India commences military drills ahead of G20 summit; Xi a no-show

India initiated major military drills on Monday, encompassing contested border regions with China, a move that coincides with the upcoming G20 summit in New Delhi, from which President Xi Jinping will be conspicuously absent.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that Chinese Premier Li Qiang would represent the nation at the summit, setting a contrasting tone to Xi’s decision to forgo the event.

India has remained vigilant regarding its northern neighbour’s increasing military assertiveness, with their 3,500 km shared border remaining a consistent source of tension. Recent flare-ups occurred when a Chinese map laid claim to territory Indian authorities assert as their own, including areas near where conflicts erupted in 2020.

In response, tens of thousands of soldiers have amassed along both sides of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that divides the two nations.

On Monday, the Indian Air Force (IAF) initiated a significant combat training operation along the China-Pakistan borders in the northern and western regions. This exercise involved the activation of fighter aircraft and the deployment of surface-to-air guided weapons. Concurrently, Army units conducted high-altitude drills in eastern Ladakh and the Arunachal-Sikkim sector.

The ‘Trishul’ exercise, led by the Western Air Command (WAC) – the foremost IAF command overseeing a vast area from Ladakh to Rajasthan, coincides with India’s upcoming hosting of the G20 summit. This development unfolds against the backdrop of the prolonged military standoff with China in eastern Ladakh, which has persisted for four years. It is worth noting that there will be a temporary operational pause in the high-intensity air exercise during the G20 summit scheduled for September 9 and 10 in New Delhi.

While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s Xi had an uncommon face-to-face meeting in South Africa last month, China’s Premier Li Qiang’s attendance at the G20 summit on September 9-10 was confirmed on Monday.

This marks the second time Xi has missed the critical G20 summit, with the previous instance occurring in 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its zenith, and China’s stringent “Zero COVID policy” prevented his overseas travels.

Modi’s administration has invested substantial funds into infrastructure projects along its side of the border, aiming to enhance civilian presence and establish new paramilitary units.

For the past three years, the Indian government has consistently connected the border standoff in eastern Ladakh, where 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops perished in Galwan, to the overall state of bilateral relations.

India is also actively seeking to foster closer ties with Western nations, including its fellow Quad members, the United States, Japan, and Australia. These countries are concurrently courting New Delhi as an alternative to China, underlining shifting global dynamics.

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