Diplomatic efforts and five rounds of military talks have failed to end the stand-off between China and India in the disputed Himalayan region of Ladakh. The sides have resorted to shows of political strength, with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi making a rare visit to neighbouring Tibet last week to urge officials to protect national security, a day before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised in an independence day speech to build a 1.4 million-strong defence force to safeguard his country’s sovereignty.
New Delhi has also increased the pressure by sanctioning Chinese firms and investments, and banning apps considered to pose security risks. All the while, it is mulling whether to succumb to overtures from United States President Donald Trump’s administration to join its fight to weaken Beijing.
The destination and timing of Wang’s trip were chosen with symbolism and impact in mind. Much of the unmarked 3,500km border between China and India lies in Tibet, and Modi, who heads a nationalist government, was bound to raise sovereignty in his speech. Wang is China’s special representative to the boundary talks and is only too aware of the need for security and stability in the region.
The latest border dispute, which erupted in hand-to-hand fighting in the Galwan valley on June 15 that killed 20 Indian soldiers and caused an undisclosed number of Chinese casualties, also provides Modi with a way of diverting attention from his troubles. India’s economy is struggling and badly affected by the coronavirus, which the prime minister is likewise under fire for mismanaging.
But boosting funding for competing road, bridge and rail infrastructure along the contested boundary, increasing troop numbers to protect such installations and bowing to Washington’s pressure do not amount to a sound strategy. New Delhi does not have the resources and Trump’s anti-China policy is firmly grounded in opportunism, while the US does not have a strong record of loyalty towards India.
Modi’s diverting of resources in the midst of a crisis could easily derail his country’s socio-economic progress. He cannot risk armed conflict with China given the latter’s superior power. Wiser is to put every effort into talks to prevent another border clash and implement previous agreements to improve trade and investment links.
Courtesy – SCMP