The current standoff between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been a cause of concern for both countries and the international community. The tensions have been simmering for decades, with both countries claiming sovereignty over some border areas. The recent skirmishes in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 resulted in the loss of lives on both sides, further exacerbating the situation.
For the future of Indo-China ties, it is crucial to consider the historical baggage and the current geopolitical scenario. China and India have a long history of cultural and economic exchanges dating back to ancient times. However, the relationship has been fraught with tension in the modern era, particularly over territorial disputes. The border dispute between India and China dates back to the 1950s, with both countries claiming sovereignty over the Aksai Chin region and parts of Ladakh. As a result, the two countries went to war in 1962, with China emerging victorious and occupying large swathes of territory in the region. Since then, both countries have tried to resolve the border dispute, but a final resolution still needs to be reached.
In recent years, China’s assertive foreign policy and increasing global influence have added to the complexity of the relationship. For example, with suspicion, India has viewed China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which seeks to establish a vast network of infrastructure projects worldwide, including in India’s neighbourhood. India has also been concerned about China’s growing military presence in the Indian Ocean region and its support for Pakistan, India’s arch-rival.
The recent border standoff has further strained the relationship between the two countries. China’s aggressive actions along the LAC have been interpreted as a deliberate attempt to alter the status quo, with India responding with its show of strength. The standoff has led to hardening positions on both sides, with neither country willing to back down.
In this context, the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) defence minister’s meeting assumes significance. In his speech at the meeting, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe reiterated China’s position on the border dispute, calling for the issue to be kept out of the areas of common interest. This aligns with China’s long-standing position of treating the border dispute as a bilateral issue to be resolved through dialogue. However, given China’s refusal to engage in substantive negotiations, India has sought a more proactive role for the international community in resolving the dispute.
The future of Indo-China ties, therefore, depends on several factors.
Firstly, the willingness of both countries to engage in substantive dialogue to resolve the border dispute. India has been calling for restoring the status quo ante along the LAC, while China has insisted on its own version of the LAC. A compromise will require both countries to make concessions, which is easier said than done, given the hardening of positions on both sides.
Secondly, the international community’s role in resolving the Indo-China dispute must be addressed. The SCO, of which both India and China are members, can play a constructive role in facilitating dialogue between the two countries. However, given China’s dominant position within the organisation, its willingness to engage in such a role still needs to be seen. Moreover, India’s engagement with other regional and global powers, including the United States, Japan, and Australia, has also been viewed with suspicion by China, which sees these countries as attempting to encircle it.
Thirdly, the future of Indo-China ties will depend on the larger geopolitical scenario. China’s growing dominance in the global arena and its assertive foreign policy have been a cause of concern for many countries, including India. India has sought to balance its relationship with China by deepening ties with other regional and global powers. However, China’s economic and military might cannot.
Taiwan – Arunachal Pradesh Possibility of a Limited Offensive
It is difficult to predict with certainty what China’s next move will be concerning the Taiwan Strait or the disputed border with India in Arunachal Pradesh. However, a few factors may shed light on China’s alleged actions in these regions.
Firstly, concerning Taiwan, China has long considered the island a renegade province that must be reunified with the mainland. Therefore, China has been increasing its military and economic pressure on Taiwan in recent years, intending to bring it under its control. China has also not ruled out the use of force to achieve its objective of reunification. However, any military action against Taiwan would have severe implications for regional stability and could draw in other major powers, such as the United States and Japan. This could lead to a major military confrontation in the region, which China would want to avoid. Therefore, while China may continue to increase its military pressure on Taiwan, it is unlikely to launch a full-scale invasion unless convinced that it can achieve its objective without a significant military conflict.
Secondly, concerning the disputed border with India in Arunachal Pradesh, China has been increasingly assertive in recent years. China has been claiming territory in the region under India’s control and has been building infrastructure along the border to assert its presence. Moreover, the recent border standoff between the two countries along the LAC has further exacerbated regional tensions. However, any limited offensive by China in Arunachal Pradesh would be a severe escalation of the situation and would likely draw a strong response from India. It could also lead to a significant military conflict between the two countries, which would not be in the interest of either country.
Therefore, while China may continue to assert its claims in Taiwan and Arunachal Pradesh, it is unlikely to launch a full-scale military invasion or a limited offensive unless it is convinced it can achieve its objectives without a major military confrontation. China is also likely to weigh the risks and benefits of any military action, considering the likely response of other major regional powers and the global community. Ultimately, the future of China’s relations with Taiwan and India will depend on a range of factors, including the willingness of both sides to engage in dialogue and negotiations to resolve their disputes.
Indian Navy Stranglehold over Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCS)
India has a significant navy capable of operating in the Indian Ocean and beyond. The Indian Navy has a range of assets, including aircraft carriers, submarines, surface ships, and maritime patrol aircraft that can project power and influence in the region. However, it is essential to note that the Indian Navy cannot challenge China’s naval dominance in the region. China’s navy is larger and more technologically advanced, and it has been investing heavily in expanding its maritime capabilities.
That being said, India’s location at the mouth of the Indian Ocean gives it a strategic advantage in controlling the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) critical to China’s economy. China relies heavily on seaborne trade for economic growth, and most of its oil imports pass through the Indian Ocean. India could use its naval assets to interdict Chinese shipping and choke off its access to critical resources. However, such a blockade would have significant implications for regional stability and could lead to a major military conflict between the two countries.
In addition, India’s ability to carry out such a blockade would depend on various factors, including its ability to coordinate with other countries in the region, particularly the United States, Japan, and Australia, which are part of the Quad grouping. A coordinated effort by these countries to challenge China’s maritime presence in the region could increase India’s leverage in controlling the SLOCs.
The recently formed AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) partnership between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom could also potentially enhance India’s naval capabilities by providing it access to advanced technologies and military hardware.
However, it is essential to note that AUKUS primarily focuses on countering China’s military modernisation efforts in the region. It is unlikely to support India’s efforts to control the SLOCs directly.
While India has a powerful navy and strategic location, it currently needs to be able to challenge China’s naval dominance in the region. However, India’s ability to control the SLOCs and potentially choke off China’s access to critical resources would depend on various factors, including its ability to coordinate with other countries and the potential risks of such a blockade.
SWOT Analysis: PLA and the Indian Defence Forces
Strengths of the PLA
• A large and well-trained standing army with over 2 million personnel
• Advanced military technology, including stealth fighters, anti-ship missiles, and cyber capabilities
• Strong emphasis on joint operations and coordination between different branches of the military
• Significant investment in military modernisation and technological development
Weaknesses of the PLA
• Limited combat experience in recent years, as China has not engaged in a major military conflict since the 1970s
• Dependence on external suppliers for crucial military technologies, including aircraft engines and microchips
• Concerns about corruption and lack of transparency in defence procurement and decision-making
• Challenges in projecting power beyond China’s immediate neighbourhood due to logistical and diplomatic limitations
Opportunities for the PLA
• Increasing regional and global influence, driven by China’s economic growth and military modernisation
• Growing partnerships with countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, which could provide access to strategic resources and markets
• Potential for increased cooperation with Russia and other major powers in countering US dominance in the region
• Rapidly expanding space and cyber capabilities could provide new avenues for strategic advantage.
Threats to the PLA
• Growing concerns about China’s military assertiveness and territorial claims, which could lead to increased tensions and conflict with neighbouring countries
• Increasing competition with the United States and other major powers in the region could lead to a significant military confrontation
• Dependence on the Chinese Communist Party for military decision-making, which could limit the flexibility and effectiveness of the military
• Challenges in balancing military modernisation with economic growth and social stability, which could lead to internal tensions and unrest
Strengths of the Indian Defence Forces
• Professional and well-trained military personnel with a long history of combat experience
• Diverse and advanced military capabilities, including nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and advanced fighter jets
• Strong emphasis on joint operations and coordination between different branches of the military
• Strategic location at the crossroads of the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia
Weaknesses of the Indian Defence Forces
• Dependence on external suppliers for key military technologies and equipment, including fighter jets and missile defence systems
• Limited resources and challenges in meeting the needs of a rapidly growing economy and population
• Tensions and conflicts with neighbouring countries, including Pakistan and China, could limit the military’s operational flexibility.
• Challenges in balancing military modernisation with social development and domestic needs
Opportunities for the Indian Defence Forces
• Growing partnerships with countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia provide new avenues for strategic cooperation and access to resources and markets.
• Increasing focus on defence innovation and technology development, including cyber and space capabilities
• Potential for increased cooperation with major powers such as the United States, Japan, and Australia in countering China’s influence in the region
• Strategic location at the crossroads of significant energy and trade routes, which could provide new opportunities for economic growth and strategic influence
Threats to the Indian Defence Forces
• Increasing competition with China and other major regional powers could lead to a significant military confrontation.
• Threats from non-state actors and terrorist organisations, particularly in the context of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the broader Middle East
• Growing concerns about nuclear proliferation and regional stability, particularly in the context of tensions with Pakistan and other nuclear-armed states
• Tensions and conflicts with neighbouring countries, particularly concerning territorial disputes and cross-border terrorism
Statements by Indian Political Leadership
It is possible that the Chinese leadership could seek to exploit statements by Indian Foreign Minister Dr S. Jaishankar regarding the challenge of unequal economic development, particularly in the context of India-China relations. However, it is essential to note that Dr Jaishankar’s remarks are part of a broader conversation about the need for India to address its economic challenges and build a more resilient and sustainable economy. Therefore, while the Chinese leadership may seek to exploit any perceived weakness or vulnerability in India’s position, it is ultimately up to the Indian government to determine its priorities and approach to economic development.
Moreover, it is essential to note that the India-China relationship is complex and multifaceted and cannot be reduced to a single issue or factor. While economic development is essential, many other factors include strategic and geopolitical interests, historical and cultural factors, and domestic political considerations.
Ultimately, the key to managing the India-China relationship will be a combination of strategic clarity, diplomatic engagement, and effective communication. In addition, both sides will need to be realistic and pragmatic in their approach and work towards a mutually beneficial outcome that addresses the concerns and priorities of both countries. While challenges and obstacles may exist, building a stable and productive relationship is possible based on mutual respect and cooperation.
The future of Indo-China ties depends on various factors, such as the willingness of both countries to engage in substantive dialogue, the role of the international community, and the larger geopolitical scenario. A compromise will require both countries to make concessions, which is easier said than done, given the hardening of positions on both sides. Moreover, India’s engagement with other regional and global powers, including the United States, Japan, and Australia, has been viewed with suspicion by China, which sees these countries as attempting to encircle it. In summary, the recent SCO defence ministers meeting highlights the ongoing tensions and complexities in resolving the Indo-China border dispute and the need for sustained diplomatic efforts to avoid further escalation.