Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Troubled Economy, Surging Defence Budget & A Two-Front War Scenario Weaken India’s Position Against China

China has reportedly slashed the number of Indians working in its embassy in New Delhi. According to a report in The Tribune, “there are no details about the number of Indian nationals who have been retrenched but sources said many of them were with the administration department”.

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The development comes in the wake of military tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with restrictions being imposed on the Chinese investments in India by the Modi government. The move shows the intensity with which China seems to engage with India as perhaps the situation is now ready for the final bout.

Amid all this, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on December 30 set a belligerent tone in an interview, saying that if any expansionist nation – without naming China – intends to occupy Indian land, then India has the power to not let its land go into the hands of any other country.

Whereas, on the contrary, Rajnath Singh had himself acknowledged in Parliament, on September 17, 2020, that China has already occupied 38,000 square km of Indian land in Ladakh.

China, however, has similar designs for Arunachal Pradesh, which it considers as its South Tibet, along with Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and even Uttarakhand.

India is also now preparing for a long haul in Ladakh, which is indicated by the latest developments taking place in the two countries. On January 2, 2021, TOI reported that the Indian army has placed an order of 12 specialized patrol boats for Pangong Tso, which is frozen right now, and by May 2021, it would use them to ward off China from Pangong Tso. The order has been placed for Rs 65 crore.

Narendra Modi meeting Xi Jinping on the sidelines of BRICS Summit on July 26, 2018. (Image source: PMO)

India is also banking on US support after it signed a historic BECA agreement with the country, with which it hopes to lock horns with China. The US and China are already in a race for superpower status and are strategically engaged on many fronts, but a very bizarre situation tends to stem from the prevalent India-China stand-off, according to an article in Foreign Policy.

The very headline, ‘Why China is Winning Against India’ is scathing in its tenor. The article proposes that even if no war happens between China and India, the latter still stands nowhere to afford the status-quo as eight rounds of talks have yet yielded no results for the Indian side which emphasizes the pre-May 2020 position on the border. The ninth round is soon to take place.

Even if both countries somehow agree to de-escalate, and then, will it mean that China will back off from Ladakh, or Galwan Valley, or even Pangong Tso? Perhaps never, particularly so, when ‘the Chinese have refused to restore the pre-May status quo in Ladakh, where they now control an additional 600 square miles of territory,’ as the article claims.

The great achievement for India, therefore, is to see its 100,000 soldiers survive the vagaries of weather which goes to minus 40 degrees Celsius during the winters. But the heavy cost it would incur on the Indian exchequer can easily be telling since, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, India turned out to be the worst-performing economy in South Asia. Yes, even worse than Pakistan. ‘India (therefore) is not in a position to bear the cost of a military conflict’, the article adds.

Both China and India are on the verge of facing a two-front war. While China is locked in a conflict in the South China Sea with the US, India faces a war situation from both China and Pakistan from its western and eastern borders, and possibly simultaneous.

As the article goes on to convey – “Nearly 60 percent of India’s defense budget goes into maintaining its 1.35 million-strong army. If India has to defend every single parcel of disputed territory on its border with China, the army would end up consuming an even greater share of the defense budget because India’s weak economy rules out a major hike in military spending.”

While Beijing’s defense budget is four times that of India and its economy six times bigger, that gap has surged during the devastating pandemic era. The country also boasts of the largest standing ground force in the world.

Apart from this, China very successfully made Pakistan let India remain on ‘tenterhooks’, perpetually, by way of the insurgency in Kashmir, which the Indian Army has been battling to contain, resulting in the defense expenditure ​running into thousands of crores in the last 30 years.

The Indian CDS Bipin Rawat on Jan 3, 2021, according to Hindustan Times, was on a two-day visit to review India’s military preparedness in the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh. Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa too is engaged in a similar exercise on the other side and China has appointed General Zhang Xudong as head of the Western Theater Command on December 20, 2020, which is India.

India will be able to thwart the war possibly only through the political dialogue which only the US can promote for the Indian advantage. But the Himalayan question which beckons an answer is — will China accept to go for the pre-May 2020 status quo?

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