Daily Editorial Analysis for 2nd June 2020

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Awful silence: On India-China standoff

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


India must publicly clarify the seriousness of the situation with China along the LAC

Key Details:

  • Nearly a month after the first skirmishes on the LAC between Indian and Chinese soldiers were reported, the situation on the ground still appears to be tense.
  • While there has been no official explanation of what has happened there since May 5, the day the first clash at Pangong Tso (lake) was reported, there is enough information to conclude that this is the most serious such standoff India and China have seen in years.
  • The number of Chinese soldiers, the aggression with which they have dealt with Indian soldiers, as well as the number of points of conflict, indicate strategized action by Chinese commanders.


  • The armies of the world’s two most populous nations are locked in a tense face-off high in the Himalayas, which has the potential to escalate as they seek to further their strategic goals.
  • Indian leaders and military strategists have clearly been left stunned.
  • The move came after India built a road several hundred kilometers long connecting to a high-altitude forward air base which it reactivated in 2008.
  • Reports in the Indian media said soldiers from the two sides clashed on at least two occasions in Ladakh. Stand-offs are reported in at least three locations: the Galwan valley; Hot Springs; and Pangong lake to the south.

Why are tensions rising now?

  • There are several reasons – but competing strategic goals lie at the root, and both sides blame each other.
  • “The traditionally peaceful Galwan River has now become a hotspot because it is where the LAC is closest to the new road India has built along the Shyok River to Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) – the most remote and vulnerable area along the LAC in Ladakh.
  • India’s decision to ramp up infrastructure seems to have infuriated Beijing.
  • Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times said categorically: “The Galwan Valley region is Chinese territory, and the local border control situation was very clear.”
  • According to the Chinese military, India is the one which has forced its way into the Galwan valley. So, India is changing the status quo along the LAC – that has angered the Chinese.
  • Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Wilson Center, another think tank, says this face-off is not routine.
  • He adds China’s “massive deployment of soldiers is a show of strength”.
  • The road could boost Delhi’s capability to move men and material rapidly in case of a conflict.

Proposed China-Pakistan economic corridor

  • A strategic road, the Karakoram highway, passes through this area that connects China with its long-term ally Pakistan.
  • Beijing has invested about $60bn (£48bn) in Pakistan’s infrastructure – the so-called China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) – as part of its Belt and Road Initiative and the highway is key to transporting goods to and from the southern Pakistani port of Gwadar.
  • The port gives China a foothold in the Arabian Sea.

How dangerous could this get?

  • Routinely both armies can be seen crossing the LAC – it’s fairly common and such incidents are resolved at the local military level.
  • But this time, the build-up is the largest we have ever seen.
  • The stand-off is happening at some strategic areas that are important for India.
  • If Pangong lake is taken, Ladakh can’t be defended.
  • If the Chinese military is allowed to settle in the strategic valley of Shyok, then the Nubra valley and even Siachen can be reached.
  • In what seems to be an intelligence failure, India seems to have been caught off guard again.
  • According to Indian media accounts, the country’s soldiers were outnumbered and surrounded when China swiftly diverted men and machines from a military exercise to the border region.
  • This triggered alarm in Delhi – and India has limited room for maneuver.
  • It can either seek to persuade Beijing to withdraw its troops through dialogue or try to remove them by force. Neither is an easy option.
  • China is the world’s second-largest military power.
  • Technologically it’s superior to India.
  • Infrastructure on the other side is very advanced.
  • Financially, China can divert its resources to achieve its military goals, whereas the Indian economy has been struggling in recent years, and the coronavirus crisis has worsened the situation

What next?

  • History holds difficult lessons for India.
  • It suffered a humiliating defeat during the 1962 border conflict with China.
  • India says China occupies 38,000km of its territory.
  • Several rounds of talks in the last three decades have failed to resolve the boundary issues.
  • China already controls the Aksai Chin area further east of Ladakh and this region, claimed by India, is strategically important for Beijing as it connects its Xinjiang province with western Tibet.
  • In 2017 India and China were engaged in a similar stand-off lasting more than two months in Doklam plateau, a tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan.
  • India objected to China building a road in a region claimed by Bhutan.
  • The Chinese stood firm. Within six months, Indian media reported that Beijing had built a permanent all-weather military complex there.
  • This time, too, talks are seen as the only way forward – both countries have so much to lose in a military conflict.

Why has not the LAC been clarified?

  • India has long proposed an exercise to clarify differing perceptions of the LAC to prevent such incidents. Maps were exchanged in the Middle Sector, but the exercise fell through in the Western Sector where divergence is the greatest.
  • China has since rejected this exercise, viewing it as adding another complication to the on-going boundary negotiations.
  • India’s argument is rather than agree on one LAC, the exercise could help both sides understand the claims of the other, paving the way to regulate activities in contested areas until a final settlement of the boundary dispute.

What is the state of boundary negotiations?

  • The 22nd round of talks between the Special Representatives, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and China’s State Councillor Wang Yi, was held in Delhi in December 2019.
  • Both “agreed that an early settlement of the boundary question serves the fundamental interests of both countries” and “resolved to intensify their efforts to achieve a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution”.
  • In 2005, an agreement on political parameters and guiding principles completed the first of three stages of the talks.
  • The current, and most difficult, stage involves agreeing a framework to resolve the dispute in all sectors.
  • The final step will involve delineating and demarcating the boundary in maps and on the ground.

What are the prospects of a settlement?

  • The likelihood appears remote. The main differences are in the Western and Eastern sectors.
  • India sees China as occupying 38,000 sq km in Aksai Chin. In the east, China claims as much as 90,000 sq km, extending all across Arunachal Pradesh.
  • A swap was hinted at by China in 1960 and in the early 1980s, which would have essentially formalised the status quo.
  • Both sides have now ruled out the status quo as a settlement, agreeing to meaningful and mutual adjustments.
  • At the same time, the most realistic solution will involve only minor adjustments along the LAC, considering neither side will be willing to part with territory already held.
  • The 2005 agreement said both sides “shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in border areas”.
  • One particular sticking point appears to involve China’s claims to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, which has been increasingly referenced in public statements in recent years.
  • The disputed territory in the eastern sector, including Tawang, is inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction.
  • The Tawang demand is, however, more a symptom than the root of the problem.
  • In truth, China knows ceding Tawang will be impossible for any Indian government to consider.
  • The broader issue appears to be a fundamental difference in how both sides view the boundary question.
  • As one Chinese scholar put it in 2018, “China’s experience indicates that resolving border disputes is usually the result, rather than the cause, of improvement in relations.
  • But India insists that its relations with China won’t improve fundamentally until the border dispute is resolved.”
  • Therein lies the crux of the problem. In some sense, Beijing appears to view an unsettled border as holding some leverage with India, one of the many pressures points it could use to keep India off-guard. Until that strategic calculus — and China’s broader view of its relations with India — changes, the stalemate will likely endure.


The government must also investigate how a big build-up of Chinese soldiers was not acted upon earlier. Beyond this, it must make a full assessment of just what China’s final aims are: is the summer conflagration meant to deflect attention from Beijing’s current problems over the coronavirus pandemic, to deter India from its infrastructural push for roads and bridges to connect its northern frontiers all the way to the Karakoram pass, or to “remind” New Delhi of its geographical vulnerabilities as it contemplates a closer maritime relationship in the Indo-Pacific with the U.S.? In all three scenarios, the first steps for the government would be to publicly clarify the seriousness of the situation at the LAC, and to build consensus around its plans for a firm pushback and an assertion of its position along the disputed line.

Ominous signals: on slowdown of India’s economy

General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management


  • India’s economy is in a severe slowdown that is only going to get worse in a pandemic-stricken world. Three months after Finance Ministry mandarins prognosticated that India’s growth slowdown had bottomed out, the latest economic data has belied that prediction.
  • Crucially, the GDP growth estimates for the January-March quarter and the full fiscal year barely reflect the impact of the public health crisis and the stringent lockdowns, which were imposed nationwide only from March 25.
  • The NSO’s estimates show fourth-quarter and fiscal 2019-20 growth slumped to 3.1% and 4.2%, respectively, the slowest pace in 11 years.
  • The government says the lockdown impacted data flow, and with statutory reporting timelines extended the estimates would likely undergo revision.
  • However, the fact that Gross Value-Added numbers for the first three quarters have been revised significantly downwards shows that the economic malaise was deep and widespread even before the novel coronavirus landed on Indian shores.

Key Details:

  • According to the provisional estimates India’s economic growth has slowed to an 11-year low of 4.2% in 2019-20.
  • The fourth quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal year, the January-March period, saw the growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slump to 3.1%.

Bright spots:

  • The fourth-quarter growth of 2019-20, while being slowest in 44 quarters, however, was still faster than the 2.2% pace predicted by most economists and ratings analysts.
  • Agriculture and government expenditure have helped lift growth from the earlier projections. Agricultural output and the mining sector picked up steam in the fourth quarter, growing at rates of 5.9% and 5.2% respectively.
  • Public administration, defence and other services grew at 10.1%.

Issues & Concerns:

Manufacturing sector:

  • The manufacturing sector has contracted with output shrinking by 1.4%.

Demand weakening:

  • Most worrying is the fact that the three components of demand have fallen— consumption demand has slowed, while investments and exports are both in the negative territory.

Fiscal position:

  • The data from the Controller General of Accounts (CGA)shows that the Centre’s fiscal position has worsened.
  • Fiscal deficit has increased to 4.6% of GDP mainly on account of poor revenue realization.
  • CGA’s data indicates that the Centre’s gross tax revenues have contracted by 3.4% in 2019-20. Revenue receipts during the year worked out to be only 90% of the revised estimate.
  • The deficit, which signifies the gap between government revenue and expenditure, is higher than the revised estimate of 3.8% for the fiscal.
  • According to the Controller General of Accounts (CGA) data, the revenue deficit was 3.27%. The effective revenue deficit was 2.36%.

COVID-19 effect:

  • The slowdown has all happened in the year prior to the spread of COVID. The GDP numbers do not yet capture the impact of the four stages of lockdown that started on March 25, 2020.
  • Unlike during the financial crisis of 2008 when India maintained an 8% GDP growth when the capacity to endure and recover was strong, in the current situation India is faced with a weaker economy and much weaker public finances and fiscal capacity.
  • The private expenditure growth has been dwindling due to shut down and labour migration.
  • Investment has been contracting due to weak consumption demand and stretched corporate balance sheets.
  • Initial estimates project that the Indian economy would contract in 2020-21 for the first time since 1980.


The weak commodity prices and import demand would help provide some support to growth. The government expenditure will again be the growth engine in 2020-21.

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