Just days before the US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun commences a visit to New Delhi on Monday, America’s national security advisor Robert O’Brien has observed, “The time has come to accept that dialogue and agreements will not persuade and compel China to change.” The remark is in the context of the “CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party’s) territorial aggression” and China’s “attempt(ed) to seize control of the Line of Actual Control by force”.
Many may agree with the general drift of the US NSA’s comment. It will become clearer after Mr Biegun’s talks here if, officially, India at this stage would go so far as to withhold any further discussions and consultations — at the military and diplomatic levels — with China in order to make it move back its troops in Ladakh.
The Chinese aggression was evidently a key issue in the meeting of the Quad (US, Japan, Australia, India) foreign ministers in Tokyo earlier this month. The Quad, which began its journey as an informal grouping of liberal democracies of the Indo-Pacific region in 2007 in order to counterbalance China and act as a moderating influence on it, has been active of late. This arises from China’s ongoing marked aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific littoral — aimed at territorial expansion — taking on a continental dimension in Ladakh.
The tenor of the US criticism of Xi’s China has of late taken on a sharp political and ideological dimension. But India and other Quad members have been more calibrated, calling for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” or FOIP. The situation in Ladakh is likely to loom large at the meeting of “2+2” — the defence and foreign ministers of India and the US — in New Delhi later this month. While being prepared for any military eventuality, it might be prudent not to cancel further talks with the Chinese unless it seems this would make Beijing reverse its militarist stance in Ladakh.