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SOURCE: TNN BLOG

After the eighth round of Corps Commander level talks on November 6 between India and China, reports emerged that the two countries have finalised a set of proposals to withdraw tanks, armoured vehicles and troops from Fingers 4 to 8 in the Pangong Tso area. The two governments are considering the proposals. These are an improvement upon the earlier proposals where China was insisting that India must first withdraw its troops from the mountainous heights of Rezang La and other areas or that both sides should meet each other half way.

Why is there a sudden turnaround in China’s position? Reasons are both political and operational. The promptness of US allies such as Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Australia and South Korea in welcoming the victory of Joe Biden in the recent US presidential election and their promise to join hands in meeting the China challenge has jolted Beijing from its misconceived assessment of divisions in the transatlantic alliance and spurred fears of its diplomatic isolation.

Also, the advantage gained by China in occupying Fingers 4 to 8 was partly offset by the strategic heights captured by our troops which allowed India to overlook the Chinese positions below.

In addition to India, China is now displaying softness towards the Asean states as well by underlining that both sides should “take a flexible and pragmatic approach” to speed up negotiations to finalise the code of conduct to regulate mutual behaviour in the South China Sea; there wasn’t much progress on this issue since 2013. China wishes to demonstrate that it is not isolated and can still work with countries in Asia to resolve mutual disputes. China’s rhetoric towards Taiwan has softened as it makes contacts with the Biden team for backchannel talks.

What lessons must India draw from this six-month-old impasse at Ladakh? First, stand firm against Beijing’s dictates. Second, don’t allow yourself to be pushed into a weak position as China respects strength. Third, have some bargaining chips; China’s attitude in the negotiations started mellowing after our valiant soldiers occupied the advantageous heights on south banks of Pangong Tso. Fourth, cooperation with the US is critical as it helps in softening the Chinese rigidities. Fifth, wait patiently for a strategic opportunity and don’t be in a hurry to expect results.

In Ladakh negotiations, India should insist that Chinese troops must revert to the pre-April 20 positions in all sectors, ensure reliable verification measures and a sequence of disengagement that takes into account India’s advantages and vulnerabilities. Also, we must prepare adequately to monitor China’s behaviour in future, at all times, along the LAC to respond swiftly in case of such intrusions. We should be ready with a set of locations where Indian troops could easily advance into the strategic Chinese positions, so that India has some bargaining chips.

Given the vast differences in the strategic outlook of the two countries and current asymmetry in national power, India-China rivalry will continue for a long time, barring short periods of tactical respite. In its 14th Five Year Plan discussed recently at the Fifth Plenum, China has decided to seek military modernisation on a par with the US armed forces by 2027; therefore, future military engagements with China will be much tougher.

Chinese military planners will be undertaking suitable initiatives in developing AI (which is China’s forte), hypersonic, space warfare and other weapon systems such as sixth generation fighter and stealth aircraft, quantum radars, autonomous combat robots, biological weapons and others for each theatre to establish early superiority.

India must expedite modernisation of its armed forces with development of new generation of weapon systems with indigenous efforts and cooperation with our key partners such as the US, Japan and others. Also, the strengthening of our border infrastructure like broadband connectivity, airfields, roads, railways all along the LAC should proceed on priority basis. Similarly, the collective pushback of China’s influence should continue unabated in cooperation with Quad and other partners. Durable peace with China will only be possible if India is adequately prepared for combat with a resurgent economy.