Sat. May 8th, 2021
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo courtesy by The Straits Times)

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at a crisis all-party meet of all Indian political parties on the clash between Indian and Chinese troops at the India-China border region of Ladakh stated:

“Neither have they intruded (Chinese troops) into our border, nor has any post been taken over by them (China).

“Twenty of our jawans (soldiers) were martyred, but those who dared Bharat Mata (Mother India), they were taught a lesson…”

Analyzing this statement with cold objectivity it becomes clear that Modi was not blaming the Chinese side of any violation of India’s Line-of-Actual-Control (LAC), and it seemed to imply by its selective silence concern over the Indian military side’s responsibility – though the Indian military could arguably justify it as it is in the disputed area of the Galwan Valley, despite many parts of which has long been occupied by China.

The Chinese state media initially lauded Modi’s statement which it believed downplayed the clash.

Modi’s “soft” statement was widely reported with the political opposition led by Congress Party’s Rajul Gandhi criticizing it, which seems to have pressured Modi subsequently to portray a more aggressive nationalist stance accusing China of expansionism and playing up to the sinophobia abuilding in the home front.

  It is difficult to see which side really started the brutal melee with rocks and nail-studded clubs, although both sides blame the other. No firearms were used, all conscious of previous agreements.

But foot patrols meet on the road, and in May small clashes already occurred. Top military officers of both sides met and agreed to a “limited military disengagement,” but despite that the deadly June 15 confrontation occurred.

Within twenty days India and China’s Special Representatives on the China-India Boundary Question, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval spoke by phone and issued a press release on having reached “positive common understandings” and easing the current border situation.

The swift understanding reached by the two sides reflect the eagerness of both to calm the situation.

PM Narendra Modi faces multifarious pressures from India’s political opposition, such as Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party who’s been lambasting Modi for “going soft on China,” and Hindu nationalists long seething about economic pervasiveness of Chinese goods and technology in the Indian economy and now clamoring louder and louder on a “Made in India, not China” and boycott campaign against Chinese economic presence.

M.K. Bhadrakumar is a retired career Indian diplomat, a writer for several Indian and international publications such as the Indian Punch and Asia Times, and international fora such as the Valdai club, and one of the most renowned international political-economic analysts.

In an article in 2018 he wrote for Valdai Club an article on “Modi’s Surge to Break New Ground with China is Fruitful” reporting the success of Modi’s Wuhan summit with China.

Reacting lately to the India-China clash in Ladakh, Bhadrakumar wrote “US lobbyists set the Indian narrative on China border,” opining that the incident at the Ladakh leading to the Indian military’s decision bereft of any civilian political authority’s input while the reportage on it was being primed by the U.S. (and I could see that from international and Indian media coverage, as well as Western and Indian think tanks Zoomed talk shows):

These are the key lines in Bhadrakumar’s piece: “The prerogative to start a war and to end it must always lie with the civilian leadership. That is why New Delhi’s decision which was announced on June 19 that the Indian Army has been given the freedom to take necessary steps along the border —and not to limit the ability of commanders of frontline troops to take whatever action they deem necessary on the Line of Actual Control on the Chinese border — becomes debatable.

 “Detractors of the government flippantly interpreted this decision as an evasive action by PM Modi to ‘pass the buck’ to the military if something untoward happened. But the point is, military must be held firmly responsible and accountable for its actions.

“A high degree of ambivalence has already appeared in the air and the Indian media is awash with unsubstantiated reports (largely attributed to military ‘sources’) and rumor mongering.”

The italicized phrases suggest that PM Modi, in giving the military the “freedom to take the necessary steps along the border” to finish and complete what it started is really putting the onus of the crisis on the military which seems to have initiated the clash without civilian authorities’ countenance.

Unless the military wanted to push it further Modi would take the course that his Special Representative Ajit Doval had finally completed with his counterpart Wang Yi – disengagement.

Bhadrakumar continues: “To be sure, sniping (at the Wang Yi-Ajit Doval talks) has already begun. The formidable US lobby in Delhi has begun to decry, discredit and degrade Doval’s mission.

“The objective is clear: bring the Sino-Indian standoff to a flashpoint that would compel Modi government to take shelter under an American umbrella.”

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China, given its familiarity with the complex Indian culture and politics maintained its calm throughout. It never announced the number of casualties on its own side which I thought was very wise – comparisons of number will lead to more emotional outbursts.

It stayed firm on its version without being antagonistic, ostensibly realistic that Indian’s growing economic and social sinophobia would simmer down with the indispensability of Chinese economic relations to India.

The Western allies salivated at the prospects of a deterioration of the China-India relations.

Their headlines reflect this: Foreign Policy magazine, “The Galwan Killings Are the Nail in the Coffin for China and India’s Relationship”; Strafor, “In India, Anti-China Anger Will Bring Out Modi’s Hawkish Side”; Al Jazeera, “China is so fixed on the US, it may lose India”, ad nauseam.

Fortunately, India and China acted quickly to cool the crisis.

Model for the Philippines

The lesson for the Philippines from our understanding now of Modi’s operandi?

The Philippines is under pressure from U.S. led Western machinations in disputes over territory in the South China Sea, although the Philippines has done very well in negotiations with China and achieving favorable concessions like the 60/40 oil and gas deal in the Reed Bank – plus the tens of billions of already delivered infrastructure project and Covid-19 aid.

`But the U.S. has stepped up its anti-China moves in international media, and the Ladakh India-China border clash is being held up as an example of China’s “aggression” — though far from the truth.

China has resolved at least twelve of its fourteen major land border disputes. The India-China borders have been peaceful for 45 years until the recent clash, and relations will likely return quickly to the status quo ante as we see with the Wang Yi-Ajit Doval talks.

The Philippines should be wary of the increased U.S. provocations in the South China Sea which may give way to a “false flag” incident the U.S. has a record of provoking — this time to blame on China and rally recalcitrant allies. U.S aircrafts carrier intrusions in the Taiwan Straits used to be once a year, now it’s once every month.

 As in India, the U.S. tentacles reach many sectors in the Philippines – the media most of all but most dangerously in the Philippine Navy – just one incident could light a powder keg to demolish all the goodwill achieved so far by Duterte’s independent foreign policy initiatives. (ia/SPH)

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