This month’s clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Yangtse in Arunachal Pradesh, weeks after President Xi Jinping began his unprecedented new five-year term, spells danger of 2023 too ending up as yet another blank year in the bilateral ties which nosedived after the PLA’s misadventures in eastern Ladakh in 2020.
The Yangtse clash in which hundreds of Chinese soldiers made a vain bid to move into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control could cast a shadow over any thaw in the ties as both countries recently managed to work out disengagement in several points in eastern Ladakh through 16 rounds of excruciatingly arduous negotiations.
In his statement in the Parliament on the December 9 incident at the Yangtse area of Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “the Indian Army bravely prevented the PLA from encroaching on our territory and forced them to withdraw to their posts. Some soldiers from both sides were injured in the skirmish.”
While the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the situation along the border with India was “generally stable”, Senior Colonel Long Shaohua, spokesman of the Western Theatre Command of PLA, in a statement claimed that the clash took place when its troops on regular patrol on the Chinese side of the LAC were blocked by Indian soldiers.
“Our troops’ response is professional, firm and standard, which has helped to stabilise the situation. Both sides have been under disengagement since then,” Long said.
Observers say that the PLA statement highlights that the Chinese military may continue its Ladakh tactics of trying to send patrols with hundreds of soldiers to take key positions along the 3,488 km-long un-demarcated LAC.
It is the first major clash between the Indian and Chinese armies since the fierce face-off in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 that marked the most serious military conflict between the two sides in decades.
The ties between the two countries froze since then with India making it clear that peace and tranquillity at the border is the sine qua non for the overall development of bilateral ties.
After 16 rounds of military and diplomatic-level talks since 2020, the two sides disengaged the troops from various friction points, the last being the Patrolling Point 15 in the Gogra-Hotsprings area of eastern Ladakh.
The Yangtse clash is also politically significant as it was the first major incident at the border after President Xi was re-elected for an unprecedented third five-year term at the once-in-a-five-year Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China in October.
The Congress also re-appointed Xi, 69, as the Chairman of China’s all-powerful Central Military Commission (CMC), the overall high command of the PLA.
Under Xi’s third term, China will have a new set of officials. This includes a new Foreign Minister as the incumbent, Wang Yi has been elevated to the CPC’s high-level Political Bureau, which makes him China’s powerful diplomat.
Wang along with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is the Special Representative of the India-China boundary mechanism which has remained dormant in the present set of border standoffs.
The new cabinet and officials will take charge after the annual session of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress in March next year.
The PLA’s move at Yangtse taking place after the completion of disengagement from many friction points was seen as the reflection of the dilemma prevailing in the Chinese political and military ranks on how to deal with India which is on political ascendency internationally.
India is the current chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and is set to host the Heads of the Governments of the eight-member bloc next year.
Also, India gearing up to host the prestigious G20 leadership summit. China is active in both groupings.
Also, India has made a big splash in the international arena with its two-year non-permanent membership 2021-22 at the UN Security Council, which ends this month.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has announced India’s candidature for the same at the council for the year 2028-29.
Observers say China should re-address its policies towards India or else it will continue to face flare-ups increasing the tensions between the two countries at a time China’s increasing tension with the US over Taiwan and the South China Sea besides the downturn in the Chinese economy which is hit hard by the zero-covid policy.
Despite the downturn in the relations, the trade between India and China continued to boom this year, crossing the USD 100 billion figure for the second year in the last nine months.
According to official data released here in October, the total bilateral trade went up to USD 103.63 billion, registering a 14.6 per cent increase compared to last year during the same period. At the same time, India’s trade deficit climbed to over USD 75 billion.
China’s exports to India climbed to USD 89.66 billion, registering an increase of 31 per cent, while India’s exports in the past nine months stood at USD 13.97 billion registering a decline of 36.4 per cent, according to the data released by China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC).
After repeated appeals, China finally permitted some among the hundreds of Indian students, stranded back home since 2020 due to Covid-19 travel bans, to return to rejoin their studies.
According to official estimates, over 23,000 Indian students, mostly studying medicine, are enrolled in Chinese colleges. So far, a few hundred Indian students have reportedly returned after China began granting visas.
Also towards the end of the year, the coronavirus which first surfaced in the central Chinese city of Wuhan towards the end of 2019 returned to haunt the country.
In November, rare public protests erupted all over the country over the much-hated zero-Covid policy under which cities and localities with Covid spikes were periodically placed on lockdowns.
China relaxed its stringent zero-Covid restrictions following the protests. Soon thereafter, the country was hit by the fastest-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus, putting massive pressure on health facilities.
Leading Chinese epidemiologists say the epidemic will peak in January and February, although the number of infections will continue to increase in the short term.
China’s official death toll due to COVID since 2020 so far stood at 5,241 deaths.
In 2022, former president Jiang Zemin, who led the country out of isolation after the crushing of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and supported economic reforms that led to a decade of explosive growth, died at the age of 96.
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