As the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) locked horns at eastern Ladakh, with both sides accusing each other of provocation and encroachment, the Indian press has gone gaga over the possibility of a military conflict to sensationalise this standoff. Whether the India-China military standoff in eastern Ladakh will result in a military conflict is what the so-called military experts are debating on TV, while the Indian Army Chief MM Naravane had to rush to the 14th Corps’ headquarters in Leh, the regional capital, before reaching New Delhi’s South Block for a three-day-long conference of top commanders to discuss the issue, fuelling speculations about the depth of the conflict and raised doubts about New Delhi’s intentions.
This standoff at Galwan Valley and Shyok rivers, the Hot Springs area and the Pangong Tso lake, near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the Indian Army and the PLA, is the third instance of confrontation between the two nuclear-power neighbours in a month. Earlier on May 5th, Indian soldiers and PLA troops brawled and engaged in a fistfight at Panglong Tso lake. After that, there was a similar skirmish in Sikkim’s Naku La pass, where around a dozen soldiers from both sides suffered “minor” injuries after fist-fight and jostling. In both cases, the situation was de-escalated through meetings between both sides.
Now, Indian press alleges that the PLA has allegedly entered 4-5km inside the Indian territory near the Pangong Tso lake, dug trenches and built bunkers. But a few pro-government television channels and yellow journalists have been claiming that there is no real India-China military standoff in eastern Ladakh, rather the PLA is constructing bunkers in the Chinese territory. The PLA has been opposing the construction of a road by the Indian Army to Daulat Beg Oldi, the world’s highest airstrip where a Sino-Indian standoff took place in 2013. The road construction was completed last year. This road, which runs along the Shyok river to the west of the PLA positions in the Galwan Valley, gives an extreme advantage to India in troop movements.
China accused India of constructing illegal military structures in the Galwan Valley. China’s Global Times wrote: “Unlike previous standoffs, the latest border friction was not caused by accident, but was a planned move of New Delhi. India has been clearly and definitely aware that the Galwan Valley region is Chinese territory. But according to media reports, since early May, India has been crossing the boundary line into the Galwan Valley region and entering Chinese territory.” The Chinese had earlier run over the Galwan Valley in the 1962 Sino-Indian war but returned the territory later to India without claiming it. However, this is the first time that Beijing called Galwan Valley “Chinese territory”.
According to an India-China agreement, signed on November 29th 1996, both India and China can’t use firepower or artillery against each other or even stock them at the LAC. The restraint clause in this treaty prevents usage of firearms in the border skirmishes, resulting in fistfights and jostling whenever there is an escalation of tension. Adherence to this treaty somehow reduced the conflicts. But the present standoff is worrying because, despite the Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi, Sun Weidong, stressing on resolving differences through dialogue and communication, some warmongers are fanning jingoism and xenophobia.
The warmonger supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been demanding an all-out war with China for a long time. At a time when his BJP-led Union government is failing to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, Modi may be capitalising this India-China military standoff in eastern Ladakh to distract the people’s attention and titillate his Hindutva-incensed so-called nationalist voters. It’s a reason that Modi, rather than starting a diplomatic effort to resolve this impasse, met Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Bipin Rawat and National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval to discuss options. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also met Naravane and other top military bosses to spread a jingoistic narrative for the feral BJP supporters in India. It’s not known whether the CDS and the NSA have advised anything adventurist to the Modi regime.
India has been hitherto partnering with the US in militarily encircling and choking China. Their objective is to force Beijing to capitulate so that its attempts to get an upper hand in the global finance capitalist system can be neutralised. The recent skirmishes at the Indo-China border have started after the US forced New Delhi to escalate tension. Washington is also fuelling tension in Hong Kong, an autonomous region of China, to trap Beijing in long-drawn internal and external conflicts that will drain its resources. The Chinese have been reluctant to sternly deal with the threats posed by the US because of Beijing’s complicities in the global finance capital web and its leadership’s love for capitalism.
US President Donald Trump is harping upon sheer anti-China rhetoric to enthral his white-supremacist American voters for his re-election later this year. He is also attempting to cover-up his fascist regime’s ignominious failure in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic due to a broken public health system – despite enjoying a military superpower status – by blaming China for the virus. The Modi regime and the Hindutva fascist BJP are also in a quagmire as the COVID-19 menace and the subsequent lockdown have rolled out an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in India, as millions of “migrant workers” had to walk hundreds of miles to escape their imminent death in the cities, and, in the process, many of them died tragically on the streets or in the trains, often due to hunger and thirst.
India, which is borrowing trillions of rupees from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to run government expenses and bail-out large corporate houses, can’t afford to fight a costly war with China at present. The US will be in no real position to offer its imperialist help to India, as it’s already bleeding blue due to the COVID-19 crisis and even a rudimentary force like the Taliban, defeated its armed forces in Afghanistan after an 18-year-long battle. It’s one of the reasons that Trump, who would be China-bashing all day, suggested mediation between India and China on the standoff.
Thus, the ruling classes won’t entangle in a war; which means the India-China military standoff in eastern Ladakh doesn’t show signs of transforming into a full-blown war, but even if a small-scale conflict takes place between these two nuclear powers, it will have severe negative impacts for peace in South Asia. The best thing for Beijing and New Delhi is to avoid all provocations and use communication tools to scale down the tension. At the period of the utmost economic crisis, war can’t provide political insurance to the Modi regime. A war can’t even insulate it from the public anger over inflation, unemployment, deaths and destruction. It’s better to invest in peace.