- GS-2: India and its neighborhood- relations.
- GS-3: Security challenges and their management in border areas
India-China: Lessons from Ladakh Stand-off
Context: After over a year, the stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh shows no signs of resolution. Disengagement has stalled, China continues to reinforce its troops, and talks have been fruitless.
Implications of the border tensions
- More broadly, the India-China bilateral relationship has ruptured. India has made clear that the relationship is conditional on peace on the border.
- Political relations are marked by hostility and distrust.
- Reversing a long-held policy, India will no longer overlook the problematic border dispute for the sake of a potentially lucrative wider relationship;
- Even if disengagement continues, the relationship will remain vulnerable to destabilising disruptions.
Key Lessons to be learnt
- China is more likely to be deterred or coerced with the threat of political costs, rather than material costs.
- China’s defence budget is three to four times larger than India’s, and its Western Theatre Command boasts over 200,000 soldiers. The material burden of the crisis would not disrupt its existing priorities.
- In contrast, India successfully raised the risks of the crisis for China through its threat of a political rupture, not military punishment
- Indian Ocean Region is the key
- India should consider accepting more risk on the LAC in exchange for long-term leverage and influence in the Indian Ocean Region.
- At the land border, the difficult terrain and even balance of military force means that each side could only squeeze out modest gains at best.
- In contrast, India has traditionally been the dominant power in the Indian Ocean Region and stands to lose significant political influence and security if it fails to answer the rapid expansion of Chinese military power in the region.
- The Ladakh crisis, by prompting an increased militarisation of the LAC, should not defer long-overdue military modernisation and maritime expansion into the Indian Ocean.
Connecting the dots: