The events of fateful night of 15 June in the vicinity of Patrolling Point 14 (PP14) in Galwan Valley may well turn out to be a watershed in the Sino-Indian relations on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). After the treachery displayed by the PLA soldiers, the response of the Indian troops wherein the Chinese soldiers were taught a lesson or two by Indian soldiers in hand to hand fight smashing their necks and were given a taste of their own medicine, China was taken aback because it had not expected such a ferocious response from the Indians. The Chinese soldiers are reportedly shell-shocked and finding it difficult to come out of the shock. It has badly impaired the morale of the Chinese troops. On the other hand, Indian troops are itching to take revenge and teach lesson to the Chinese for stabbing in the back.
Galwan faceoff has given the Indian Army a moral ascendancy over the PLA, a payoff watched closely by China’s neighbours both on land and sea. The veneer of invincible dragon has taken a beating. Although the encounter took place in the remote and icy mountains India has proved to the world that behind the charade, the fire spitting bully is quite fragile. China has suffered a humiliating image bashing.
Coupled with this was the rapid build-up of the Indian forces not only in Ladakh but across the entire LAC including the deployment of air and naval assets which sent a clear cut message of India’s intent to no more remain passive to the bullying tactics of China. India also unilaterally changed the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and gave free hand to the ground troops to use fire arms in case of any misadventure by China. India’s aggressiveness in response to China’s deceit, shook the Chinese which realised that India is not going to succumb to the Chinese mind games and India was determined and resolute to face China’s might. China realised the futility of facing a battle hardened Indian Army in the isolated, far flung, high altitude battlefields in the tract of Karakoram ranges which it was certain to lose. China therefore began to request a series of meetings to work out an exit strategy without any more loss of face.
Accordingly a second Corps Commander level meeting was held at the Chinese Border Meeting Point, Moldo, opposite Chusul on Monday, 22 June 2020. It was a meeting similar to the one held earlier on 06 June wherein de-escalation by both sides was agreed upon mutually and was to be completed within ten days. How duplicitous Dragon cheated India by not only failing to comply with the agreement but also threw to wind various agreements and protocols signed between the two nations to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border. Subsequent events are well known by now. Yet India conceded to persistent request from China and agreed for the second meeting to diffuse tension at the LAC.
Once again the two armies have agreed to de-escalate and the friction points have been mutually recognised. The modalities from disengagements from the friction points were also discussed in the meeting which carried on for about 8 hours and was resumed the next day. The Indian side also lodged a strong protest against the ‘premeditated’ assault by Chinese troops on Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley. Ironically, China still continues to pedal a narrative of labelling India as the aggressor while India continues to term it as ‘premeditated and planned action’ by China. Despite this divergence of views China agreed to de-escalate in order to “cool down the situation” and said it would continue to hold talks with India “for peace and tranquillity” along the LAC. Note the emphasis on holding talks. China wants to drag the standoff for as late as possible and hence the strategy of continuing to hold talks after talks at various levels. Can the Dragon be trusted?
Will India be happy with mere de-escalation? India insists on much more. Though the detailed contours of the Agreement reached between the Corps Commanders are not known it would be fair to assume that India would insist onreturn to status as it existed in April, dismantling tents, structures and other operational assets created by the PLA troops within two km of LAC, pull back of all additional forces deployed by China in close proximity of the LAC including formations in depth mobilised recently. It appears to be a long haul with series of talks to smoothen out the differences. While doing so, we should never let our guard down or pull out our forces before the Chinese because China has proved on more than one occasion that it can’t be trusted. Indian side should insist on China fulfilling its commitments first before making any move of own troops. Never forget “Once bitten, twice shy.”
Has China achieved what it desired or it has eaten a humble pie shattering its arrogance and self-inflated ego? Has Xi achieved or got anywhere near to his ambition of making China global power number one prior to the celebration of 75th anniversary of Communist rule in 2025? What impact Covid has made on China’s ambitions? These are among the subjects which would be discussed at length in near future by the global strategic community.
To avoid the growing global demand of owning responsibility for Wuhan virus lately termed as ‘Kung Flu’ by President Trump coupled with failing trade, declining GDP and growing domestic pressures forced the Chinese President Xi Jinping to open too many fronts simultaneously. South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and the Sino-Indian border. It met stiff resistance everywhere, signalling Xi that the bullying tactics of China will work no more and his adversaries are willing to catch the bull by the horn. The fire spitting dragon will no more be able to brow beat its adversaries.
Considering that China’s strategic aim of the current standoff was to embarrass politico-military leadership of India and tactical aim was to teach a lesson to the Indian Army for not adhering to its warnings and threats of stop improving the communication and other infrastructure network close to LAC. China was under the wrong notion of India’s response being meek and submissive similar to its previous incursions. Our Army’s high morale, supreme physical fitness, mental robustness, tough training, steadfastness in adversity, superior junior leadership and the ferocity with which they entered Devil’s Den to avenge the death of their comrades, paying back in harsher measure is salutary and won the admiration and reaffirmed the faith of the Nation in its Army. In so doing, it not only sent shock waves across the Chinese but also proved many Cassandras and doubting Sams wrong.
China grossly misread Indian military capability and the resolve of its national leadership to thwart any challenge to India’s sovereignty. It felt India was too occupied with combating the Wuhan virus that it would ignore the usual Chinese cartographic aggression and in the bargain place itself favourably to dominate the newly built Darbuk-Syok-DBO road, the construction of which had upset the Chinese calculus in the remote Aksai Chin region. China enjoyed a free run in the area and was sure that India would not upset its apple cart. But the rapid development of infrastructure in the area, increased deployment of troops and construction of feeder roads leading to LAC along with India’s claim on Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksaichin as integral part of India shook the Chinese from their slumber.
China believed that through its aggressive patrolling, “salami-slicing” strategy and at will cartographic aggression it would be able to stall Indian activities in the area and restore status quo. All this had the approval of highest level of command and was not local dynamics. India’s new normal of imposing heavy cost to China’s hitherto fore unchallenged “walk-in strategy” took China by surprise. It suffered more than what it gained. Apart from a localised tactical defeat China suffered a global loss of face. High causalities not only shattered the morale of its soldiers who went into a shock, but also hurt the Chinese pride which had been portraying its army as invincible and forcing the enemy to surrender through its non-kinetic capability. It also got taste of fighting at such super high altitude heights where even the physically fit can freeze to death if wet. The harshness and remoteness of terrain coupled with freezing high speed winds, snow blizzards and sub-zero temperatures made the Chinese realise the hazards of high altitude warfare in which as per its own assessment PLAA is no match to the seasoned Indian Army.
China could realise none of its tactical aims and on the contrary had to learn a bitter lesson from India’s firm and resolute response against odds. Its crass adventurism to have its way through bullying has failed this time and have exposed many chinks in its armour to face a determined enemy. But on one account India has been guilty of civilised behaviour in following various agreements and treaties in letter and spirit despite the Chinese violating at will to support their false claims and “salami-slicing” strategy. India should now renegotiate these from a position of strength and high pedestal of righteousness. Protocols must be rewritten by plugging any loopholes that may allow any deceit or treachery.
India’s response should be based on pragmatism rather than sentiments or emotions. Despite the economic crunch due to Corona India will need to spend handsomely to fill the gaps as far as war fighting capability of our armed forces is concerned. Would need to speed construction of roads and other infrastructure. We should also develop in-built mechanisms so that we can anticipate our adversary’s actions and prepare to pre-empt him as well as be ready with our Quid pro Quo (QPQ) options.
Prepare for the worst-case scenario of 2.5 front war. While military prepares for a long drawn war if needed, diplomatic, political and economic strangulation of China must continue. We should also as a nation work together to realise the idea of Aatam Nirbhar Bharat so that our economic dependence on China is minimised, a tool China may use for arm twisting in the future. India has displayed will and capability to contest China’s strategy of unilaterally changing the status quo. It would be prudent for the time being to defuse through negotiations and prepare for next level firmly.
In addition to building a global consensus against China, much effort would be needed to build a consensus at home. A couple of opposition parties appear to have been infected by the Chinese bug and they continue to support the Chinese narrative just to let down the Indian Prime Minister. The government will have to carry them along if we want to take on China because ‘united we stand, divided we fall.’ Dragon cannot be trusted.