Now that China’s three-week-long ‘tent-offensive’ is finally over, credit must be given where it’s due. Despite the din and noise from all quarters of Indian media and political opposition, the UPA government has done a commendable job by ‘solving’ the border crisis, even though there has been enough incitement from the at times belligerent neighbour to indulge in some continental bullying and pushing around. What caused the Chinese to set up tents inside Ladakh and provoke India into a possible confrontation might remain in the dark for a while, but the fact that Indian government preferred discretion to military or rhetorical adventurism is a big relief. Notwithstanding all the unsolicited suggestions (more often than not, from certain rabidly hostile sections of the media) to the government to stop being a ‘soft state’ and exercise its new-found muscle as a rising global power, it did India, as well as China, much good to not pay attention to unsound hate-mongering and instead opt for better channels of aggressive diplomacy.
Of course, China too, for its part, understands that 2013 is no 1962, and India has enough military and financial clout to pull off a successful counterattack, particularly with the help of its new ‘best friend’, the USA. In addition, China has not lost sight of the enormous consequences of a prolonged diplomatic or armed standoff with India, as they are big trading partners and have a humongous economic stake with each other. India’s annual import bill from China is well over half a trillion dollars, almost 12 per cent of the country overall import. In addition, the duo have business partnerships that are already giving the Americans a run for their money.
China, ideally, will not be naïve enough to bite the hand that promises continuous flow of capital as a gigantic market to bolster their export sector. In case, a diplomatic standoff results in a trade embargo with China, both the countries will have much to lose. However, that does not mean that China has not been looking at upping its geostrategic ante and trying to gain points over territorial control. Several Sino-Indian experts have pointed out that China needs Ladakh’s Aksai Chin area to connect Tibet with Xinjiang, while India needs to retain absolute hold on Arunachal Pradesh in order to safeguard its resource-rich, but restive northeastern region. In case, India and China agree to ‘exchange’ territorial hold over these regions, longstanding peace might be established. Further, it is time for India and China to engage in roundtables and formalise the Line of Actual Control, which is still notional, thus creating ever more mutual misunderstandings diplomatic nightmares. Because harmony is conducive to the economic growth of both the Asian giants, we must tread carefully and stop ourselves from engaging in warmongering, both rhetorical and otherwise. Notwithstanding, Salman Khurshid’s rather imaginative comment calling the Depsang crisis an ‘acne on a beautiful face,’ we must not advocate either cosmetic appeasement or ribald antagonism.