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China won’t accept status quo ante

opinionChina won’t accept status quo ante

On 2 July 2020, China’s Global Times interviewed me on the current state of India-China relations. Most of my arguments were incorporated and published except for a few answers to a question: “Some Indian experts believe the recent border clash leads to a ‘worrisome and extremely serious’ turning point in India-China relations. What is your take?”

My answer was: “In India, we believe that China has altered the status quo in the Western Sector. If the satellite images are to be believed, China has crossed its own Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Galwan and moved a few kilometers westward in finger areas of Pangong Tso. The coordinates provided by China to India as regards the boundary in Western Sector during the 1960 border negotiations, and later reinforced on ground after the 1962, including on its maps of the official history of the 1962 conflict titled History of China’s Counter Attack in Self-Defence Along the Sino-Indian borders (Chinese edition) published by the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences in 1994 have been violated, implying that China seeks boundary beyond these coordinates.”

I also argued that “some of the Chinese scholars have pointed out that ‘China has actually learned this from the Indian experience’ perhaps referring to the Doklam standoff, even so, India didn’t change the status quo in Doklam or in any other sector. India’s security establishment and scholarship has come to believe that China is adopting the ‘three step strategy’ of acquiring territory in South China Sea to the India-China border, i.e. to change the status quo by reclamation and militarization of the territory. Therefore, we believe that it translates into collapse of the confidence building measures (CBMs) and the very Line of Actual Control between India and China. It is in face of such as shift from China, many in India believe that China must be confronted rather than accepting the fait accompli of the territory. From this perspective, yes, it is a ‘worrisome and extremely dangerous situation’, which will impact adversely on various facets of India-China relations.” I did manage to make some of these points in another interview during a show called “Dialogue: with China Global Television Network (CGTN) on 3 July 2020.

Above facts, which are indeed worrisome, have been vindicated by many articles written in Chinese mainstream and social media. One published on 3 July in junshi.china.com, a website dedicated to military affairs, in the backdrop of 3rd round of talks between the corps commanders of India and China posits that “the most important reason as to why the two sides cannot reach consensus on disengagement is that the Indian side has insisted on restoration of ‘status quo ante’ in areas such as the Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso. However, China will obviously not pull back from the Galwan Valley area, and as for the important ‘Finger 4’ area, China said will never compromise!” According to the article, “India is also reluctant to accept China’s demands. The Indian side stated that they will not retreat from Pangong Tso area, nor would they retreat 2-3 kilometers away from Pangong Dao [perhaps finger 3]. In addition, the patrol points of the Galwan Valley and the Hot Springs were also discussed, but the two sides failed to reach a consensus.”

The main reason for not retreating from the Galwan standoff site has been given as its “commanding height” which if lost will be “difficult to recapture”. The article states that “From the satellite images, it could be seen that the Chinese embankment in the Galwan Valley is still intact. This position is very important, for this is the place where one man can hold out ten thousand men. From here, our army can see the Indian camp opposite us very clearly. More importantly, when the water level rises in the river, many places in the vicinity will be submerged, except this commanding height. Once concessions are made, it will be difficult to recapture it. Therefore, we can understand why China is determined not to retreat.” The article further states that “In order to defend this vital place, China has deployed more than 100 military vehicles and established 16 encampments nearby. This place is a key part of the Galwan region, and China will not retreat easily until India doesn’t show enough overtures for peace!”

Another argument, which has been debated in China is that border skirmishes are just one of the facets of India-China relationship and should not hamper relations in other areas. Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations has aired such views in a discussion of CGTN on 27 June, similar arguments were aired on the 3 July “Dialogue” show where I repeated my earlier arguments given to the Global Times that “The killing of the soldiers and trade with China cannot go on as usual. As far as banning 59 Chinese apps, I believe this is an indication in this direction originating from two concerns. One, the security implications in terms of big data security, China’s sharp power that makes inroads into other’s societies while the same is denied to others. Two, the revenue earned by these apps in Indian market is also huge. For example, TikTok alone has over 300 million downloads in India with over 1billion-dollar revenue.” Cancellation of Chinese contracts in other sectors by India should be seen in this light too.

It is also in this context that the Chinese will often ask you as to “what forms the core of India-China relations?” “Of course, it should be mutual development and exhibiting sensitivity towards each-other’s sensitivities and core interests. I believe the understanding that China will not threaten India’s security, and respect its interest in the neighbourhood has been undermined, this could be discerned from China’s pivot to Asia where China’s focus is not on consolidating its ties with India but with the smaller countries in the vicinity. This is reflected in China’s investment and diplomatic engagement in the region. Sino Pak entente cordiale, and China’s stance on the cross-border terrorism, all these factors have made Indians believe that China’s strategy is to pin India down to South Asia,” I argued, while answering to another question from the Global Times. Many commentators in China are equally enthusiastic about reminding India of the asymmetric economic, military, and technological relationship between India and China. It may be so, but does not mean that countries will not stand up against China!

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