Tuesday, June 25, 2024

China needs to revisit assumption that Indian military response will remain indefinitely low: Gokhale

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The developments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2020 have brought strategic clarity in India towards China, and Beijing might need to revisit its assumption that an Indian response to its military coercion will remain indefinitely low, former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale has said.

Gokhale, a former Indian ambassador to China, also said that India is now more willing and committed to enhancing military capacity in preparation for the “situation of armed coexistence” that it expects to prevail along the LAC.

“Judging India’s future responses and behaviour on the basis of current capacity may not be valid,” he said on Tuesday in a paper titled ‘China’s India Policy: Lessons for India-China Relations’ for leading think-tank Carnegie India.

Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in a fresh clash in Yangtse area of Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector on December 9, in first such flare-up in more than a year.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the Chinese troops tried to “unilaterally” change the status quo in Yangtse but the Indian Army compelled them to retreat.

In his paper, Gokhale also explained how the Galwan Valley clashes in June 2020 reshaped India’s approach towards China.

“The idea of strategic restraint has been redefined. This has involved a change in risk-taking appetite among the political class, as a result of which the Snow Leopard counter-operation at Rezang La/Rechin La was carried out,” he said.

He said, “This was an intentional escalation by India that was not anticipated by China. Thus the Chinese assumption that there will be no immediate backlash to low-level coercion on the LAC because India is risk-averse may no longer be valid.”

Gokhale said the developments along the LAC in 2020 reshaped Indian public opinion on China “The ambiguity that prevailed in India’s decision-making and strategic circles as to whether China is a partner or a rival has been replaced by strategic clarity,” he said.

“China’s behaviour is now perceived as adversarial and few are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The Galwan incident has reshaped national public opinion about China,” he added.

The former top diplomat also said that Chinese scholars may also need to revisit the idea that an Indian response to future military coercion will remain indefinitely low.

“The Galwan incident has shown that, contrary to Indian hopes, preventive measures and the pursuit of peace and tranquillity may not be sufficient to deter a China that believes it has military advantage along the LAC,” he said.

“Thus, given that there is likely to be a military imbalance there in the short term, India should prioritise the pursuit of higher-level risk management,” he observed.

“This is qualitatively different than seeking peace and tranquillity risk management shifts the focus from the ground-tactical level to the politico-strategic level. Dialogue at this level would reduce the risk of escalation to an undesirable threshold,” he added.

Gokhale observed that China also appears to think that India’s political system and the asymmetry of economic power between the two countries do not require it to reshape its India policy in a way that meaningfully accommodates Indian interests.

“Hence, its actions appear intended to press India to address Chinese strategic concerns while asking India to treat its own concerns as localised problems that should be managed and not raised in ways that disturb the relationship,” he wrote.

Gokhale said given China’s strong predilection for regarding itself as superior and its deep suspicion about India’s real intentions, New Delhi must accept the fact that strategic competition will continue and might expand to play a more prominent role in the relations.

“India should not expect this to change unless there is a significant shift in the balance of power. That can happen when India’s economy reaches higher levels, its diplomacy becomes multi-dimensional, and its military and technological capacities are greatly augmented,” he said.

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