India to continue border activities in Ladakh as standoff with China heads for long haul
As Indian and Chinese troops remain locked in stand-off positions in several points in Ladakh, at the senior levels of government there is a determination that India will not stop its border development activities. While reinforcements in men and material are being rushed to the forward positions where soldiers from both sides have pitched tents and dug in, it appears that India is also prepared for a long stand-off.
Diplomatic contacts and ground level military contacts continue, but there is no resolution till date. The Indian government made its only statement putting the responsibility for the stand-off squarely at the door of the Chinese system, but kept it to the foreign ministry spokesperson, which is the level the Chinese are responding at.
On Sunday, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi did not mention India even once during his long annual press conference in Beijing. In New Delhi, no comments have been forthcoming from the political leadership. With the Chinese National Peoples’ Congress having started off in Beijing from Friday, there is unlikely to the any meaningful dialogue between the two sides until this ends.
On the ground, the stand-off at Galwan is connected to Indian construction activities, which includes building a road from Dharchuk via Shyok to Daulat Beg Oldie which is now a revamped advance landing ground (ALG), literally the highest airstrip in the world, where India can land C-130 J aircraft, giving a huge boost to its strategic airlift capability. It is this road which gives India access to the Karakoram Highway, is what the Chinese are objecting to. The road was completed in 2019.
Indian security sources say India should be prepared for more turbulence with China on the border. This is because, as a “second mover” India is playing catch-up to China’s own impressive border development works. In the past four years, India has stepped on the gas on border roads and landing strips, all along the LAC. That is bringing Indian troops straight up to the LAC faster and easier than before, enabling India to more frequently challenge Chinese aggressive border patrolling. Mirroring their deployment and behaviour, there has, on occasion, been Indian aggressiveness in response. This is inevitably leading to more face-offs.
The current crisis, which burst in the first week of May, initially looked like the normal early summer jostling on the LAC where both sides try to patrol on their respective perceptions of the LAC, which has well documented points of dispute. For India, the Galwan intrusion was new, but they are equally concerned at the Chinese intrusions on the north bank of the Pangong Tso. China was unpleasantly surprised at the fisticuffs between officers at a point in Sikkim on May 9.
The crisis is both like and unlike Doklam. This is happening on familiar territory, which periodically sees skirmishes, unlike Doklam which was in Bhutanese territory. However, like Doklam, here too, the verbal aggression is coming from Beijing, both through their foreign ministry as well as through their official media like Global Times. New Delhi, like in 2017, has remained quiet. This, according to sources, will continue.