Amid the face-off between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, Jayadeva Ranade, former Additional Secretary, RAW, in Cabinet Secretariat, says, “We need to be prepared and alert. China may take a step back and come back with greater vigour at what their target is.”
He says, “They are testing us and want to tire us out. They also want to know India’s political will and stand on the issue. How long they will hold on is difficult to predict.”
“One of the more important reasons for their huge military deployment could be to distract the attention of the Chinese people from their domestic issues and growing discontent against President Xi Jinping,” says Ranade, presently president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, in an interview to Bala Chauhan of The New Indian Express.
What are the reasons behind the huge build-up of the People’s Liberation Army along the LAC in the Galwan Valley?
JR: There could be a number of reasons. Though the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A is India’s internal issue, it could have unsettled the Chinese because we have stated that Aksai Chin belongs to India. This must have raised their apprehensions because China doesn’t want to jeopardise its strategic and financial investment in the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) to Gwadar in Pakistan. The corridor is an integral part of Beijing’s $900 billion Belt and Road Initiative, which India has rejected. China will want to cut off our access to Daulat Beg Oldi and Aksai Chin because of their apprehensions on the CPEC.
Other reasons, and important, for their huge military deployment could be to distract the attention of the Chinese from their domestic issues and growing discontent against President Xi Jinping. There are unprecedented demands for him to step down because of his policies and the way he mishandled the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan. People are losing faith in his leadership and have begun questioning his promise to achieve the ‘China Dream’ by 2021 -- the hundredth year of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The ‘China Dream’ not only promises that Chinese people will have doubled incomes, it also assures the “rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation,” which includes the “recovery of sovereignty over Chinese territories lost through the imposition of unequal treaties by Imperialist foreign powers.”
The protests in Hong Kong, re-election of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan, resistance in the South China and East Seas have all created the impression inside China that Xi’s leadership is unable to deliver the ‘China Dream’. The third reason would be China’s insecurity over our growing proximity with the US.
How long do you think will the LAC standoff continue?
JR: It is hard to predict how long the Chinese will test our patience. The PLA deployment and action along the LAC has been planned, authorised and co-ordinated by President Xi Jinping, who is also the commander in chief of the PLA. The entire 4,057-km length of the India-China border is under the operational jurisdiction of the PLA Western Theatre Command, which is the largest of China’s five Theatre Commands and is also tasked with safeguarding Chinese assets and Chinese nationals working on the CPEC. Work on the deployment must have started some months ago because it requires planning, money and manpower from different commands. Given that, they will not disengage so easily. The latest reports state that they have now moved to the Depsang plains, while Galwan is still “live”. They are testing us and want to tire us out. They want to see our military response and military preparedness. They also want to know India’s political will and stand on the issue. How long they will hold on is difficult to predict. It is also possible that they may take a step back and come back with greater vigour at what their target is. We need to be prepared and alert. China may take a step back and come back with greater vigour at what their target is.”
What is the logic behind the timing?
JR: For China there couldn’t have been a better time than this to engage us in military action at the LAC when India along with US, Europe and other countries is preoccupied with tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. China has been nibbling away Indian territory over decades. It could now be wanting to grab larger slices of the territories claimed by it at a time of a global health emergency.
Galwan historically belongs to India. By camping and refusing to move from patrolling points, what does China want to convey to us and rest of the world?
JR: Galwan Valley has patrolling points, where both Indian and Chinese troops patrol. Neither side can camp on the site. China has not accepted these territories – where the intrusions have occurred –- as Indian territory but as disputed. It wants to keep the dispute in the area open. They want to convey that they are the big boys and can change the LAC. It is possible that they are being egged on by Pakistan, which is impacted by the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. An ISI Colonel is posted at China’s Central Military Commission (CMC)’s Joint Staff Department since March this year. There may be more ISI officers deputed at the CMC for anti-India operations. I have been saying for a long time that Beijing is no friend of New Delhi, even when Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping held informal summits at Wuhan in 2018, soon after the Doklam standoff, and in Mamallapuram in 2019. We are now negotiating our territory. There are preparations for a showdown but there will be no victors.
Besides China, the recent developments in an otherwise friendly neighbourhood – -Nepal -- are worrisome. What could be the provocation?
JR: We should have handled Nepal better and much earlier before their second Constitutional amendment putting Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani -- all territories now claimed to be disputed with India, within their borders. We should have cultivated their people, local leaders at the village and city level instead of just the top-level politicians. I have been pointing out that Chinese influence is growing in Nepal for the last four-five years. We should mobilise the Nepalese people’s support before it’s too late. What happened in Nepal is a case of benign neglect on our part.
Another friendly neighbour Bangladesh is also being wooed by Beijing...
JR: China is making huge investments in South Asia to strengthen its position. Fortunately, we have a friend in the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, but we can’t take Bangladesh for granted.
Is it time for India to have a relook at the foreign policy?
JR: Yes. We need to have a real look at our foreign policy keeping in mind the malevolent China factor. We need to see how we can retain our influence.
Prime Minister Modi’s statement at the all-party meeting on June 19 has created a lot of confusion.
JR: It was a badly drafted statement, which was immediately corrected by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of External Affairs but by then the Chinese had already announced to the world that our troops had intruded into their territory.
How do we engage with China? Will call for boycott of Chinese goods really help considering China is India’s biggest trade partner?
JR: We need to have a more careful and focussed approach. India is the second-biggest market after the US and Europe for China. Cutting off trade relations entirely is neither feasible nor a possibility. China will also react strongly. We must identify sectors of national importance such as telecommunications, healthcare and precision engineering among others and manufacture those products indigenously. We used to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) and can re-start. There are too many regulators in India, which should have monitored this and ensured that sectors vital to national interests are not degraded.