Indian and Chinese rivalry is not a recent event. Both the Asian giants have already been at loggerheads since 1967. Since then, their rivalry has mostly been in the field of geopolitics and economy and not on the ground. But their relationship hit rock bottom last year during the Galwan valley incident in which lives were lost on both sides. The standoff was so strong that both the troops have not yet completely disengaged even after several table talks.
So the question is what is China’s game plan? And most importantly, why now?
To understand the Chinese plan we will have to speak of Tibet because the possible explanations lie there.
Infrastructure development in Tibet
China is rapidly developing its air force bases and infrastructure in Tibet. Lhasa Gonggar airport saw the biggest upgradation which includes renovating a surface-to-air missile site, a site for an air defence system, an airforce support site, and new hardened shelters for the protection of fighter jets. Lhasa heliport, which is home to the z-20 attack helicopter also saw massive upgradation.
Hotan airbase which is located in Xinjiang has also undergone rapid upgradation. This airbase is crucial for China to carry out operations in the Ladakh region. Upgradation includes new runways, massive storage facilities, and storage facilities for fighter jets.
Experts say that China might have initiated a standoff in Ladakh to divert New Delhi's attention from all these constructions. Beijing is developing military bases especially its Air Force to counter Indian advantage. India has a big advantage on the Chinese border as the Indian-Chinese border is closer to the Indian plain land. China has to cross mountains and rough terrain to reach the border.
In case of a conflict, Chinese aircraft will face fuel shortage and payload limits to fly all the way from their bases in Mainland China. China is balancing this advantage of India by making its bases war-ready near the Indian border. A fighter jet can take off from its Xinjiang or Tibbet bases to reach the border in a short duration of time compared to flying from bases far from their borders. China needed at least 2 years to complete these works. If we look at the timeline of the standoff, the complete picture gets cleared.
Even though the situation did not escalate much at the border after the Galwan valley incident and both parties decided to disengage, they never completely did. There are still certain areas like Gogra and Hot Springs which are yet to be disengaged.
Possible invasion of Taiwan
While Taiwan calls itself an independent nation, China claims Taiwan as its territory. Experts now fear that China could possibly invade Taiwan in the next 6 years. Beijing also knows that this is a big step and it will need the support of world powers to do so. But major powers have already cleared that China will have to face repercussions if they decide to do so. The top countries which are openly opposing this possible invasion are the USA, Japan, and Australia. The internet is filled with theories claiming a possible war between China and the USA or China and Japan over Taiwan.
China also threatened Japan with a nuclear attack if Japan keeps supporting Taiwan as an independent nation. India being the most powerful rival of China in Asia needs to be either neutral or in support of China for this step to be successful. Interestingly, India has never openly supported Taiwan as an independent nation and respected China's claim. The border standoff might also be an attempt to show India that how far Beijing can go if India supported the Taiwan cause. In short, China wants India to be neutral on this issue either by hook or by crook.
A change in demography
Indian counterparts also seem to understand the importance of infrastructure near the LAC after the border standoff. India has been developing roads and bases rapidly. But when we compare the development with the Chinese side, it looks like India needs to catch up. Beijing is not only developing runways and military establishments, but they are also making villages near the Arunachal and Tibet border.
They are inhibiting their people and changing the demography. "Due to the military stand-off with China, the Indian Army has been able to complete the work planned in the next five years in the last 12 months itself. The number of troops which can be easily accommodated and stationed in the Ladakh sector alone in the newly constructed habitats would be more than double the number of troops presents there," government sources told ANI.
To summarize, China wants to continue the standoff to buy time and pressure India. While the world thinks it was just a land-grabbing step and no one side benefitted because of Indian resistance, the situation on the ground is more than what meets the eye.