PM Modi visited Ladakh on July 3 to express the nation’s gratitude to the armed forces and paramilitary for their role in defending the country, while facing serious challenges posed by China. His visit also came in the wake of seething public anger and calls for retribution, because parts of the Galwan valley and the Pangong Tso had come under Chinese control. Referring to China’s perfidy in seeking to expand its land and maritime frontiers, Modi noted: ‘Whenever the obsession for expansionist victories takes over someone, it causes dangers to world peace.’ He pointedly added: ‘Expansionism has been dangerous to mankind.’
China’s disastrous invasion of Vietnam in 1979, its ill-advised intrusions in Sikkim in 1975, the serious setbacks in its intrusions in Sumdorong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh in 1986, and in Doklam in 2017, have demonstrated that China’s army is not invincible. The Chinese have refused to disclose their casualties in the Galwan misadventure. Reliable western journals have, however, disclosed that 43 Chinese soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand combat. The Chinese must now understand how a relatively small, but determined group of Indian Army soldiers responded strongly, decisively and effectively, when their unarmed compatriots were treacherously killed. Modi pointedly noted that ‘territorial expansionism’ was the biggest threat to humanity. He was alluding to China’s arbitrary territorial claims on virtually all its neighbours, including Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and even Russia, where some Chinese are now reviving claims to the Russian port of Vladivostok, which has been a part of Russia since 1860! China’s past actions, aimed at expanding its frontiers, will now meet greater opposition from its immediate neighbours, across the western Pacific Ocean. China had thus far overcome such opposition by a policy of ‘divide and rule’, backed by crude threats to those who disagree with it. Its ‘disincentives’ have included crude use of maritime military power against countries like Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines and Indonesia. The primary motive for such behaviour is to have unchallenged access to 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the South China Sea. China has used its powerful navy to take control of vast tracts of the sea, from its ASEAN maritime neighbours.
Three days after Modi’s visit to Ladakh, NSA Ajit Doval had detailed discussions with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. India’s Special Representative announced that Doval and Wang Yi agreed to complete the ongoing disengagement along the LAC and ensure de-escalation. This will reduce current tensions, but will it end the repeated violations of the LAC whose contours the Chinese refuse to define? It would require further negotiations to get China to pull out from Pangong Tso. This effort would have to be complemented by active international diplomacy that focuses on Chinese intransigence.
The leaders of ASEAN member states, meanwhile, have demanded that territorial and other differences should be settled in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). They added: ‘UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.’ The International Court of Arbitration at The Hague had issued a clear ruling in 2016 on a claim brought under the UNCLOS, against China, by the Philippines. The ruling was in favour of the Philippines. While China is a signatory to the treaty, which established the tribunal, it has refused to accept the verdict.
China cannot be pleased with the international diplomatic fallout of its behaviour. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched a scathing attack on China on June 25, averring that the US would deploy additional forces in the Indo-Pacific Region in response to growing Chinese threats to India and other countries. He indicated that he had spoken to his counterparts in the EU about threats China posed to its ‘peaceful neighbours like India’. He also alluded to Chinese threats to Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, and its disregard for maritime frontiers. Pompeo’s words have been accompanied by the unprecedented deployment of two US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the Indo-Pacific region. India should, in turn, promote greater maritime cooperation between members of the recently formed Quad grouping, comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia. This grouping is moving towards coordinated actions to counter Chinese territorial threats.
We are now seeing the beginning of movements across many parts of the world, and particularly across Asia, objecting to China’s territorial ambitions and its ‘Belt and Road’ infrastructure projects. But, given the size of its economy and its conventional and nuclear weapon capabilities, China’s global influence will remain significant. It will continue to work closely with Pakistan to undermine and contain Indian influence and power. It will also seek to undermine Indian influence in Nepal and Bangladesh. Thus, while our bilateral economic restrictions on China are important, we should remember that China will be influenced only if we work in coordination with other regional and global powers. It is, nevertheless, imperative that military and diplomatic contacts and dialogue with China should continue, while taking appropriate measures to meet the security challenges we continue to face, in Ladakh and elsewhere, across our borders with China.
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