Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member
Passions are running high in India after 20 Indian Army personnel were martyred in a face-off with Chinese soldiers in the Galwan valley. China has been strengthening its presence in this region and has also laid claim to sections of the adjacent Pangong Tso area. The slopes of eight of the adjacent mountains, which are described as ‘fingers’, extend into the Pangong lake. China has claimed four of these slopes.
There have been violent exchanges in the past between the Chinese and not just our soldiers, but also the local Buddhist population, which deeply resents Chinese presence in the Galwan river area. India had a military presence in the Galwan valley in 1962, which was overrun during the Sino-Indian conflict on October 19-20, 1962. There is, therefore, no legal or historical basis for Chinese territorial claims across the Pangong lake and Galwan valley, which are integral parts of India. But there are predictable expressions of Chinese concerns over Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement last year, declaring Aksai Chin, which links Tibet and Xinjiang, as being a part of Ladakh.
While the Galwan valley has been a location for battles in the past, the Partition of India did create a new situation, when J&K was also partitioned, with Pakistan getting control of the northwestern part of the state. Pakistan, thereafter, illegally ceded the Shaksgam valley in J&K to China in 1963, giving China access through Aksai Chin and Shaksgam to its Muslim majority, Xinjiang province. China, however, also has concerns about India’s presence in Daulat Beg Oldie, which is located close to the strategic road linking Aksai Chin to restive Xinjiang, where Beijing holds over a million Muslims in custody today. China is also concerned about the road India is building, which traverses across the Pangong Tso and the Galwan river to Daulat Beg Oldie, where India has built an airport, capable of accommodating even heavy transport aircraft.
Even as tensions were rising in Galwan, it was agreed at a meeting of senior commanders of the two armies on June 5, that there would be moves to de-escalate tensions. There was an understanding that China would pull back. Hence, the killing of the Indian Battalion Commander, who went to the Galwan valley on June 16, to ascertain how the disengagement was proceeding, enraged people across India. This escalated into a no-holds-barred attack in which 20 Indian soldiers and an estimated 30-40 Chinese were killed.
New Delhi is set to comprehensively restructure its economic relationship with China. An adverse balance of $54 billion on trade with China is neither desirable nor sustainable. China now dominates the electronics sector in India. Its companies assemble 70% of our mobile telephones. China is also seeking to dominate the coming 5G services in India through its Huawei conglomerate. One abiding feature of all Chinese electronic telecommunication services in India is that its products have little value added. Virtually every component is imported from China. Moreover, the entire technical management is in the hands of the Chinese. There is no technology transfer. Given recent developments, Huawei will not have any significant role in the 5G services in India. Moreover, Taiwan is now emerging as a major partner, even in the US, in electronics and other industries. It is time for India to undertake major projects with Taiwan. India sent an unambiguous message to China, when two senior MPs participated in the swearing-in of the re-elected and gutsy President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen.
The US is planning to use Taiwan Superconductor Manufacturing Company, the main chipmaker for Apple Inc, to shift its high-tech manufacturing to Arizona to exclude Huawei from any major global role. The UK and other European countries would likely follow suit. It would only be appropriate if Indian companies sign agreements for large projects in areas like computers, communications and other electronics industries, including facilities for manufacturing key strategic items like semiconductors and computer chips, with companies in Taiwan. China’s objections can be rejected. Beijing has, after all, been investing heavily in infrastructure projects in the POK. China has even welcomed high-level politicians from the POK in Beijing.
India has now shed its earlier inhibitions about security partnerships with countries in its Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean neighbourhood. China has serious differences on its maritime boundaries, with virtually all its neighbours, including Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia. India has not yet been able to respond in any appropriate, or meaningful manner to the continuous supply of weapons, nuclear weapons designs, ballistic missiles, fighter aircraft and warships by China to Pakistan. There is a strong feeling in India that the time has come for India to respond positively to requests from Vietnam, a good friend, with a remarkably fast-growing economy, with the supply of weapon systems like Brahmos missiles, to enable Vietnam to counter Chinese maritime threats. India would, hopefully, shed old inhibitions by expanding military cooperation with friendly regional countries. Most importantly, however, doors should be kept open for a serious and continuing dialogue with China, while eschewing rhetoric.
One cannot but appreciate the role of Russia and its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who stressed the importance of peace and cooperation, in his tripartite meeting, earlier this week, with the foreign ministers of India and China. His remarks came after prolonged negotiations between senior military commanders of India and China led to an agreement on ‘verifiable disengagement’ of forces. One should, however, be under no illusion that this process of phased withdrawal is going to be smooth. But it is a move towards peace. Finally, a grateful nation can never forget the valour and sacrifices of those who laid down their lives defending our country, in hand-to-hand combat, far from their homes, in the high mountains, astride the banks of the Galwan river.