In some tough talk, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat has said that the armed forces remain prepared for military action if ongoing talks do not succeed in restoring the status quo on the Line of Actual Control with China. The statement, of course, could be meant to pile psychological pressure in the so-far fruitless talks, which are dragging on as the Chinese PLA refuses to complete the troop disengagement process in Pangong Tso and Gogra, while going back on de-escalation in the Depsang Plains.
While limited military action had been discussed by the defence establishment in the aftermath of the Galwan clashes, it remains a risky proposition as Beijing would have surely factored in India’s military countermeasures. There could be an escalation matrix leading to war, which New Delhi too would have to factor in. Neither is a war likely to settle matters. With China’s rise and the emergence of wolf warrior tactics, the status quo may have irrevocably altered. The world is palpably changing from the pre-Covid era and China is using this moment to make big strategic gains. No quick fixes may be possible here. This is where New Delhi needs to take a long-term view and prepare for Beijing’s moves on multiple fronts.
Beijing, for instance, is building advanced naval warships for Pakistan – which will surely use them to counter India. Similarly, we should prepare for more frequent Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region. Given this scenario, India needs to be smart and coordinate with likeminded countries that are equally concerned about China’s belligerence, while hitting Beijing where it hurts to generate counter-pressure for Beijing’s moves.
One step that New Delhi could take, to send a tough message while avoiding the risk of a war for which it may be ill prepared, is to announce a formal ban on Huawei providing any 5G equipment and services in India. Huawei poses a serious threat to India’s digital security; the UK and US have already shut out the company over similar concerns. Other countries too are considering such a ban, and India’s ban could have a cascading effect, hurting Chinese plans for erecting a “digital silk road” to fortify its Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing should be asked to make a clear choice: whether it wants good relations with India, or whether it prefers to periodically intrude across the LAC and kill Indian soldiers, which will have consequences.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.