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Mamallapuram Summit: Is India in a Position of Strength vis-à-vis China?

Tamil Nadu’s coastal town Mamallapuram is all set to play host to an informal summit between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.  As we noted in our earlier article it is a continuation of the series of engagements between the two leaders. Ahead of Mamallapuram Summit it is interesting to see whether the terms of engagements with the Chinese have changed for India. Has India’s position of strength at the discussion table improved?

In the initial years of independence, India and China shared a “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai”, the 1962 Indo-china conflict exposed the hollowness of this bonhomie. Ever since China was seen as a dominant partner who set the terms of the relationship.

But there are visible signs to argue that India in the recent years has come out of that zone and showing its assertive mark on many fronts.

India’s Newly Created Capability

In the Doklam stand off the world noted the firmness and wisdom with which the political, military as well as diplomatic leadership of India conducted themselves during the stand-off. After the standoff was resolved, India did not rest on its laurels and got to work to bolster its defences along the Chinese border.

An alternative road to reach Doklam plateau has been built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) which has now brought the travel time to the Indian army Doklam base from 7 hours to mere 40 minutes. The new route significantly alters the military equation in the region. As in 2017, the Indian Army had to move to the tri-junction area via a single mule track.

Eight Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) have been reactivated in Arunachal Pradesh in two years in areas close to the Chinese border. This makes it easier to transport men and material to forward areas in the event of a conflict.

Indian Army has raised a Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) headquartered in Panagarh, West Bengal specifically designed to undertake offensive operations across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

India at this juncture does want to have a mutually benefitted and peaceful relationship with China. But it also seems to have understood that the peace or any proposition for that matter can only be demanded on the basis of the position of strength.

This was reflected by the recent combat exercise of the Indian Army operation ‘Him Vijay’ where Integrated Battle Groups of MSC drilled in upper reaches of Arunachal Pradesh.

Operation Gagan Shakti, the Largest military exercise undertaken by India showed the capability of Indian air force to operate in all terrains.

Strengthening the Diplomatic Position

It is true that China has a conflicting view on Jammu and Kashmir. Recently, it referred to the UN resolution and also stating in the same breath that the Kashmir issue can only be resolved with the bilateral means between India and Pakistan.

Considering that the other world powers like the US and Gulf nations etc are not opposing India on its Kashmir move, India can afford to handle this little irritant from China. On the other hand, India doesn’t shy away from being a proponent of free global access in South China sea region, however discomfort it may cause to the Chinese side.

You may like to read our previous article India’s Necklace of Diamonds – Garlanding China for understanding the larger picture.

India’s increasing engagements in the region in the last five and half years has also improved India’s position of strength with China.

  • PM Modi’s recent announcement of one-billion-dollar line of credit to Russia’s Far East region has also assuaged Russia’s concern about china’s domination in its sparsely populated far east region and gives India strategic access to the energy rich region.
  • Government of India under its Lines of Credit (LoC) programme has approved to build a petrochemical refinery in Mongolia to be built at an approximate cost of $1.25 billion. This has been seen as a way to counter China’ Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and maintain strategic ties with Mongolia.
  • Multiple connectivity projects like Kalandan Multi-Modal Project, India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal Highway are expected to offer a different partnership proposition to that of China in the region. India’s outreach has a cultural edge as well.

It is a different, much confident India which is hosting China’s President this time.