‘It Cost Me To End Ties With China, But I Don’t Regret It’

Anantha VR (38), a Bengaluru-based commercial space designer, says his business was heavily dependent on quality Chinese imports but Wuhan virus and Galwan clashes made him snap the trade link

As an owner of an architecture firm, how could I let the opportunity of rebuilding the country pass? As country after country is left ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is upon us, especially business owners, to lead the way and to let people know that the world is going to be all right again.

Some tough decisions need to be made in the wake of changed strategic environment and a belligerent neighbour on our eastern border. I stopped all my business with China, even though my business was heavily dependent on it! In fact, the Indo- China standoff that started around May 2020 helped me crystallise my decision. I made this choice on my free will and I am not regretting it.

Our Bengaluru-based firm Hidecor is into designing new office/commercial spaces as well as renovating already existing ones and we have clients ranging from Titan to Big Basket to Furlenco to Decathlon etc. Before Work-From-Home or WFH became the new normal, office spaces, especially with regards to ergonomics, were constantly evolving to help people become more comfortable and efficient at the workplace. The WFH is going to come back in a big way because they help provide structure to business.

I used to import all items for designing office spaces from China, be they then furniture, carpets, flooring materials, or lighting fixtures etc. I visited the country too around 5-6 times in the past three years.

Anantha VR during one his business trips to China

So while most people were just responding to what was going on in China as the news of pandemic started trickling in around January, I had been aware of it around November 2019 that China was trying to suppress news regarding the deadly virus.

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Every year Chinese people suffer from seasonal cold between November-February and China faces a public health crisis, but in 2019 it was different. Moreover, the way China was suppressing the news I knew it was serious. When they started side-lining whistle-blowers warning of an impending pandemic, I first started thinking about ending business ties with China.

When the pandemic exploded in Wuhan, our business was anyway stuck. There are so many things about the way China handled the pandemic that don’t add up. China might be efficient when it comes to large-scale production in little time but the way they suppress and divert information even about crucial issues wasn’t something I was comfortable with.

A few months passed by without any work because production of goods and materials had halted worldwide. While we were all waiting for the lockdown to end, China snuck up from behind and started creating tension at the LAC in Ladakh. Whatever little trust I had in China was gone after this. I felt the whole border skirmish and the continued standoff since May is a ploy to divert the mind of the Chinese public from the way the government has handled the coronavirus crisis.

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I have a close relative in the Army so I have an emotional connect with what’s going on at the border. You can call the Galwan Valley incident as the final nail in the coffin for my business links with China. That was the day I decided to cut off ties completely with China.

I am all in favour of Atmanirbhar Bharat even though our country has a long way to go in matters of end to end manufacturing and it will take us nearly 5 years to be truly self-reliant. Our supply chain is still dependent on various other markets in the world. But we need to start somewhere, right? I now buy products from Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and deal with Indian brands such as Feather Lite, Monarch, ISIT etc.

I wouldn’t say our business hasn’t been affected or that it has been an easy decision. Our profit margins have dropped from 10-15% but we ‘soldier’ on with fortitude. We recently opened a new branch in Hyderabad and are keen to do business with local manufacturers.

Slowly orders have started coming in and we hope the whole country works together in making our country atmanirbhar. We business owners alone cannot do it. The customer also has to be ‘vocal for local’. We hope the pandemic gets over soon and office spaces start buzzing with chatter, laughter and productivity.

While many businesses have shut shop, there are several others that are opening new branches and we are glad we are being chosen to design their spaces. The pandemic has meant that office/commercial spaces require complete overhaul, especially with regards to social distancing.

‘China Ban Is Short Term Hardship, Long Term Blessing’

Vivek Gadodia (48), a garment manufacturer in Noida, has been importing fabrics from China. His business suffered amid Indo-China standoff and Covid-19, but he calls it a boon in disguise

My family has been into garment manufacturing business for nearly eight decades now and I have been at the helm for the past 23 years. We specialize in men’s wedding wear, especially suits, sold under the brand name Zoop. We import fabrics for our suits from China, which is why I have been keeping a keen eye on the developments in India-China relations.

The past eight months have been the most unpredictable times of my work life. The India-China standoff might have begun in May but the pandemic had started raging in Wuhan, China around January. This meant that China took extreme measures to keep its people safe. These measures caused several restrictions and we couldn’t access the fabric for our merchandise.

Then in March, India announced the lockdown and for the following three months, nothing moved. As if these hardships were not enough, the India-China military clashes happened. The standoff continues.

WATCH: ‘I’ll Not Stock Or Sell Chinese Ware Hereto’

From one perspective, this long business slump could seem like a stroke of bad luck but I see things from a different perspective. After all, businesses are built on optimism; we take daily risks and a positive outlook gives us confidence.

Vivek sells his garment collection under the brand name Zoop

Most people don’t know the scale of imports from China across categories. It is huge! India imports everything from gadgets to toys to hardware to grocery items from China. We are heavily dependent on China for raw or finished products. And the current events have caused difficulties for businessmen who trade with China. But that is a short-term setback.

In the long run, I feel the current downward spiral in India-China relations have come as a stroke of luck. Of course, the loss of lives in Galwan valley clashes is a sad episode. But hereto Indian customer will look for locally produced goods, including garments. This will fuel the idea of Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India). But for that to materialise, we as businessmen and manufacturers, have to adapt quickly to the market demand. This also means a more tightly-knit country as the demand and the supply remain in the same country.

Yes, the business has suffered tremendously. Our whole summer wedding season was a total washout as most weddings were either postponed or altogether cancelled. Plus, no one knows when things will go back to normal. But it has suffered more because of the pandemic than because of the standoff. Things aren’t as bad as shown on news channels.

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The biggest problem that we are facing is: because of the tensions and uncertainty between the two countries, the Chinese sellers are not ready to give us any credit and are selling only against spot payment. This is causing serious liquidity problems for smaller business units.

We are restarting our business for the winter wedding season now and I hope the market sentiment picks up or, even better, rebound in a big manner. I hope people who have been weary of everything that 2020 brought in its wake, will celebrate weddings with a renewed vigour while maintaining social distancing and following all precautions in place. We are also taking proper measures to ensure everything is safe and hygienic in our business. The news of vaccines being in the market in a few months also gives us hope.

China, The Artless Dodger

China’s military transgressions along the Line of Actual Control with India might have brought immediate tactical territorial gains, but it has lost a lot more strategically in terms of trust and goodwill. Beijing’s responses have also reinforced the fact that its leaders are perennially unrepentant, even though their hands have been caught figuratively in the cookie jar.

This is evident in the comments that emanate from China over the bloody border confrontation on 15 June in Ladakh. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on June 19, “China hopes that India will work with us, follow faithfully the important consensus reached between the two leaders, abide by the agreements reached between the two governments, and strengthen communication and cooperation on properly managing the current situation through diplomatic and military channels, and jointly uphold peace and stability in the border areas.”

The subtext is noticeable here and in just about every other official statement. “India, you work with us. Show that you are being cooperative. Do your bit to uphold peace because we already are.” The patronizing tone implies that China is blameless, that Delhi must be the one to repent. This smug self-righteousness is readily apparent in Beijing’s dealings with India, in its interactions with South China Sea claimants, and against anyone who displeases it in even the slightest way.

Yet many countries around the world are growing frustrated and angry with China’s continued bullying, its “innocent” denials of responsibility, and its blatant trampling of international treaties and norms.

Take its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, for example, with more than a million imprisoned in concentration camps where they are brainwashed and many perform forced labor. China initially refuted the existence of any camps, before eventually euphemistically calling them “vocational training centers” once the proof was irrefutable. Even today, too few governments and international bodies are forceful enough in decrying one of the grossest abuses of human rights in modern times, and of China’s brutal cultural genocide.

Nor was it enough for China to merely possess Hong Kong, for it had to make the city harmless politically and to emasculate its citizens of any aspirations to power.

China has become an Orwellian police state too. A study by Comparitech revealed that it is home to 18 of the world’s 20 most monitored cities in the world. More than half the globe’s surveillance cameras are in China, with 567 million cameras predicted to be there by 2021. Beijing alone has 1.15 million cameras, averaging out at 60 cameras per 1,000 people.

China’s arrogance has been on full display during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chairman Xi Jinping failed dismally in his initial handling of the outbreak, as the clumsy Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatus sought to suppress the truth and protect Xi.

Richard McGregor of the Lowy Institute in Australia recently penned an article, saying, “China’s failures in the early stages of the crisis, and in the overseas propaganda campaign it later mounted, were baked into the CCP system. So too was the extraordinary mobilization of the country’s resources to enforce lockdowns and stop the spread of the virus. Success and failure are two sides of the same CCP coin.”

China boasts that its political system is superior, pointing to the dismal handling of the pandemic by countries like the UK and USA. Xi himself claimed, “The effectiveness of the prevention and control work has once again showed the significant advantages of the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system with Chinese characteristics.”

Yet this is a patently false analogy. Many democracies such as Taiwan and New Zealand handled the outbreak in exemplary fashion; the pandemic’s rampaging effects are more a reflection of the competency of individual governments rather than the victory of authoritarianism over democracy.

Interestingly, for some weeks in the center of the crisis, Xi disappeared from public and delegated responsibilities to Premier Li Keqiang. This is rare for a messianic leader who likes to take credit for everything that happens in China, but it illustrates how he was under intense pressure and was distancing himself if things went worse. He only reappeared upon the cusp of victory to gain the credit.

Everything in China is subverted to just one purpose, to bolster the CCP’s standing and to legitimize the leader. The party fears the will of the people most of all.

McGregor thus noted: “Despite outlasting the Soviet communist party as a governing entity, the CCP still frets it will fall through the trapdoor of Chinese history, in which the glorious rise of dynasties has inevitably been followed by their corrosion and corruption, and then collapse. The CCP, in contrast to other fallen communist parties, has pledged to break out of the dynastic cycle by incessantly reinforcing a focus on political awareness and loyalty to President Xi and the party.”

Xi’s COVID-19 remediation strategy was essentially threefold: pump money into job creation; censor any dissenting views; and redirect anger with an appeal to nationalism. After restraining coronavirus, China soon pursued a two-pronged propaganda campaign at home and abroad. Beijing deliberately played down other countries’ donations as it fought the coronavirus, but proudly trumpeted its own efforts as aid flowed in the opposite direction. However, the latter’s “facemask diplomacy” backfired when it peddled inferior products and the realization hit home that China was ultimately responsible for spreading the disease worldwide, decimating national economies and personal livelihoods.

Most informative of all was China’s hardline belligerence regarding the origins of the virus. Officials accused the USA of starting it, for example. China also castigated Australia for seeking an international enquiry into COVID-19’s origins. It resorted to the same old canard – China is innocent and certainly does not deserve vilification.

China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy” proved particularly self-defeating too. The country’s refusal to admit failure and its denial of responsibility turned many against China. Humility is absent from the CCP, for to admit failure is intolerable for authoritarians.

This type of arrogance is captured in an obsequious Global Times opinion piece criticizing the West for blaming China for nurturing COVID-19. “Lies told a thousand times remain lies. In the face of an unknown virus, no government is prepared enough. But the important thing is we admit our limits and faults, and join hands to fight the real enemy.” These words were being aimed at the West, but there was no hint of irony that they applied more accurately to China’s actions.

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University of China, admitted, “The aim is to promote the Chinese political system as superior, and to project the image of China as a world leader in combating a global health crisis. But the problem is, [these efforts] have failed to recognize the complexities that have emerged on the global stage during the pandemic, and they are being done too hastily, too soon and too loudly in tone, so there is a huge gap between what is intended and what is achieved.”

A report from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think tank of the Ministry of State Security, was leaked earlier this year. One segment stated, “Beijing faces a wave of anti-China sentiment led by the United States in the aftermath of the pandemic and needs to be prepared in a worst-case scenario for armed confrontation between the two global powers.”

Indeed, relations between Beijing and Washington are at their lowest ebb for years. Many Chinese believe the US has a poor impression of their country, and that they are being unjustly demonized. They also feel the USA is rather pushy, and cannot believe that Washington would launch a trade war and impose such stiff tariffs. The fact that both the Republicans and Democrats are somewhat united in their stance against China is rather unprecedented too, although it is not coincidental that the USA is in electioneering mode right now.

Confronting China has, in many ways, become the one organizing factor in current US foreign policy. This can be seen in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent statement on the South China Sea, and a strongly anti-CCP speech on 23 July. Even if President Donald Trump has only a single term in office, it is difficult to conceive of a dramatic about-turn in American foreign policy.

Perhaps unwittingly, Xi has made China a prime target. And who has come out on China’s side? Despite what it regards as generosity under its Belt and Road Initiative, China is receiving little tangible sympathy for its “suffering” at the hands of the USA.

All the above factors are forcing China to rethink its understanding of and relationship to the USA. Many are advocating that their country return to the past policy of keeping a lower profile. Yet this seems unlikely, for Xi retains three key aims: comprehensively modernizing China with the CCP at the helm; reunifying Taiwan; and making China powerful globally.

A number among the patriotically-crazed Chinese populace were advocating that China should invade Taiwan, as things are already going so badly with the USA anyway. However, cooler heads believe such a move would be far too costly and risky, and that energy would be better spent on “national rejuvenation”. Even Qiao Liang, a hawkish retired air force major general, posted on WeChat recently, “This impulsive way of decision-making based on determination or confidence (more of a spur-of-the-moment) without regard for self or external constraints is misconstrued as patriotism, which is actually harmful to the country.” Qiao posited a longer-term strategic view was needed for China.

A good portion of the CCP’s legitimacy comes from increased prosperity. Xi and his cohorts are terrified at the prospect of millions of unemployed, for this will fan social unrest. As long as people are making money, they believe their position is secure. Now they feel vulnerable, as many of the country’s 149 million self-employed business owners and 174 million migrant workers are losing their incomes.

Xi’s response in a time of testing is to double down on existing policies and to issue rallying calls to gather around the flag (which he, of course, is holding aloft). At the 19th Party Congress in 2017, he was already proclaiming, “The banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is now flying high and proud for all to see.”

Xi recognizes the struggle is now becoming harder, but he always knew this would be so. Back in 2013, Xi warned for “a fairly long time yet, socialism in its primary stage will exist alongside a more productive and developed capitalist system … [There will be a] long period of cooperation and of conflict between these two social systems” before China has “the dominant position”.

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics” decrees that modernization must be led by the CCP acting in the interests of the “overwhelming majority” of the people. Leninism would teach that free markets and free elections lead to rule by selfish elites, so China’s rejuvenation relies on the CCP protecting the people from both. Of course, it can be easily argued that China is ruled by a selfish elite, for China’s bureaucratic heart numbers only about 3,500-4,000 personnel, each of which is screened by the party center.

Xi perhaps fervently believes capitalism will die out and that socialism will ultimately prove victorious. But more than that, he yearns for moral recognition from the rest of the world that his way is right, something that his “community of common destiny for mankind” will make patently clear to all.

What the rest of the world would really like is a conciliatory approach from China, but “conciliation” is not in Xi’s lexicon. It cannot be, for the future of China hinges solely in Xi’s godlike hands, or so the CCP’s narrative goes. That is why China must behave as the “artless dodger”, deflecting blame and reveling in self-aggrandizement.

Watch – ‘I Used To Spend 5-7 Hours On Tik Tok Daily’

Millions of small town boys and girls are missing watching and uploading of short videos on Tik Tok. They said the app was not only a good pastime but also allowed them to showcase their talent before a vast virtual audience. While they do not mind banning of the app after border hostilities, they yearn for an easy-to-use replacement for the Chinese app

Apps Are Only Tip Of China’s Huge Presence In India’s Tech Sector

On June 29, the Indian government banned 59 Chinese-owned mobile apps. The list included many but the most prominent ones were TikTok and WeChat, both hugely popular among Indian users. India has the world’s second largest number of mobile phone users. The number of mobile phones in use in India is estimated to be 1.38 billion, with more than 104 connections for every 100 citizens. Even if a third of those are on smart phones, it is a staggeringly huge number that accesses internet on their mobile apps, a market that most global app makers worldwide cannot afford to miss.

The ban on Chinese apps came shortly after a border clash between troops from the two countries left 20 Indian soldiers dead earlier in June. The Indian government blocked the apps ostensibly because of cybersecurity risks and the possibility that some of the apps could be used to compromise India’s defence systems. But the ban may have also been a way of sending a message to China. Ever since the most recent border clash between the two countries occurred—at a time when India is struggling with a massive internal problem of containing the rapidly spreading pandemic of Coronavirus within the country—there has been a clamour for boycotting all Chinese products and services in India.

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TikTok and a host of other apps that have been blocked or banned in India will no doubt affect users as well as the makers and suppliers of those apps but China’s less visible but ubiquitous presence in India’s tech and internet landscape goes way beyond Chinese apps that have been popular in that market. Chinese venture capital is probably the biggest component of funding that India’s start-ups, most of them internet based and online. In many ways, Chinese funding is the lifeline for India’s bustling and vibrant start-up industry.

Chinese venture capitalists and private equity investors have invested huge amounts in India’s tech start-ups. And one could argue that without their funding, India’s start-up sector could lose much of its buoyancy. US investors who earlier dominated India’s start-up funding have been eclipsed by Chinese funders. According to GlobalData, an analytics firm, Chinese investments in Indian start-ups increased 12 times since 2016 to $4.6 billion. Eleven of the 30 Indian unicorns (start-up firms with a valuation of $1 billion or higher), at least 15 are funded by Chinese venture capitalists, with two of the biggest funders being China’s Tencent and Alibaba.

Some Indian start-ups that have become household names in India have raised huge amounts from Chinese firms. Paytm, the mobile payment system that has become ubiquitous in India, particularly after the government resorted to demonetisation of large currency notes, has raised $3.5 billion; Flipkart, India’s challenge to e-tailing giant Amazon has raised $7.7 billion; food delivery major Swiggy got $1.6 billion; and Uber’s Indian rival Ola $3.8 billion. All of their funding coming almost exclusively from Chinese venture capitalists. Between 2016 and 2018, Chinese funds for Indian start-ups grew an eye-popping five-fold.

Much of this has happened because of the potential that Chinese investors see in India. India’s population of 1.3 billion is expected to cross China’s 1.4 billion. Middle-income earners in India who comprise the biggest chunk of consumers are estimated at more than 30% of the total population. Moreover, there have been changes in the global dynamics of manufacturing and supply of products. Tech giants from across the world have been steadily shifting their manufacturing bases to emerging markets and India is a prime destination for them. This trend has a multiplier effect, spawning new start-up ancillaries and other firms in India, all of which need funding, which has translated into opportunities for Chinese venture capitalists and private equity investors.

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Some Chinese investors appraise the Indian market as China was some years ago when the mobile access to internet began taking off. There are other similarities with China—the size of the market and the willingness of Indian consumers to quickly adopt new apps for convenience or recreation when they are launched. Chinese investors not only have a deeper understanding of the Indian market (because it is not unlike China’s) but they are also funds-rich.

The recent ban on Chinese apps is likely, of course, to have an impact. Both on users as well as app makers who are set to lose what is probably their biggest market with the promise of a huge potential. But what could happen if India follows it up with a decision to curb or restrict Chinese investment in Indian companies? In April this year, the Indian government amended its foreign direct investment (FDI) policy by stipulating that any country that shares a border with India cannot any longer take recourse to the automatic route for FDI but has to take government permission before investing in Indian firms. Besides China, India shares borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Myanmar, and Bhutan, but those latter countries account for negligible amounts of investment in India.

The new policy, therefore, is presumably aimed at a closer scrutiny of China’s investments in India. This could hit India’s start-up industry hard. Some start-ups, such as the popular food delivery major, Zomato, are already witnessing a slowdown in investments that were slated to come from Chinese funds. It is early days still because the policy has just been implemented but by all reckoning, it will have an adverse effect on Indian firms whose business models pin their hopes on easy funding from Chinese investors.

What exacerbates the situation is India’s large trade deficit with China—in 2019 it was $57 billion. India imports a vast range of products from China. Much of it is capital goods such as telecom equipment, power plants, railway coaches, value-added iron and steel items; electronic and household durables such as air conditioners, washing machines, refrigerators and so on; as well as mobile phone components, chemicals, auto components, and pharmaceuticals.

If the tensions at the Sino-Indian border spills over to the economic front, there could be a bigger impact on the Indian economy. Banning apps is just the tip of the looming iceberg below. If Indian firms’ funding is affected, India’s burgeoning start-up industry would suffer. If India resorts to trade restrictions in the form of import sanctions, it is conceivable that the economy could be hit hard. In both countries’ interests it is, therefore, prudent to dial down the tensions at the borders they share and foster greater economic ties instead.

Galwan Gaffe Fails To Dent Brand Modi

An-all party meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week was essentially aimed at forging a national consensus on the government’s China policy but it instead resulted in a raging controversy which has emboldened the opposition and embarrassed the ruling dispensation.

Already on the warpath, the Congress got fresh ammunition to attack the Prime Minister personally when he told the all-party meeting that there had been no incursion into Indian territory by the Chinese and no Indian post had been captured. 

Modi’s categorical statement expectedly drew a sharp reaction from former Congress president Rahul Gandhi who has been in attack mode ever since 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives in a violent confrontation between the Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. Accusing the Prime Minister of “surrendering Indian territory to Chinese aggression”, the Nehru-Gandhi scion asked the government to explain that if the land was Chinese, “Why were our soldiers killed and where were they killed?”  Former home minister P.Chidambaram also released a statement punching holes in the Prime Minister’s claim on the Ladakh developments. 

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Unlike other opposition leaders, whose response to the India-China clash has been muted, Rahul Gandhi has upped the ante to put the government, and more specifically the Prime Minister, on the mat, for “sleeping” on the wheel. He began by questioning Modi’s silence on the death of the jawans, went on to charge that the Modi government had been in denial about the Chinese incursions and then asked why the Indian soldiers were unarmed. 

Congress president Sonia Gandhi also did her bit in cornering the government when she unexpectedly asked tough questions about the chronology of the Chinese incursions and a possible intelligence failure at the all-party meeting convened by Modi. 

Sonia Gandhi’s searching queries on what she described as “many crucial aspects of the crisis” were in line with the Congress party’s considered strategy to buttonhole the Modi government for its lax response to the ongoing build-up of Chinese troops along the LAC which led to a violent clash between the two armies in the Galwan Valley. 

Rahul Gandhi’s tweets have elicited a sharp response from the Union ministers Amit Shah and S.Jaishankar and this war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party and it will only intensify further in the coming days.

Though it is unusual for the Congress to take such a strident position on a matter of national security when all political parties generally put up a united front, the principal opposition party is feeling emboldened to slam the Modi government as it realises that BJP is constrained from waving its usual nationalist flag and resorting to fervid rhetoric in this instance. 

In fact, the Modi government has been extremely restrained in its reaction. Though the Prime Minister has assured the country that the Indian army has the necessary capability to protect its sovereignty and integrity, the overall tenor of his statements has been fairly restrained. But given the growing anger among the people, the government has to be seen to be hitting back at China. So it has decided to cancel major infrastructure contracts awarded to Chinese firms, stop import of Chinese goods and discourage trade ties with China.

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This is in sharp contrast to the Indian response to the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed. This had immediately led to a national outcry for revenge as Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad was said to be responsible for the attack. The Modi government had then ordered a pre-emptive strike conducted by the Indian Air Force in which several terrorists were killed. Modi himself had then raised the pitch and taken personal credit for teaching Pakistan a lesson while the BJP rank and file had touted the Balakot airstrike as the latest example of its nationalistic credentials and Modi’s strong leadership. This retaliatory attack and the BJP’s shrill campaign led to a Hindu consolidation in favour of the saffron party and its impact was there for all to see in the result of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

However, China cannot be bracketed with Pakistan. First, China is more powerful than Pakistan both economically and militarily. And second, it does not serve the BJP’s communal agenda to adopt a belligerent stand against China. Consequently, the BJP’s response to the Congress attack has been confined to remind the opposition party about the defeat suffered by India at the hands of China in 1962 when Nehru was Prime Minister. The party also underlines that India is far more self-assured with Modi at the helm and points to the infrastructure development which has taken place along the border in the last six years.

WATCH: ‘I Will Never Stock Or Sell Chinese Products’

Nevertheless, the Congress unrelenting attack has touched a raw nerve and both the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministry of external affairs have tied themselves in knots explaining Modi’s statement that there had been no intrusion by the Chinese. The government and the party are in constant damage control mode.

But for all the explanations his government has to proffer and the embarrassment it is suffering, Modi’s image as a strong, decisive leader remains intact and his popularity undiminished. The Modi brand has survived a floundering economy, a raging pandemic and the worst migrant crisis in recent months. And it is now all set to sail through the standoff with the Chinese.

The Congress is making a valiant attempt to tarnish Modi’s image but it lacks credibility and an articulate leader to convince the public that Modi has failed to live to their expectations. Eventually, Rahul Gandhi’s persistent attack against the Prime Minister could well be reminiscent of his campaign on the purchase of Rafale aircraft when his slogan “chowkidar chor hai” only ended up strengthening Modi.

China Threat: Raise Defence Budget To 3% Of GDP

The robust and brave faceoff given to China at Galwan will send a strong message that India is able to stand up to China. However, as in 1962, this engagement with China is a wake-up call too and should herald deeper thinking about the current capabilities of India, its defence spending and the need to restart some projects that were suspended.

China’s incursion may have many reasons, but the fact is that the threat remains real. China’s words of peaceful coexistence cannot be taken at face value. India needs to increase its defence budget from 1.8% GDP to 3%. More importantly, the matter can no longer be left exclusively to the diplomats. This is a Defence Ministry issue now.

Despite the media columns and statements by some politicians, the powerful  challenge given by India to what amounts to almost an ambush, showed courage, determination and the ability to see off China.

The current ongoing Sino-Indian standoff since the last five weeks peaked in the bloody violent action in the Galwan Sector on night 15/16 June 20 at Patrol Point 14 resulting in death of a Commanding Officer and 19 soldiers on Indian side and around 40 soldiers on the Chinese side. The scuffle took place and continued till mid night in around three phases, when the Indian commander approached the Chinese troops around dusk time to exhort them to pull back their troops in conformation to the decisions taken at the Corps Commander level meeting on 06 June 20.

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This may be the tip of the iceberg as far as Chinese strategic goals along the Line of Control (LAC) are concerned. The escalation has also thrown the Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 between China and India to the winds. Chinese soldiers had come physically prepared to up the ante – short of opening fire by small arms.

The June 6 meeting was headed from the Indian side by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, 14 Corps Commander, an outstanding suave officer who has effectively handled sensitive situations in United Nations peacekeeping as a Brigade Commander. The Chinese delegation was headed by Maj Gen Liu Lin. A series of talks at various levels are on, after the violent incident of 15 June resulting in death of around 60 soldiers on both sides. The Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has also spoken to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on 17 June 20. It is in the interest of both China and India to de-escalate the situation and resort to high level peace talks. These fatal casualties have taken place on the LAC after a gap of 45 years.

However, the standoff this time has been different from the previous ones including the Doklam standoff in 2017 in terms of force levels used and the areas addressed. The Chinese in a diversionary action, probably to test the waters, crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in North Sikkim at Naku La on 05 May 20 and Fingers 4 West of Pangong Tso Lake. There were violent actions between the two sides but there were no fatal casualties.

One week later they came into Eastern Ladakh at four carefully selected sectors in Galwan, Hot Springs, Demchok and Fingers Area. India built an axis from Darbuk to Daulat Beg Oldie via Galwan, Gobra Post and Demchok to support the Sub Sector North last year. This axis enables the Indians to cover a distance that was being covered in two days, just in six hours. The axis was very close to the Karokaram Pass and touched the sensitivities of the Chinese as it is part of the BRI and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As the road axis passes through the Shyok and Galwan Valleys, the Chinese have crossed the LAC from the North and North East and occupied higher reaches along the axis in order to be able to interdict any movement along the axis. China has also stoked trouble for India by enticing Pakistan and Nepal in their favour.

A large number of reasons can be attributed to the ongoing standoff. There are voices of dissent within China pointing at the manner in which the COVID- 19 was handled by President Xi Jinping. Some writers even stuck their neck out to suggest that he takes the responsibility of mass scale deaths and steps down. It is felt that the recent intrusions in Ladakh and Sikkim were undertaken to divert the attention and galvanise the domestic public opinion against India.

Another reason speculated is that since US has asked WHO to carry out an honest investigation on the origin of Corona virus and India has just taken up the leadership of WHO for the next two years, China wanted to pressurise India to play ball and not go too Thoroughly into the issue to blame China for the spread of COVI-19.

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Abrogation of Article 370 and converting Ladakh into a Union territory by the Indian Government has also been objected by the Chinese as they feel New Delhi will now control this contested region directly.

Where does the violent action of 15/16 June lead to the already building tension in the sub-continent? India has political, diplomatic, economic and military options which can be grouped into the long and short term options. It is accepted fact that Indian Army has stood its ground and has challenged and checked the ongoing incursions from the Chinese side.

The protocols and methods of patrolling and domination of the LAC are very unconventional and un-military like. The Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 states that neither sides will fire, cause explosions or bio-degrade the area along the LAC. The deployment of regular troops will remain in deeper territories of each but patrols can be sent from both sides to dominate their side of the LAC. There are varying perceptions of the LAC on both sides and at times the difference may be upto ten to fifteen kilometres. Whereas these protocols were sufficient to diffuse the situation in the past; use of caveman like sharp tools as weapons, to cause fatal casualties, has been resorted to for the first time.

First at the diplomatic and military levels, the rules of engagement need to be refined. Two nuclear powered professional armies cannot continue to use cave man tactics to enforce their will on each other. During peacetime, border management is the responsibility of ITBP under the Ministry of Home (MHA) and the regular troops only do periodic patrolling at the LAC. During hot war, the Army formations are tasked to move to the forward defences and the operations are controlled by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The peace talks are generally steered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This complex and multi ministry control needs to go; and operations must be controlled by MOD. The MOD needs to be in control of the situation now.

The short term Military options include staying put at the forward positions and creating habitat, infrastructure and logistic bases for the forward troops prior to setting in of winters.

Importantly the raising of the Mountain Strike Corps that was to be completed in eight years, but was put on the back burner by the present Govt, must be completed within two financial years.

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The Armed Forces need to deploy drones, long range radars and aerial reconnaissance to dominate the LAC. We cannot patrol a threat simply with binoculars

For the long term measures, Defence Budget needs to be enhance from 1.8 percent of the GDP to 3.0 percent for the next two five year plans. As in 1962, India needs to wake up to the threat. It is real and could escalate over the years as China tries to assert its power.

Procurements as per the Joint Long Term Perspective Plan for all three services needs to be stepped up for capacity building. While indigenous production should be encouraged, Transfer Of Technology (TOT) must be included in all big ticket acquisitions of aircrafts, ships, guns and anti-aircraft systems.

The infantry has been neglected for a long time as the infantry acquisitions are not considered big ticket procurements. It is high time to equip the ground soldier with a lighter and more effective weapon system and equipment.

Resource integration must be ensured in utilisation of all intelligence resources of the country as was practised during the Surgical Strikes after Uri incident and at Balakot after the Pulwama incident.

Diplomatically, we need to steer international opinion against China as the aggressor. The Quad including US,Japan, Australia and India, must carryout greater number of Joint Exercise and enhance interoperability of their armed forces. Armed forces of Taiwan and South Korea should also be included in these exercise to isolate China regionally and internationally.

India needs to revisit it’s No First Use (NFU) Nuclear Policy and make it clear like its adversaries that it retains the right of first use of tactical nuclear weapons on the lines of its adversaries and we must stabilise our Triad capability of delivering these weapons by air, sea and land.

Our successful missile technology should be further enhanced for over 95 percent accuracy at long ranges. The bottom line is that any emerging economy can only prosper when its defence forces are strong and they have adequate dissuasive and deterrent capabilities to check mate its adversaries.

India must take a leaf from China’s book to enhance its comprehensive national power in a peaceful manner without any fanfare. China kept on growing peacefully for nearly forty years before taking an aggressive posture in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and land borders with India and Bhutan two years back. Hopefully, China has learnt from the stiff resistance given at Galwan and understood that India is no push over and is a regional power to coexist with rather than mess with.

Will Chinese Attacks Attract International Attention?

Tensions between India and China at the Line of Actual Control have reached a height not seen for 43 years.  Both have been engaged in a military standoff at multiple locations, for over a month now at India’s northern border with a sudden escalation in the Galwan Valley region on 16th June 2020 resulting in death of some 20 Indian soldiers.

The situation has reached this level as a result of Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual (LAC), which is how the border is known pending resolution of boundary and territorial disputes between the two countries. The situation also is a result of a complicated and mistrustful relationship as they have not been able to agree on the definition and delimitation of the boundary over the last 60 years or so.

The demarcation of the boundary on the ground and its administration are subsequent stages in the boundary making process. Chinese incursions into India’s territory or into territory which India deems extremely strategic to control have become more frequent over the last decade or so. The Chinese military activity has been mounted at a time when in India the CoVID19 virus infections are reaching peak numbers.

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Such incursions leading to military constructions and installations are reminiscent of similar Chinese tactics of gradual expansion of the Exclusive Economic Zone and territorial annexation in the South China Sea (SCS). The international community has responded to the Chinese maneuvers in SCS with statements of support for the affected parties. United States (US), the foremost military power in the world and present in the region since WW II has responded with increased reconnaissance and military cooperation to deter the Chinese.

In regard to Chinese attitude and belligerence over land boundaries, however, there have hardly been any voices of concern being raised by the international community. Donald Trump’s offer to PM Modi to mediate between the two sides should only be construed as only an offer of mediation, not anything more. This offer, however, does impact the geopolitical dynamics in the South Asian neighbourhood and larger Southern Asia, where China has important economic stakes and leverage.

At the same time, Trump’s offer will have zero effect on the current negotiations on the LAC between India and China. India has responded to the US President’s call with maturity and poise and signaled with intent to Beijing that the matter should be resolved bilaterally. Perhaps, this is one more of many hints to China that India is willing and able to withstand an aggressive China where its sovereign territoriality is threatened.

Such actions are consistent with India’s refusal to be a part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India did not join the BRI because of its apprehensions over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through the disputed territory of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Aksai Chin where Indian and Chinese forces face each other in the current standoff has a boundary with PoK.

Further, the revocation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir and subsequent reorganization of the state into two Union Territories has not gone down well with either Pakistan or China. The LAC forms a boundary between India and China in Ladakh, so the Chinese protested in August 2019, citing that India has unilaterally altered the status quo in an area which is disputed.

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Last week, the Chinese embassy in Pakistan issued a statement indicating that Chinese actions at the LAC are related to both the repeal of Article 370 as well as the creation of transport infrastructure by India and they impact the ground situation at the LAC. New Delhi’s response on revocation of Article 370 has been very categorical, that India can carry out any activity on Indian soil and does not expect its neighbours to meddle in its internal matters.

The international response, or approach to such Chinese ingress remains to be seen as the frequency of incursions into Indian territory increases and China gradually starts to claim thin slivers of territory which are otherwise disputed. Realistically any statements in support of the Indian standpoint, from the international community, however, will be determined by the simple fact of Chinese economic and financial clout in the international system.

But there is another reason on why the international community may be reluctant to throw its weight in the issue. The international community has been vocal about the issues in SCS because the disputing parties have approached the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) and have referred to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea III. In the case of territorial disputes India has consistently maintained the principle of bilateral negotiations and hence cannot expect overt support and help.

Direct support to Indian stance could have been expected from its smaller South Asian neighbours, but they too seem to have been weighed down by the impact of Chinese investments, trade and the generous lines of credit. Nepal has gone one step further as it has included hitherto disputed territory with India on its western expanse in its official map, through legislation in parliament. It is argued in policy circles, that this has been done with Chinese collusion.

Given all this therefore, it is not for the first time that the much touted ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy of PM Modi looks under strain. India, however, should persevere to deepen ties with its immediate neighbours and make most of the recent dip in Chinese reputation on account of the origin of CoVID19 and its aftermath. This can be achieved by astute diplomacy and apprising the international community of the Chinese belligerence in the region.

No doubt the experts at South Block will be engaging all their skills and intellect to  outmanoeuvre China and reclaim its premier status in the South Asian region as well as fend off Chinese adventures.