lac news: Will China continue to use the ambiguity of LAC to its own advantage?


Even as India and China are engaged in a high-level diplomatic dialogue to diffuse a stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, future confrontations between the two nuclear-armed trans-Himalayan neighbours over territorial claims may largely remain unavoidable.

The latest incident of Chinese aggression in disputed areas at at least four locations in eastern Ladakh — three in the Galwan Valley and one near Pangong Lake — is being seen as a reaction to New Delhi’s move to upgrade infrastructure along the LAC. But what really triggered this flare-up remains unknown as any clarity about China’s real intent is hard to come by.

Besides the 1962 war, Beijing and New Delhi have engaged in multiple skirmishes over the years. But what differentiates the current crisis from earlier standoffs is that this time around it involves more troops, more equipment, and multiple locations at the same time.

Decades may have passed since the bloody 1962 war, but rules of China’s India playbook remain the same: make use of the LAC ambiguity.

Keeping borders blurred

China has long used the ambiguous LAC to its own advantage. The nature of the terrain, connectivity lopsidedness and infrastructure are some of the factors that keep the scales tilted in China’s favour.

Beijing, in fact, has always refused to clarify its position on the de-facto border. This enables it to exert pressure on India, at the place and time of its choosing, for its own political or geostrategic gains.

To that extent, restarting an unresolved, old feud with India could just be a way of diverting the attention of its domestic audiences at a time when the country battles an economic slowdown and a severe global backlash over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, since the Covid outbreak, China has been at loggerheads with the US, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan and has also assailed Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Beijing’s antics in the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea, where it stirs the pot every now and then, are also part of China’s time-tested playbook. It has historically used these moves to tilt the regional balance in its favour and to exhibit that it is the dominant power among its neighbours.

Old playbook, new chapter

The current crisis in Ladakh is being also seen as a fallout of growing ties between the US and India. China desires to cut India’s regional and global aspirations to size, keeping its sphere of influence limited to South Asia. Every time New Delhi “crosses the line”, Beijing — driven by the fear of India’s strategic potential — muddies the waters by engaging in some form of military adventurism or the other.

As a matter of fact, keeping the LAC cauldron boiling works well for China — it can dig up the border bogey whenever it needs, like it now does to deflect domestic anger and global attention.

China often takes an aggressive route to score brownie points, but it only does so after a clear evaluation of its opponents’ economic and military powers. Though China’s latest LAC breach is straight out of a familiar playbook, its efforts this time appear more intense. It could be a signal meant to convey that Beijing holds the clear upper hand against New Delhi, and that big shifts in the geopolitical power equation is still a long way away.

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