Refusing to bow down to the coercive tactics of a bellicose China, India has decided to not back down from a standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
The LAC centers around a strategic bridge being constructed near the last Indian military post south of the Karakoram Pass, Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO). With a view of not allowing any alteration of Indian territory and to facing Chinese challenge with “strength and restraint”, India has inducted its specialized high-altitude warfare troops with support elements to the eastern Ladakh theatre with others undergoing through the acclimatization process, as this may be a long haul, to counter People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that plans to browbeat India to stop building the crucial border infrastructure in the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector as it may threaten the Lhasa-Kashgar highway in Aksai Chin.
A sizeable number of PLA personnel entered into the Indian side of the de-facto border earlier this month and have been camping in Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley.
The Chinese are known to use browbeating as a diplomatic tool. The transgressions by the PLA troops have been fiercely objected to by the Indian Army that is not unknown to the new Chinese diplomatic tool and has demanded their immediate withdrawal for the restoration of peace and tranquility in the area. Meanwhile, Indian and Chinese armies are moving in heavy equipment and weaponry including artillery guns and combat vehicles to their respective rear bases close to the disputed areas in eastern Ladakh as the two militaries remained engaged in a bitter stand-off along the troubled border for over three weeks. Even as both the countries continue their efforts to resolve the dispute through talks at military and diplomatic levels, enhancement of combat capability by the two armies in the region continues.
Ramping up on the border
Chinese Army is gradually ramping up its strategic reserves in its rear bases near the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh by deploying artillery guns, infantry combat vehicles, and heavy military equipment. With Indian Air Force maintaining a close eye with a view to maintaining air superiority in the region, the Indian Army is moving in additional troops as well as equipment and weapons aggressively to match up to the Chinese build-up. Beijing did have a momentary initial advantage when it moved its troops to Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh. The advantage, however, stands neutralized with Indian force levels built up now. The Indian Army is also staring at the aggressor with troops holding their positions and of course not allowing the PLA to browbeat them at Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso.
Watch: Satellite images of China’s intrusion in India’s Galwan Valley
While China openly covets India’s state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet and hence its territory, its long-term game in eastern Ladakh could be to cut through Galwan-Murgo axis to provide an all-weather alternative to Karakoram highway that enters Pakistan through Khunjerab Pass and not Karakoram pass north of Indian positions of DBO. China appears to be concerned about India’s military objectives. After the construction of strategic Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road in eastern Ladakh and the rapid construction of strategic roads in both the middle and eastern sectors, India will indeed have better logistics for its ground troops. Both sides are matching on the ground, whether it is Galwan valley or Pangong Tso lake, and are constantly in touch with each other through institutionalized diplomatic and military channels. With the LAC between India and China highly contested in the western and eastern sectors, the option of emphasizing its own cartographic interpretation is also available to the Indian Army.
Intention behind the aggression
While a section of commentators believe the Chinese aggression against India is diverting public attention from its failure in containing COVID19 pandemic at source coupled with the debacle at the economic front, another section of military strategists attribute this to its policy of seeking to coerce adversaries into acceding to China’s demand through the graded threat of force or actual use of force until its ends are met.
While there is no one to politically challenge President Xi Jinping, also the Chairman of Central Military Commission, Beijing fears growing resentment against China and fueling nationalism; it tries kindling the old Chinese fears against foreign threats. Interestingly, Chinese President Xi and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are facing the biggest crises ever since Tiananmen Square Massacre, commonly known as the June Fourth Incident, wherein protesting students were slaughtered by Chinese troops with assault rifles and tanks.
On China’s tactics
Indian Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, back in the autumn of 2012, wrote in a paper on China’s war zone campaign (WZC) that Beijing would, seek to coerce smaller adversaries into acceding to China’s demand through the graded threat of force or actual use of force till its ends are met. That this would be done through elite forces with the political objective of the “occupation of a certain un-held tract of land or high-value targets’. General Naravane was then a Brigadier and a senior faculty member at the Mhow-based Army War College.
In his paper, General Naravane categorically articulated that the first Chinese move in this regard would be the domination-cum-deterrence (DCD) phase where the PLA would focus on building up its presence in the territory in question to deter the enemy. Gaining Initiative by Striking First (GISF) would be the second phase wherein China would deploy rapid reaction units to strike first to wrest the initiative from the enemy. The last stage will be the Quick Battle Quick Resolution where the PLA would use a dedicated division-level force. With General Naravane at the helm of the Indian army during the current stand-off, things will be interesting to watch.
The situation is also being monitored by India’s National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. This was the team that had crafted India’s response to the Doklam standoff in 2017 that lasted 73 days. General Rawat was then the army chief while Jaishankar, India’s foreign secretary.
Chinese Diplomacy – From Mao to Xi
Meanwhile, Chinese diplomacy has changed its face dramatically. Unilateralism and a one-size-fits-all approach have replaced the strategy of persuasion and compromise as propounded by Zhou Enlai and Deng. Toeing the lines for former US president Theodore Roosevelt, who believed that if one “speaks softly and carries a big stick: one will go far”, Zhou Enlai practiced the policy of persuasion and compromise in his own way. While Mao Zedong represented the crude face of Chinese communism, Zhou was known to be the epitome of its refinement.
While Mao chose to exercise power from “out of the barrel of a gun”, Zhou preferred to seduce opponents through word and gesture, with the elegance of an opera star.
The choice of the stick was used rarely, only when the other means of persuasion had failed comprehensively. The Chinese made their entry onto the world stage in Geneva in 1954 when the Vietnamese were winning against the French in the First Indo-China War. Americans were all set to intervene fearing another “domino” would fall to communism. China’s self-interest lay in ending this war while denying the US a foothold in its backyard. Zhou’s watchwords were persuasion and compromise. This style came to define Chinese foreign policy over the next half-century. The strategy was consistent: avoid isolation, build solidarity with non-aligned countries, and divide the West. The tactics were called ‘united front’ — isolate the main threat by building unity with all other forces. It was a game that Zhou played with consummate skill.
Chinese diplomats of caliber, under Zhou, kept the ship steady in a churning sea full of storms, some self-made like the Cultural Revolution. When the tide rose, these diplomatic fishermen gathered the fish — expanding China’s global presence and gaining international acceptability. They navigated through the Cold War, pitting the Soviets against the Americans. To relieve pressure, Zhou opened border talks with the Soviets and channels to the US Public animosity did not deter him from turning on the full extent of his charm on either Alexei Kosygin or Henry Kissinger. Zhou, in February 1972, persuaded US President Richard Nixon to abandon Taiwan when the communists had not exercised actual sovereignty over that island even for a single day since 1949. It was a staggering act of diplomacy.
Watch: Henry Kissinger makes a secret trip to China and meets Zhou Enlai
Chinese diplomats measured their words and kept their dignity; they projected power but rarely blustered. They were masters of their brief as Zhou taught them that the real advantage in negotiations was to know more than the other side. They flattered acquaintances, calling them “old friends” and built relationships by making it a point to engage the less friendly interlocutors with greater courtesies than friends.
Then came, President Xi, who had less to do with dignity and also with flattery.
Statements of fact or reasoned opinion are seen by the Chinese as an insult or humiliation. Foreign governments are educated about their responsibilities in managing the media and the narrative, even as the Chinese manipulate the same media to serve their purposes. They expect to receive gratitude for everything they do, including handling COVID-19, as if it was only done with the foreigner in the mind. The veneer of humility has thinned and the reserves of goodwill fast depleting.
Where the US Stands?
With the world preoccupied with the onslaught of coronavirus pandemic, China has continued to push its military objectives in the South China Sea. The US, Australia, and Vietnam, however, are not idly standing by. Analysts believe that China’s claim to the South China Sea – the so-called “nine-dash line” – is unlawful and a breach of international conventions. Mirroring Beijing’s growing presence in the South China Sea, the US has also continued its naval presence in the region.
Nuclear powered aircraft carrier – the USS Theodore Roosevelt – was forced to depart from the South China Sea in March and dock in Guam due to an outbreak of COVID-19. The US carrier is now patrolling the Philippines Sea and is likely to head back to the South China Sea. China, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan have overlapping claims to the South China Sea that happens to be one of the most important trade routes in the world. The Spratly Islands are claimed in totality by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and partially by Malaysia and the Philippines. The Paracel chain is claimed by Vietnam, China, and Taiwan. Over the past months, as countries in the Pacific region were focused on battling the coronavirus, multiple sources reported that China stepped up patrols and naval exercises in the highly disputed South China Sea.
China, post-COVID-19, will be operating in a very different external environment as it has had quarrels with most of its neighbors. Indonesia has rejected China’s claims in the South China Sea saying it is not bound by claims contravening international law. The Philippines took the South China Sea dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ruled in favor of the Philippines and said China has no historic right to the area based on the “nine-dash line”.
Activities of China in the region, however, did not slip by the eyes of Washington that went on to accuse Beijing of “exploiting” its neighboring countries like India that are busy dealing with the pandemic. The accusation resurfaced over the weekend at a presser during China’s legislative meetings in Beijing where China denied the allegations.
There is nothing to support the claim that China is using COVID-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea.Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
Growing tensions between the administrations of US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping exacerbated in recent weeks over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.