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Politics & Security

China is Encroaching on India’s Territory Once Again

As the world is caught up fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, China is sliding in, pressing out its borders and using its neighbors’ territory as bargaining chips against them on other issues.

Rupakjyoti Borah

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The India-China border in the Himalayas.

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China’s building of an entire village inside Indian territory in the border state of Arunachal Pradesh has once again laid bare the deceitful plans of the Dragon. 

While this is not unprecedented, what has taken observers by surprise is that this means that China has not stopped its aggressive stance against India since last year. The village in question lies along the banks of the Tsari Chu river, in the Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh. However, it is also worth noting here that the area has been effectively under Chinese control since 1959.

Since last year, China has been on the warpath against India, as seen in the Galwan Valley clash, which led to the first actual casualties between the two sides in a long time. It could also be seen in the so-called “wolf warrior diplomacy” which Chinese diplomats have been indulging in for some time now. 

In the past too, China has objected when the Dalai Lama visited the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh. Earlier last year some local youths from Arunachal Pradesh had crossed over the border by mistake, and had been arrested by China before being set free. 

What is Prompting These Latest Aggressions?

First, the flux in the U.S. has allowed China to take advantage of the situation. The Trump Administration took strong stands against Beijing’s aggressions. Although the Biden Administration has signaled that it will not abandon Washington’s strong stand towards China (which is a welcome sign), it has yet to enunciate a clear-cut policy towards Beijing. 

However, in a welcome sign, the new U.S. president reiterated the United States’ unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan, “including the application of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty to the Senkaku islands.” 

Second, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has also made China’s task easier, since many countries have been caught up in the fight with the same. At the same time, the lack of transparency and reliable information about the pandemic in China means that we don’t know the real state of affairs in the country.

Third, China is trying to use its opponent’s territory as a bargaining chip when it comes to negotiations with countries like India. By holding on to Indian territory, it can be expected to try to use it as a bargaining chip when pressing India on other issues.

Fourth, China is also doing this for its domestic audience. By foisting a muscular foreign policy, China is trying to deflect attention from its handling of the Uyghur issue and the coronavirus pandemic within its borders. In addition, it has cracked down on dissident voices, including hauling up businessmen like the renowned founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, who had earlier criticized the actions of the Chinese government.

Options for India

There are quite a few options for India at the moment.

First of all, there is the diplomatic option. India must convey its disapproval of Chinese actions in the strongest possible terms at the earliest date. 

When questioned about the recent Chinese intrusion, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs merely stated that “In response, our government too has stepped up border infrastructure, including the construction of roads, bridges etc, which has provided much needed connectivity to the local population along the border.”

Second, there is the option of pooling resources with other countries like the United States, Japan and Australia. We can already see this happening in the case of the Quad.

Third, India will have to work ever more closely with some of the ASEAN nations like Vietnam, which have been at the receiving end of provocative actions from the Chinese side.

Fourth, New Delhi would also need to factor in the bigger Chinese game plan in this regard. The idea is to pin India down in its immediate neighborhood, which would stifle its growth in the wider Indo-Pacific region. 

What India Must Be Prepared For

While it is worth understanding that though the actual border between India and China is not demarcated at many places, there has existed a long-held understanding between the two sides, which seems to be gradually unravelling.

India must be prepared for more similar provocations from China in the future. Beijing is already on a belligerent path with New Delhi. It’s behavior has to be seen in conjunction with its actions against other countries like Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.  

In the long run, New Delhi will need to recalibrate its ties with Beijing. There also needs to be discussion within the country on what kind of proactive steps India can take towards China, since in most cases, India has been reacting to Chinese moves, especially on the border. 

In addition, the China-Pakistan axis is also something of a worry for India as it means that New Delhi needs to counter a two-pronged threat. Hence this latest action from China must be a kind of a wake-up call for India—as they say, eternal vigilance is the price of peace.

Author: Dr  Rupakjyoti Borah

Dr Rupakjyoti Borah is a Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, Tokyo. His forthcoming book is The Strategic Relations between India, the United States and Japan in the Indo-Pacific: When Three is Not a Crowd. He has also authored two other books. He has also been a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge, the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), Japan and the Australian National University. The views expressed here are personal.  Twitter @rupakj

Dr. Rupakjyoti Borah is a Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, Tokyo. His forthcoming book is The Strategic Relations between India, the United States and Japan in the Indo-Pacific: When Three is Not a Crowd. He has also authored two other books. He has also been a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge, the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), Japan and the Australian National University. The views expressed here are personal.