While the debate is very lively in India, the Chinese press, with the exception of the Global Times, has remained very discreet about the events. To date, despite the certainty of losses on the side of the PLA, the official military press has only issued a succinct statement, through the voice of the Western Theatre of Operations Command’s spokesperson, Zhang Shuili. It accuses the Indian army of having crossed the LAC despite disengagement efforts, reports deaths and mentions "historic sovereignty" (主权历来属我) of China over the Galwan Valley, most of which is located in Aksai Chin, occupied by China since the Sino-Indian War of 1962. This position was repeated by the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, suggesting that this could be a tactical gain of territory that China seeks to secure as a result of the confrontation, to deny the Indian military the capacity to access the valley.
What has been the Modi government’s policy so far, and what is the best and worst scenario for India after this serious escalation?
From the outset, Modi - who had visited China four times when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat - has tried to resolve the territorial disputes that have been poisoning relations between India and China since the 1962 war, and even before that, as evidenced by exchanges between Zhou Enlai and Nehru in 1959. At the BRICS summit in the summer of 2014, at a time when he had been Prime Minister for only a few weeks, Modi had tried to raise the issue with Xi Jinping, whom he invited a few months later for a first official visit. It did not pay off however, with the Chinese army even bursting into Indian territory in Ladakh – according to New Delhi – during this very visit! In 2017, in Doklam (Bhutan), the Indian army faced the Chinese army for 89 days, the former having accused the latter of entering the territory of Bhutan, a country that a defence agreement links to India. Still, Modi persevered and even took the initiative of a tête-à-tête with Xi Jinping. This first "informal summit" took place in Wuhan in 2018 and a second one, last October, near Chennai. Both times, the two leaders welcomed the frankness of their exchanges, even described as constructive.
In reality, there was little progress. Suspicion continues to reign on both sides. India suspects China of wanting to circle and isolate the country. It is particularly worried by the rise of the Belt and Road Initiative, launched by Xi Jinping in 2013 and to which India has remained an outsider. This has greatly displeased China who has since announced massive investments between $50 and 60 billion in Pakistan, India's hereditary enemy, and where the Chinese are installing a deep-water port at Gwadar, creating suspicion that it could be transformed in the future into a naval base. Beyond Pakistan, China is gaining a foothold in India's immediate neighbourhood. Sri Lanka is on the verge of losing part of its sovereignty to Chinese interests, Nepal is not far from tipping over as well, and several islands in the Indian Ocean such as the Maldives could follow the same track. In its neighbourhood, India struggles to resist Chinese firepower that combines investment, especially in infrastructure, and financial aid in the form of loans that results in these countries’ dependence on China.
China, too, suspects India of trying to encircle it by strengthening ties with its QUAD partners (United States, Japan, Australia), a pseudo-coalition relaunched in 2018. Beijing has been particularly concerned about the deepening of relations between India and the United States, China's rival, and more so since the election of Donald Trump, which has asserted the military component of this partnership more strongly in recent years. Another Indian decision has also alerted Beijing: the transformation of the status of Jammu and Kashmir, an Indian Union state, which in August 2019 was cut in two, with Ladakh becoming a Territory of the Indian Union directly administered by New Delhi.