Joining the Dots: Deciphering Chinese Aims and Objectives in Ladakh
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 11 Oct , 2020

China clearly violated the sanctity of agreements on peace and tranquility when they attempted to encroach upon tracks in Ladakh on the quiet by diverting their formations conducting routine exercises instead of going back to their cantonments. It was a display of yet another episode of their deceit, duplicity and dubious ways with hegemonic strains. While there is nothing new in their political conduct, the scale and spread of contact areas this time are pointers towards their larger sinister designs.

It is a major shift in Indian strategic paradigm which has taken China by surprise.  

The strategic messaging in the current standoff goes beyond their typical coercive diplomacy for political assertion to ‘keep the water warm but not boiling’. The temperature this time is soaring high on the verge of boiling point, hence seriousness of the standoff.  

China has been checked in their designs to large extent by the Indian armed forces duly backed up with political resolve to face the issue squarely this time. It is a major shift in Indian strategic paradigm which has taken China by surprise.  China probably was not prepared for such a contingency as India, all this time, has been accommodating Chinese political conduct of this kind. China, accordingly, does not seem to have thought of conflict termination under such a reversed situation. Moreover, the time window to do something spectacular to showcase Chinese military prowess is also diminishing by the day with winters approaching fast.

The China also seems to have faltered on troops to task to accomplish their objectives under pressure of keeping their mission covert thereby  achieve surprise. They have obviously not catered for high combat ratios required in high altitude mountainous areas and that too against well trained and experienced Indian troops. It goes to suggest that China had planned only to secure the designated areas by stealth and not capture and hold them by initiating a war. India, in response, chose to build up with matching forces post May and June. However, there has been no mass mobilization by China despite sufficient time thereby reinforcing this notion.

…China had planned only to secure the designated areas by stealth and not capture and hold them by initiating a war.

The Chinese move appears to be based on misplaced presumptions mired in legacy narratives and not the present day realistic assessment of resurgent India in its entirety, particularly the political will. Simultaneous Chinese military overtures in  East and South China Sea and Himalayas has created  multiplicity of fronts resulting in dissipation of forces. Since India happens to be one such entity in Chinese political grand game, it may probably be the reason of dilution in force allocation.   While the time and space might have suited to enhance political buoyancy of higher leadership, opening up multiple fronts against global and regional big wigs defies military rationale and logic and sound political judgment.     

It shows signs of desperation resulting in fault lines in Chinese planning and execution of military operations, clearly a case of disregarding the essential vectors of principles of war. It is a case of political overreach beyond their national capabilities reflective of individualistic strains of ambitious higher leadership in absence of any sobering constructive political voice of an opposition. It has manifested in their tunneled vision and self ordained make believe world of superiority in hybrid conflict environment, albeit not tested and tried in real world arena since 1979.

China with current standoff seems to be targeting to achieve multiple objectives in political, economic and military parlance.  Political subservience of India is the key to all their designs which can be achieved through optimal military overtures against a soft state like India in the Chinese perspective. Accordingly, Chinese aim appears to be political domination of India through coercive psychological pressure with threats of repeat of punitive campaign presuming an early capitulation of Indian polity.

Chinese aim appears to be political domination of India through coercive psychological pressure with threats of repeat of punitive campaign presuming an early capitulation of Indian polity.

India is considered to be a threat to Chinese ambitions of  global leadership and regional dominance due to presumed inimical Indian designs both in Ladakh as well as in Indian Ocean.  In that, CPEC happens to be  Xi Jinping ’s biggest political investment designed to  circumvent  Chinese  vulnerability through sea routes. Moreover, recent Indian political leaning towards US as part of emerging military grouping in the Indo-Pacific is a major Chinese concern fearing their economic strangulation. Since CPEC is the way out and happens to be the personal agenda of the president, there is an obvious high desperation quotient to ensure its security

Further to above, the Indian assertion of illegality of CPEC alignment through its territory of Gilgit-Baltistan has deep connect with Chinese national interests. Unless India is on board, or keeps quiet about it, the success of the CPEC would remain in the realm of uncertainty and inimical apprehensions. India on their part is neither on board, nor is quiet about her objections as any deviation to their stated  stance would amount to compromise on her political sovereignty.

Therefore, India needs to be silenced by force as she has consistently refused to join the CPEC band wagon and acted against Chinese interests. Besides this, the occasional political statements by the Indian polity for retaking of all the occupied areas of state of Jammu and Kashmir including POK and Aksai Chin is an obvious concern of the China. It brings in the prospects of dual threat scenario on either flanks of Ladakh by China and Pakistan in a collusive manner. It warrants stage management well in time for such a possibility, if the situation so demands.

To achieve this, China has planned to secure areas which facilitate denial of threat to Karakoram pass leading to the gateway of start point of CPEC at Kashgar.  At the same time, China is creating a firm base opposite the possible ingress routes across the Ladakh range to deny Indian offensive, and at the same time  seek options for connectivity to Gilgit Baltistan, if required.  Also the heights on either side of Pangong Tso and adjoining areas provide domination of possible approaches towards depth areas leading to Aksai Chin.

If we join the dots we can see the pattern followed by the China in their recent incursion attempts in order to achieve the above discussed objectives . Their attempts to push the LAC further to West under the garb of 1959 claim line duly manipulated and modified proves their mindset. This claim line has no political authenticity and no cartographic proof through any signed treaty or agreement with the British or the Government of J& K State. On the contrary, Aksai Chin was shown as part of British India (J&K)  in the Chinese postal as well as  Peking University atlases of 1920s and 30s vintage versions. When British left in 1947, the Johnson line along Kunlun ranges with Aksai Chin within India was shown as the boundary with Tibet on the maps, albeit not demarcated on ground.

If we join the dots we can see the pattern followed by the China in their recent incursion attempts in order to achieve the above discussed objectives .

In the instant case the new 255 km road Darbuk to DBO is a matter of Chinese concern as it provides access to Karakoram pass located close by. It  has prompted China  to push the LAC further West to an extent that they can dominate this new road axis thereby deny Indian options for offensive in sub sector North. Chinese forces build up opposite DBO in areas Dapsang , Galwan and Gogra complexes is a pointer towards this intent.

Similarly, China has chosen to push the LAC further West up to Finger Four on the Northern bank of Pangong Tso by physical occupation which was not done so far. On southern bank, they tried to capture the heights but Indian forces pre empted their moves putting them on back foot. India has also redeployed their forces on higher reaches on the Northern banks also to put a spanner in Chinese plans.

China  has been halted in their plans to unilaterally alter  the status of the LAC  with the timely Indian responses making their job difficult. China has been playing mind games in the hope that India will blink to avoid possibility of military confrontation in Ladakh, or elsewhere. In that, China has racked up the issue of 1959 claim line alongside asserting their claim over Arunachal Pradesh, a political prompt as suggested in the quid pro quo swap concept of 50s.

A well orchestrated psychological warfare is on since long to shape the Chinese narrative. China has been issuing threats of punitive actions of exponential scale in case India does not fall in line. Attempts have been made to create a dissent amongst the troops against the officers and the political leadership.  They have also gone to the extent of portraying China as a victim of Indian aggressive attitude and yet they are magnanimous enough to sort out the matter in a peaceful manner.

Chinese leadership is obviously is in a fix and desperately looking for a way out to save their face internationally as well as with their own domestic constituency. Accordingly, China is unlikely to move back till the time they either manage to achieve some tactical success, or tire out India with prospects of continued deployment through the harsh winters. The ongoing talks at diplomatic and military levels are being used as a mechanism to buy time with seemingly no inclination to disengage and de escalate easily. Indian stand is that ‘you came first, so you withdraw first’ in a verifiable manner back to pre 22 April status of location and level of troops.

China clearly intends to dominate India through military coercion so as to make India fall in line and modify her political conduct in sync with Chinese interests.

In view of foregoing, what possibly is China looking at by all the military show that they have orchestrated over last five months plus? China clearly  intends  to dominate India through military coercion  so as to make India  fall in line and modify her political conduct in sync with Chinese interests.  In that, the emerging politico-military alliance of India with the US with potential of economic strangulation in the Indo-Pacific is one of the main concerns of China.

As regards to  CPEC, China fears that India  may get further emboldened enhancing threat quotient once the strategic hydraulics as part of QUAD sets in. Accordingly , force India  to wean  away from US influence, create no hindrance to  CPEC project and refrain from anti Chinese overtures in the IOR are the possible immediate political objectives  in  Chinese basket. On the territorial issues , accept the new version of LAC as configured by the China and concur to Chinese claims elsewhere on Indo- Tibet border. China appears to be looking at converting LAC into international boundary as evident from their rhetoric of 1959 claim line as their bench mark for political dialogue, a carryover narrative of  territorial swap concept.  Besides above, India is expected to maintain minimal border forces and go by the border management rules as dictated by China.

China may also be looking at their economic expansion by insisting on opening up restrictive regime of Indian markets, besides go along China on WTO, climate change, South China Sea claims, cyber and space control mechanism and other international issues.      

What then are Indian options in response to the current situation? It would be tactically appropriate to continue holding the dominating heights till Chinese forces retreat to their pre 22 April locations and force accretions move back to their bases in hinterland. Should China embark upon an offensive to capture sensitive areas, it is prudent for India to exercise option to evict them, or launch offensive in areas of their own choosing so as to retain  position of strength.

China appears to be looking at converting LAC into international boundary as evident from their rhetoric of 1959 claim line as their bench mark for political dialogue, a carryover narrative of  territorial swap concept.  

The ground situation suggests that the Chinese brinkmanship with the present level of forces would be restricted in scope and scale. Looking at the terrain and Indian preparedness, China is likely to suffer heavy casualties which may not be acceptable to them. Moreover, if it turns out to be a stalemate, it would be construed to be a victory for the defender India. Accordingly, with the prospects of further loss of face, China may not opt for such a kinetic approach. China, in all probability, would continue the eye ball deployment in their present configuration.

If the standoff continues for prolonged period, it would lead to conversion of LAC into LOC by default. It amounts to a gain for China to an extent that they would have encroached the LAC further west in few areas for the time being. Moreover, if it becomes a permanent deployment, the LAC would become de facto boundary unless China is evicted. In such a situation, Aksai Chin as part of India would become merely a notional political issue.

All said and done, the concept of LAC has kept the Indian claim alive to be resolved at a later date with mutual political convergence. The Chinese interests of connectivity to Xinxiang can be taken care of with appropriate protocols, if Indian boundaries are restored as it existed at the time J&K was ceded with India. However, China is unlikely to agree to such a proposal as they have invested in their narratives which possibly cannot be undone as it would show their national weakness.

Overall it is a difficult choice both for India as well as China to resolve the current impasse. Only window which sounds sensible is China moving back as it was they who initiated this precipitous situation between two nuclear armed nations. The China must realize that a strong military deterrence is in place leaving little window for confrontation with futile consequences. Indian willingness to engage in dialogue at diplomatic and military levels suggests that they do not seem to be inclined to up the military ante and indulge in political intransigence. Such a stance in itself provides a window for pull back by China as a mutually dignified response.

India enjoys international support and sits with all the options open to call Chinese bluff…

If China does not mend her ways and take advantage of the current way out then it would lead to negative publicity impacting on their political interests. As per media reports, the credibility of China and her leadership is going down in a big way due to their coercive political conduct and complicity in spread of pandemic. It is in long term Chinese interests that they show political maturity by de escalating from their areas of intrusion in Himalayas and lower the military ante in Indo-Pacific.

India is no more a push over with one fifth of humanity alongside credentials of being, fifth largest world economy, fourth largest armed forces with nuclear triad and biggest consumer market. India enjoys international support and sits with all the options open to call Chinese bluff, if she is pushed beyond threshold of tolerance. China has to take a call as regards to their ambitions to don the mantle of global leadership as a responsible cooperative nation taking everyone along, or continue to follow medieval mindset of use of force to steer their political agenda. The ball is in Chinese court.

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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 Rameshwar Yadav

Former Director General Infantry, Indian Army.

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17 thoughts on “Joining the Dots: Deciphering Chinese Aims and Objectives in Ladakh

  1. This is an excellent and deep analytical description of the current situation at the LAC in Ladakh and also of the Chinese mindset and options available to both China and India. Well done, good job. Would expect more such in-depth and well written articles in future from the author. Congratulations.

  2. China-Pak axis are waiting for weakened US leadership from the forthcoming election as well as change of leadership within India in their favour so that they continue their games. China is behind the radical Islamic states in their adventurous overtures while suppressing Muslim minorities in Xinjiang with iron hand as has been done to the Buddhists in Tibet. With apparently superior military weapon system and economic clout in the garb of Covid nfliclited pandemic fomenting insurgency and political instability within India using their paid agents and accumulated dollar through plundering of US corporates to their advantage China wanted to use the opportunity to dominate the world staking it’s claim to number one spot. They are playing a waiting game to make US and India make mistakes so that they can pounce upon. India must be well prepared to fight the two and half front war.

  3. This time even a small encroachment effort by crook Chinese PLA is going to cost CHina and it’s bad Ally Pakistan very dearly. Both r going to loose the occupied portions of India. Crooks are dreaming for more occupation but in reality going to loose everything they occupied sofar. Very hard lesson both countries going to learn shortly from India.

  4. The chinese have technology to manage winter for large scale deployment.
    India is dependent on imports. India has to take steps to ensure that
    winter does not win for the Chinese. We have to precipitate the situation
    without fiting a single shot . Tibet , Taiwan and Ughurs are the soft belly
    of the dragon and also the redlines. If Arunachal and Ladakh are questioned in global times, why not. As in the article it is a stellamatte currently and
    given the winter already in place both will face the harshness.

  5. A very balanced and comprehensive analysis. However, the Communist China is wrongfully power drunk. Longer the crisis, more and more military alliances to emerge in favour of India. On economical front, the debt trap diplomacy let colonialism being pursued by China will be badly exposed. The China will face a non compromising and aggressive India on the delicate issues of Taiwan, Tibet, Xin Xiang and Bong Kong. The Chinese ploy of coersion, attrition and foolish threats is all set to backfire. It would be good for them to contain the anger of India in a sincere way. Otherwise, the China would invite a ferocious India at its own peril. The game of deceit, encroachment and sponser of terror against India through Pakistan and Naxal movement has been going for long. Enough is enough. Time of war and revenge is upon us. China must be taught a lesson….Jai Hind !

  6. Yes sir, you are right in yours opinion, in fact if china want to play a big brother role then they should return Aksai Chin to India and India will also start to consider them as big brother after that by heart.

  7. China by now must hv realised they hv bitten more than what can chew. It is a catch 22 situation where a war with India is definitely not a solution & the same time withdrawal to pre April border line will be a humiliation too large to swallow. Further international pressure in form of US Govt must definitely a big concern for China. India should hold on without any undue show of machismo so as to escalate the situation.

  8. Kudos Lt.Gen. Comprehensive article. Chi No always follow SunTzu tactics. India awakened in present Govt. Pictures made open to public. Growing population, economy needs more space n entrepreneurs or investors. To feed our children we must protect borders, reduce conflicts to stabilize Govt and market where investment comes in. Looking at Chi No economy, technology, single man ruling, military disengagement procrastination tactics, their internal election scene, it’s assumed that they won’t retaliate before January. Our constant deploying becomes economical burden to India, which is thought by Chi No side. We need to attract FDIs at the same time to show our muscles.

  9. A well analyzed verse. But, it should serve the purpose of showing the true expansionist hunger of China to the world. As a result, they have border dispute with almost all the neighbors. They want to grab all through coercion. Which can’t be accepted today. They must be treated with tit for tat.

    Opinion leaders in India should give confidence nationwide that we are inferior to none. Today, India is trying to be self reliant.

    Jai Hind

  10. Good & comprehensive article. However, it is very softly written and lacks aggressive posture expected at current times from retired army personnel.

    We also need to internalize Chinese aggression on all available forums – UN, international media, bilateral discussion with various countries, defence cooperation agreements, touching Taiwan topic again & again which hurts China and play equally forceful propoganda war with Doordarshan and like minded private TV channels in India. By periodic talking of Aksai Chin and Balochistan subject, would force China in constant fearful sleepless mindset. We have to reply China in the same manner / language the one they use against us. Aggression is the best defence, and we must prove this against China.

  11. Very well and thoughtfully written! The Chinese will definitively make an arduous move within October going by history of 62, and we should give them a bloody nose. If situation escalated to a war, we should focus to recapture Aksai Chin lost, along with hitting Chinese where it hurts them most on the Karakoram pass area !

  12. We are thankful to the author sharing his important observations on the present lac standoff with China. Moreover this article gives us insight of the situation by presenting dos and don’ts without prejudices. It is expected China to avoid bullying nations and exit respectfully from their outrageous mistakes.

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