”] like electromagnetic pulse weapons or supersonic hyperglide vehicles, against the United States. In imagined rhetoric, Beijing now finds more than a match in New Delhi.

Also, with unusual swiftness, India’s IT ministry banned 59 Chinese apps, citing digital security. It was estimated that this would cost the Chinese companies involved over $18 billion. In recent times, China has shown an inexplicable penchant for investing in Indian start-ups. In addition, China’s investments in infrastructure projects and preferential tendering of contracts have been removed.

Secondly, the June 15 Galwan incident could affect other postures that India and China have adopted towards each other. India has, for instance, accepted the ‘One China’ policy ever since it recognised Taiwan as a part of China in its discussions in December 1949 to April 1950. India had never raised the basic principle of diplomacy – reciprocity – on this and other concessions to China. In 2014, then foreign minister, the late Sushma Swaraj, had raised it, telling her counterpart that India had for so long abided by the ‘One China’ policy, it is now time for China to reciprocate on ‘One India’ policy. Now, India could well become insistent on this reciprocal Chinese commitment.

China raising the Kashmir issue at the United Nations Security Council thrice last year after changes to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution came as a rude shock to New Delhi. Interestingly, after China passed a new security law in Hong Kong – overturning the autonomy promised by Beijing under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy -- several countries have expressed concern at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. While China issued a demarche to India, as with other countries on this issue, the Indian Permanent Representative to the UN expressed hope that “the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.”

Beijing, which has extended its ‘One China’ policy to a host of other issues like Tibet, Taiwan, South China Sea, Senkaku Islands and other disputes, will face stiff resistance from New Delhi. It is not lost on observers that when China wanted to trigger a “two-front war” against India with Pakistan’s help, it saw multiple fronts opening against it in the South China Sea and others. The United States despatched its large aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz to the South China Sea.

If India joins the South China Sea multinational naval exercises in the future, the going for China would become rough, especially as the ASEAN has just released a statement requiring China to abide by international law on the seas. With the likely invitation for Australia to join the trilateral Malabar naval exercises, the emerging maritime order could pose more challenges to China.

Thirdly, the Galwan Valley incident is an inflection point in India’s alliance behaviour. India is likely to further intensify its equations with major powers such as the US, Russia, European Union and Japan. Indeed, encouraging signals came from these countries recently.