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India-China border face-off: Talks will continue but military pushback also on Delhi’s table

REPORT-1-ENG-30-06-2020-India

There is a growing consensus in the highest echelons of the government that while talks with China will – and should – continue, the country should be ready and prepared for a “military response” as and when it’s needed.

In fact, the specific words, “clash” and “fight” (takrav, ladai) have cropped up in discussions in the top leadership on the ongoing standoff with Chinese forces along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, highly placed sources told The Indian Express.

“We do not want an escalation but we will not compromise by yielding to China,” said a top official who is closely involved in these discussions. “We are not going to step back, we will take them on.”

Asked if the Government had worked out the implications of a military conflict given the number of variables and unknowns that this could entail, he said: “The view in the Government is that if you start thinking of consequences, you will not be able to move forward.”

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One key reason behind this resolve, the official said, is that the Chinese response after the killing of 20 Indian soldiers has not inspired any confidence that Beijing is looking at lowering the temperature. In fact, there is deep disquiet over the shrillness of its rhetoric.

“They killed our soldiers and while we don’t expect any word of condolence or remorse, telling India to hold its soldiers accountable and underlining that the onus to find a way out is not China’s are clear signs of their intention,” said the official.

 “They are not acting even on what they are saying they will,” said the source about assurances made during military talks. “Their only response so far has been that India is at fault, that India is to blame for the build-up.”

Sources said that it was as early as end of April, that the first reports about the Chinese build-up reached Delhi. Promptly, instructions went out to enhance patrolling and recce missions. “This was subsequently revised to match the build-up as a response to the gradual amassing of troops by the Chinese side. We shared this with the all-party meeting on June 19,” said the official.

The MEA, too, has been categorical in stressing that it was the Chinese which started the build-up in violation of the mutual understanding between both sides.

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Asked about the meaning of the Prime Minister’s “no-intruder” remark, the official avoided a direct response. “That statement should be read with all official statements that preceded it and that followed it,” he said. Officials said that despite questions being raised over the PM’s remarks, there has been no dialling down of India’s stand on any of the issues involved.

On the economic aspect of the bilateral relationship given the ubiquitous role of China in supply chains which could make de-coupling a challenge, another top official who has been advising the Government on trade matters, said: “It is not easy to switch on and switch off. But the India growth story cannot be predicated on a relationship with China that is plagued by deep trust deficit. There is a strong national mood against it.” At the same time, he said, any reflexive action that hurts India’s economic interests should be avoided.

That’s why, the official said, India has no option but to step up its diplomatic and military pressure.

“Nobody wins a war these days and India in 2020 isn’t India in 1962. It has much stronger global alliances and we will need to leverage that. In line with its behaviour in the entire region, China wants to create fear and establish itself as a superpower,” said the official. “They need to understand that there will be a determined pushback.