India and China are currently involved in a stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. Chinese troops have intruded into India’s side of the LAC and have set up bases. There are reports that around 10,000 Chinese soldiers are inside Indian territory. Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake are the two spots where there is an ongoing tense stand-off.
This clash at the border is among a series of confrontations between India and China in the past few days. Before Ladakh, India and China had confrontations over Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The stand-off has been going on for more than 20 days. It is the longest stand-off between India and China after Doklam, where India confronted China at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction for 73 days in the summer of 2017.
India has also moved its troops to Ladakh at the LAC. India has been firm on not allowing China to alter Indian territory. At the same time India has maintained that its priority is peace and tranquility at the border.
While showing military readiness, India has also taken a number of economic and diplomatic steps to confront China.
On the economic front, China faces several challenges. As a result of COVID-19, supply chains in China have been disrupted. This has led to a number of companies considering shifting their operations out of China. Should that happen it will impact China’s economy adversely. India is one of the most favored destinations for companies moving out of China, and New Delhi is making efforts to lure such companies to set up their operations in India.
Further, in April India made changes to its Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy. As per the new rules any country that shares a land border with India must get permission from the central government before investing in India. These countries cannot invest directly in India. This decision was taken to prevent opportunistic investments from bordering countries, more specifically China, and prevent the hostile takeover of Indian companies by Chinese investors. Over the past few years, China’s investments in India have increased. China has invested heavily, for example, in start-ups in India.
The new Indian FDI rules and the prospect of businesses moving to India from China will have a long term adverse impact on China’s economy.
India has also responded diplomatically to China’s aggression. On May 20, Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in as Taiwan’s president for a second term. Two members of India’s ruling BJP virtually attended the swearing-in ceremony. The two also sent congratulatory messages. This action was a departure from the past. In 2016, India contemplated sending MPs to Taiwan when Tsai was sworn in for the first time, but at that time, the trip was put off. India does not have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan. From that angle India’s stand becomes important since it could be perceived as tacit support to Taiwan and its government.
Similarly, India has spoken against China’s assertions in the South China Sea. Parallel to the conflict at the LAC, China has continued with its expansion in the South China Sea. India raising concerns about China’s activities in the South China Sea is also a departure from the past. India has always advocated a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based order but has never directly targeted China for its strategic assertions in South China Sea. In fact, India has traditionally been against singling out a particular country in the issue. India has maintained that the interests of all the powers in the region should be protected. But now India has directly called out China and lent support to the Southeast Asian countries that have territorial disputes with China.
China has been under the microscope since the outbreak of COVID-19. China’s role in the initial outbreak and its efforts to control the spread have been questioned. China’s actions against India and in the South China Sea could be considered attempts to divert attention from its responsibility in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. China is also mounting pressure on Taiwan and Hong Kong, but these actions put China in even more focus.
India, on the other hand, has always tried to protect its own interests while balancing relations with China. Until now India has tried to stay away from the geopolitics of the South China Sea. But India’s recent actions, in the light of China’s aggression in Ladakh, show that India is taking steps toward active participation in geopolitics, including in the South China Sea. At present India has been applying a combination of building up pressure through military presence, economic policies, and diplomatic advances. India needs to keep up and build upon this pressure. China’s aggression in Ladakh is an opportunity for India to clearly define its own role and participate in the security architecture of the Indo-Pacific. India must not miss this opportunity.
Niranjan Marjani is a political analyst and researcher based in Vadodara, India. Follow him on Twitter: @NiranjanMarjani