Is China buying time?

by Bimal Prasad Mohapatra - 29 October, 2020, 12:00 2442 Views 0 Comment


The manner in Corps Commander and diplomatic level talks between India and China are being held since May 2020 Chinese incursion in Ladakh region followed by a bloody skirmish in June and India’s occupation of strategic height in August, it is looked like China is buying time for its strategic advantage moment to act.

“Is China buying time?” is a big question in the minds of many China watchers and South Asia geopolitics experts around the world since the Indian Army occupied a strategic position at the Line of Actual Control at Finger 4 along the south bank of Pangong Tso Lake on 10 September months after Galwan Valley 14-15 June intervening night skirmish in which India had lost about 20 of its disciplined and unarmed soldiers, and aggressor People’s Liberation Army(PLA) lost substantial numbers of its soldiers notwithstanding its forces were armed with unprofessional but lethal weapons. China has not disclosed the number of soldiers PLA lost in the skirmish for reason best known to its government.

Ladakh incursion and Covid19 impact on China and the world economy

The Chinese non-disclosure of loss of a number of lives in Galwan Valley skirmish is the reason for many speculations by China watchers. In the meanwhile, the western media quoting their government intelligence sources placed the number between 35 to 43, significantly much more than the Indian Army loss. Some experts speculate Chinese leadership is afraid of world’s mocking on world second powerful military’s capability, while other guess it may be due to fear of people’s backlash back home for loss of precious lives for barren land on unhygienic Himalayan height at a time when the world is struggling to save lives from dreaded Covid19 pandemic, which some Chinese dissidents, now live as asylums in different countries around the world, alleged happened due to mismanagement of pandemic back in China, while many including the author of this column strongly believes that the pandemic was allowed to spread by China as a strategic weapon to destabilise world economy to such an extent that China dependency of rich and poor as well as small and big nations can be exploited by it for expansion of its world-wide geopolitical influence taking advantage of its leading position in heavily globalised world economy’s critical supply chain and its highest foreign exchange reserve amounting more than $3.15 trillion (July, 2020).

China is Super Power in the World Economy

EurAsian Times on dt.18.10.2020 reported in its column “IMF admits China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest economy: But why is the media silent?” that “The catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic that devastated countries around the world has only made China stronger, which ironically was the place, where the virus originated.” Now, China is the leading lender in the world surpassing traditional official lenders such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, etc. with an investment of $1.5 trillion in direct loans and trade credit to more than 150 nations around the globe (As reported in Harvard Business Review dt. February 26, 2020). The magazine further reported, “When adding portfolio debts (including the $1 trillion of US Treasury debt purchased by China’s central bank) and trade credits (to buy goods and services), the Chinese government’s aggregate claims to the rest of the world exceed $5 trillion in total. In the other words, countries worldwide owed more than 6% of world GDP to debt to China of 2017”.

World refuses to succumb to Chinese bully

But, with the passing of time, it looks like Chinese strategy has started backfiring as the world’s leading and developed nations are reluctant to succumb to its bullying which can be best-exemplified withholding of QUAD ministerial meeting participated by US Secretary of State and Foreign Ministers of Japan, India and Australia in Tokyo on October 6, 2020. In a latest development, India has invited Australia to join Malabar Naval Exercise 2020 in the Indian Ocean, many were expecting the same to be announced in the QUAD meeting but deferred till 19 October.  Before the QUAD meeting, while touring European nations such as Norway, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy in the last week of August, China’s powerful State Councilor-cum- top diplomat and Foreign Minister Wang Yi was badly mauled for his threatening diplomacy over the world-wide much talked about the issue of China’s human right violations in its occupied territories such as Xinjiang and Tibet, and semi-autonomous region Hong Kong apart from for worldwide spread of dreaded pandemic Covid19 which has crippled world economy beyond recovery in near future besides pushing poor nations and their economically vulnerable population to abject poverty.

When people discuss “Is China buying time?” in regard to its started aggression on the Himalayan height in post-winter 2020 as PLA used to do earlier (Per example: As reported by Shiv Aroor in Headline Today dated September 5, 2013 and updated on December 15, 2013, “China’s PLA has ‘incrementally’ occupied nearly 640 square km of the area on the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh in the past few months”. This shocking revelation came in a report submitted by the National Security Advisory Board to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2013. Headlines Today has accessed the details of the damning report, submitted by the former foreign secretary and NSAB chairman Shyam Saran to the Prime Minister Office on August 12, 2013. According to the Shyam Saran report, “Patrolling limits set by incremental PLA area denial in eastern Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir have now become the de facto LoAC.”) followed by the Indian Army’s occupation of strategic height at Finger 4 in the south bank of Pangong Tso lake, a critical question “What for China is buying time?” comes to the minds of all concerned. Among the many answers to the questions are: 1. Is China waiting for the result of the ensuing election for The White House, the most powerful office of the world, which is in the recent past found most active and involved over the aggressor activities not only in India’s border but also in the entire South and South-East Asian region technically called Indo-Pacific? 2. Is China waiting for the severity of Himalayan cold with the assumption that Indian Army battalions will find it hard to save their lives rather than fighting well-equipped PLA, which is as reported now busy building infrastructure for long winter haul, like experienced in 1962 war, and taking advantage of 1962 kind Indian retreat, it (China) can reinstate its position and draw a new line of LAC? 3. It may so happen that PLA may withdraw taking excuse of winter vagary, a face-saving maneuver post unfavourable occupant in The White House.

Talks are part of a strategy to buy time

In the meanwhile, seven rounds of talks (latest being on 12, October) have been held between both nations’ Corps Commanders in persons, and several rounds of talks between FMs both over the phone and in person, one round between DMs in person, and one round between India’s National Security Advisers and  China’s FM over the phone. The first talk between FMs of both the nations held at the initiation of China foreign ministry day after 14-15 June intervening night skirmish in which India’s FM Dr. S Jaishankar, who is a veteran diplomat and was former Ambassador to China, in clear term told his counterpart in Beijing, “Loss of lives in Galwan Valley will have a considerable impact on bilateral relation”. Later on, in Moscow, as coordinated by Russia’s Foreign Minister when India and China DMs and FMs had been in the Russian capital for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation ministerial meetings, both nations ministers talked, but without any concrete outcomes in regard to contentious troops disengagement and de-escalation. Interestingly some of the Commander level talks stretched for more than 10 hours continuing from pre-noon to mid-night.  

As a matter of fact, in seven rounds of Corps Commander level talks, which had the participation of officials from Ministry of External Affairs of both the nations, started post incursion in May 2020, while India’s core demand that is the troop pull-back by both sides to the positions they held in April remains consistently same; China’s position, on the other hand, changed. Now, PLA insists that it will only discuss a pullback after the Indian Army vacates the tactically dominating positions it occupied south of Pangong Tso lake at the end of August, 2020 on the face PLA which only reacted with blank fire to the air. Post seventh round, media release was silent on concrete steps to end the confrontation on the ground. Instead, it adopted a standard Chinese formulation that is “Both sides agreed to earnestly implement the important understandings reached by the leaders of the two countries not to turn differences into disputes, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border areas”. While the September 21 sixth-round end statement had ‘agreed to hold the seventh round of military commander-level meeting as soon as possible’, the seventh round end joint press release apart from the above quote stated ‘agreed to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels’.


All the above exercises tell one thing and that is ‘Chinese leadership is buying time’ with something big in mind post ensuing election to the most powerful office of the world i.e. The White House to be concluded on November 03 or it is looking for winter harvest in Himalayan height as experienced in 1962. But, China should not forget that 2020 is not 1962 in so far as India’s military preparedness, if not leadership, is concerned. Apart from this, if military escalation takes place with Chinese aggression taking advantage of its economic and military strengths along with its latest tie-up with few autocratic regimes in Pakistan, Turkey, etc., the border conflict may not remain restricted to Himalaya alone as QUAD of four leading democratic nations has already been formed and major economies around the world so frustrated with China origin COVID19 impact and human right violations that they have started decoupling supply chain dependent on China. There is every possibility of the unity of democratic nations against autocracies, and its impact on world politics and trade and commerce is quite visible.

Bimal Prasad Mohapatra
Author is Assistant Professor of Management Studies in Trident Group of Institutions, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India.

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