When India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, met in Moscow on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on September 10, 2020, and issued a joint-statement, the peace-lovers had a sigh of relief as it signalled towards a significant de-escalation between the two countries, but on the contrary the situation is by all standards on the boil, despite the faultiness between BJP top leadership having become apparent, as after all, it is the now defense minister Rajnath Singh, who had in 2013 as president of BJP, anointed Narendra Modi to the next PM 1 and owing to his weight Rajnath Singh, has been in this tenure (since 2019) sidelined and given a defence-portfolio, whereas in the 2014-19 government he had a heavy-weight home ministry.
While addressing inside parliament, where every word spoken is kept on record, Rajnath Singh informed the designated parliamentarians that China had illegally occupied 38,000 sq. kms. of land in Ladakh, and led to a further surprise that China was eyeing for further 90,000, sq. kms, in Arunachal Pradesh 2 on September 15, 2020.
If this statement is juxtaposed to what PM Modi had said on June 20, 2020, while addressing the opposition parties, that ‘“Na koi wahan hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai aur nahi koi ghusa hua hai, na hi hamari koi post kisi dusre ke kabze mein hain (No one has intruded and nor is anyone intruding, nor has any post been captured by someone)”, he (Modi) said in closing remarks that were carried on television’. 3 Does not the nation deserve an answer from the 56-inches chest PM to state in obvious as to which of the duo is right? Ironically, in his statement on June 20,2020, he had wrapped up both the defense minister and foreign affairs minister too. It is another matter that in the first half of September both have had to pull-up-a-long-face while meeting with their Chinese counterparts in Moscow. It may me mentioned here that both the countries have been involved in a duel since May 2020, over their border disputes in Ladakh and now reports state in Himachal Pradesh as well as in Arunachal Pradesh too. The first flare-up happened on June 15, 2020 in which 20 Indian soldiers lay dead and the second happened on August 29, 2020 at Pangong Tso, Ladakh.
What merits attention is that the defence minister statement has come in the wake of the five-points, agreed upon between the Jaishankar and Wang Yi but going by what was reported through Chinese media The Global Times on September 11, 2020 4, it comes out that China nonetheless was not at all serious and had termed the whole document as a mere paper-talk, which showed as to how much credence China gave to the whole exercise. In fact, the headline of the article was by itself suggestive that the entire onus has been laid on India as it has said ‘peace depends on India keeping promise’ and later it had warned that ‘ the successful implementation of the joint statement, however, depends on whether the Indian side can truly keep its word. Given the country’s history, it is possible that the joint statement will end up as merely “paper talk. ” The article had further said “We should not only observe what India says, but also what it does. For a country like India, the most important thing is how it acts. “Only a strong military can wake up a sleepy India, words are not enough.” referred the tone of the article.
Needless to say that the entire Indian establishment i.e. army, navy and air-force, after the duplicitous-talk by China, is gearing up for any eventuality as India is now ready to take on China all on its own, and India is no more looking towards US for it, as PM Modi friend and ally US president Donald Trump is very much tied-up in his November elections, as also that, US posturing in South China Sea has also got a bit mellowed down, after China had fired two ‘aircraft carrier killer missiles’ as a warning to US on August 26, 2020 5 and ironically Trump in ‘these’ circumstances has offered to mediate between China and India if things escalates on September 5, 2020 6 , something which China has long rejected. Trump’s first mediation offer came in May 2020.
The growing India-China conflict also has an underpinning i.e. Pakistan and its angle is too conflated to be condoned as it is pretty much clear that apart from the August 5, 2019 decision of PM Modi to abrogate Article from JK&L to help China-Pakistan make a combined front against India, it is also the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China under which China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has found China investing 87 billion USD, and which has been quite an anathema to India, right its beginning, as India perceives itself as a competitive-economy to China . An article on the same lines has come in AsiaTimes on September 14, 2020 7 , in which is it highlighted that China would be exporting its goods through CPEC to reach to the end-point at Gwadar Port, in Balochistan, Pakistan, to finally land in European, Middle-East and US markets. It is also a fact that when India started to air the weather-report of Gilgit Baltistan on May 8, 2020 8, it sent the alarm bells ringing in China and since May 2020 the ensuing conflict between the two Asian-giants seem to be on the increase. ‘Karakoram Highway (which China is building under CPEC ) meanders through the Gilgit–Baltistan region (part of Jammu & Kashmir state and presently in illegal occupation of Pakistan)’ wrote Brig. Anil Gupta in IndianDefenceReview on October 2, 2015 9 . China considered the Indian move of airing the weather- report as an attempt to put hindrance in its CPEC project. India considers Gilgit-Baltistan to be its territory.
However, in-between the sounds of tumult there is also a news report published in Chinese state owned The Global Times on September 14, 2020 10 that Chinese navy has escorted an Indian oil tanker to safety towards which the Captain of the Indian tanker was found to be thankful. The event might be small but holds a positive-sign of a thaw between the two sides. But, the world seem determined, and particularly, the US, which wants a China-India war, and yet again it got confirmed when Express.Co.Uk reported on September 14, 2020 11 that ‘China India war: US offers nation cutting-edge new fighter jet as clashes intensify’ as US has offered India a new type of fighter jet following another week of military tensions at its borders with China and Pakistan. For US it is in its interest to sell weaponry to India but why did India so easily walked into the trap laid by US?
The warring sides, however, seem to be in full-go as India is said to have deployed around 100 T-72 tanks in Ladakh 12 to counter China’s military build-up and accordingly, after the Moscow snub, Rajnath Singh, too has sounded a stern warning to China through his parliament address as NDTV reports on September 16, 2020 13 , ‘in Rajnath Singh’s Comments To Parliament, Strong Warning To China. Rajnath Singh said though India wants a peaceful resolution of the India-China border issue, “the House can be assured that we remain prepared to deal with all contingencies”’. Is therefore, a ‘hot-winter’ waiting for India? Perhaps, India has also now straddled its belt to face as to whatever it comes.
The writer is a former Uttar Pradesh State Information Commissioner. He writes on international politics.