Exit the Dragon?

Image credits: Reuters

India-China agreement on Pangong Tso may have temporarily halted the LOC-ization of the LAC

AS India and China withdraw from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso lake, both sides have stayed short of claiming victory. The defence minister Rajnath Singh made a restrained statement in parliament on the Pangong Tso agreement. He said that “both sides will cease their forward deployments in a phased, coordinated and verified manner”. Similarly, the newspaper Global Times that articulates Chinese government policy has been measured and factual in its analyses of the development. The paper’s editorials normally adopt a belligerent and taunting tone towards India.

On closer look, the agreement is a win-win situation for both the countries. In the words of the defence minister they have agreed, “to have a temporary moratorium on military activities by both sides in the North Bank, including patrolling to the traditional areas”. Patrolling is to be resumed “only when both sides reach an agreement in diplomatic and military talks”. So, the agreement, as of now, hasn’t entirely delivered the status quo ante as sought by New Delhi, but it is more or less closer to that. In New Delhi’s view, the little give and take in the agreement will be worth it, as the outcome has helped calm one of the four friction points along the Line of Actual Control. The two countries had stationed their battle tanks and armoured vehicles within the firing distance at Pangong Tso. This always had the potential to trigger a bigger confrontation.

That said, the neighbours still have three friction points at Depsang, Gogra and Hot Springs to sort out. And it can be hoped that a sustained engagement at the military and diplomatic level will lead to a mutually acceptable solution in these areas too. It will, however, be interesting to see if the status quo ante will be restored. And should that happen it will not only make LAC normal again but also further boost the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image at home. So, the Chinese incursions will eventually have achieved the opposite effect.

At the same time, the restoration of the status quo ante will also raise questions about the point of Chinese incursions and what the communist giant had set out to achieve. Things on this score will be clear in the weeks and months ahead. As things stand, the situation along the LAC looks set to normalise again. The LOC-ization of the LAC that was expected to happen as a result of the year-long stand-off seems unlikely to play out. There are huge geo-political stakes for both the countries that can’t be ignored. A lingering state of confrontation between the two will not be in the interest of either. More so for India which would not want a 3800 km border with China become an extension of LOC with Pakistan. India has to do a tough balancing act between its thickening relationship with the US and that with China. Truth is China’s rise on the global stage has become a reality.

For the world, China’s emergence as a global power is a fraught prospect with far reaching implications for the way international business is conducted. More so, when China brings to the table an alternative system: a communist capitalism versus west’s capitalist capitalism. What makes this global shift imminent is that Beijing is already rewriting the rules of the game and with each passing day advancing to seize what it sees as the Chinese century.

In South Asia which has been the fulcrum of the global powerplay for centuries, this emergence of a super power in the immediate neighborhood has far reaching repercussions. China’s widening strategic sphere of influence threatens to turn the region into a heady arena for yet another cold war: this time between US and China. There are also serious differences of opinion on this score. There are many who would rather argue that China is not the only country that is taking on the global role. It is being followed by India -albeit still way behind in terms of its economic and military clout. And Russia despite its dramatic exit as a global power in the early nineties, continues to be in the reckoning. More so, with its leftover huge stockpile of nuclear weapons.

But China, nevertheless, with its frenetically paced economic growth defying even the pandemic induced recession, is emerging as the true contender for the global number two with a potential to overtake even the number one power. The coming two decades will be crucial in this regard. However, the prospect of this great change has already put the world in a transition syndrome. One can already sense an incipient unraveling of the uni-polar world which the US had begun to build after defeating its rival USSR two decades ago. Now, Washington again faces the competition which looks set to get more intense in years to come. And for now, the centre of this competition is South Asia, China’s neighborhood. The dynamics of this equation are already playing out across the troubled landscape from Kabul to Colombo. Kashmir is also emerging as a very sensitive spot in this fast changing security scenario. In fact, there are all the indications that Kashmir is once again set to become a pawn in the geo-political game: this time at a regional level with China and India’s rise adding a far larger dimension to the lingering issue.

But as of now, it will be interesting to see how the two countries manage and resolve their conflict in Ladakh, a former part of Jammu and Kashmir. This will hold clues to the future course of not only their relationship but to the South Asian geo-politics.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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