The Global context of India-China conflict

 This is part-1 of a Review of the recent, India-China December 9 clash. 

Indian  Ministry of Defence (MoD) statement on the December 9 clash between Indian and  Chinese troops at LAC Yangtse, Tawang sector, Arunachal Pradesh, is given below:




The notable points of the statement are that it is an area of LAC with differing perceptions,  wherein both sides patrol the area up to their claim lines. This has been the trend since 2006.

The Chinese PLA troops contacted the LAC and it was contested by Indian troops in a firm and resolute manner: Obviously the LAC was  not transgressed, and  the two sides immediately disengaged from the area, “in accordance with structured mechanisms to restore peace and tranquility.”  

A spokesperson of China’s army, the PLA, issued a statement on  Dec 13:Chinese border troops were on a routine patrol on the Chinese side of the LAC on Dec 9 when Indian troops illegally crossed the line and blocked the Chinese forces..

Faced with the trespass, the PLA dealt with the situation with professional, standard and powerful measures and stabilized the situation…The two sides have now disengaged from contact, Long said, urging India to strictly control and restrain the frontline troops and work with China to maintain peace and tranquility along the border. ( Global Times, Dec 13, 2022)

At least six Indian soldiers were injured in the face-off. They were airlifted to the 151 base hospital in Guwahati’s Basistha for treatment. Both sides sustained injuries in the face-off, though none were killed. However, the number of injured soldiers on the Chinese side could go up, sources were quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

It is along an LAC where multiple dialogues and meetings later, the two sides decided to disengage from the key areas.

Chinese Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Dec 13 that the current situation is “generally stable” and asked India to abide by the spirit of relevant agreements signed by the two sides. Wang stressed that both sides have been maintaining open communication on border-related issues through diplomatic and military channels. “We hope that India will meet China halfway, implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, strictly abide by the spirit of the relevant agreements signed by the two sides, and jointly maintain peace and tranquility in the border region,” Wang said. China and India have been working to de-escalate tensions since a military standoff in June 2020. China said: “From what we can see, official statements from both sides have maintained restraint.”

This is the first reported clash between the two sides since the skirmishes in Ladakh’s Galwan in June, 2020.

The LAC between the two countries has been a rarely peaceful one where admittedly not a bullet was fired for decades.

 Even now the clash took place in an area with differing perceptions, and the two sides immediately disengaged from the area. But there began a political war of words in India, and the US jumped in too. 

“ According to Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, India’s fresh mounting efforts to provoke China on the border issue have a lot to do with Washington. The joint military exercise held by India and the US near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the border area between China and India just concluded on December 2. And Washington has spared no effort to include India into its Indo-Pacific Strategy. After the clash between soldiers of China and India on December 9, the US said it will fully support India’s effort. All these may trigger India to make a strategic miscalculation and ramp up its efforts to provoke China.” (Global Times, Dec 15, 2022)

The above is not an exaggeration by China. Referring to the India-US joint military exercise, an Indian security expert and academic, Vinay Kaura noted:

“New Delhi is now more amenable to receiving Washington’s support to balance Beijing, as reflected in the willingness to tolerate American presence in India’s immediate neighbourhood.”  (more of it later in this review.)

This is so soon after US was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan. Instead of focusing on this aspect, the Indian polity, aided by the Big Media, is lost in narrow politics. 


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Irresponsible and provocative statements

The clash took place on Dec9, and the MoD statement was dated Dec 12.

Prime Minister Modi recently, often and rightly, said, “ today’s era must not be of war.” Though it was initially made in the context of Ukraine war, it was later generalized, and made its way into the G-20 Declaration, released in mid-November, 2022. That must be a formulation applicable also to India’s relations, particularly in relation to China and Pakistan. That is the need of the hour.

But what was unleashed was a media barrage alleging Chinese aggression, and an endless war of words laced with irresponsible and provocative statements made by the ruling class parties for their narrow political ends even while the two sides immediately disengaged from the area. It was the Congress that first sought to outdo BJP in jingoism:

The Congress party on Dec 18 accused PM Modi of “running away” from a debate in Parliament on the situation along the border with China and said he, and not the defence minister, must answer on this issue., Dec 18,  2022 reported, based on PTI inputs: The opposition party also alleged that the PM does not utter the word “China” and asked whether the government was “silent” due to its “close ties” with that country.

Rahul Gandhi said “the government was sleeping while China was preparing for war”. Gandhi’s remarks evoked sharp reactions from the BJP, which said he was lowering the morale of the armed forces.

Asked about the BJP’s attack on Rahul Gandhi over his remarks on the China issue at a presser in Jaipur, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said the former Congress chief had “only highlighted that the government had tied the hands of the armed forces who are full of valour”. “Veer Sena, kayar raja (brave army, coward king),” that is the story of the country, he alleged.

BJP on December 21  accused Congress leader Sonia Gandhi of trying to help country’s “enemy” China by seeking an open debate on country’s preparations over tackling challenges at the border.Times of India (TNN / Dec 22, 2022) reported: “She wants to know in Parliament about what preparations India has made to handle the Chinese aggression. She should explain to the country that she intends to help the enemy nation,” parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi said.

Nehru has been a stick to beat with for both parties.

Pralhad Joshi said Congress members were making unacceptable demands even as a detailed reply was given by defence minister Rajnath Singh after the clash between the Indian and Chinese border at Tawang took place. First, they should study what we lost and gained and how we lost permanent membership at UNSC during their grand old leader Jawaharlal Nehru’s rule.”

At a press conference in Rajasthan (on  Bharat Jodo Yatra), Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi went to China in 1988 “when we were strong at the borders and after that visit bilateral ties became stronger”. But in April 2020 all this came to an end and a new chapter was opened, he alleged.

“The prime minister has given a clean chit to them (China) by saying ‘no one has come and no one is inside our territory’. Due to this clean chit, our bargaining position has gone down,”  Jairam Ramesh said. “He is the first PM who runs away from debate and he does not utter the word China.”  He also raised the slogan “Cheen Par Chuppi Todo, Bharat Jodo (Break the silence on China, unite India).”

The following section reveals the global context of the India-China border conflict, and contains reports that are self-evident, and need little comment:

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A slew of military drills to counter China

That is the title of a report  on ‘Yudh Abhyas’  (war exercise) by Timesofindia, Oct 26, 2022: India has lined up a series of combat exercises before the year ends to further bolster military interoperability with friendly countries. The numbers involved are significant,  “with around 350 soldiers from each side.”

Quad cooperation :

Warships, submarines, fighters, aircraft and helicopters will be deployed by India, the US, Japan and Australia off Yokosuka in Japan from November 8 to 18 for the top-notch Malabar exercise, with the four ‘Quad’ countries having firmly declared their intent to deter any “coercion” in the Indo-Pacific with an eye on China’s aggressive expansionist policies in the region.

The battalion-level ‘Yudh Abhyas’ exercise between the Indian and US armies will be held at Auli in Uttarakhand, barely 100 km from the LAC with China, from November 15 to December 2. This comes shortly after elite Special Forces of the two countries conducted the ‘Vajra Prahar’ exercise at Bakloh in Himachal Pradesh in August…

It is not a solitary one, see this :

“India’s expanding programme of joint military exercises” , a news analysis by a security expert Dr Rajeswari (Raji) Pillai Rajagopalan, now with  ORF , Dec 22 2022, brought out its significance:

“ Reflective of the close strategic and security partnership between India and the United States (US),” the “Yudh Abhyas 22” exercise, close to the LAC,  was held with the goal of sharing best practices, tactics, techniques and procedures, as per a statement issued by the Indian Ministry of Defence. .

The US Army soldiers of the 2nd Brigade of the 11th Airborne Division and Indian Army soldiers from the Assam Regiment took part in the exercise..that among others included “validation of integrated battle groups, force multipliers, establishment and functioning of surveillance grids, validation of operational logistics, mountain warfare skills, casualty evacuation  and combat medical aid in adverse terrain and climatic conditions.” The US Embassy in India tweeted that “the joint military exercise like Yudh Abhyas reinforces our commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, improves interoperability and takes the US-India Defence partnership to new heights.”

Even as Yudh Abhyas was going on, the Indian Army began an exercise with another strategic partner, Australia. Exercise “Austra Hind” was conducted between the Indian Army and the Australian Army contingents in Rajasthan, a western Indian state bordering Pakistan, for two weeks from 28 November. …According to an Indian Ministry of Defence statement, the exercise focused on training with “new generation equipment and specialist weapons including snipers, surveillance and communication equipment to achieve a high degree of situational awareness..One, India’s traditional coyness about engaging in military exercises is a thing of the past and these exercises reflect India’s comfort level and confidence in engaging a number of new security partners who are critical in addressing the China problem.


An analysis by AP correspondents who witnessed the exercises, points out: is the first time the exercises are held close to LAC, one in Himachal  Pradesh in August, and later in Uttarakhand, November 15 to December 2.  

“The exercise also reflects the strengthening defense ties between India and the United States. They have steadily ramped up their military relationship and signed a string of defense deals and deepened military cooperation. In recent years, relations have been driven by a convergence of interests to counter China.” (November 30, 2022,

“India, a key asset for the US” ,  a news analysis by, 23 December, 2022, candidly said:

“New Delhi is now more amenable to receiving Washington’s support to balance Beijing, as reflected in the willingness to tolerate American presence in India’s immediate neighbourhood.” 

(The author is an Establishment man: Vinay Kaura, assistant professor,  Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Rajasthan. )

Extracts from the report are revealing: 

In the context of China trying to change the territorial status quo in its favour through coercive measures, the India-US partnership becomes more salient. New Delhi’s mistrust toward Beijing converges with Washington’s declared strategic objective to contain China’s hybrid aggression. Therefore, from bilateral defence cooperation to multilateral cooperation under the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) partnership, India is aiding the US in its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China, becoming a key American partner in the process… ”

“Gone are the days when India shared Chinese distrust toward the US hegemonic world order. New Delhi has long forgotten its previous concerns about co-governance of the global order by China and the US. Having signed four foundational agreements with the US, India seems ready to become a partner in defence secretary Lloyd Austin’s ‘integrated deterrence’ strategy against the Chinese navy in the Indo-Pacific region. India’s border tensions with China have figured thrice in the 80-page US National Defense Strategy released in October. It says the US will advance “our Major Defense Partnership  with India to enhance its ability to deter PRC [People’s Republic of China] aggression and ensure free and open access to the Indian Ocean region”.

“Since India has largely embraced the Indo-Pacific vision in its strategic orientation, China’s hostility has begun to shape geopolitical configurations in South Asia…

“The US highly values India as a counterweight against China. The Donald Trump administration had even committed to “offer support to India–through diplomatic, military, and intelligence channels–to help address continental challenges such as the border dispute with China and access to water, including the Brahmaputra and other rivers facing diversion by China.”

“India’s nuclear deterrence capability: US support crucial for Indo-Pacific region”

One positive aspect of this trend is that the US might be willing to provide some indirect support to strengthen India’s nuclear deterrence capability. Strategist Ashley Tellis has proposed to set up a security arrangement involving India, France and the US (INFRUS)—like the Australia-United Kingdom-US (AUKUS) model—to encourage France to provide naval nuclear propulsion technology to India. Such a strategic alliance has enormous implications on the strategic, economic, and political calculus of not just South Asia but the Indo-Pacific region as a whole…

The US must help India overcome its traditional reluctance to confront China and stand up to it instead..The US has prioritised geopolitical competition as a much more severe challenge than global terrorism—manifested in its withdrawal from Afghanistan…

The US claims to have a “global strategic partnership” with India and a “deep partnership” with Pakistan, as recently revealed by US State Department spokesperson Ned Price. This could be interpreted as Washington’s placement of New Delhi as far above Islamabad in its South Asia calculus. ..

Nevertheless, New Delhi’s own strategy must acquire an offensive orientation while discarding the current matrix involving accommodationist and defensive strategies. India needs to note that its aspirations to be counted as a global power cannot be achieved without acquiring the ability to inflict punishment on those crossing the proverbial red line.

***                ***

‘Jai Jawan’ or cannon fodder ?

Congress harped on the ‘sacrifice of 20 soldiers’ in Galwan, and several being ‘beaten’ up by Chinese troops now near Tawang. BJP blamed Congress for humiliating and demoralizing the ‘brave Indian soldiers’, by such remarks. Jai Jawan is a convenient slogan for ruling class parties to create frenzy, but they always treated them as no more than cannon fodder to serve their wrong foreign and defence policies: 

Defence Ministers, both of NDA, had revealed: Rajnath Singh, on June 3, 2019 said: More than 1100 Indian soldiers died in Siachin, “defending borders”, but none of them in a battle, after 2003 when a ceasefire was agreed upon. Nirmala Sitaraman earlier told Parliament that 163 soldiers including six officers died there in the last 10 years. ( Economic Times 2018 March, 21). If Pakistanis are added, more than 2000 died there. Most of them died during the  rule of Congress, now harping on deaths.

At least 73 soldiers died in Siachin since 2014 during Modi  regime, without a bullet being fired: 56 during 2014 to 2017, 10 in 2018-19, and 7 in Jan 2019. No data available for 2020.

They call them martyrs, but in practice they treat them as mere cannon fodder.     

India spent about Rs. 5 crore per day just to maintain in Siachin, (as per an estimate of around 20 years old)… It spent over Rs 7500 cr merely for procuring clothing and mountaineering equipment.(Economic Times, Nov 20, 2019).

Similar is the huge spending on China border, kept without resolution for over six decades, as Bhasin pointed out. Not a bullet was fired for decades along LAC, but the budget drain was unending: Six lakh crore rupees annually are being spent by India on ‘defence’ without resolving the border disputes:     

There is persistent jingoistic propaganda in Indian media, painting as if China is a notorious aggressor that refuses to solve the border dispute . The reality

“ China has borders with 14 nations, and except for India, it has resolved its disputes with all, including Russia. India has borders with six countries, and excluding Bhutan, it has disputes with all five.”

– Subramanian Swamy, Sinologist, Ex-Union Minister, and  BJP MP (Frontline 2000 Sep 2: Sino-Indian Relations Through the Tibet Prism)

That was 20 years ago. Even much later, it’s the same case. There was no real hostility.


***                          ***

No parliament debate on pro-imperialist foreign and defence policy

Congress made an issue that no debate was allowed in Indian parliament: well known, it has more drama with walkouts and the like, and it has no tradition of any serious debate, even while approving the budgets, on Defense and Foreign policies,  which are regarded as sacred cows.

Imperialists and MNCs are allowed, nay invited, to loot Indian resources and to make huge profits, all adding upto a few lakhs of crores of rupees every year. After allowing such loot, what is there to defend?   There is no debate on this substantial issue. Congress never allowed nor insisted on such a debate. Decades ago, when a CPM MP Jyotirmay Basu raised it, he was shouted down by Congress that branded him anti-national. BJP inherits that legacy, and it similarly brands everyone who question. There is no parliament debate on pro-imperialist foreign and defence policy.

Defence budget is one celebrated by the arms lobbies: India accounted for 9.5 % of global arms imports (actual deliveries) during 2016-20, as per SIPRI data (Times of India 2021March 16), despite claims of indigenization.   It is the second biggest importer after Saudis, while the share of China was 4.7 and of Pakistan 2.7 percent. Russia continues to top the list of suppliers (with a share of 49%), followed by France 18, Israel 13; and then USA 12, which however tops the list as global exporter with a share of 37%, followed by Russia with 20%.

India spent around $332 billion ( almost Rs 27 lakh cr, over 5.4 lakh cr per year) on defence during the period, it said. In fact, there are several items that are not shown as Defence budget, and the amount exceeds Rs. 6 lakh cr yearly. But it is never seriously debated.

The parliament was adjourned five times on Dec 23 amid the protests by Congress and other opposition that demanded a discussion which was rejected by the ruling party, citing precedents when the Congress in power  declined a debate and BJP fell in line. The Speaker invited the Opposition to his chamber for consultations, but Congress floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge refused to oblige saying it is no private affair.

It is also true the Congress had at times allowed a debate in the parliament. One was during Rajiv Gandhi regime, on a similar unfounded allegation that China transgressed the LAC at Sumdorong Chu valley in the same eastern sector. At the end of the debate, Rajiv told the parliament: It was confusion that arose due to a thick line drawn on a small map. There was no transgression in reality. Mira Sinha Bhattacharjee, who keenly studied and wrote on the subject, in Frontline,  dealt with it at length.  Rajiv Gandhi went to China in 1988 after that event.

Then there was a fracas on Doklam, in the same eastern sector: It was then a new trouble spot, with a face-off between India and China; that was painted by Indian media, for weeks together, as if China violated India’s border, which was not the case. As per a statement by Bhutan, they “did not want  India and China to go to war”, and so kept silent initially. About 270 Indian troops crossed the Sikkim border into Doklam (Operation Juniper, 2017 June 18) and contested the PLA engaged in building a road. The Chinese government had released a map to accuse India of trespassing into its territory, and in a detailed statement in the first week of 2017 August, it said “India has no right to interfere in or impede the boundary talks between China and Bhutan.” In fact, the process of demarcating the boundary between them had been initiated but got stuck up. Bhutan had clarified that it would sort it out with China as already bilateral discussions were underway, which irked an India that felt it was its prerogative.  The grouse was that Bhutan must conduct its foreign affairs in consultation with India, the big brother. Ultimately on August 17, both sides had announced that they agreed to pull back their troops, which they did under mutual verification. BJP-led NDA made peace after Doklam:

nirmala sitaraman

A video clip showing the then India’s Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to Nathu La in Sikkim,  in October 11, 2017, and her teaching the meaning of ‘namaste’ to the PLA soldiers, with several Chinese media groups sharing it widely. Both sides were  are trying to put the bitterness of the Doklam standoff behind.  Nathu La border post is around 30 km from Doklam where the two countries were engaged in a prolonged 73-day standoff.

***                        ***

Indian foreign policy is not independent, but is tuned to sub-serve American and Western interests.

China’s Global Times, while welcoming the above Nathu La event…… cautioned India against forming alliances with US and Japan. Indians must overcome the paranoia that suggests their country is strategically thwarted and threatened by Beijing. New Delhi also needs to give up its pursuit of Washington and Tokyo support to deploy as a bargaining chip against Beijing… Confrontation with China will directly limit its international strategic space.”

Nehru began with Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai, recognized PRC like UK did early on, but soon drew closer to USA headed then by John F Kennedy, spurned negotiations, and switched to Forward Policy that led to 1962 war.

Modi emulated Nehru:

Modi agreed, in October 2019 summit with Xi Jinping in Chennai,  to celebrate 2020 as India-China Friendship Year with 70 joint events to mark 70 years of their diplomatic relations  that had commenced in 1950, in Nehru regime, at a time when US had refused even to recognize People’s Republic of China.

Modi of BJP also signed 129 MOUs, but only to beat  a Right About Turn soon after, by joining hands with US President Trump, and later with Biden. Indian polity and business is now badly divided on how to handle China. Only a section of Business Houses supports Boycott China Goods campaign. Another section openly opposes it. The result is India-China bilateral trade surged to an unprecedented figure of $ 125 billion in 2021; the same trend continued in 2022. All this despite Galwan, and despite Boycott China goods call.

Trump said Xi jinping is ‘my friend’. He initially refused to blame China for the Covid-19 pandemic, and obtained China’s urgent help to tackle corona in US. Very soon US decided to change gear, spouted venom, targeted China, and called it China virus or Wuhan virus.

India too did the same way. Even after corona pandemic commenced, India did not agree to call it China virus or Wuhan virus. It exported medicines to tackle corona epidemic in Wuhan, and later imported lakhs of test kits from China, both times facing bitter criticism.That went on even in April 2000. Suddenly US changed its narrative, and so did Modi’s India. The earliest sign of the shift was seen in World Health Assembly soon after. Galwan was only an excuse, admittedly an alibi, as Modi officially clarified there was no transgression.

‘Trump’s embrace of Mr Modi stokes India China standoff in Himalayas was the title of an article in UK’s Financial Times of June 9, 2020, clearly before June 15 Galwan incidents. It begins with these lines: “New Delhi’s deepening alliance with Washington has alarmed Beijing and intensified border tensions”.

It said: “Simmering tensions between the Nuclear armed neighbors have been inflamed by the corona virus pandemic,Trump’s hostility towards China, and the US President’s strategic embrace of India and Mr Modi.

Thus India moved closer to USA and its hegemonic Asia Pacific strategy, with an active role in the QUAD that is admittedly anti-China. The Opposition then blamed Nehru just as it blamed Modi now.   

Thus the Indian foreign policy is not independent, but is tuned to sub-serve American and Western interests.  It was so during Nehru’s times, during Indira’s  times. She lined up with the then Soviet super power.

Such a policy harms India, its economy, and its people, who, the rulers hope, would be diverted from real pressing issues. This goes against the Modi-Xi agreement that differences should not be allowed to turn into disputes, upsetting all chances of economic revival, more so in these times of Corona havoc. 

(See, June 16, 2020, for more on the related issues :

Indian Hawks Join Hands With US Vultures Against China

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Part-2 will focus  among other things on why the conflict in  the Eastern sector of LAC

The author is a political observer who contributed to


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