India-U.S. exercise near LAC irks China

Indian and U.S. Army personnel during a humanitarian and disaster relief exercise amid the India-U.S. joint exercise ‘Yudh Abhyas’, at Tapovan in Uttarakhand on November 30, 2022.

Indian and U.S. Army personnel during a humanitarian and disaster relief exercise amid the India-U.S. joint exercise ‘Yudh Abhyas’, at Tapovan in Uttarakhand on November 30, 2022.
| Photo Credit: PTI

China seeks to “prevent” tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) from pushing India “to partner more closely” with the U.S. and has warned American officials “to not interfere” with its relationship with India, the U.S. Department of Defence said in its latest report.

Separately, Beijing on Wednesday said it had expressed concern to New Delhi over the India-U.S. joint military exercise Yudh Abhyas being held in Uttarakhand, about 100 km from the LAC.

Among the key takeaways, the report said that over the course of 2021, and as seen in 2022, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) increasingly turned to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as “an instrument of statecraft in support of its national strategy and global ambitions”, while also highlighting that the PLA had “adopted more dangerous, coercive and aggressive actions” in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Throughout the stand-off, PRC [People’s Republic of China] officials sought to downplay the severity of the crisis, emphasising Beijing’s intent to preserve border stability and prevent the stand-off from harming other areas of its bilateral relationship with India,” the China military power report 2022, which was submitted to the U.S. Congress, said.

It added that beginning in May 2020, Chinese and Indian forces faced off in clashes with rocks, batons, and clubs wrapped in barbed wire at multiple locations along the LAC.

“Differing perceptions of border demarcations along the LAC combined with recent infrastructure construction, led to multiple unarmed clashes, an ongoing stand-off, and military build-ups on both sides of the India-China border,” it said.

PLA deployments to continue through 2022

Further, referring to the violent Galwan clash of June 2020, which resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese personnel, the most violent clash between the two countries in 45 years, the report said the Western Theatre Command conducted large-scale mobilisation and deployment of PLA forces along the LAC. “Due to the sustained military development along the LAC, the Western Theatre Command’s deployment will likely continue through 2022,” it added.

The report said that each country demanded the withdrawal of the other’s forces and a return to the pre-stand-off conditions, but neither China nor India agreed to the conditions. “The PRC blamed the stand-off on Indian infrastructure construction, which it perceived as encroaching on PRC territory, while India accused China of launching aggressive incursions into India’s territory,” it noted.

Violating the spirit

To a question during a daily media briefing in Beijing on Yudh Abhyas, Spokesperson of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Zhao Lijian said China had already expressed concern to the Indian side. “The joint military exercise between India and the U.S. close to the LAC at the China-India border violates the spirit of the agreements signed between India and China in 1993 and 1996. It does not serve the mutual trust between India and China,” he stated.

As reported by  The Hindu recently, Army chief General Manoj Pande had said the situation along the LAC was “stable but unpredictable” while pointing that five of the seven friction points had been resolved and the focus was now on the remaining two points, Demchok and Depsang.

Eroding influence

In the past two years, India’s tempo of military-to-military engagements with countries in the Quad grouping as well in the Indo-Pacific has significantly gone up.

In 2021, China employed multiple diplomatic tools in an attempt to erode the U.S. and partner influence such as highlighting the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and criticising the U.S.-backed security partnerships, including the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S.) and the AUKUS (Australia, U.K. and U.S.), the report said. “Beijing’s revisionist ambition for the international order derives from the objectives of its national strategy and the party’s political and governing systems,” it added.

Military talks

India and China held the 25th round of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) talks on October 15 and are currently working out dates for the 17th round of Corps Commander talks. The 16th round of senior military commander-level talks were held on July 17 at the Chushul border personnel meeting point on the Indian side.

Since the stand-off began, both sides have undertaken massive upgradation of infrastructure and building of habitats and support to house thousands of additional troops along the LAC. 

India has constantly stated that the relationship cannot go back to normal as long as the situation along the LAC continues and has repeatedly called for the restoration of status quo along the LAC.

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