Is China Testing India’s Resolve?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 23 May , 2020

China has gone overtly aggressive against India with PLA indulging in physical fights with Indian Army. One may say these are Border Divisions of China but these formations being directly under PLA they are one and same. PLA first initiated its aggressive moves on May 5 in vicinity of Pangong Tso (lake) engaging Indian troops in physical fight.

China has no respect for boundaries and changes claims whenever it suits them.

It may be recalled that PLA resorted to stone-pelting and attacking an Indian patrol with rods and sticks in the same area on August 15, 2017.  In the recent incident, helicopter movement was also seen on the Chinese side close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) but vanished after observing fighter jets of the IAF on training flights in the area on the Indian side.

Concurrent to this was news of Chinese build up and movement in the Galwan Valley of Ladkh, where India had to rush  additional troops and has had to ‘dig down’  and occupy defensive positions as China is upping its military presence in the region.

The another incident on May 9 witnessed PLA troops advancing into the area of Naku La in North Sikkim and engaging with Indian troops in physical fights. No bullets were fired in these two incidents but there were injuries on both sides, more suffered by PLA. India and China signed an Agreement on June 23, 2003, to open trading posts on Sikkim-Tibet border, vide which Chinese Premier Wen Jibao recognized Sikkim as part of India.

Despite this, the PLA periodically resorts to aggressive actions under obvious instructions from Beijing. China has no respect for boundaries and changes claims whenever it suits them. In Arunachal Pradesh, China expanded its long-time illegal claim from Tawang Plateau to entire Arunachal suddenly in 2005. 

The immediate response from China’s state-run media to the above two incidents was that “Chinese and Indian troops had been conducting increased border patrols thanks to improved road networks on both sides and quick resolution to the face-off showed that the communication mechanism established between the two sides was effective”.

Despite obdurately aggressive actions by PLA over the years, India has generally downplayed these incidents terming them ‘transgressions’ and differing perceptions since the LAC is not demarcated. 

However,  China changed course within a week with its media accusing Indian troops of crossing the “boundary line” (patently a false claim) in the Galwan Valley region and entering Chinese territory, saying,  “The Indian side built defense fortifications and obstacles to disrupt Chinese border defense troops normal patrol activities, purposefully instigated conflicts and attempted to unilaterally change the current border control situation.

The actions by the Indian side have seriously violated China and India’s agreements on border issues, violated China’s territorial sovereignty and harmed military relations between the two countries.”

India’s Chief of Army Staff General MM Narvane had stated on May 14,  “Temporary and short duration face-offs between border guarding troops do occur along the LAC due to the differing perceptions of the alignment of boundaries, which are not resolved. There were two incidents at Eastern Ladakh and North Sikkim where aggressive behaviour by both sides resulted in minor injuries to troops, post which both sides disengaged after dialogue and interaction at local level.” 

Despite obdurately aggressive actions by PLA over the years, India has generally downplayed these incidents terming them “transgressions” and differing perceptions since the LAC is not demarcated. 

In contrast, China always insists its troops are on the Chinese side, as they even did when PLA intruded 16 km deep in Indian Territory in area of Raki Nala in Eastern Ladakh during 2013 when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was visiting India. At times Beijing even said its troops had moved ahead to get some sunshine!

Above aggressive actions of PLA are directly linked to Nepal objecting to the road in Pithoragarh district of Uttrakhand to Lipulekh Pass inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on May 8, calling it violation of Nepalese sovereignty – fallaciously claiming the road is in Nepal’s territory. Immediately thereafter, Nepal unveiled a new political map showing Indian areas of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani in Nepal. Lipulekh Pass is on the LAC between India and China Occupied Tibet.

Nepal’s new map follows China’s patent of cartographic aggression and has obviously been issued on China’s behest.

Indian troops have been deployed at Limpiyadhura and Kalapani over past five decades. India responded by saying the new map amounts to “artificial enlargement of territorial claims” that are not acceptable. But Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli told Nepalese Parliament that Constitution will be amended to formalize the map and diplomatic efforts will continue to bring back these territories.

Nepal’s new map follows China’s patent of cartographic aggression and has obviously been issued on China’s behest. To hide its complicity China gave a statement out of the blues that Kalapani is bilateral issue between Nepal and India that both sides should resolve peacefully. There was no reason for China to issue such statement since there neither was an India-Nepal standoff at Kalapani nor any physical fights like the PLA is indulging in.

Sitting in Beijing’s lap, Oli  is also resorting to anti-India banter, egged by Hou Yangi, Chinese ambassador in Kathmandu, whose only two foreign assignments have been in the US and Pakistan.  Chinese media says Chinese border defence troops have made the “necessary moves” and “enhanced control measures” in the Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh. However, both sides continue to face each in Galwan Valley.  Notably China has changed its traditional stance from terming its own

With adverse global reaction post release of COVID-19 from Wuhan, the Chinese leadership appears to have gone berserk, either hoping to take advantage of capturing territories while the world battles the virus or to deflect attention of Chinese public from the dissent within on account of COVID-19 casualties, looming unemployment with downturn in economy and countries shunning China, as also continuing  brutal suppression of free speech and dissent.

China has broken all records in illegal territorial claims. Beijing has issued new Chinese names for 25 islands/reefs and 55 undersea entities in the South China Sea in a bid to ‘reinforce its illegal claims in the region. Earlier China similarly gave Chinese names to some places in the State of Arunachal Pradesh in India.

The recent signing of Pakistan-China $50 billion contract for China to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam in Gilgit-Baltistan is another snub to India knowing India will not go beyond protest notes and statements…

China is furiously exercising in the South China Sea And may soon do so in the Indian Ocean Region. India should expect such muscle flexing by China to test our resolve. The standoff at Galwan Valley is continuing with five rounds of talks unsuccessful in resolving the issue with PLA hardening its stance.

The recent signing of Pakistan-China $50 billion contract for China to build the Diamer-Bhasha dam in Gilgit-Baltistan is another snub to India knowing India will not go beyond protest notes and statements – India has never warned China it will establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan if China does not endorse ‘One India’ policy. 

In sharp contrast, Chinese maps are not showing Arunachal and POK part of India anymore. China perhaps is also buoyed that despite disengaging from the 73-day long Doklam standoff in 2017, it could consolidate in close vicinity for moving into Bhutan at short notice.

It is surprising that despite China’s demonstrative aggression some in India recommend that the present situation should be used to seek a border settlement with China. This is naïve – if China wanted to settle the border it would have done so decades back. China deliberately wants to keep the issue open so it can keep expanding its illegal claims.

No doubt the Chinese regime is overconfident of its military and economic strength but by slicing off India’s North-East its policy makers and media are hallucinating. Such delusions are curable by reading up history. Just five years after China’s invasion of NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh), India wacked the Chinese so hard in Sikkim in 1967, that they prefer to not to mention it.

Soft power if not backed by hard power is ineffective no matter how much diplomacy is used. There are no shortcuts.

Second example is the Chinese intrusion in Sumdorong Chu region in 1986-87 wherein India’s massive response by way of Operation ‘Falcon’ resulted in not only PLA scurrying back but also the sacking of Tibet Military District Commander and Chengdu Military Region Chief. India should be accordingly prepare. If the Chinese regime is so eager for conflict, so be it.

At the same time Indian policy makers must remember Mao’s dictum that power flows from the barrel of the gun, which was reiterated by Li Peng, the butcher of Tiananmen, and successors down the line. Soft power if not backed by hard power is ineffective no matter how much diplomacy is used. There are no shortcuts.

As important is to acknowledge that in recent years sub-conventional power has emerged strong in strategic terms even over conventional and nuclear power.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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6 thoughts on “Is China Testing India’s Resolve?

  1. India needs to be more assertive and have strong leverage by way of access to indian markets of consumer goods and govt. contracts.
    Ofcourse this is a long-term strategy and fortunately the indian population is prepared to co-operate fully but the corporates like Bajaj auto needs to be tamed by the govt
    No doubt the Indian military equipment is much lowerly placed but the resolve and training of Indian forces is really astounding and china will be no match. Hence in short war like 1967 and 1975 indian forces will prevail upon Chinese military.
    China is on decline internationally as well as domestically and here is an opportunity for india to gain substantial in terms of economically and diplomatically

  2. It is time to activate and operationalise elements of our security establishment for executing covert actions well behind Chinese lines. It is time to deliver a body blow to PLA through asymmetric warfare. Time to show that Sun Tzu may not help every time.

  3. Blaming RAW is very bad taste.
    When China is building infrastructure past 40 years , what Indian governments were doing was utter failure of Indian governments.
    Whenever India try to think taking one step forward with QUAD, China issues statement that India is big independent country and will not mortgage it’s autonomy in foreign policy. A big ego massaging
    It’s Indian govt systematic failure of taking correct decisions.

    1. Even now look at the covid-19 response of the central and state govts.
    What for lock down is imposed? How much time we should impose? What is green zone concept?
    Lockdown is to stop spreading.
    But how much time is decided by how fast local and central govts prepare for contingency like number of test kits, designating test centers, stocking and manufacturing PPEs,masks, etc..
    Green zone concept is starting economic activity/manufacturing activity with more rigorous isolation than red zones with protection measures.
    What do you see in meetings is how many days lock down to extended/what shops to open etc..
    Did anybody see doctors/scientists in the briefing
    JAADU INDIA? Why blame RAW?
    2. For forty years China is concentrated on manufacturing?
    Our govts or bureaucrats never though what China is doing or What India has to do?
    3. Our great FM announces 74% in FDI in defense sector.
    Why now ? Why not before ? Because our economy is going to collapse, so we took the reforms.China did not implement reforms when their economy is collapsing. So India does out of compulsion. China does out of vision.
    So when whole world is going to be in recession, we implement bold decisions.
    There is a saying in Telugu
    A beggar who licks lips has gone to beggar who licks leafs.
    When foreign companies asked for reforms we are sleeping
    When China is building roads we are sleeping
    When China is setting up manufacturing we are sleeping
    How Indian govt’s will provide jobs to largest pool of youth?
    By promoting mulberry cultivation/pigs/goats rearing?

  4. Chinese are repeating their inching forward moves which they had very successfully practiced in the Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea. The strategy involves slow grabbing of territory by limiting the degree of agression and land grabbing to a level that doesn’t invoke agressive response or any serious international attention. All these are enacted without firing a bullet. What is important to note is if these Chinese actions are not contested, China will consolidate their position in the area that they have grabbed by creating infrastructure in the area and thereafter nothing short of a war to physically evict them from the place will have to be undertaken. China in its history has never gone by any logic or legal verdict once it has occupied some territory. The only other unpleasent alternative is to write off the territory as lost to China.

    • It is time to show that Salami slicing will be met with a bloody nose.
      India’s silence is helping China. India ought to have made diplomatic noises and backed up with military moves. Only a proactive covert action will deter China.

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