Eye on China: Disengagement Progressing – Bhutan Dispute – Patriotic Entrepreneurs – Xi’s UAVs – US Espionage – Ren Sacked – Houston-Chengdu

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

Indian and Chinese military commanders are expected to engage in another round of talks in Eastern Ladakh, amid reports of “complete disengagement” in certain areas. ANI reports on Sunday that “troops of India and China have completed disengagement at Galwan Valley, Patrolling Point 15, and Hot Springs/Gogra area.” The report, which cites an unidentified source, adds: “the only area where disengagement is left to be implemented is the Finger area along the Pangong Tso lake.” I find it strange that this source referred to the lake as the only area. What about Depsang? And then it says that the PLA has, however, “maintained a build-up of close to 40,000 troops with heavy weaponry deployed in front and depth areas.” So no deescalation yet.

A few days earlier ANI had reported citing unidentified sources that PLA troops “are not honouring their commitment for disengagement at the friction points in Eastern Ladakh and not moving back as per the agreed terms during the multiple rounds of talks at the government and Army level and intervention at the senior level like the one done by the National Security Advisor couple of weeks ago would be required for further progress.”

On Friday, the two sides held a meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination. It was during that meeting that they agreed, as per the MEA, “that another meeting of the Senior Commanders may be held soon so as to work out further steps to ensure expeditiously complete disengagement and de-escalation and restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas.” The Chinese readout of the meeting said: “The two sides had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on the recent Sino-Indian border situation and fully affirmed the positive progress made by the front-line border defense forces of the two countries to disengage from contact and ease the situation on the ground.”

Contrast ANI’s reportage with Ananth Krishnan’s report for The Hindu based on satellite imagery by Stratfor. He writes “China is yet to either fully disengage or dilute its extensive military build-up at most points.” His report cites a Stratfor report, which was published on July 22, saying that it “has documented the presence of 50 new Chinese encampments, support bases and heliports built by China across the LAC in the Ladakh sector. These include 26 new Chinese encampments, 22 new support bases and two new heliports, underlining the unprecedented scale of the Chinese build-up on its side of the LAC.”

Krishn Kaushik and Shubhajit Roy’s report for the Indian Express, which was published on July 24, is also a good read for details on the nature of disengagement and the distances established between troops at different points. Vijaita Singh reports for The Hindu that at present there is no more “eyeball-to-eyeball” confrontation at any friction point between the two sides. The disengagement process, however, depends on verification. But that is complicated because, as a source says, “the two armies have agreed to not take any step that could derail the ongoing talks. No foot patrolling and not flying UAVs within 10 km of the friction points are among the measures to build confidence but it also adversely affects the real-time monitoring.”

Moving on to other dimensions of the situation, Indian warships conducted an exercise with the US Navy’s nuclear-powered carrier USS Nimitz off the coast of Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The Navy’s Eastern Fleet, which had already been carrying out a five-day long exercise off the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, sent some of its ships to collaborate with the USS Nimitz. Also noteworthy are reports that suggest that India has begun the acquisition process for US-made 6 Poseidon-8I naval jets and is also pushing to acquire 6 Predator-B armed drones. Beijing is, of course, watching each of these moves, as reflected in reportage there.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at the India Ideas Summit, organised by the US India Business Council, called on India to focus on domestic supply chains and reduce its dependence on China for telecommunications and medical supplies. He called the clashes in Ladakh as an example of the CCP’s “unacceptable behaviour,” adding that “the United States has never been more supportive of India’s security. India, too, is an important partner and a key pillar of President [Donald] Trump’s foreign policy.” Speaking at another forum of the summit, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said “I think the US really has to learn to work in a sense with a more multipolar world, with more plurilateral arrangements, go beyond alliances with which really it has grown up over the last two generations. There will be issues on which our convergence will be more, somewhere it could be less. I think the quest in the last 20 years and I see that continuing into the future is really to find more common ground.” A few days earlier at a virtual conference organised by CNBC-TV18, he had said “The consequence of repositioning of the United States, that the big umbrella is now smaller than it used to be, has allowed many other countries to play more autonomous roles. It doesn’t affect us as much because we were never part of an alliance system and we will never be. But countries who depended more on the U.S. are finding they have to take a call themselves on many issues.” This remarks caught the Chinese MoFA’s attention, which said that India was an “important force as we head toward a multipolar world,” adding that it hoped India “will be able to maintain its independent foreign policy and safeguard regional peace and stability through concrete actions, and play a constructive role in international affairs.”

Moving away from this, Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong wrote an article for The Hindu, reiterating Beijing’s view on the new national security law in Hong Kong. It ends saying: “India and Hong Kong have close economic and trade relations. It serves India’s interest to maintain the prosperity and stability in Hong Kong. The national security legislation will better protect the safety of foreign investment and legitimate rights and interests of foreign nationals in Hong Kong, including that of India. We hope Indian friends can uphold fairness and justice, respect and support China’s efforts to safeguard national security in Hong Kong in accordance with law.” Sun also took to Twitter to respond to comments on the LAC and Hong Kong by the UK’s new ambassador to India, Philip Barton.

On the economic relationship, reports state that India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will be banning several more mobile applications, mostly of Chinese origin. HT reports that apps like “Helo Lite, ShareIt Lite, Bigo Lite and VFY Lite — have been removed from the Google playstore and Apple app store.” But here’s the interesting bit, TikTok alternatives, Zili and Snack Video, from Chinese developers, feature among the most downloaded video-sharing apps in India after the Indian Government banned 59 apps with Chinese origin, reports Ishan Patra, citing assessments by analytics platform Sensor Tower.

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