The Sikkim clash and a declassified Indo-Pacific strategy raise tough questions for New Delhi.
The conflict between China and India in the Himalayas has been less active over the frozen winter months, even though the troops remain deployed at 15,000 to 18,000 feet in temperatures that drop to minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit. But as the snows melt, the 8-month-old military standoff is set to resume. While New Delhi was busy with the dual challenge of a raging pandemic and an economy in recession, Beijing moved in to construct a new village in Indian territory in another border area, Arunachal Pradesh, some 1,000 miles away from the original conflict in the Galwan Valley. Last week, there was a nonfatal clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Naku La in northern Sikkim, some 750 miles from Galwan. Yet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has largely maintained his silence on China so far. Unsure of what to expect next from Chinese President Xi Jinping in the summer, New Delhi has been looking toward its friends and partners for support and help, the United States being the foremost among them.
After investing a lot in the relationship with former U.S. President Donald Trump, Modi got a parting gift. The outgoing Trump administration declassified its 2018 Indo-Pacific strategy, originally meant to be secret for three decades, in the first week of January, with the aim of potentially boxing in his successor’s approach toward China. But while the strategy might warm some hearts in New Delhi, it’s not an approach that India can commit to publicly—not least because it raises vexing questions about the country’s own military and economic capabilities.