The Shift In Asian Geopolitics: Galwan Valley Clash and the QUAD

To summarise the growing tensions India has witnessed from China, US Scholar Yun Sun wrote “ Beijing’s version of Asia is strictly hierarchical with China at the top and does not consider India an equal.”

COVID-19 took many Asian countries by surprise and submerged them in a wave of panic and loss. Meanwhile, the Sino-Indian Border remained a significant flashpoint following the violent clash in the Galwan Valley on 15 June 2020 (“India-China”, 2020). A year on from the clash, followed by consequent conflicts over the past few months, Galwan Valley continues to spark tensions along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, India.

The security situation in the Indo-Pacific region focuses on China’s encroachment on the South China Sea and LAC along the India-China border, which has never been volatile or dangerous in previous years. With a high probability of these situations turning into a shooting war, the authority mobilized the military and multiple domains such as information, the economic and cyber confrontation between India and China. China’s border conflict with India has only accelerated its commitment to the Quad, which has placed Sino-Indo geopolitics on unstable ground and began to reshape the dynamics of the US-China rivalry.

To cross the LAC (Sun, 2020), the People’s Liberation Army sought to assert the line they had occupied following the 1962 war, secured on 7 November 1959. After the ceasefire, the troops withdrew, resulting in their alignment during the face-off, being 20kms into what India knows as LAC.

The deaths on the Galwan River Valley were the first in the LAC since 1975 and worsened Sino-Indo relations (Joshi, 2021). Talks of de-escalation were followed by a surprise manoeuvre from the Indian Army on 30 August 2020, putting them in a position to threaten Chinese troops. In the aftermath of the face-offs, it was not until February 2021 that the two countries agreed to pull back from the Pangong region.

The trajectory of sharpened geopolitical competition between the two countries has been laid after the confrontations and matches that were not entirely aggressive until the break of trust following the events of May 2020 (Joshi, 2021). India was not a significant rival to China in south-east Asia until the advent of the last five years. China has made attempts to turn the balance of power in its favour due to the declining influence of the United States amid the ongoing pandemic. (Kumar, 2020) As such, China has made a stark V-shaped recovery post-pandemic, which the IMF also verified.

With the rest of the world being vulnerable due to the economic effects of Covid-19 and an unprecedented slowdown, China has done its best to create apprehension amongst other Quad members. However, (Asthana, 2021) India is the only country amongst Quad members to have disputed and unsettled border tensions with China. (Tiezzi, 2020) By keeping the India-China relations fluctuating by causing disharmony with incidents like Doklam and Galwan Valley clash, India would have to become independent of its supply chains running through China. After the recent Quadrilateral Security Dialogue Summit in March, other Quad members have called to disengage economic entanglements with China and rely on each other for supply chains and technological exchanges with minimal dependence on China.

The stand-offs in Depsang and Chumar in 2013 and 2014 and various incidents and clashes that have taken place in Pangong Tso were related to the code of conduct on border affairs. These incidents were to freeze constructions on the Indian side of the LAC. The structures, which had gained speed since the early 2000s, began to accelerate in 2010 while India’s economic growth was lagging compared to China (“India GDP 1960-2021”, 2016). China took a hard stance in Doklam in 2017 but soon decided on a compromise. (Joshi, 2021) This, coupled with the completion of Darbuk Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DS-DBO) in 2019, was perceived to be a strategic move on India’s part to maintain some degree of parity with China.

The face-offs were not an exclusive event but merely a culmination of events taking place since 2012. At this time, China was experiencing an economic boom, with its GDP being about five times larger than that of India. This certainly changed the way China looked at other economies in south-east Asia, but more importantly, the significant shift of status quo in Sino-Indo relations. India lost the 1962 war with China and subsequently failed to recognize the growing gap in their economic status, which may have been why China felt the need to demonstrate its power. Another reason why this may have been the tilting point for Asian geopolitics because India has sought to build a closer relationship with the United States to balance competition with China. The confrontation occurred because China felt such a move on India’s part should have consequences.

The perceived alignment of India with the United States and its allies evoked a strong response in the past year from China. (Tiezzi, 2020) The US-China rivalry will also impact the geopolitical issues that do not directly involve China, as demonstrated in the case mentioned above. Amid the declining US-China relations, even infrastructure construction in other Asian countries will carry heavy significance. (Tiezzi, 2020) As Quad members push for alternative investment decisions such as a new factory in Vietnam or India, they will hold more significant ramifications for China under the current geopolitical context.

In the words of the Chinese Scholar Ye Halin, “The US’s rejection of China is enough to offset China’s power advantage over other actors”, which best describes the hierarchy in the Indo-Pacific region where China has always considered India to be a sub-power. US-India military partnership has strengthened since 2008, and their interactions have continued since the mid-1990s. Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that these relations intensified after the revival of Quad, which was strongly supported by the Modi government and Japan’s former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. The United States made clear in 2017 that it viewed ‘Indo’ as a new prefix that referred to India’s pivotal role in facilitating Quad.

To summarize the growing tensions India has witnessed from China, US scholar Yun Sun wrote (Sun, 2020), “Beijing’s version of Asia is strictly hierarchical with China at the top and does not consider India an equal.” In 2020, as the India-China confrontation in Ladakh unfolded, the Sino-American tensions heightened with developments and protests in Hong Kong and issues related to the code of conduct in Taiwan. In writing from June 2020 in a Chinese military publication, Zhang Jiadong, a professor at the Fudan University in Shanghai, wrote (JiaDong, 2020), “India has continuously strengthened its relations with US, Japan and other countries to check and balance China”. This, and perhaps the growing economic and geopolitical power that India has yielded over the past four years, can explain the various conflicts between the two forces and the Galwan Valley Clash.

REFERENCES:

Asthana, M. (2021). Quad Summit 2021. Retrieved 21 June 2021, from https://www.financialexpress.com/defence/quad-summit-2021-why-is-china-rattled/2212544/

Kumar, L. (2020). Geo-Political Crystal Ball. Retrieved 21 June 2021, from https://chanakyaforum.com/geo-political-crystal-ball-gazing-future-of-china-with-focus-on-india-china-relations  

Tiezzi, S. (2020). Asian geopolitics ORF. Retrieved 21 June 2021, from https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/will-asian-geopolitics-become-hostage-middle-kingdom-narrative  

India GDP 1960-2021. (2016). Retrieved 21 June 2021, from https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/IND/india/gdp-gross-domestic-product   

India-China. (2020). Retrieved 21 June 2021, from https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/chinas-pla-begins-major-military-exercises-in-tibet/article30491537.ece#  

JiaDong, Z. (2020). China Military. Retrieved 21 June 2021, from http://eng.chinamil.com.cn/view/2020-06/28/content_9842314.html  

Sun, Y. (2020). Ladakh Clash. Retrieved 21 June 2021, from https://warontherocks.com/2020/06/chinas-strategic-assessment-of-the-ladakh-clash  

Aadya is an aspiring lawyer and a writer- her works have mainly consisted of literary focused write ups and poetry. She graduated from the University of Manchester this year with bachelor's in science of finance and economics. She has given her time to volunteering with immigrants and refugees in the past years in Manchester to teach them English for conversational and vocational purposes.

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