Border Conflict

Ongoing Challenges of China-India Relations

By Brigadier Vinod Dutta

The foreign policy of the Chinese is like their noodles: sticky, entangled and flavorful.

We in India love the noodles, but the foreign policy can get sticky and entangled in very unsavory ways.

Brigadier Vinod Dutta and his colleagues at the India-China border at Galwan Valley Photo Courtesy of Brigadier Vinod Dutta

Allegories aside, our relationship with our neighbor can be described as oscillating between tolerant, tense and very tense. But it is always tense, to some extent. We are and have always been reluctant friends because we have to be. We are both big nations. We can’t bully each other. China needs to understand that.

We have bilateral trade ties for mutual benefit. We allow them access to our huge market for their exports and we let them invest in our companies that build infrastructure, etc. We too profit from the economic exchange.

But these ties of trade get disrupted when our neighbor decides to betray our trust. Tension at the border, of course, is a constant reality. There are routine attempts at breaches and face-offs take place regularly. Usually, however, these happen at a much lower scale than the one that we witnessed recently.

This is rooted in China’s imperialist foreign policy, which prevents them from sticking to the conditions of bilateral cooperation. India’s friendly gestures towards our neighbors are often mistaken for softness, but time and again China has been shown that we are not soft.

There are two categories of “incursion”. First are the attempts at grabbing territory and the second are attempts at building up defence bases, a tactic known as “defense posturing”. The year 2019 saw an exponentially heightened rate of incursions which was to the tune of approximately 663, the highest ever recorded. 

In April this year, Indian military intelligence noted defence posturing by the Chinese close to the LAC (Line of Actual Control) at our eastern border in Ladakh. China’s People’s Liberation Army was pitching tents and setting up bases. This incursion culminated in the June 15 incident.

A bunker (in the foreground) from the 1962 Indo-China War near the border. “Bricks, sandbags, stone chips and mud was used to create the bunkers those days”. The yellow and black board on the opposite side was erected later, and documents its historical significance. Photo courtesy of Brigadier Vinod Dutta.

They went too far. They thought that they could use the pandemic and the possibility of weakened immunity to attack and carve out a strategic piece of land in the Himalayan region. They thought that the operation was well-timed and well-orchestrated but they didn’t take into account that Covid-19 had not weakened India’s defenses.

India’s military diplomacy was well thought out much before this episode and the credit goes to George Fernandez, who was Defense Minister during the Kargil War of 1999. He said India ought to focus on China more than Pakistan and his vision and strategic thinking today came in handy. The Kargil Review Committee, set up post the Kargil War, gave us a set of recommendations that included instituting dedicated formations overlooking China. It saw the raising of the 14 Corps and subsequently the Mountain strike Corps which entailed deployment of troops along the frontier with China. The gap in terms of military presence at the Indo-China border, which was earlier tipped in favor of China, was thus narrowed down to a great extent and the Indian side was manned with more skilled, trained and battle-hardened troops. This added punch to our power.

The corps participated in joint exercises with friendly foreign armies to showcase India’s strength and the military support it could count on but essentially they were formations pitted against China should things escalate.

This was part of the TRISHAKTI (“Strength of Three) approach which India adopted and which paid dividends both at the local as well as the global levels. The TRISHAKTI or three areas of engagement (with the Chinese) were the “ranneeti” (military), “kutneeti” (diplomacy) and “rajneeti” (politics).   

We have seen India’s employment of the military diplomacy. At the diplomatic level, the Indian Foreign Ministry left no stone unturned and tried out all avenues to garner the support of major and minor powers in the region, while simultaneously isolating the enemy.  India further choked China’s access to Indian markets and banned 59 Apps of Chinese origin. This was not just a big diplomatic and economic blow to China but a strategic one because with more than 120 million active Indian users, these Apps were used by China for intelligence gathering. The Galwan skirmish brought to the fore the security risks of using these Apps. It exposed China’s clandestine data pilferage, which was the forte of Chinese intelligence agencies. Indeed, it was a multi-layered, 360-degree retaliation which India addressed in the field of economics, technology and diplomacy.

At the third or political level, Foreign Minister, Jaishankar Subrahmanium, played a significant role in garnering the support of US, UK, France, Germany, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, Japan. In what can be said to be a utilization of his vast knowledge, professional acumen and vision, he engaged in conversation with international communities, including the foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia & Mexico during India’s UNSC term to brief them on China.

Indeed, the international geo politics scenario was tackled so skillfully that it swung into India’s favor.

This was the second time India got China to its knees after Doklam and the Dragon had to relent. While the process of de-escalation is slow and steady and while the PLA is already pulling out from strategic locations, the talks are still ongoing.

The Indian armed forces will now wait and watch. Continuous vigil by troops, as opposed to thinning out, is the necessity. The economic embargoes ought to continue and the economic smoke screens must remain in place. Heightened vigil of cyber space, as well as air space is required. And our military should ready itself to spend the long summer season as well as the winter in the trenches. 

If the Chinese want to serve up a friendly dish of noodles, we welcome it. If they think they will trick us into burning our tongue, they better be ready to get their plans doused in ice water.

Brigadier Vinod Dutta at Galwan Valley. Photo courtesy of Brigadier Vinod Dutta

Brigadier Vinod Dutta is an Indian Army Kargil War veteran, who for long years was posted in Ladakh and the eastern borders. He is a defence and strategic affairs analyst and a visiting faculty at the Army War College.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of


1 reply »

  1. A super write! Powerful and analytical ,it potrays India’s befitting reply to Chinese aggression. Taking cue from history the present scenario involving Military, Economical and Political Diplomacy by India to counter the attack is an expert’s view. A must read for a thorough understanding of the situation. Brilliant pen !


Comment here (your name & contact optional)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.