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Reasons and Reactions to the Galwan Clash: An Indian Perspective

JTMS recently conducted an interview with Dr. Sriparna Pathak regarding the contents of her article co-authored with Dr. Obja Borah Hazarika titled, “Reasons and Reactions to the Galwan Clash: An Indian Perspective,” published in the Summer/Fall 2022 issue of JTMS.

Dr. Pathak is an associate professor and director of the Centre for Northeast Asian Studies, School of International Affair, O.P. Jindal Global University, India. The full text of Dr. Pathak and Dr. Hazarika’s article can be found on the Articles tab of the JTMS homepage. JTMS is very thankful for her time and consideration in giving us this interview.



Q1: As part of their public diplomacy, various governments have launched educational and cultural centers in foreign countries in order to positively influence foreign publics and create an attractive image for their country abroad. In your article, you mention that the Indian Government decided to withdraw Chinese courses from Indian schools and to review Confucius Institutes in India. Was the Indian Government afraid that those institutes would function as Trojan horses in Indian political affairs, that is, that would spread propaganda in favor of China and present accusations against the Indian Government?

China’s influence operations using educational institutions and academia across the world are well known. India has always had a cautious attitude towards Confucius institutes which can be used as tools of Chinese propaganda and disinformation, while using the cover of being tools of Chinese soft power.

The clash at Galwan and the treacherous methods China used to martyr Indian soldiers, only proved to India that China cannot be trusted. The battlefront has changed as shown by China’s usage of the cyber space to unleash cyber attacks against India at the heights of the crisis in Galwan. The Indian government understood that China is going to use a host of tools, all not known earlier for being traditional tools of war, to ensure that Indian sovereignty is compromised.

This will include the usage of apps, disinformation, educational institutes and so on. Thus, the Indian government, in order to safeguard its national interests, decided to review existing Confucius institutes and banned Mandarin in the National Education Policy. ‘Afraid’ would not be the word we would use for the actions of the Indian government here. It is more of a defensive action.

Q2: You mention that the Chinese Government used the Galwan Clash in order to divert attention from the criticism it faced internally due to COVID19. However, most countries experienced the peak of the pandemic between March and May 2020, exactly the time when the Galwan Clash emerged. Do you think that Beijing chose this exact period intentionally in order to take advantage of the fact that most Western and Regional Powers were trying to recover and were busy in tackling the pandemic? Consequently, one could argue that India’s allies would not be particularly willing to get involved in a Chinese-Indian dispute, and thus this created the most suitable period for an aggressive policy against India.

China knows that international relations is a realm where there are no permanent friends or enemies. During the previous clashes India and China have had, none of India’s ‘friends’ have intervened. 1962 was the only time when India expected some sort of response from one or both of the two superpowers. Since then, India has largely held ground against China using its own forces.

The crisis in Ukraine shows that during acts of aggression, it is only the country that has been attacked, that holds its ground and protects its sovereignty. Even in 1962, China’s attack coincided with the Cuban missile crisis when the two superpowers were locked far away in a conflict in Cuba. India had amicable relations with both the superpowers then, as India was following principles of non-alignment as opposed to China, which anyways had ideological differences with the US, and fissures in its relations with the USSR had started emerging in the 1960s. China carefully orchestrates the timings of its military attacks. Even this time, during the Galwan clash, China wanted to take advantage of the fact that India, like the rest of the world, was battling collapsing public health systems and a slowing economic growth rate.

Q3: According to rational choice theory, states calculate the costs and benefits of choices in order to make the most advantageous decision for their national interests. At first glance, it seems that China had no costs, while at the same time, by using the salami slicing strategy, it achieved to challenge the status quo and to create more claims in the wider region. Do you agree? Do you think that China achieved its strategic objectives by the Galwan Clash, and what costs -if any- did this clash bring for Chinese foreign or even domestic policy?

The reasons for China’s adventurism in Galwan are myriad. Attention deflection of its domestic audience from issues of slowed growth rates, declining unemployment, rising inflation, food security are one aspect. China also wanted to send out a signal to the Western world in particular that questioning China or even attempting to question Chinese narratives, as seen in multiple demands from across the globe regarding the origins of the COVID 19 virus can lead to military consequences. China will never unleash a military attack against Western countries because of the simple power differentials between China and the US in particular, as well as the fact that China does not share borders with Western countries. India becomes a perfect candidate to display Chinese angst because of the power asymmetry between India and China, as well as the fact that the two share borders.

China used the entire episode of the Galwan clash to rake up nationalism within the country. At times of crisis, when citizens begin questioning the government, deflection of attention, and raking up nationalism to unite the country against a ‘common enemy’ is a tactic China has often used. The hyper nationalism on social media in China, plunging into depths of racism against India and Indians is an example here. Every time the name of a Chinese soldier martyred in the Galwan clash was released, nationalism in China soared. China released the names of four soldiers so far- not at one go, but one by one. This shows that the names are being saved for use at some point for fulfillment of some objective.

Q4: India had long refused to use both the Hong-Kong and Taiwan issue in its foreign policy towards China. On the contrary, one could argue that it had been appeasing Peking, and this appeasement ended a little bit late. How could you describe the rapprochement between New Delhi and Taipei? Is it really a powerful weapon in the hands of the Indian Government?

As shown by recent events after Nancy Pelosi’s visit, the Quad countries, including India have called for peace across the Straits. India has been following the One China Policy for decades. However, since 2010, India has never used the term ‘one China policy’ in any of its official statements. China tried ordering India in August this year to reiterate its one China policy. However, India stated that it does not need to keep reiterating its policies.

India, like the rest of the world, has adhered to the one China policy. Even the most powerful country in the current international system- the US, does not recognize Taiwan as a separate state. It is but unnatural to assume that India, which has a lot of power asymmetry with China will go ahead and recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Additionally, Taiwan’s position on India’s state- Arunachal Pradesh is the same as China’s! Irrespective of these issues, India has been actively engaging with Taiwan economically. In fact, during President Tsai Ing-wen’s swearing in ceremony, a politician from India’s ruling party was present. India respected the ‘friendship’ it had with China all these years, which is why even after the multiple times that Beijing has unleashed military attacks against India, New Delhi has tried to respect Chinese concepts of sovereignty and not raised issues of Taiwan or Hong Kong.

However, all of this is undergoing rapid change. India has mentioned Hong Kong recently at the level of the UN, and as stated previously, India, like the other Quad countries, has called for peace in cross straits relations. Appeasement is not what India has been following so far. It was a genuine hope of having healthy relations with an important neighbor. However, given that these hopes have been completely destroyed by constant Chinese actions, India is actively recalibrating its relationship with China and becoming more vocal on how China disrupts international peace and stability.

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