What happened in Tawang has increased risk of India-China war?

The Chinese army held its own in a violent clash with the Indian army in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh on December 9. The Chinese army has claimed that the Indian army was trying to cross the border illegally. At the same time, India claims that China has tried to cross the border.

According to the news published in The Hindu, this incident has highlighted the growing risk of strategic failures on the border between both sides.

Colonel Long Shaohua, Spokesman of the Chinese Army’s Western Theater Command, issued a statement saying that the Chinese Army was conducting routine patrol through LAC in China’s Dongzhang area when Indian troops illegally crossed the border and fired on the Chinese troops.

The Chinese army has said in its statement: “We demand from the Indian side that by strictly controlling and restricting the security forces deployed at the front, steps are taken to establish peace along the border with China. The response was very professional, firm and in accordance with the established rules, which helped to defuse the situation. Both sides have since backtracked.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told his daily briefing that the situation on the China-India border is generally stable. Dialogue between the two sides is going smoothly on border-related issues through diplomatic and military officials.

Chinese soldiers tried to cross border

Hundreds of Chinese soldiers tried to cross the border after what happened on December 9 in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian Army failed in these efforts. But this incident has underscored the growing danger of strategic misunderstandings or failures at the border.

Senior diplomat Vijay Gokhale, who was India’s ambassador and foreign secretary to China, had this to say in a recent article.

Gokhale writes that the latest attempts by the Chinese military to cross the border at different locations, which began in April 2020 in the western sector of Ladakh, reflect China’s aggressive stance. This trend is visible after 2013.

He writes that this incident raises the question of whether ‘there are fears of strategic failure on the part of China after the military confrontation in Ladakh.

He writes: “China has two assumptions: the first is that India will not decide to launch a massive retaliatory military strike in response to a minor incident; together, these two concepts must be viewed against the background of changes in India’s strategic thinking after 2020.

Snow Leopard counter-operation

The first thing is that the confusion over China is over among the strategic decision makers in India. China was previously thought to be India’s partner or rival.

But now there is a strategic clarity about it. China’s behavior is now considered hostile. And only a few people want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Second, the strategic constraint has been redefined.

This includes the shift in risk appetite among the political class that made the Snow Leopard counter-operation at Rezang La/Rechin La possible in August 2022.”

The Indian Army forced China to withdraw from Pangong Tso Lake through Operation Snow Leopard.

Gokhale writes: “India carried out this operation carefully and China did not even think about it. In such a situation, China’s belief that India will not retaliate in exchange for minor incidents in LAC because India is at risk. I do not want to accept it, it probably won’t work anymore.”

Urgent need for India to prepare

Gokhale writes that Chinese researchers should also reflect on their assumption that an Indian response to any future military confrontation would be modest given India’s own military capabilities considering future military challenges across LAC.

Gokhale believes that there was an urgent need for India to better prepare to deal with these risks due to rising tensions first in the western sector and now in the eastern sector.

He writes: “What happened in the Galwan Valley has shown that, contrary to India’s expectations, steps taken to keep the peace and prevent an escalation of tension will not be enough to stop China because China believes that LAC has a military advantage”.

In such a situation, the military imbalance is likely to remain for some time. But India should prioritize preparing to handle big risks. This is different from expecting peace and quiet.

India’s efforts to prepare to manage risk shift the focus from the strategic ground force level to the political-strategic level. Dialogue at this level will reduce fears of escalating the conflict to a level that both parties do not want.

In such a situation, it is necessary to start the political dialogue that has been stalled since November 2019. It is not fair that two large neighboring countries in Asia with nuclear power avoid talking about their relations with each other.


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