India Flexes Muscles, China Feels the Heat

The ongoing military standoff along the vast Himalayan border between China and India hasn’t been in the spotlight as much. However, the possibility that this tension could escalate back into armed conflict remains a concern.

While global attention may be focused on active conflicts elsewhere, the ongoing military standoff along the vast Himalayan border between China and India hasn’t been in the spotlight as much. However, the possibility that this tension could escalate back into armed conflict remains a concern.

 

Recently, India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar described the situation at the Chinese border as “extremely tense and perilous.” There has been a notable increase in the deployment of troops and armaments by both nations, preparing for the potential outbreak of conflict.

 

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On the verge of its fifth year, the present deadlock was initiated by secretive Chinese intrusions into Ladakh, the utmost northern area of India, in April 2020. This happened right before the melting ice would typically allow the reopening of routes through the Himalayas after the severe winter season.

 

Ahead of the anticipated spring thaw and in response to potential provocations from China, India has bolstered its forces along the frontier by deploying an additional 10,000 troops. This move reflects India’s preparedness for situations akin to the challenges faced in 2020, as emphasized by Indian Defense Secretary Giridhar Aramane last month, according to a report by Nikkei Asia.

 

Spring thaw, also referred to as thaw weakening, happens in early spring as temperatures start to climb and snow starts melting.

 

China has been increasing its military presence and quickly constructing military infrastructure along the difficult border area. This includes drilling tunnels and holes in mountains to create command centers, building strong shelters for soldiers, and places to store weapons.

 

Moreover, China has established new militarized villages along the border, settling people in them. These villages are similar to the artificial islands China built in the South China Sea, serving as advanced military outposts.

 

Around 100,000 soldiers are currently in a standoff or confrontation in the border’s western Ladakh region. Another important area is the delicate spot where the borders of Tibet, Bhutan, and the Indian state of Sikkim meet. This area, a narrow 22-kilometer-wide strip known as “the chicken neck,” awkwardly links India’s northeast to the rest of the country.

 

The security of the corridor is compromised due to China’s advances into Bhutan’s southwestern border areas, placing the chicken neck within reach of China’s long-range weapons.

 

Additionally, there are confrontations between troops in the eastern Himalayas along the extensive border Tibet shares with India’s Arunachal Pradesh state. This area has been highly militarized for a long time, mainly because China asserts that the Indian state belongs to Tibet, a claim the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader, argues that there is no historical basis for such claims.

 

Efforts to ease the strain at the border have seen minimal success. In January, Gen. Manoj Pande of the Indian Army stated that the deadlock would persist until China withdrew from its incursions in Ladakh. He emphasized that reclaiming the original border line remains their primary goal.

 

Even though there’s some criticism in India about losing land to China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still trying to solve the border problem through talks.

 

 

Even though the government has stopped many Chinese apps, blocked money from some Chinese businesses, and taken action against others for breaking tax and money rules, it hasn’t put major sanctions on its neighbor to the north.

 

As a result, even with the ongoing border disputes, China’s yearly trade surplus with India has kept increasing; it has now surpassed what India spends on its defense every year.

In November 2022 and August 2023, during meetings at multilateral summits, Modi briefly engaged with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the crisis. Jaishankar confirmed this month that New Delhi is dedicated to reaching an equitable and sensible settlement.

 

Now, Xi is tasked with the challenge of settling the military conflict in the Himalayas in a way that preserves his dignity.

 

For four years, a significant number of Chinese soldiers have been stationed in the severe environment of the Himalayan border. Should Xi reach a consensus with Modi on reversing China’s territorial advancements, he might confront inquiries regarding his initial reasons for the aggressive actions.

 

 

However, the more prolonged the deadlock, the higher the likelihood that Beijing might transform India into a lasting adversary, a situation that could hinder China’s aspirations on both a global and regional scale.

 

Xi has faced unexpected challenges due to not foreseeing India’s strong military and strategic reaction. The ongoing standoff has pushed New Delhi towards a closer relationship with Washington. Additionally, it has initiated a significant effort towards military expansion and modernization, as shown by a recent flight test that proved India’s capability to equip a single intercontinental ballistic missile with several nuclear warheads that can target independently.

 

India has been acquiring significant weapon systems from the U.S., France, and other countries. In November, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh informed his American counterpart that both nations concur on strategic matters, such as opposing China’s aggressive actions. The increasing cooperation between India and the U.S. is clearly a concern for Xi.

 

Lacking the stealth, deception, and surprise that marked China’s territorial advances in 2020, the People’s Liberation Army would find it difficult to surpass India’s military in a conflict in the Himalayas. The PLA predominantly consists of conscripts, in contrast to India’s all-volunteer military, which is recognized as the most seasoned in mountain warfare globally.

 

Being among the oldest civilizations in the world, China and India must discover methods to live in peace as neighbors and collaborate on mutual goals. However, achieving reconciliation between these two highly populated countries remains uncertain as long as Xi and the Chinese Communist Party hold power.

 

(The author Girish Linganna of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: [email protected])

(Views expressed in the article are of author’s own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Business Upturn)