Keeping watch on China at LAC
A three-pronged Cabinet push and a US Senate resolution show that Beijing’s moves will be matched by India, and scrutinised globally
An unprecedented push by the Union Cabinet to bolster physical patrolling and infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and a rare bipartisan resolution in the United States (US) Senate affirming that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of Indian territory mark a shift in national and international attitudes to Beijing and its recent belligerence. More than anything else, the skirmishes along the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh appeared to have shattered any pretension of detente by China and made it clear to Indian policymakers that Beijing’s brand of coercive diplomacy — using low-intensity clashes to salami-slice Indian territory and signal retribution for robust positions taken on the global stage — will not be limited to the Ladakh theatre, but represents a clear and present danger.
But first, the developments. The Cabinet announced a three-pronged push: Clearing the addition of 9,400 Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel to guard posts along the border with China, approving a 4.1-km-long tunnel that will guarantee all-weather access to Ladakh, and announcing incentives to encourage people to stay back in remote border villages. The additional forces will be posted in Arunachal Pradesh, and this marks the first time that the paramilitary force has got personnel reinforcement in a decade. The Shinkun La tunnel will make the shortest route to Leh and Kargil immune from the vagaries of weather and help the military rush troops and equipment to strategic posts should the need arise. And the focus on ensuring that human settlements on the frontiers are not abandoned due to a lack of economic, health care and education opportunities will be key to ensuring that ordinary villagers become the eyes and ears of the defence establishment. This last step is particularly important in catching up with China’s build-up along the LAC, where scores of hybrid villages have mushroomed in recent years. It is welcome that longstanding demands for development and infrastructure augmentation in these areas will finally be met.
Two days later, three influential senators from the Democratic and Republican parties introduced a resolution supporting India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, condemning Beijing for using military force to change the status quo at the LAC and praising New Delhi for steps taken to defend itself. As this newspaper reported, though the resolution is yet to be passed, it marked an important symbolic moment because it showed that the US government explicitly supported New Delhi in its actions. Days after a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon ratcheted up bilateral tensions between Beijing and Washington DC, the move shows that the mood on Capitol Hill remains hostile towards China — an environment that could benefit New Delhi by increasing global scrutiny of Chinese actions along the LAC.
It is commendable that India is moving rapidly to cover some asymmetry with China in preparedness and strength. However, it must remain watchful and vigilant to thwart Chinese misadventures and consider a comprehensive and transparent strategy to contain what is emerging as the toughest geopolitical challenge for a nation looking to cement its place at the global high table.