The tragic events at Galwan River Valley on the night of June 15th resulting in the loss of 20 Indian brave hearts, with perhaps an equal or number of casualties on the Chinese side, have once again brought in sharp focus China’s duplicity and deception in the current face-off at the LAC between the two Asian giants.
The confrontation, resulting in the loss of most lives in over five decades since the Nathu La face-off in 1967, has also put in serious doubt the likelihood of a peaceful resolution to the current standoff. For one, it confirms that China has gone back on an agreement reached as late as June 06th between the two military commanders at Corps level.
If China had not agreed to pull back from Patrol Point (PP) 14 in Galwan in that meeting, there was no question of Colonel Santosh Babu of 16 Bihar to confirm the withdrawal in this area at that time of the night. No degree of claimed provocation from Col Santosh can be a justifiable basis for the PLA troops to attack the Indian patrol with barbaric weapons leading to the scuffle and loss of life.
China’s attempts to cloak this confrontation as a result of India’s aggression and mobilize international opinion in its favor on the border issue through information warfare are also evident from the latest article “China’s Strategic Assessment of the Ladakh Clash” by Yun Sun of June 19, available at a Texas Security Review site at https://warontherocks.com/2020/06/chinas-strategic-assessment-of-the-ladakh-clash/.
The Review aims at articles which would find their way in university syllabi and at the policy desks from Washington DC to Tokyo. Yun Sun is the Senior Fellow and Co-Director at Stimson and was earlier a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution with expertise in Chinese foreign policy and US-China relations. Her pro-China leanings and attempts at influencing the issue in China’s favor are obvious from a plain reading of the article.
At the outset, Yun Sun portrays the current clash essentially due to China’s perceived Indian exploitation of China’s vulnerabilities due to COVID-19 and deteriorating relations with the US. In this attempt, she overlooks the fact that, despite the illegal and forceful occupation of Aksai Chin by China, India has not made a single aggressive move to militarily retake its “occupied territories” from China since the humiliating defeat of 1962.
Since independence, India has only attempted to find a Modus Vivendi to live in peaceful co-existence with its neighbors. Her contention is also disingenuous at best since the whole face-off started in April-May when China amassed its troops and supporting arms closer to the LAC and tried to extend its claim line further, as if the first claim line of 1956 and the second one of 1959, with even larger claims, were not enough. This assertion can easily be confirmed by satellite imagery of the areas in dispute before and after April 2020.
The hypothesis that India would venture into an aggressive stance due to the COVID-19 situation around the world is also unbelievably preposterous considering that India is still grappling with rising incidence of the virus while China had reportedly controlled the situation by March itself. The imagery, of who made the moves, also demolishes the contention that this clash was not pre-meditated, with three pieces of empirical evidence provided by Yun Sun. As a matter of fact, the Government of India is currently under fire by some opposition parties for not reacting to Chinese attempts to change the status quo in time.
The background to the 1962 war, and the salami slicing strategy of China, has been well documented and needs no repletion here.[i] While India has made every effort to peacefully settle the boundary issue starting from the Panchsheel Agreemnt in 1954 followed up by numerous agreements and mechanism to maintain peace and tranquility on the LAC from 1993 onwards,[ii] the fact remains that, till date, China has not even exchanged maps to clearly define its “perception” of the Line of Actual Control.
Quite obviously, Zhou Enlai’s earlier offer of an exchange of Aksai Chin for territories in the East could not be accepted by any self-respecting nation, particularly under duress. The newfound claims of China on the entire Galwan valley, where there has been no dispute since 1962, a few Kilometers west of even the second claim line of 1959, must be viewed in the light of its salami slicing strategy.[iii] Control and weaponization of water may also be behind this new claim on the entire Galwan Valley.[iv]
Yun Sun admits that, strategically, China is in no hurry to resolve the disputes as it bogs India down as a continental power, a point also highlighted in earlier articles by many, including this author.[v]
Yun Sun also states that China believes it needs to stand up to India, a laughable proposition considering the economic, military and territorial differential between the two countries. On the same logic, perhaps China would also attempt to justify its recent muscular policy against Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and all other smaller nations in the vicinity. Most other arguments tending to portray China as the victim, including India stabbing China in the back and not being neutral in its strategic relations, also do not stand scrutiny but are not being addressed here due to lack of space.
Interestingly, she seems to support the view that China feels that the issue cannot be resolved by historical or other evidence to support the conflicting claims and needs to be resolved diplomatically, amazingly after establishing a new LAC. This clearly reconfirms the hollowness of China’s territorial claims. It is obviously due to this reason that the Officials’ Report initiated by agreement between Nehru and Zhou Enlai as early as April 1960[vi] was not accepted by China and no attempt has been made to define even its perception of the LAC till now despite the agreement of 1993.
It is also obvious that China wishes to bully India into acceptance of a new LAC now and a border later from a position of possession, in the mistaken belief that possession is ninth tenth of the law. China obviously does not wish to accept the fact that, with all the evidence in India’s favor, no dispensation in India can accept such an unequal trade without committing political harakiri.
Admittedly, India may not be able to militarily match China in a prolonged conventional or nuclear conflict. However, India is capable of standing up to this bullying and give China a bloody nose or two. At the same time, even without an alliance that India has been avoiding to maintain its neutrality and strategic autonomy, the groundswell of international opinion is already heavily in India favor.
As per Hun Sun, China has already made up its mind that India is firmly in the Western camp, a refrain heard even prior to 1962. Open and escalated hostilities would not augur well even for China since most like-minded countries realize that while today it may be India, tomorrow it will be their turn to face China’s wrath and bullying.
Considering everything, India needs to stand firm in the short run while seeking to restore status quo ante through military and diplomatic parleys underway to resolve this confrontation. At the same time, it needs to be prepared for prolonged escalation on all fronts considering that China is trying to wear it down in a “long process of friction and attrition”, as Yun Sun sees it.
Apart from all the political, diplomatic, economic and military measures suggested for the long-term in the earlier article above by the author, India should seriously consider taking the border issue with China to the International Court of Justice, as suggested by Shivkunal Verma and this author.[vii] Even if China does not abide by the ruling, we would have lit a fire under the dragon, which can only spread through other nations in a similar predicament. Certainly, India cannot be any worse off than today, facing such regular incursions and bullying.
[i] For a comprehensive study of the factors leading to the war and the war itself, see Verma, Shiv Kunal, “1962: The War that Wasn’t, Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2016”. Also see Arjun Subramamiam, Air Vice Marshal, “India’s Wars: A Military History 1947-1971”, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2016, pp. 197-259.
ii] For detailed analyses of India’s policies and its relations with China, see Kanwal Sibal, “India-China Relations: Problems and Prospects”, Air Power Journal Vol. 7 No. 3, Monsoon 2012 (July-September), pp. 1-26 and Jasjit Singh, “Essays on China, 2012”, Chapter 1: China’s India War: Revisiting the Key Elements, Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, Ed, KW Publishers Pvt Ltd New Delhi.
[iii] Ananth Krishnan, “China lays claim to entire Galwan Valley”, The Hindu June 19, 2020 available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/chinas-galwan-valley-claims-mark-shift-from-past/article31867941.ece (Accessed June 20, 2020).
iv] Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, “Chinese intrusion into Galwan——-”, The Print available at https://theprint.in/opinion/chinese-intrusion-in-galwan-lasted-for-two-weeks-before-it-was-cleared-by-indian-troops/428658/ (Accessed June 05, 2020).
v] Masand, Harish, Air Marshal, “Beijing Reaches Out to Bridge Differences: Co-operation on Chinese Terms”, India-China Chronicle, September-October 2019 Issue, pp. 36-41 available at http://www.icec-council.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/ICC-Sept-Oct-2019-book.pdf.
vi] Jasjit Singh, Op.Cit. pp. 5-7.
[vii] Verma Shiv Kunal, “Time to take on the neighbourhood bully”, Sunday Guardian, 14-20 June 2020 edition, available at https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/e-paper/14-june-2020/, p. 9 (Accessed June 09, 2020) and Harish Masand, “The Dragon Spews Fire, Once again”, about to be published in Defence and Diplomacy and available on request at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lwLiTVhkbQiIGfB0tgegOLZDMLXHyXJ2/view?usp=sharing