Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective.
I. India-China Ties
Another week and there are a few statements that have been put out and meetings that have taken place, but the details of events along the India-China boundary are still murky. On Saturday, Indian Army chief General MM Naravane told the press that “the entire situation along our borders with China is under control.” He added that talks have been held and as a result of these, “a lot of disengagement has taken place and we are hopeful that through the continued dialogue we’re having, all perceived differences that we (India and China) have will be set to rest.” A day earlier, delegations led by major general-ranked officers had met for talks. This was the second such set of talks in the week and the fifth such meeting since the early May, as HT reports. The report adds that earlier this week, the two sides began what Indian officials described as a “limited military disengagement” at three hotspots along the LAC – Galwan Valley, Patrolling Point 15 and Hot Springs.
Dinakar Peri reports for The Hindu that Friday’s meeting focused on de-escalation in Patrolling Points 14, 15 and 17A and Gogra areas. The report adds that “at the Corps Commanders meeting last week, both sides mutually agreed and identified five locations of conflict currently — PP 14, 15 and 17, North bank of Pangong Tso and Chushul. Talking of this, defence sources said at the Galwan area, the disengagement has happened earlier and in Gogra and at Patrolling Points 15 and 17A, the limited ‘deinduction’ is underway. Sources said Finger 4, the mountain spur at Pangong Tso, where Chinese troops moved inside Indian territory and dug in, will take time to be resolved. ‘They (Chinese) will hold on to it for sometime before a resolution,’ sources said, adding that this would be taken up at the Corps Commander level at a later date.”
While the talks are on, reports state that the PLA has been gradually ramping up its strategic reserves in its rear bases near the LAC by rushing in artillery guns, infantry combat vehicles and heavy military equipment. Ajai Shukla reports for Business Standard that the PLA has occupied 60 square kilometers of territory. The report adds that the PLA has deployed artillery guns in at least six locations “between Pangong Tso and the Gogra heights, on the Chinese side of the LAC. At each of these locations, the PLA is also building new hut-like structures, suggesting the PLA is preparing for a long confrontation.” ANI also reports that the PLA has carried out a troop build-up across different sectors, along Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, with troops and heavy weaponry “deployed in rear positions.” India, the report says, has “rushed fighting formations to forward locations in all these sectors.” On the build-up, this ET story has more details: “The 33 Corps (headquarters at Sukna in West Bengal) in the eastern sector, for instance, has moved forward its units under the 17 (Gangtok), 27 (Kalimpong) and 20 (Binnaguri) Mountain Divisions (each division has 10,000-12,000 soldiers) to their ‘operational alert areas’ much ahead of their yearly schedule.”
Meanwhile, Indian Express reports that Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Army Chief General MM Naravane, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Force head Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria briefed Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday about the situation on the ground. The meeting lasted an hour. Reports in the Indian media inform that New Delhi is going to continue with infrastructure building, even as talks are underway.
Snehesh Alex Philip reports for ThePrint that India is busy finishing the bridge over the Galwan ‘nallah’ that the Chinese had objected to. The report quotes an unidentified official in the “defense and security establishment” as saying: “The work on the bridge, which is about 7 to 7.5 kilometres from the LAC, had started much earlier. However, around 10 May, the Chinese came to know of the construction and objected to it. However, the work on the bridge continues. The ongoing issues have only made us work faster on this bridge.” Mint reports helicopters have been used to transport heavy machinery to speed up construction of the strategic Munsiyari-Bugdiyar-Milam road near the India-China border along Uttarakhand.
What’s also interesting is what sources are leaking and what foreign ministries are putting out. So formally, the MEA said on Thursday that both sides had agreed “that an early resolution of the situation would be in keeping with the guidance of the leaders…t.he two sides are, therefore, maintaining their military and diplomatic engagements to peacefully resolve the situation at the earliest as also to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas. This is essential for the further development of India-China bilateral relations.” A day earlier the Chinese foreign ministry had said that “diplomatic and military channels of China and India held effective communication on the situation along the border and reached positive consensus. The two sides are following this consensus to take actions to ease the situation along the borders.”
There’s barely been a trickle of information from the Chinese side about its views on the situation. This obviously makes it really difficult to assess intentions. Amid this, a piece by Wang Shida, Deputy Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, has been doing the rounds. CICIR is a foreign ministry affiliated think tank. He essentially lays the blame for the deterioration in Sino-Indian ties at New Delhi’s doorstep. The argument is that “Indian authorities and the strategic community have been blinded by so-called double confidence,” i.e., BJP’s political successes and the rise of “Hindu nationalism” along with a sense of support from the US as part of the Indo-Pacific strategy. While you are at it, also check out this report on thoughts by Sardar Masood Khan, the president of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. He rules out Sino-Indian conflict, but says that Beijing’s actions are motivated by India’s “revisionist and expansionist agenda.”
Two other bits to note on all the border issues are the Russian response and recent comments by CTA’s Lobsang Sangay. Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Federation Council, said this week: “Our official position is that these bilateral disputes should be dealt with bilaterally. We respect the sovereignty of India and the sovereignty of China. Russia should not interfere in these kinds of disputes… We would encourage dialogue and prevent the use of military force.” Meanwhile, Sangay did the rounds across a number of Indian TV channels, talking about the boundary dispute among other things. Interestingly, one of these was state-run Rajya Sabha TV.
Away from the boundary issue, a few other stories that are noteworthy. First, traders’ body CAIT on Wednesday launched a campaign to boycott Chinese goods with an aim to reduce India’s imports of products manufactured in the country by $13 billion by December 2021. The Confederation of All India Traders has prepared a list of 3,000 items which are currently imported from China and easily replaceable by Indian manufactured goods. Second, Sumant Banerji reports for Business Today that “India’s trade with mainland China and Hong Kong declined by over 7 per cent to $109.76 billion in FY20, its steepest fall since FY13…Bilateral trade with mainland China alone registered a 6 per cent decline in FY20 to $81.86 billion. This was the first time ever that trade with Mainland China declined for the second consecutive year.” Third, Reuters reports that Xiaomi and Oppo are importing some smartphone models for sale in India, as their plants in the country struggle to ramp up production owing to the pandemic. This could grow into a sensitive issue.