The latest clashes in a culturally and strategically important area in the Himalayas between the world’s two largest armies raise questions about India’s ability to take on China.
The Line of Actual Control, a border that dates back to British rule and spans 2,150 miles and was militarised in 1962 following a brief war in which China gained 14,700 square miles of territory that India still regards to be its own, is the cause of the dispute between the two countries. Sixty years later, a more powerful Beijing has returned to retake what it still considers to be its: large swaths of the Ladakh area in northern India and the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh. India’s claim over the land formerly held by China in Aksai Chin remains unresolved.
This sparsely populated region served as a peaceful boundary for decades until June 2020, when a single violent encounter between two opposing armies had lead to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and four soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army. China has been able to build a buffer zone due to numerous rounds of discussions, while India has lost territory in previously occupied regions.
The evidence pointed to China as the victor, suggesting India came out on the losing end.
These most recent conflicts have set off three warnings
First, the front line has moved to the east, getting closer and closer to Tibet, which is an indication that the tension is growing. Earlier it was in Ladakh. Second, because it has not matched China’s massive military and civilian infrastructure development in the distant region, India needs to play catch-up to avoid falling farther behind.
Third, and most importantly, none of the countermeasures India has taken against China since 2020 has been successful. These countermeasures include:
- Economically punishing Beijing by prohibiting certain imports and apps.
- Aligning its diplomacy with the Western-led anti-China bloc.
- Balancing itself with China’s ally Russia.
Domestic critics of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been vocal
Even though the opposition in India is weak, they recognise that there is blood in the water and have doubts about Modi’s ability to discourage China. The Prime Minister, who is in a position to run for a third term, has gotten rid of irritants such as Pakistan and won unanimous support for his strongman confidence. These two accomplishments have helped him garner universal support but also have created complacency among the masses.
The PLA is not the Pakistani army
And despite New Delhi’s decades-old policy of non-alignment, which is sometimes known as strategic autonomy – in which it assures the West that it is a friend, not a lover, always a partner, and never an ally – the Chinese do not appear to believe that the Indians can be addressed without the use of ground troops.
India is putting on a strong front
Last Thursday, as planned, India carried out a missile test that has been described as a “China killer” by Indian media. In addition, the Indian and American military coordinated operations close to the Chinese border during March, despite protests from Beijing.
At this time, India only possesses a limited capacity to deter Chinese border provocations. In addition, the only support the Indians can count on comes from public statements from Washington.
In the end, India is on its own, partly by design. India would prefer that its Western allies remain silent during these disagreements not to aggravate Beijing’s position further. Besides, Washington’s performance in the Ukraine war does not inspire confidence worldwide. The war in Ukraine has also exposed the military stockpiles available to NATO countries and the limitations of their weaponry.
There must be a military spring cleaning in New Delhi
India will need to play the long game and continue focusing on military modernisation projects and reforms inside its enormous but sluggish defence industry to develop a more potent deterrent in the future. Playing the long game is essential for India.
Because China is now physically close to India’s territory, it is pretty clear that the current Indian strategy is fruitless.
The conflict between China and India is also a sensitive issue for Washington
Since the beginning of the Cold War, New Delhi has looked to Moscow as an essential source of armaments to keep Beijing at bay. It’s possible that the United States would impose sanctions on India’s stockpile of weapons made in Russia, given its policies against Russia due to its failings in Ukraine.
It is possible that it would be damaging to both American and Indian interests for the United States to have India wean itself off of its dependence on Russian arms. It will be necessary for the United States of America, along with other allied Indian suppliers such as France or Israel, to provide additional weaponry to India in order to replace those that India has gotten from Russia for a significant amount of time.
Shutting down China economically will be difficult
Although tensions have forced India to enter into new trade agreements with Western nations as opposed to China, China remains India’s primary trading partner. However, the number of companies doing business with Beijing is decreasing.