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
As I write, Indian and Chinese military commanders are meeting in Moldo for the 5th round of talks. Prior to the talks, reports said that the Indian side will insist on total withdrawal of Chinese troops from the Finger areas in Pangong Tso at the earliest besides completing the disengagement process on a couple of other friction points. PTI reports that as per sources, “the focus of the talks would be on finalising a framework for a ‘time-bound and verifiable’ disengagement process from all the friction points like Pangong Tso and Depsang and pulling back large numbers of troops and weapons from rear bases along the LAC.”
Earlier on Tuesday, China’s MoFA had said that “border troops have disengaged in most localities” and “the situation on the ground is deescalating and the temperature is coming down.” Wang Wenbin mentioned the fifth round of talks, adding “we hope the Indian side will work towards the same goal with China, implement the two sides’ consensus and jointly uphold peace and tranquility along the border.”
Rajat Pandit on Thursday reported for TOI that India “did not insist” on this fifth round of talks. That’s because the PLA did not show signs of pulling back from Pangong Tso and Depsang, and had expanded its presence at other areas along the LAC to Arunachal. It was the Chinese who asked for the meeting; hence it’s being held in Moldo, which is on the Chinese side. The report adds that as per a senior Indian official, the PLA could be delaying either because it does “take time to finalise what is acceptable and what is not, along with the requisite political approvals” or because it “is simply biding time to present us with a fait accompli once winter sets in. Either way, we are prepared for the long haul. Restoration of status quo ante is not on the cards as of now,” he added. The official also adds: “The immediate priority, however, is the PLA pull-back at Pangong Tso and Gogra. Depsang, where the rival perceptions of LAC vastly overlap, will be tackled later.” On the issue of other areas along the LAC, Shishir Gupta writes for HT that the PLA has mobilised a battalion near Uttarakhand’s Lipulekh Pass.
Meanwhile, NDTV reports that the Indian Army is preparing for a lengthy deployment in Ladakh. It says that at present India has massed soldiers in defensive positions in Ladakh to match the heavy Chinese deployment. This it says is “widely believed that this is by far India’s largest-ever deployment of forces in the Ladakh region.” All soldiers are authorised a high altitude, extreme-cold kit, and four foreign vendors have been identified for stocking, with the bulk of the it expected to have been completed by November. Sudhi Ranjan Sen writes for ET that India is planning to deploy 35,000 additional troops along the China border.
Moving on, Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, was part of a discussion organised by the Institute of Chinese Studies. Sun stuck to oft-repeated talking points. He believes that the Galwan clash, for which he blamed the Indian side, and the current standoff are not a “turning point” in India-China ties. For instance: “There’s no gene for seeking hegemony or resorting to military power in Chinese people’s blood…It is undoubtedly short-sighted and harmful to deny the long history of peaceful co-existence between China and India and to portray our friendly neighbor for thousands of years as an “opponent” or a “strategic threat” due to temporary differences and difficulties. We should correctly analyze and view each other’s strategic intentions, and prevent misinterpretation and miscalculation in a positive, open and inclusive attitude.” He further stated: “Pending the final settlement of the boundary question, the two sides should make joint efforts to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas.” On clarifying the LAC, he said, as per this report in The Hindu, that China was not in favour of resuming the process of clarifying the LAC because it could “create new disputes.” He said China’s troops were on its side of the “traditional customary boundary line.” Basically, this was Sun talking about returning to business as usual, and letting the altered status quo in Ladakh prevail.
Meanwhile, India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar spoke to TOI’s Indrani Bagchi, discussing his new book. In the interview, he said that he “believes that reaching an equilibrium with China is not going to be easy. We will be tested and we must stand our ground. Part of the answer is for us to also occupy more of their mind space.” Alas, it’s going to be difficult to do that when Indians aren’t even being encouraged to learn Mandarin. The new National Education Policy has dropped Mandarin from its list of examples of foreign languages that can be taught in schools. It was earlier included in the draft version of the Policy released in May 2019, but was missing from the final Policy document approved this week. Apparently, this is because of national security issues related to teachers. Goodness me.
A few more key stories to note. First, the India Taipei Association, India’s diplomatic mission in Taiwan, condoled the death of former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui. It said on its Facebook account that “India Taipei Association joins the people of Taiwan in mourning the passing of Taiwan’s ‘Mr. Democracy’, Dr Lee Teng-hui.” Second, while China’s MoFA did briefly remark on Defense Rajnath Singh’s comments following the delivery of the first Rafale jets, Chinese military experts in Global Times had a field day in arguing that the J-20 was superior. Such juvenile stuff, really.
Third, ThePrint reports that the Indian Navy has deployed a large number of front-line warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region to send a message to China. And the report also quotes an unidentified Indian official as saying that the message has been “registered” by China. Fourth, ET Tech reports that after banning 59 Chinese apps earlier, the Indian government issued last week an order to ban 47 variants or clones of these applications. With this story breaking, the Chinese embassy’s spokesperson said that “practical cooperation between China and India is mutually beneficial. Deliberate interference in such cooperation will not serve the interests of the Indian side. China will also take necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies.
Now reports inform that India has restricted imports of Chinese colour televisions. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade issued a notification on Thursday amending the import policy of colour television (TV) from free to restricted category. “Import of colour TV is now in the restricted category, which would necessitate an importer to seek import license from the government. The main purpose of this move is to check the influx of China TVs,” an unidentified official told HT. India has a Rs 15,000 crore TV industry and over 36% of that is imported primarily from China and Southeast Asia, the official added.
Finally, two Chinese views by Lou Chunhao, Deputy Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, and Liu Zongyi are useful reads. Luo wants the border issue decoupled from the broader relationship. “It is reasonable to improve the current border management arrangements, but it will be extremely dangerous to make the border dispute into the tone-setter of bilateral relations,” he writes. Liu Zongyi, on the other hand, says that “from China’s point of view, it seems that the Modi government is cooperating with the United States to contain China. The Indian government, political parties, media, and strategic circles almost unanimously blame China for the deterioration of bilateral relations, and few people reflect on India’s own problems. This suggests that the immediate prospects of China-India relations are worrying.”