Reports that even as the nation was celebrating 70 years of Independence, Chinese troops tried to cross the Line of Actual Control near Pangong Lake in Ladakh, are disconcerting but it is some relief that there was no firing from either side. There was only a scuffle as their attempts were thwarted by alert Indian troops.
After Chinese troopers found their path blocked by Indian soldiers who formed a human chain, they began hurling stones, prompting a swift retaliation by Indian border guards. Personnel from both sides received minor injuries and the situation was brought under control. Just last week, India had moved in more troops all along the border with China and put the Air Force on operational alert in the North East as the standoff over Doklam on the China-Bhutan-India tri-junction worsened.
Unlike earlier years, there was no People’s Liberation Army Day celebration earlier this month and no Indian sweets for the Chinese on India’s Independence Day. Evidently, there is a welcome reluctance at escalating tensions but the Chinese are keen to show that they are strong. However, the standoff between China and India in the Doklam area in the Sikkim sector is showing no signs of easing.
At the centre of the dispute is the PLA’s attempt to build a motorable road in the contentious tri-junction. The Chinese leadership is slated to go into its annual huddle later this month in the beach resort of Beidaihe. This is where all the jockeying will happen for posts on the Politburo and Central Committee ahead of the 19th Party Congress later in October. Once the Beidaihe huddle gets over, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Beijing in the first week of September for the BRICS summit. That summit could provide an opportunity to both sides to resolve what is now the longest-running standoff since 1962.
Meanwhile, as a fallout of the Doklam standoff, the Modi government has started a review of the massive import of electronics and information technology products from China due to concerns over security and data leakages. This sector accounts for a huge chunk of the shipments from across the Chinese border.
Chinese companies have been increasingly engaging with India’s burgeoning electronics and IT industry and this trade today is worth a whopping US$22 billion annually. There is concern that this can give the Chinese unlawful access to critical information about individuals, businesses and government set-ups.
Steps are already under way to determine the damage that the leaks of information can cause, especially because the country is going in for increased digitisation. Also, major Chinese companies hold substantial stake in some of the country’s largest online marketplaces. India’s large trade imbalance with China has also been growing.
Now that the government has realised the dangers that leakage of such vital information poses, there indeed is no time to waste. We need to tackle this on a war footing and if Doklam has sensitised us to this insidious Chinese encroachment it should be seen as a blessing in disguise.