Over the past week, there have been both a series of developments in eastern Ladakh and a series of statements from India’s top decision-makers. In terms of events, India has pre-empted a possible Chinese intrusion and positioned forces at strategically important points. In terms of statements, the Chief of Defence staff, Bipin Rawat said that the military option was on the table — and more recently, has highlighted the threat of “coordinated action” from both China and Pakistan. And external affairs minister S Jaishankar has emphasised the importance of finding a resolution in the domain of diplomacy.
Unpacking these events and statements provides a glimpse into how India has decided to approach the Chinese aggression. For one, there is absolute clarity that the Chinese have flouted border agreements, intruded into Indian territory, and the onus rests on them to both disengage and de-escalate and India will resist the incursion. Two, there is a recognition that China‘s behaviour is not just India-specific but in line with its pattern of aggression elsewhere — and this is because Beijing sees an opportunity to change the rules of the game even as the world struggles with the pandemic (that began in China) and the United States (US) remains distracted with domestic elections. The corollary of this is that when the geopolitical situation changes, and international opinion continues to build against it, China may be forced to review its approach. Three, while there is a sense that China will be India’s most critical longer-term challenge, in the immediate context, countering it will require a host of strategies — ensuring effective military mobilisation to send a message of strength; inflicting economic costs to send a signal that the entire relationship is in jeopardy; cementing international partnerships to build pressure; and pursuing bilateral dialogue to find an acceptable solution.
The latest developments are in line with this broad approach. India has made tactical military advances — which sends a message of military determination. It has continued banning Chinese apps — and Huawei can well write off its 5G prospects in the Indian market. It has reiterated its commitment to Quad. The defence ministers of the two countries met in Moscow on Friday. And Mr Jaishankar has confirmed that he will meet the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Moscow next week. The ball is now entirely in China‘s court — it needs to decide if it wants to rescue the relationship or ruin it.