G Parthasarathy

China won’t vacate Galwan Valley easily

G Parthasarathy | Updated on June 29, 2020

Global pressure is, however, building up through increased US military presence and Asean’s move to adopt UNCLOS

The guns may presently be silent in Ladakh, but tensions still run high. The hand-to-hand combat in the Galwan Valley was brutal, after the Chinese killed Colonel Santosh Babu, Havildar Palani and Sepoy Ojha, in a violent “face-off” on the night on June 22. The fierce Indian response, which came very soon thereafter, shook the Chinese, who predictably do not want the figures of their casualties to be released.

The Chinese appear to better understand now that 2020 is not 1962. China, however, now lays claim to the Galwan Valley and controls the heights of Pangong Tso in Ladakh. The months ahead are going to be tense and uncertain. It remains to be seen if China abides by the assurances it has given on vacating posts in the Galwan Valley, overlooking the strategic road to Daulat Beg Oldie. It had agreed to vacate these posts a day earlier, in high-level meetings between local commanders.

India’s views were made clear in a blunt statement by its envoy in Beijing, Vikram Misri, who is a highly regarded diplomat. Misri warned that “changing the status quo by resorting to force or coercion is not the right way forward.” He added: “The resolution of this issue is quite straightforward from our perspective. The Chinese side needs to stop creating obstruction and hindrances, in the normal patrolling patterns of the Indian troops.”

New Delhi has thus made it clear where it stands. The time has come to ensure the Chinese presence in the Galwan Valley is not used to disrupt India’s vital lines of communication to the airport town of Daulat Beg Oldie, located barely eight kilometres from the border with China. It appears that while India is going to challenge further Chinese ingress across the Galwan Valley, China is going to be firm on what it claims, in the Pangong Tso.

Deployment of US forces

China cannot be pleased with the diplomatic fallout across the world on what has transpired in recent weeks. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched a scathing attack on China on June 25, averring that the US would deploy additional forces in the Indo-Pacific Region in response to growing Chinese threats to India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and across the South China Sea.

Pompeo indicated that he had spoken to his counterparts in the European Union about threats China posed to its “peaceful neighbours like India”. He also alluded to Chinese threats to Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, as also in the South China Sea. China’s maritime threats and disrespect for international laws are evident from its disregard for the maritime frontiers of Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Pompeo’s words have been accompanied by the unprecedented deployment of three US nuclear-powered aircraft-carriers in the region. Responding to periodic Chinese threats to Taiwan, the US flew one of its transport aircraft near Taiwan, which invariably, uses its well-equipped air force to challenge Chinese military aircraft attempting to cross its borders. This has been accompanied by the unprecedented move of three US aircraft-carriers for challenging China’s threats across the shores of the western Pacific.

Asean move

Even more disconcerting for China was the June 27 Resolution, of leaders of Asean member-states, demanding that territorial and other differences in the South China Sea be settled in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

The Asean leaders added: “UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.” China had thus far prevented the issue of such a Resolution, by a policy of “divide and rule”, backed by crude threats to those who disagree with it. China’s “disincentives,” used to stifle opposition, included crude use of maritime military power against countries like Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The primary motive for such crude Chinese behaviour was that the maritime space China was seeking to seize contained 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, issued its ruling on July 12, 2016, on a claim brought under the UNCLOS, against China, by the Philippines. The Court’s ruling was in favour of the Philippines.

While China is a signatory to the treaty, which established the Tribunal, it has refused to accept the Tribunal’s authority. China has behaved in a similar manner in using coercion, while trying to impose its demands on its maritime boundaries with Vietnam and other maritime neighbours like Indonesia, which have offered firm resistance, to China’s coercive moves.

Quad initiative

The recent, though somewhat belated, decision by India, to activate the “Quad,” comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India, now provides a framework to contain China’s expansionist propensities in the Indo-Pacific region. The strategic reach of the Quad will extend from the Western Pacific Ocean to the oil-rich Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.

This gives these four countries the power and potential to cooperate in exposing the dangers posed to recipient countries by participating in China’s Belt and Road Infrastructure projects. The Quad can also display its maritime military potential to close the Straits of Malacca, should the need be felt, through which China receives a large share of its oil imports. The Quad should also develop close ties with like-minded Asean members like Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Within South Asia, India needs to work with Quad partners to ensure that China does not again develop the type of relations it had earlier with the Maldives and Sri Lanka, where it was looking for naval bases.

New Delhi now recognises that its dependence on China for crucial supplies of raw materials and communications equipment has to be progressively reduced. Moreover, there needs to be stricter regulation of the role of Chinese companies in our financial sector. There can also be no role for Huawei in any emerging 5G services in India.

China is seriously concerned about any follow-up inquiry by the WHO into the events and circumstances leading to the emergence coronavirus, from Wuhan. (Indian media organisations would do well to describe the virus as the “Wuhan Virus”.) This issue is set to come up for a detailed discussion at the WHO. China should not be allowed to either delay or obfuscate on this issue. We should, in the meantime, have no doubts that China has no intention of quietly vacating the positions it has occupied in the Galwan Valley or in Pangong Tso, in Ladakh.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

Published on June 29, 2020

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