The Way Ahead in the LAC Stand-Off
After the Chinese got their independence from Japan, they have been either hostile or indifferent to India. China, once the most populous but poor state in the world still remains the most populous but has shun-away its poverty tag to become a nation of second largest GDP in the world. Their expansionist behaviour has made them fight many wars with neighbours as shown in table below to occupy East Turkestan, Tibet, Manchuria, Yunnan, Macau and part of Mongolia.
After the Communist party of China came to the power, it remainsa seclusive state, with very little known to the others. Chinese have shown their untrustworthiness repeatedly, times and again. As far as India is Concerned, it has been a very unreliable neighbour.Pandit Nehru made a grave mistake of trusting the Chines and suffered with “PanchsheelBack-stab” in 1962. Their expansionist desires have been ever evident in Tibet and India. Tibet was occupied by the Chinese in 1959 making the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan administration to flee to India. Thereafter, their transgression to India have been a common feature in which India is equally to be blamed not to have made the infrastructures in the border area, to counter such moves. As a result, most of the Chinese ingression used to go unnoticed. Since an ill-defined Line of Actual Control (LAC) is being repeatedly blamed, Indian Govt had been somewhat indifferent to fortifying its northern boarders. On the other hand, China have made massive development of their infrastructures extending right till the LAC. Chinese have defied all attempts to define the boundary line since they signed the agreement in 1988 with Rajiv Gandhi and again in 1993 with Narsimha Rao and in 1996, 2002 with Bajpayee. Since Chinese have scant regard for LAC, they seem to care less about defining itand have been transgressing freely.
LAC transgression and some serious stand-off have taken place many times in past too... Sumdorong Chu in 1987, Depsang in 2013, Chumar in 2014, Docklam in 2017 and very recently Naku La in May 2020. After Modi Govt came to power in 2014, they have rendered top priority to neighbourly relations. In that regard even Pakistan and China were approached. Pakistan responded with Pathankot & Uri terrorist attacks and hence,they have been given a mandate that terror and talks cannot go together. China had shown a better response that led in to mutual confidence building visits of both heads of states with remarkable outcomes. Despite all these, some major differences of perceptions remain in both diplomatic and the ground situation. The economic cooperation has brought many Chinese manufacturers to India. A rather serious 73-day Docklam face-off could be resolved peacefully. Despite informal talks of ‘Wuhan Spirit & Chennai Connect’ to prevent any unpleasant situations in future, Chinese army continues to violate the LAC.
In the recent months three major stand-off have taken place...at Naku La in Sikkim, Pangong Tso and Galwan valley ingress in Ladakh. Naku La incident led to scuffles and stone throwing,causing some injuries on both sides, later resolved peacefully. However, the other two stand-offs seem to be more complex. There is significant scaling-up of the military on both sides including positioning of the artillery and armoured forces. At Galwan valley, the Chinese army have come to the LACface to face with Indian army presently involved with the infrastructure developments on war footing with which the chinese seem to be unhappy. At patrolling point (PP) 14 they came to object the construction of a 60-meter bridge over the Shyok river facilitating approach to Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip. On PP15, they erected many tents and tried to settle down. On PP17, India had to move their artillery to match the Chinese guns. It isalso said that the Chinesehave taken position on some of the adjoining peaks and vantage points. At the Pangong Tso however, they have marched forward many kilometres from finger 8 to finger 4 and are face to face with Indian forces. It is also believed that Chinese have blocked PP 8 to 11 for the Indian troops and are posing a direct threat to the DS-DBO road while sitting on the vantage points at the nearby ridges. Series of military level talks have failed to attain a status quoante’.The detal chronological events from 06 Jun to the present situation are enumerated on page-27 at the end of this article.
On diplomatic front on one hand the Chinese have shown many anti-Indian postures and on the other, India has been showing its docile magnanimity. Chinese have helped Pakistan escape culpability for terrorism at the UNnumerous times. They have been protecting Pakistan from being black-listed for terror funding at the FATF. They have helped the Pakistanisto drag India to the UNSCtwice on Kashmir. They have been long thwarting the Indian efforts in blacklisting the Pakistani terrorist leaders. They have been putting hurdles on Indian entry to the NSGand UNSCpermanent seat aspirations. They have reacted adversely to Indian constitutional reforms on J&Kand sided with Pakistan in raising the issue at the UNSC. They have built the CPECthrough PoKwhich rightfully belongs to India. On all these issues they have shown little concerns to Indian sensitivities.India on other hand, has been making unjustified concessions to the Chinese. It has been long following the unjust ‘one China’ policy.It has largely refrained from internationalising their Tibet occupation. It has refrained from recognising the Tibetan govt of Dr Lobsang in exile. India has not yet recognised the statehood to Taiwan. Indian govt has been mostly silent on Chinese human rights violations and gross abuses in Xinjiang(on Uighur Muslims), Tibetans and Hongkong. India has not rendered active resentments to the Chinese expansionism in to the south china sea (SCS). The most recent favour has been shown in avoiding to rack-up the Wuhan-virus issue and the related WHOpartisan approach. This is unpardonable because China was able to destroy and erase all foot-prints of Corona virus link to their Wuhan lab. India did not support the international voice against WHOin initiating a neutral international investigation in to it. This has such profound economic consequence that if found culpable (which in most probability they are), they could end-up paying100s of trillions of dollars as compensations on account of the deaths and other sufferings including economic shut-downs in almost all countries. India has also avoided letting the USAto meddle in chinese affairs for their transgression of LAC.
After the LiutenantGeneral level talks apparently failed on 06 Jun 2020, people have been asking questions...why show such benevolence to the dragon which has scant regard for Indian concerns and sensitivities. Lack of our timely action has made them ingress on our land. It is understood that they have even occupied one odd peaks in the Galwan sector and moved in to unguarded spaces in Pangong Tso. How did Indian military blunder in letting them in? None can blame the Defence Forces as the surface transportation around the LAC have been abysmal for more than half centuries. It was only after Bajpayee govt took-up the case that the long pending files of the Army and the ITBP/BSF calling for basic infrastructure-development started moving. Unfortunately, the govt changed and inertia set again. It took another six years to start sanctioning of the Boarder Roads in the remote areas on our northern frontiers. Why Indian troops should not counter-act to occupy the peaks across LAC at the vantage points, letting counter-strike capabilities to our forces in the event if hostility breaks out? Why let the Chinese get-away with their Corona warfare virus murders of lakhs of people across the world? Why not rectify the blunders of Nehru in taking up the Tibetan’s legitimate demand of independence as millions of their refugees are living in India?
Time has come to take China by its horns...on all 3 fronts... Economy, Diplomatic and Military.........
Economy Option as an arsenal.
Chinese have made themselves to be counted as world power through economic transformation that subsequently helped them to consolidate on all frontiers including their Defence Services. Their Economic might is unparalleled (san USA). They can buy any country ready to bite the bait. Sri Lanka and Pakistan have already fallen to it. Nepal’s greed is drawing it to surrender to the dragon. Many African countries too are biting their baits. They are already posturing for unchallenged domination in South China Sea showing two fingers to all other stakes holders or even ignoring the ICJ ruling on it. Every now and then they have been turning heat on Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam. The ASEAN members seem to be divided on how to deal with thedragon. Then...if India is feeling the pinch of Chinese/Pak assisted Maoist/insurgent/Terrorist violence duly supported by their political wing (Communist Party of India) as arethe LAC violations on the northern frontiers, it is nothing unusual. Their military incursions will have to be checked with Indianmilitary strength but theirintent behind such acts have to be check-mated. The Indian diplomacy is lacking teeth to name & shame China for such LAC violations.
Today the Chinese are increasingly becoming vulnerable in their economy. It is being impacted by the US through various means of tariffs and sanctions. The biggest categories of U.S. imports from China were computers, cell phones, apparel, toys and sporting goods, the raw materials of which were sent by the US manufacturers for low-cost assembly. Ground report of the US trade deficit in last 5 yrs are not showing the desired results that Trump administration claims. It is however showing a trend of arresting the increase in the deficit from $419 billion in 2018 to $345.2 in 2019. What is worrying for the US is that its export to the China have also declined gradually from 2017 onward possibly due to the counter imposition of tariff by the Chinese on the US goods. However, the US administrative countermeasures against the Chinese IPR violations and dumping of goods along with own boostin manufacturing will surely yield results in the coming years. Surely the Chinese exports to the US as well as other blocks of nations will take a hit.
Cheaper Chinese consumer products, coal, Steel, Electronic goods, pharmaceutical ingredients and some of the machineries are widely being imported by the European Union from China. This has provided the Chinese with a huge surplus of about $150 billion in trade. Many such goods grossly violate the European IPR concerns. It is only of late that Europe has realised it and have started effective steps. The trade deficits of the Europe are gradually narrowing. Post Corona, the entire world community is showing their resolve to counter China and it will surely hurt the dragon.
China is also becoming economicallyvulnerable after several of their investors are trying to pull out after the Corona scare. India can surely make them shift with a better investment-friendly environment. Some have already decided to exit China and exploring India, Bangladesh and some more countries as options. India must pursue this action rather vigorously. The Chinese are increasingly coming under economic constraints as their huge investments in numerous countries in Asia and Africa are not yielding the due dividends. The investments in real-state is especially in red. The BRI initiatives too have become lacklustre. Investments in mining sectors are showing poor returns owing to the local corruptions and factional fights. More and more poor countries having Chinese investments are increasingly becoming aware of the possibilities of falling prey to the debt trap.
Indiatoo can turn heat onthem by asking to bridge the trade deficit or by stopping imports. There is no high-end technology coming from China, so the imports can very well bestopped by the traders. Govt being signatory to various global & regional trades, may not be in position to put unilateral embargo. Hence, the call to avoid Chinese goods by the traders, activists and buyers may become very effective in delivering the economic blow. Of course, the CII must make alternative arrangements for which “Atmnirbhar Bharat” call has already been sounded by the govt with due planning. This economic blow of nearly 60 billion dollars will be something China can ill afford at the cost of the silly boarder incursions against India.
Indian Govt has banned many of the Chinese software and many familiar games & videos that were believed to be compromising data security in India totalling 120 odds in numbers incl Tik-tok, WeChat, PUBG, APUSand many more. This has an immediate impact...reportedly a loss of about 6 billion dollars to the Chinese. Chinese companies have also found themselves marginalised on various telecom and digital upThere is one new front on which the Chinese clearly seem to be vulnerable. They are culpable to the Corona Pandemic. There are many articles published (The Counterviews issue 2:16) which link the Corona virus nCoV2to the Wuhan lab. Dr Li Meng, a Chinese scientist has published a report that clearly show that the Corona genome is a Lab-modified version of the bat. It is also evident that the Chinese deliberately delayed actions preventing the spread of the disease to other nations. If found culpable, the Chinese may have to pay compensations to the tunes of $500-800 trillion. It can have a huge impact on the Chinese economy.ents and so on. All these will surely hurt the Chinese and make them think if their misadventure for small areas of land-grabbing was worth it.
The most effective means of mitigation of the bilateral tension with the Chinese have been the “Wuhan Spirits and Chennai Connect” held at the initiative of the Chinese President himself. It has some form of check on the PLA if not a binding on them. It issurprising how their Army have transgressed in to our land despite the broad understanding at the highest level of respecting the LAC. It is futile to talk when the Chinese have scant regard to the five bilateral agreements which have largely remained confined on the papers only (shown opposite). Since they have been in the vantage point on the border issues right since the days of occupation of Tibet and then 1962 war, they deliberately play the delay tactics, with no keenness to resolve the long pending demarcation of the Indo-Chinese border. Time is come for India to render some shock to the dragon for it to wake-up and realise its folly. Although India is not in favour of involving a third party in the bilateral negotiations, it may be apt to consider US mediation on the LAC for which the Chinese are apprehensive. There is no diplomatic hurdle for India if US offers assistance.
The second vulnerability of the Chinese on their Human Rights record is something India has never exploited. Their atrocities inTibet, Hongkong and on Uighur Muslims are echoing at the various international fora for some time now. USA has already sounded bugle on Hongkong. Europe has made a statement to the International Human Rights Commission to probe atrocities on Uighur Muslims. India must exploit it to own advantage. Afterall, more than a million Tibetans live in exile in India. We have the moral obligation to raise their cause of concerns and independence, if possible. WhyNehru or Indira chose to ignore it is very deplorable. It is also surprising as to why the present govt does not start talking to the Tibetan Govt in Exile. Keeping quiet on these issues have not helped India at all. So, time has come to take-up these issues at all international fora.
The third diplomatic front is all those issues on which the Chinese find themselves on shaky platform...whether on the matters of committing Contempt on the ruling of the ICJ on the South China Sea or the Taiwanese sovereignty issue. India must exploit it in own favour. It is timeIndia considers supporting the US views on SCS & Taiwan. It is strange why Mr Jaishankar has not considered starting diplomatic ties with Taiwan, may be even at a lower level. It is also a known fact that the Chinese keep hurting Indian sentiments on Kashmir and Arunachal at every occasion. It is so surprising why our foreign minister is quiet on denouncing “one China policy”. We expect our MEA spokesperson to make a statement in the coming days that India is seriously thinking of reviewing its stand on “One China” policy. We want our spokesperson to be ‘diplomatically aggressive’ on the matters of Chinese expansionist acts. Time has come that the Chinese must be named and shamed on all platforms available to us.Indian diplomacy now must name and shame China in appropriate words for their support to the Pakistan based “terrorist groups”.
Last but not the least, the Indian diplomacy must counter the Chinese propaganda machineries on the Indian actions atthe LCA. It has been seen in the recent months that every time the Chinese violate or disregard their own commitments at various meetings, they squarely blame India. Our diplomats maust apprise the world that it has been China which has been violating the1993 and 1996 bilateral agrements not to transgress in the Indian land even if it is not well defined. The agreement makes it very clear that no side will venture in to area that is yet to be demarcated. Also amassing the troops at Galwan and Pangong areas too were in clear violation and the Chinese are solely responsible for it.
In the peacetime, the Army / BSF defending the international boarders carries out the basic defensive acts of intelligence gathering, surveillance and basic personal and territorial defence. For these basic functions, a good infrastructure of surface transportation, an adequate defensive shelter & accommodation as well as a good logistics is very essential. It has been these basic infrastructures at the LAC that have been deficient for >50 yrswhich the present govt has focussed upon to strengthen. There are more than 70 boarder roads along the LAC that are being made all weather roads capable of transporting heavy vehicles and tanks. Permanent Bunkers and fortifications are being constructed as defence.It is precisely these belated actions of India hitherto unseen, which is bothering the Chinese. They want these infrastructures build-up to stop.
The 3500 Km long LAC runs along with the Himalaya, at heights ranging from few thousands to more than 20,000 ft AMSL, from the dense jungles of north-east to the nude Rocky Mountains & persistently snow-covered peaks, from the humid moderate temperatures of the east to the extreme freezing temperatures in Ladakh. Among all these vagaries of the environment, the high-altitude factor is something which incapacitates and kills many. In the 1962 war, as many soldiers lost lives for want of the acclimatisation. Hence, cantonments at high altitudes are equally essential in the eastern and mid LAC sectors too so as to be able to deploy the acclimatised troops for HA Ops in a short time. These cantonments must have good connectivity. Leh is connected with roads & air which often get blocked in winters. The Sikkim heights were only connected with rickety roads which often got blocked with landslides & snow. In Ladakh sector even these rickety roads are far and few. Often it is a ‘kuchcha’ track. Only two yrs back an airport came up at Gangtok, a bit far away from the cantonment though. The current govt has converted the old rickety Sikkim road in to a highway capable of plying al heavy vehicles right till Nathu La, bordering China. It is also essential for the high-altitude cantonments to be located above 7500 ft AMSL and well connected with all-weather roads, Rail and/or Air. Tourist attraction of such scenic location may provide great economic sustainability. Indian Govts of past have denied our military the good roads at northern border. As a result, our troops have traditionally been at great disadvantage vis a vis the Chinese Army which have developed an excellent infrastructure on their side in Tibet, with room for manoeuvrability.
Till recent years only the Chinese had the initiative of choosing the ’Provoke points’ or the theatre of strike all along the Tibetan plateau. On the other hand, India had its defensive posture of ‘deterrence by denial’ by not creating suitable roads to deny any credible invasion by the enemies. Obviously, this has not worked and the PLA is breathing on our necks. It was only the last year when the recently raised Indian “Mountain Strike Force (MSF)” with Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) performed its first fully coordinated offensive operation “Op Him Vijay” that has enabled India to have a credible capability to launch an offensive across LAC.This was not an overnight venture. It has taken at least 5 yrs to raise new mountain offensive warfare capabilities with troops and suitable newer equipment, the light-weight howitzers, combined with the dedicatedAir Ops elements of the IAF. However, one more of such MSF may be desirable in the coming yearswhich will provide the Indian defence forces a complete liberty of counter-strike capability at any given theatre of Ops within a short time. This will radically change the current Indian defensive posture towards the dragon who will no longer be able to spit fire on us.
China with 20.4 lakh active (and 5 lakh reserve) army and India with 12.4 lakh (and >2 lakh reserve) army can defend themselves under any threat. There is a catch here. The Chinese army also has almost 15-20% personnel who come on essential military service and released after 4 yrs or so. They have least motivation to risk their lives for an autocratic statewhich does not care their democratic rights. The motivation level of PLA is invariably questionable vis a vis the highly motivated Indian Army. The numbers on both sides indicate that the either can no longer be overrun by the other. So Chinese thinking of any misadventure will get a bloody nose. India on other hand, has done well to shelve its purely defensive posture. The MSF will anytime provide them the option to counterstrike with substantial penetration capability. As India has no expansionist ambition, the conquered land in all probability will be a post-conflict bargaining chip.
There is one more strategic military-diplomatic option that India may like to exercise. It is the author’s own appreciation which has not been raised at any level till now. It is a matter of seeking American presence on the strategic location of the tip of Ladakh from where they can monitor the happenings in China, Pak, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakistan and Russia. Indian & US govt may seriously think of leasing out a small portion of land in or around Aksai-Chin on a mutually acceptable term...of sharing any security related threatto India. It may also help our interest of keeping the Chinese at bay from the remotely located northern tip of Ladakh.
While tackling the Chinese on the current impasse, the military preparedness needs the top priority while the diplomatic and economic pressures are applied concurrently. Most defence expert have reasons to believe the Chinese will yield. However, just in case, if the military option of evictingthe Chinese are inevitable, let it be the last option...for the armed conflicts always have humancost that must be avoided if possible.
The Truce & the Further negotiations. At the time of writing this article, some temporary steps have been agreed upon byboth Chinese and Indian Govts of de-escalation from any possibility of confrontation. The two troops are reported to be pulling back by 1-2 Km from their positions of Stand-off. This will surely not resolve the underlying problem of the ill-defined LAC. Indian govt is firm on getting back the Chinese troops to the position of ‘status quo ante’ as itwas before the problems started. The two govt have also decided to continue with military level talks to resolve the issue. However, going by the Chinese posture, they don’t seem to be keen on talking on the Pangong Lake or their build up at the Depsang plateau. India too is unwilling to stop the rapidly ongoing infrastructure works within own land all along the LAC as well as the vantage positions south of the Pangong lake and adjoining the Spanggur gap, something which is not to the liking of the Chinese.
Having already ceded lot of territories in past, the present govt will be unwilling for any fresh concessions to the Chinese. In the past years, India had fewer options to deal with the dragon but new India seems to have newer approach to the problem. We can surely engage the Chinese on all three fronts of Diplomatic, Economic and Military options. Gone are the days of only defensive posture on the LAC. Indiahas acquired better capabilities of even Offensive Postures on the LAC after the formation of the Mountain Strike Force (MSF).
Chronology of Chinese actions at theLAC
05 May 20. PLA troops were observed at finger 4 of Pangongand in the Galwan Valley. They obstructed the Border Roads construction of the bridge on DB-DBO road near PP 14 of Galwan Valley. Troops also clashed at Naku Laon 09 May 20.
06 Jun 20: Lt Gen level military talks decide to de-escalate in Galwan valley. Statement released on 10 Jun 20 to initiate de-escalation. However, PLA troops continue at PP14.
15/16 Jun 20: Violent clashes between Indo-Chinese forces at Galwan PP14; 20 Indian soldiers martyred and unspecified Chinese soldiers killed. Global Times hints of 41 Chinese casualties.
16-18 Jun 20: Anger & outcry in India; Army chief & CDS meets Raksha Mantri and later the PM. PM asks for Cabinet Committee meeting on the Defence & Security (CCDS) meeting to discuss the various aspects of the crisis. India frees army of restraints of ‘not using weapon’, take action as deemed necessary for safety. Armed Forces is asked for deployment of troops all along LAC. Foreign minister level Sino-Indian talk takes place. Chinese foreign ministry expresses resolve to peaceful settlement and pulls back troops partially from Galwan valley. They also issue a veiled threat of serious consequences to any unilateral action by India.
19-24 Jun 20: All party meeting in Delhi authorises govt to use all means as deemed appropriate, to safeguard our northern frontier. IAF fighter jets & gunship helicopters are seen in Leh skies. Military vehicular movements towards Chang La are observed. Border roads enhance completion of the road construction in Galwan valley.
19 June 20: China claimed the entire Galwan valley belongs to them.
26 Jun 20: US secretary of States declares that in view of the Chinese threat to India and South-East Asia, USA is cutting troops in Europe and moving them to south Asia.
03 July 20: PM Modi visits Ladakh, goes to Nimu outpost and Leh to meet theinjured soldiers of Galwan violence. He claims the entire Galwan valley belonged and will remain with India and that the Chinese Expansionism will not succeed.
06 July 20: US aircraft carrier Nimitz and Ronald Reagan arrives at the South China Ship and starts exercise. The next day, the Chinese claim that their DF-21D and DF-26 “aircraft carrier killer” missiles are deployed and noted that the U.S. carriers were in the South China Sea “at the pleasure” of the People’s Liberation Army.
07 July 20: China withdraws its troops by 2 km in the disputed ‘Hot Springs, Galwan area and Gogra-Hot Spring’ areas. India also withdraws an equal distance creating Buffer zones.
10 July 20: Chinese Ambassador to India speaks in a reconciliatory tone...’India & China should be partners not rivals’.
15 July 20: The Indian and Chinese military commanders held 10-hour-long intense negotiations on finalising a framework for a "time-bound and verifiable" disengagement process from all the friction points in eastern Ladakh including Pangong Tso and Depsang. No decision taken.
29 Aug 20. Indian Forces thwart Chinese troops movement south of Pangong. Troops are deployed at the heights of Black Top, Helmet Top. In the next few days, Indian Forces consolidated the gains to deploy further troops at Magar hill, Gurung Hill, Rechen La, Rezang La, Mokhpari and dominating heights of finger 4.
04 Sep 20: Indian Defence Ministers RajnathSingh agrees to the Chinese request to meet their Defence minister on the side-lines of the SCO at Moscow. He conveys unequivocally that Chinese have posed threats to India by transgressing on our land. India will protect its sovereignty at any cost.
10 Sep 20: Russian foreign minister Sergey facilitates an Indo-China meet of the respective Foreign ministers. A 5-point agenda is worked out to de-escalate. However, intelligence reports suggested of additional PLA build-up. Two further rounds of Corps Cdr level talks end without much progress on de-escalation. They agree to avoid further build-up.
22 Sep 20. Chinese Premier Xi Xinping claims at UN that he does not want war with anyone. However, ground reality is otherwise. There are reports of Chinese build-up on Depsang plateau and Arunachal areas.
29 Sep 20. The IAF chief concedes that the situation at the LAC is neither of War nor peace. India is in for a long haul.