Beyond Pangong Lake

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India and China must fight for who  would be a bigger economic power

A piece of good news has come from Ladakh: India and China have started disengaging from standoff areas along the Line of Actual Control at Pangong Lake. Both sides have agreed to make a synchronised disengagement from both the north and south banks of Pangong Lake. They will remove all temporary structures their armies made on the north and south banks of the lake during the standoff, during which clashes took place claiming several lives. The removal of the structures will be done to restore the original landforms. There is going to be a moratorium on military activities by both sides on the north bank of the lake, including patrolling to areas traditionally controlled by both sides. Patrolling will be resumed only when both sides reach an agreement. The moratorium on military activities, even though temporary, will keep any sparks of confrontation from flying.

The disengagement is in the interest of both the countries. The leaderships of both the countries should pursue it with the perspective of peaceful resolution of the dispute. The Chinese army has been sometimes engaged in activities to support its claims on the lands held by India, both on the eastern and northern LACs, which has provoked India to resist and retaliate. It is true that the borders between India and China remain undefined. But a clear demarcation can come only through reasoned negotiations within the ambit of international laws. China grabbed Tibet; it got Hong Kong by right under international laws; it aims to ‘integrate’ Taiwan that it considers an ‘inalienable part’ of it; and it keeps on advancing claims on parts of territories held by India and backing them now and then with military constructions and actions. No wonder China finds it hard to shrug off the ‘expansionist’ tag India gives to it.

China appears to be a robust nation, almost a giant from outside, but it is not so inside. The ruthless censorship of free speech does not let weaknesses of the Chinese military, political, economic and social structures known to the world. The massive state propaganda machine keeps the myth of the invincibility of China afloat. However, though the communist regime of China has completed seven decades without collapsing like the Soviet Union or other communist states, everything is not as rosy as the government media and the sanitized content on TV and web would make us believe. One of the signs of the growing internal crisis in China was available at the LAC in eastern Ladakh where the Indian and Chinese troops were involved in multiple clashes since May 2020. The most serious clash took place on June 15 at Galwan Valley, when a violent hand-to-hand fight led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers. China admitted casualties on their side, but not revealed any numbers. These were the first military casualties along the India-China border in four decades.

Although China admitted casualties on its side, what it hid from the world was that the casualties were far more than what India suffered. Since the Chinese government and media never report the number of casualties to the Chinese people, little about how China suffered came out in public domain. However, strategic analysts and diplomats said the Chinese soldiers who fought along the LAC hand-to-hand with stones and sticks were symptomatic of the crisis within the Chinese army. The Chinese army is facing serious problems arising from lack of firm leadership and organization. The Chinese dictator Xi Jinping recently sacked several senior army officers on charges of corruption and the new appointees are not necessarily impeccably professional. The rot reflects on the rank and file, and the unruly and wild behaviour of the Chinese soldiers at the Galwan Valley last June in which they used rocks and clubs and fisticuffs suggests the lack of discipline and order in the People’s Liberation Army.

However, the question is not whether the Chinese army is invincible or vulnerable. It is still China’s internal matter. The real question is progress of both the countries. Both India and China are aspiring to be economic powers. They must fight for who would be a greater economic power, not a greater military power.