The latest annual report of the Pentagon to the US Congress on China makes for a worrying read. The headline insight is that China today is the only country capable of combining its economic, military, diplomatic and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to the open international system – read democracies. It also points to the significant pace of military modernisation in China with ongoing expansion of Chinese nuclear force exceeding US predictions – Chinese nuclear warheads could top 1,000 by 2030.

In sum, China today is speeding ahead to meet its 2049 target of surpassing US power and displacing American alliances. It’s in this context that the current India-China standoff along the LAC needs to be seen. As the report points out, despite military and diplomatic dialogue between the two sides, China has continued to take “incremental and tactical” actions to press its claims along the LAC, including the building of a so-called large civilian village – it could also be a PLA military camp – in disputed territory in India’s Arunachal Pradesh. One of China’s strategic aims in the standoff, according to the report, is to prevent India from deepening its relationship with the US.

Thus, there’s no denying that China today poses the biggest strategic-security challenge for India. We are looking at a revisionist, authoritarian power that has the means to try and refashion the global order to suit its own interests. From New Delhi’s perspective, it will require mobilising all the factors of its national power to counter the Chinese threat. Which is precisely why it must keep the situation in Kashmir under control. For, Pakistan’s strategy in all of this is to make India pay in Kashmir as New Delhi busies itself dealing with Beijing.

But such a division of security-military resources will only aid the China-Pakistan nexus. Hence, speeding up the pace of normalisation in Kashmir and restoring full political rights through elections must be treated as priority. GoI has done well to ensure relative calm after the nullification of Article 370. If elections can only take place after the delimitation exercise, then that exercise must be completed soon. Elections in Kashmir are imperative to also blunt terror’s new turn as exemplified by recent targeted killings. It’s only then that full attention can be given to the China problem, which will require India to not only partner more closely with the US and Quad but also adopt an all-of-government approach to counter Chinese belligerence.



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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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