Salami tactics, or conquering an enemy piece-by-piece, is a well-known strategy in international relations used to overcome opposition and weaken enemy states. The People’s Republic of China and India faced tensions earlier this year in what was their second faceoff since 2020. In May 2020, a clash between the troops of both countries along the Sino-Indian border resulted from India’s infrastructure plan in the bordering region near Ladakh. Both the countries engaged in cross-border-firing on September 7, 2020, the first time in 45 years. India and China both claimed losses of military lives from the deadly clash that lasted until February 2021. Indian citizens protested and a ban was applied on products made in China and on Chinese digital applications operating in India, such as TikTok. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) behavior of claiming other’s territory through salami tactics has been considered a major cause of the clash.
The CCP considers the disputed areas of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as a part of its own territory. However, analysts view the clash not only as an outcome of India expanding its infrastructure but also due to India’s increasing engagements with the United States to counter China’s growing influence in the region. After partial disengagement and 13 meetings among military commanders from both sides, 100 Chinese soldiers entered the Indian territory at Barahoti and remained there for three hours on August 30, 2021. They caused damage to Indian infrastructure, causing a near escalation to war. Additionally, the People’s Liberation Army commenced night drills near the border and installed multiple rocket launchers.
China has been known for pulling smaller nations into its ‘debt trap’ which pushes nations towards allying with China, allowing it to take strategic advantage of their assets and territory. Such is the case with Pakistan, which is increasingly falling into Beijing’s debt. China is investing in the ‘Karachi Coast,’ which could be another threat to India as it allows for an increase in espionage cases under the umbrella of trade. The situation poses a huge challenge for India, and some have predicted a future ‘two-front war’ with China and a Pakistan indebted to China.
India is not unaware of the rising threats along its borders. As a response to tensions with China, India deployed 200,000 troops and arsenals near the border region. Although the Indian Army did not challenge the Chinese soldiers when they entered Indian territory in 2020 and the government did not release an official statement, the reaction of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been questioned by those opposing his aggressive behavior against the Pakistani government.
Apart from this, the foreign ministries of both countries have been playing well in the diplomatic sphere since the clash. A recent statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Xi confirms the same: “China and India have maintained dialogue through diplomatic and military channels, and effectively managed and controlled frictions in certain border areas, under a shared commitment to improving and developing bilateral relations.” The statement points towards a stabilizing effect between the two sides. However, it is also evident that India has been consistently working to build up its road infrastructure, specifically the route to the Ladakh Indian Army base near the Line of Actual Control. Recently, for the first time, the Border Road Organization of India has decided to open the ‘Zoji La’ pass during winters concerning the militarized movements to Eastern Ladakh via the Srinagar-Kargil Highway.
Opposing reactions on both sides—India working towards the build-up near the border and China’s diplomatic statement of the situation stabilizing—begs the question of whether the situation is indeed normalizing or just being obscured. Furthermore, India’s involvement in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QUAD, and its increasing amicable relations with the United States has given rise to another worrisome situation: Russian President Putin and President Xi Jinping’s growing partnership. Russia has referred to the QUAD as an ‘anti-China Alliance.’ In addition to this, Russia supported India in the ‘Jammu-Kashmir issue’ in the United Nations Security Council. This places India in a tough situation as Russia has been its ally since the former’s 1971 war with Pakistan.
Moreover, India imports a majority of its arms from Russia. This makes the ‘CAASTA Act’—a bill passed by the U.S. Senate in 2017 on Iran, Russia, and North Korea that restricts every country on purchasing military equipment from these countries, including India—another threat for India, and a gamble that could potentially spoil India’s relations with the U.S. Besides this, Pakistan is continuing its state sponsorship of military groups operating in the Kashmir Valley. There seems to be no end to this industry of state sponsorship and China continues selling arms to Pakistan which uses those weapons to arm and train militants.
If the situation continues leaning towards offensive engagement between India and China, there is a lingering question of whether Russia will support its old friend, India, or its new partner, China. By the same token, some question whether the United States will engage in the same conflict with Pakistan as a long-term ally. It is also noteworthy that India recently signed a 10-year defense cooperation pact with Russia during the 21st India-Russia Annual Summit held in New Delhi on December 6, 2021.
Additionally, Prime Minister Modi has been rather successful in establishing a positive relationship with President Biden, especially through the QUAD. Considering the situation between India, China, and Pakistan, if the situation gets more critical, the United States is likely to participate as a mediator between Pakistan and India, and not merely as a supporter of Pakistan—earlier, the United States’ interest in supporting Pakistan was based on the war against terrorism and the war in Afghanistan.
Now that U.S. troops are out of Afghanistan, the U.S. has the opportunity to work toward reconstructing its policy toward Pakistan and to urge both India and Pakistan to mediate the conflict at the diplomatic level. A previous statement by President Putin about the India-China clash that “no extra-regional power should interfere between India and China as both countries are equally capable of solving conflicts on their own terms” indicates that Russia will not abandon its years-old friendship with India.
India, therefore, is very likely facing a double threat since it shares one border with China and the other with Pakistan. Nevertheless, due to India’s significant presence in the QUAD and ties with Russia, India possesses a good backing to be able to mediate any likely conflict in the future.