India has to dig in for the long haul

India’s strong objection to the recent airspace violations and breach of confidence-building measures by China, raised during a special round of military talks last week, makes a fair summation of Beijing’s disinterest in cooling off tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The heightened Chinese air activity in east Ladakh, with fighters and drones flying close to contested areas in violation of the 10-km no-fly zone agreement despite concerns being flagged, underscores its intention to keep the pot boiling. In response to what China claims is an air defence exercise, the Indian Air Force has moved several of its advanced fighters to forward bases and stepped up combat sorties, asserting both the preparedness and readiness for counter measures. The deployment of artificial intelligence-based surveillance systems by the Indian Army is proof of the resolve.

There is a school of thought that links the LAC provocations to Xi Jinping’s playbook of whipping up nationalist sentiments to tide over the challenges at home and distract the disgruntled public. Another assessment is that by making destabilisation the new normal, Beijing aims to keep a rising India under check without letting the border standoff develop into a full-blown crisis. Either way, India’s desire to de-escalate and disengage does not seem to fit in its framework.

China’s adversarial impulses should only fortify India’s resolve to stand firm and dig in for the long haul, using all leverages at its disposal. A beginning was made through the ban on apps, even as Chinese investments have come under intense scrutiny. A soft decoupling from the Chinese economy would require a concerted long-term plan, while some basic shortcomings need to be tackled in the mission mode, be it infrastructure development along the borders or technological upgrade. Ascendancy as a manufacturing hub would be the ultimate counter to China’s belligerence. A mighty challenge, but that ought to be the goal.

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