The Commander of India’s Ladakh based IV Corps, Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, and his Chinese counterpart, Major General Lio Lon, met on the Chinese side of the un-demarcated ‘Line of Actual Control’ in Ladakh, on June 6, amidst escalating border tensions. They inked an agreement for reducing tensions on the Ladakh-China border.
The tensions were stoked by Chinese objections to India’s road construction activities in Eastern Ladakh, across the picturesque Pangong Lake and the adjacent Galway River. China already has good lines of communication on its side of the Line of Control, which presently give it a strategic advantage. The Chinese are, however, primarily concerned at India’s moves to extend these road communications to Daulat Beg Oldie, which is located barely eight kilometers from the Line of Control, bordering China’s sensitive Aksai Chin Region.
Daulat Beg Oldie is located near the sole strategic road link between Tibet and China’s restive, Muslim dominated, Xinjiang Province. The Chinese had earlier taken serious note of Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament on August 5, 2019, asserting: “Kashmir is an integral part of India, there is no doubt over it. When I talk about Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin are included in it.”
The Chinese intrusions in Ladakh across the Galway River and the Pangong Lake caught India by surprise. Attempts to push the Chinese back physically led to injured soldiers on both sides. The Chinese responded, binging in reinforcements from their Western Army. India, in turn, reinforced its already strong presence in Ladakh. The talks between Harinder Singh and Lio Lon cooled frayed tempers, across the Line of Control.
China indicated that it would be pulling out from two sites it occupied in the Galway valley, during these talks.
No assurances were, however, conveyed on positions China had occupied at the Pangong Lake. The two sides will, however, continue the dialogue at the level of field commanders, to secure total Chinese withdrawal. It is, however, unlikely that the Chinese will leave their positions on the Pangong Lake, anytime soon.
While India has reacted in a positive manner to the de-escalation, what is the impression the Chinese are conveying to the world on these developments? The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, the Global Times, noted that some “observers” felt the stand-off between India and China is de-escalating. It, however, patronizingly “advised” India, to pay more attention to domestic issues like the coronavirus challenge and locust attacks, as being essential for its “stagnated economy.”
The Global Times also took a swipe at India’s “contracting economy”. It then threateningly and indeed arrogantly added, that if India chose to confront China, to get closer to the US: “China will not hesitate to protect its own interests, whether political or economic. And the cost of losing China’s friendship will be too high for India to bear.”
China is quite obviously in a hurry to proclaim that the US is under pressure from huge losses in human and financial terms, from the coronavirus damage. This, the Chinese establishment appears to believe, has cleared the way for Xi Jinping to soon assume world leadership. The Chinese, however, do not seem to realize that their brash and arrogant behavior has had a damaging impact across the world.
They have antagonized virtually all their maritime neighbors from South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, to Vietnam and Indonesia, by illegal seizure of islands, through coercive use of force.
This, despite the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas ruling that China’s maritime territorial claims are in violation of international law. Moreover, countries across Africa and Central Asia now realize that the terms and conditionalities for so-called Chinese “aid” are exploitative.
Some countries are even being compelled to hand over properties and lands, to repay Chinese loans. Despite their distaste for President Trump, many European countries see merit in challenging Chinese economic expansion in crucial areas like 5G technology. China is set to face serious hurdles in its efforts to make Huawei the world’s centerpiece, for global communications.
Dominance in electronics
Given the less than subtle Chinese threats against it, India has to review and reduce its current economic dependence on China. The most crucial, strategic sector that China makes huge money in India, is electronics. Four Chinese companies dominate the cellphone market in India, with smartphone sales exceeding ₹50,000 crores. The senior management of these companies is exclusively Chinese.
Similarly, while the Chinese electronic giant, Huawei, has 3,000 Indian employees in its so-called Research and Development Centre in Bengaluru, no Indian has any say in controlling, planning, and management in the production process, or in the production of key items like semiconductors and computer chips.
Huawei intends to take over the entire 5G services in India, without sharing or transferring any technology, or designs. There is a need for us to significantly change our policies and insist that Chinese electronic companies operating in India, should draw their higher management staff increasingly from India, providing them growing access to the design, installation, production, and sale processes, at the higher levels. The Chinese can be given two years to comply.
At the same time, we need to build links and partnerships between Indian companies and their counterparts in Taiwan, to expeditiously develop the electronics industry in India, including crucially, semiconductors, and computer chips. India sent a clear signal to China when two senior Members of Parliament participated in the swearing-in of the re-elected and gutsy President of Taiwan, Madame Tsai Ing-Wen. China has little right to object to such gestures to Taiwan, given its large presence and investments in Gilgit-Baltistan and elsewhere in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Moreover, political figures from PoK have been welcomed during official visits to China. India has also made it clear that it will continue undeterred, with road construction in Ladakh.
The US is planning to use Taiwan Superconductor Manufacturing Company, the main chipmaker for Apple Inc, to shift its high-tech manufacturing to Arizona, in order to exclude Huawei from entry into the US. The UK and other European countries could follow suit. The Indian army has done well to enhance its presence in Ladakh. And India has made it clear that it will continue undeterred, with road construction in Ladakh.
Similar determination has to be shown by our officially backing growing Taiwan involvement and investments in our electronics and in other high-tech industries. China could be advised that its investments in such areas would be welcome in India, but on terms radically different from those in the past.
The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan