The precise long-term objectives of President Xi Jinping in starting this Himalayan misadventure are a matter of debate. But Xi may have miscalculated New Delhi’s resolve in taking on the mighty Chinese. India has refused to yield to Chinese territorial claims, and quickly matched the PLA’s build-up at the border with massive deployments of its own

India has consistently maintained that its military standoff with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a direct consequence of aggressive and unprovoked moves by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at the border in eastern Ladakh.

Now, a new report by the US has vindicated India’s stance, and indicates that the clash in Galwan Valley in June which led to the death of 20 Indian troops and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers was orchestrated by the Chinese government.

Referring to the “massive physical brawl in the Galwan Valley”, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in its report submitted to the US Congress says, “Some evidence suggested the Chinese government had planned the incident, potentially including the possibility for fatalities. For instance, several weeks prior to the clash, Defence Minister Wei [Fenghe] made his statement encouraging Beijing to ‘use fighting to promote stability’.”

The report describes the ongoing tensions at the LAC as the “most severe border crisis in decades”.

The report also notes that barely two weeks before the Galwan incident, Chinese leaders may have signalled “their intent to escalate tensions”, with an editorial in China’s state-owned newspaper Global Times warning “that India would suffer a ‘devastating blow’ to its trade and economic ties with China if it got ‘involved in the US-China rivalry’”.

There is little room for doubt now that China deliberately triggered this dangerous border crisis even as the world was reeling under the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The precise long-term objectives of President Xi Jinping, who is also the supreme commander of China’s military, in starting this Himalayan misadventure between two of Asia’s most powerful militaries are still a matter of debate. But an analysis of India’s actions and counterpunches, at the military, economic and diplomatic levels, shows that Xi may have miscalculated New Delhi’s resolve in taking on the mighty Chinese.

How India Dug In And Hit Back

India has refused to yield to Chinese territorial claims, and quickly matched the PLA’s build-up at the border with massive deployments of its own, not just in Ladakh but across the entire LAC extending to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Tens of thousands of Indian soldiers, with ample experience in operating at the severe winter conditions and high altitude of the LAC, are proving to be more than a match for their Chinese counterparts.

It’s not just the Indian Army, the country’s Air Force and Navy are also alert to any possibility of further escalation of tensions. India has also undertaken an unprecedented testing spree of state-of-the-art indigenously built missiles, some of which are quickly being deployed near the LAC.

At a tactical level, India struck back in dramatic fashion in August-end, with its special forces, backed by the Army, occupying key strategic features south of Pan­gong lake, including Helmet and Kala Top, which India considers to be within its perception of the LAC.

The swiftness of the Indian military’s move caught China by surprise. What added insult to China’s injury was the revelation that the Indian operation was led by a secretive commando force known as the Special Frontier Force that comprises soldiers recruited specially from the Tibetan refugee community in India.

But India’s response has not merely been at the military level. The Indian government banned scores of Chinese apps and dropped Chinese companies from lucrative infrastructure projects in India. While some observers have argued that this won’t make a big difference given the size of the Chinese economy, the message sent by New Delhi is unmistakable: the era of expansionism is over, and India has zero tolerance for anyone trying to occupy its territory, even if disputed, by forceful means.

India has also bolstered diplomatic channels with Taiwan and is actively considering using the ‘Tibet’ card more prominently. New Delhi is also seeking to strengthen the Quad, the grouping that comprises India, the US, Japan and Australia. All these great powers in the Asia-Pacific are alarmed by China’s behaviour in the region, which has taken an especially menacing turn in 2020.

If Xi Jinping thought that he was sending a message to India to think twice before getting closer to the US, the effect might be the opposite. India is perhaps closest to titling towards the US than it has even been in its independent history. Beijing thought India would cave in under pressure. In reality, India is not only pushing back against Chinese bullying but becoming an integral part of a new security and geopolitical architecture in the Indo-Pacific that is shaping up to combat the Chinese dragon.