As border talks stall, will India’s Narendra Modi get tough on China?

As border talks stall, will India’s Narendra Modi get tough on China?

After 15 weeks of heightened tensions on the Himalayan border between India and China, some in New Delhi are calling for a sterner diplomatic and military strategy.

As the border stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Himalayas entered its 15th week, criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration was brewing in New Delhi, the capital.

Talks have continued with little sign of a breakthrough since Indian and Chinese troops clashed with bare hands, spiked clubs and rods on June 15, leading to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number on the Chinese side.

Unhappy at what they saw as India’s overly cautious approach, a group of military veterans and analysts were calling for the government to get tough on Beijing. A prolonged stand-off could end up narrowing India’s military options to prevent India losing control over vast tracts of strategically located land, they say.

The group is calling for Modi to consider options including shutting a Chinese embassy and building a global case against Chinese aggression.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor at the Center for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, is among those calling for such diplomatic sanctions.He pointed to how the United States last month ordered China to close its embassy in Houston over accusations of espionage – after which China ordered the closure of the American embassy in Chengdu.

Pravin Sawhney, a former military officer who is the founder and editor of national security magazine Force, said China “holds all the cards right now. The economic steps the government has announced will be more painful to India than China.”

Sawhney was critical of what he said were tactical errors in India’s public communications after the border clash. Modi has refrained from naming China directly in his speeches, but his government last week admitted for the first time to the intrusion of Chinese forces, in a document on the defense ministry’s website – only for it to be taken down within hours of being posted.

On June 19, Modi denied Chinese troops had intruded into Indian territory, but analysts – and even India’s external affairs ministry – had said the skirmish was caused by Chinese troops attempting to build a structure in an area of the Galwan Valley that had not previously been disputed.

“That day, the Chinese won,” Sawhney said. “When your prime minister says that no one had intruded, the matter is over.”

Chellaney said Modi had been underplaying the stand-off to protect his image domestically. “But the question is, should saving face at home override the national security imperative to call out China on its aggression?” he asked.