It was heartening to know that after the marathon 12-hours India-China talks at Moldo on June 22, both sides have agreed to deescalate from the confrontation in Eastern Ladakh. The Indian delegation for the talks was led by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, the Leh-based Corps Commander while the Chinese side was led by Major General Lin Liu, commander of the South Xinjiang Military District.
The talks were reportedly held in cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere.There was a mutual consensus to disengage. Modalities for disengagement from all friction areas in Eastern Ladakh were reportedly discussed and are to be taken forward by both sides.
The issue of “premeditated and planned action” by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was the biggest talking point that Lt Gen Singh was to raise. The action by the Chinese had caused deaths of the 20 Indian soldiers and severe injuries to many others in the Indian camp in one of the deadly attacks in the Galwan Valley last week. The PLA too had reportedly 43 killed.
According to sources the de-escalation plan included the withdrawal of troops in a phased manner from various locations along the LAC and plans for future patrols. Diplomatic talks between India and China are continuing at joint secretary level to on the Eastern Ladakh confrontation. Chief of Army Staff General MM Naravane visited Ladakh on June 23 to take stock of the situation. He also interacted with injured soldiers in Military Hospital, Leh who had fought with the PLA.
According to US media, US intelligence assessment is that General Zhao Zongqi heading PLA’s Western Theatre Command (WTC) had passed orders to attack Indian troops in the Galwan River valley resulting in the brutal skirmish that killed dozens and dramatically escalated tensions between India and China. The basis of this assessment reportedly is that Zhao who had overseen prior standoffs with India, had previously expressed concerns that China must not appear weak to avoid exploitation by the US and allies, and wanted to teach India a lesson.
However, this assessment may not be correct because no PLA commander, whichever rank or level would dare to give such an order without the express sanction of Xi Jinping who wears the triple hats of President of PRC, Chairman of Central Military Commission (CMC) and C-in-C of PLA. Zhao is member of the 18th Central Committee of Communist Party of China and was commanding WTC since February 1, 2016. Why Lt Gen Xu Quiling was appointed the new Commander of WTC to replace Zhao Zongqi is possibly because Zhao had probably completed his tenure as Commander of WTC or made scapegoat to deflect the blame from Xi Jinping.
Earlier intelligence reports had indicated that this whole operation in Eastern Ladakh was planned and was to be executed last year after India had published the new map of Union Territory of Ladakh in October 2019 drawing adverse reaction from China. Such an operation too would have been approved by Xi Jinping. The operation was delayed because of the China Virus outbreak but the development of roads to move the forces to Galwan as also the buildup would have been closely monitored by the Central Military Commission.
The disturbing news of June 24 is of satellite images showing the PLA has redeployed at the place where their tent had been removed by our troops. Apparently, PLA were doing this while the Corp Commander-level talks were on. New camps and fresh buildup can be seen opposite Depsang and Demchok. This indicates that China will may not abide by the consensus to deescalate. It may not remove its structures at Finger 4 in Pangong Tso area.
In a his recent article ‘Resetting India’s Ties With China’, General NC Vij, former Army Chief wrote that China views India an obstacle in its ambition to be number one power in the world, because of which India must be done down. China’s nexus with Pakistan serves their purpose and further enhances the threat to India. He attributes the recent intrusions in Ladakh region at a number of places as a result of: increased number and gravity of standoffs in last 6-7 years; India’s desire to deepen strategic ties with the US, Japan, Australia etc, and; Indian intent to attract manufacturing from other countries.
General Vij further says, “The Galwan incident has unfolded the long-term Chinese ambitions in this area. The fact that the Chinese foreign minister has now claimed that the Galwan valley always belonged to them, makes it obvious there is more than meets the eye. Their long-term strategy could be to try to capture DBO-Karakoram Pass and join up with Shaksgam Valley (Indian Territory ceded to them by Pakistan) and then help Pakistan capture Siachen Glaier. The capture of northeastern ladakh will provide depth to the aksai chin road and security and security to the CPEC on which they spent $62 billion. We need to look at the gravity of the impending threat with all seriousness and stand united as a nation.
At the recent special Russia-India-China foreign ministers meeting through video conferencing to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II and founding of United Nations, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said amongst other things, “The leading voices of the world must be exemplars in every way. Respecting international law, recognizing the legitimate interests of partners, supporting multilateralism and promoting common good are the only way of building a durable world order.”
But the problem is that China has no respect either for international law or recognizing legitimate interests of others. China and Pakistan only respect power and so do other countries. We have an extradition treaty with Britain but they have not extradited even one individual of the list of 40 handed over to them some years back. Let us hope for the best that better sense prevails but indications are not very good.
China has history of backstabbing repeatedly. Despite the Corps Commander-level meeting, the Chinese media continues to brand India the aggressor. We must also understand that the developments in Nepal perhaps are being orchestrated and synchronized personally by Xi Jinping. Apparently, China will continue to test our redlines with each passing day.