Geopolitics

Responding to the Chinese Game Plan
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 06 Jul , 2020

News reports now suggest that Pakistan has reportedly moved two army divisions up into Gilgit-Baltistan region opposite Kargil. Clearly some elements within our security establishment must see this as our worst nightmares coming true as the possibility of Pakistan and China joining forces to attack us seems a looming possibility.

This was the worst-case scenario our military leadership kept periodically shouting about from the rooftops, obviously without either much conviction or action for preparedness.  Otherwise, if it kept them awake at night they would have put their money where their mouth was, as the former French Chief of Defence Staff, General Pierre de Villiers, did, when he resigned in a protest against the announced defence budget cuts in contradiction to previous assurances of increased defence spending.

The NDA Government’s response to such pleas was to reduce our defence budget to its lowest levels since prior to the Sino-Indian Conflict of 1962. Militaries the world over will always plan for a worst-case scenario, on the other hand, governments always feel they can manage through diplomacy and political dialogue. When this fails then they expect the military to bail them out with sticks and stones and whatever else they have!!

Unfortunately, complete lack of transparency on the part of this Government has left most of us groping in the dark in attempting to make sense of contradictory information emerging from various quarters available on public media. For example, on one hand we are told that the Corps Commander Level Talks that were held on 30th June have been positive in all respects except for the issue of transgressions in the Pangong Tso area and we are likely to see a time-bound and verifiable de-escalation and withdrawal of PLA units shortly.

On the other hand, there is also disturbing news that PLA has strengthened its forces along the LAC elsewhere, especially in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. That off course is in addition to the two divisions massed opposite the DBO-Depsang Sector, which seems to have initially caught our military and intelligence establishment by surprise.

 The Prime Minister is not helping matters either because not only did he earlier make a statement which was prone to different interpretation during his speech to the All Party Meet, which had to be subsequently corrected by his office, but has, even in his latest address to the nation, completely avoided any mention of the subject. Instead he appeared to be solely focused on the response to COVID 19 and in extending relief to our less affluent compatriots.

Undoubtedly, this was an extremely important issue, given their straightened circumstances, but surely no more important than the situation that we face on the LAC where twenty of our braves were brutally murdered without provocation.

It seems apparent that the forthcoming Bihar and Bengal elections occupy more mind space within the Government and its ruling alliance rather than the predicament we face with regard to defending our territorial integrity and the possibility of having to tackle two adversaries simultaneously.

The Prime Minister’s recent surprise visit to Ladakh to visit troops has to some extent clarified matters. For all intents and purposes, he has dropped his earlier obfuscation and clearly acknowledged publicly, albeit tangentially, that the Chinese are occupying some of our territories. If they had not done so why would he be mentioning expansionist regimes in his speech?

Yet, despite all his proclamations one was left feeling that the visit was meant more for domestic consumption rather than to signal any fresh determination or intent on our part to regain those areas now occupied by the PLA through the use of force if required. Off course one may be wrong, but it is only a matter of time before the truth comes out.

The problem confronting not just our Government, but the international community as well is our inability to understand the motivations for President Xi’s aggressive moves in the Asia Pacific Region given the current situation. Theories abound, but it will indeed be a brave man or woman who would be willing to bet their savings on any of these.

In our context it would be sensible for us to realize that in whatever may be his overall scheme, we are just a sideshow. If that be so, he would prefer to ensure that if hostilities were to break out, they be limited in scope to a level that can be handled within the resources inherently available to his Western Command, at best supported by limited reinforcements from elsewhere.

That would lead one to conclude that he is unlikely to launch a major offensive against us with a view to capture all territory that he has laid claim to. Instead he will attempt to keep our forces busy defending our own territorial integrity, much in the manner he has kept us geopolitically hemmed into South Asia all these years by using Pakistan as a proxy.

In that context move of Pakistani Divisions opposite Kargil – Batalik Sector makes eminent sense. He hopes it will ensure that, whether they get pulled into hostilities or not, we do not pull out any of our forces presently poised to respond against any Pakistani misadventure.

Moreover, by keeping levels of violence restricted to local engagements all along the LAC, mixed with Military/Diplomatic talks, he will also attempt to ensure that we desist from launching any major counter offensive or from even utilizing our Air Force and Navy for fear of escalation. He can then concentrate on Taiwan without having to worry about his flanks.

It would be the grand prize that he would bring to the table at the Centenary Celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party due to be held next year. There could not be a better time to deal with the unfinished business of Taiwan’s integration than when the United States is beset by its inability to control the COVID 19 pandemic, a deeply fractured polity and what is bound to be an extremely unruly Presidential Election.

This leaves the Prime Minister with a unique opportunity to exercise multiple options and win big. He could play the nationalistic card, take on the Chinese aggression head on and be prepared to deal with the likelihood of escalation and a two-front war single-handedly. What would be holding him back, apart from the casualties that will be incurred in such a venture, is the knowledge that our military is unprepared at the present time to deal with such a contingency, given the years of neglect that it has been subjected to.  

At best such an option would leave us with a stalemate along the LAC, which while being perceived as a famous victory would have little to show as its fruits. It would leave parts of our infrastructure and our economy devastated, setting us back decades, which would certainly adversely impact the BJP’s future electoral prospects.

However, on the other hand, we can go along with the Chinese script, engaging in minor tit for tat actions along the LAC, including limited offensive actions that would give us leverage during talks. This would ensure Pakistan was kept out of the equation and the conflict would remain limited in scope.

Most importantly, we would not be left fighting someone else’s war, as the West would have us do. It would also ensure we are not financially debilitated, as would be the case if a major conflict were to occur. We would also gain the time required to concentrate on upgrading our border infrastructure and military capability to levels that would deter further Chinese aggression, as is bound to occur in the not so distant future. It would also give PM the opportunity to concentrate on dealing with the pandemic and reviving our economy to take advantage of those businesses that look to escape the Chinese dragnet.

Finally, a robust economy would certainly add to NDA’s popularity especially given that the Congress future continues to look bleak as it has failed miserably at ousting the Dynasty from its rolls. It requires no great intellectual capital to decide which option would be in our best interests.

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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

Brig Deepak Sinha

is a second generation para trooper and author of “Beyond the Bayonet: Indian Special Operations Forces in the 21st Century.” He is currently a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation.

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4 thoughts on “Responding to the Chinese Game Plan

  1. Can hardly blame military leadership for unpreparedness. Man responsible for defence preparation is Defense Secretary not CDS or army chief. Absolutely no reform was done by this government in first five yrs. In their reckoning Defence Ministry was irrelevant, so appointed a novice as defense minister, who had no clue about Defence. Learnt wrong lessons from Doklam incident. Now paying price for complacency and negligence.

  2. A to the point analysis of the current sit vis a vis pros and cons of various options, year after year dwindling def budget, economic growth, lack of strategic clarity at the political level and so on, enjoyed reading.

  3. China unlikely to escalate conflict any further. It has already attained its strategic objectives without firing a shot. It has successfully altered LAC in Ladakh to its own advantage. China has consolidated its position taking advantage of its interior lines of communication along LAC. We neglected defense and infra preparedness and so force asymmetry skewed in favour of China and so obviously pay a price for it.. The biggest impediment in tackling Chinese threat at this juncture is huge surge in pandemic cases. Need to synergize diplomatic, economic and military efforts to tackle this threat. We can be certain that junior leadership and soldiers will sacrifice their lives with all odds stacked against them as they did in Kargil and recently at LAC to save the day .

  4. Someone else’s war ? The racist Han Chinese are atheist and want to control all religion.and want to make all brown people slaves and usurp all their resources. Do you Indian not get it ? Are you one of those who loves be a slave and do Hindu “Sava/Service” for the your Han Chinese “Master/Malik” ? Why cannot the author figure out Xi’s motivation is he an idiot ?

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