Military & Aerospace

India-China Military Confrontation September 2020: NO De-escalation Foreseen
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Issue Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group | Date : 18 Sep , 2020

The India-China Joint Declaration announced in Moscow by the Chinese and Indian Foreign Ministers on September 10,2020 on the side-lines of the SCO Foreign Ministers Meet for speedy de-escalation and disengagement of the intense and explosive ongoing China-India Military Confrontation in Eastern Ladakh is apparently a Russian ‘Band Aid’ initiative to afford a ‘Face-Saver’ for a strategically-cornered China surprised by India and Indian Army’s resolve of “Offensive Defence” against any Chinese attempt to alter the ‘status quo’ of the existing Line of Actual Control (LAC) on India’s Borders with China Occupied Tibet.

India-China Military Confrontation with explosive flashpoint contours in Eastern Ladakh and all along India’s Himalayan borders with China Occupied Tibet as evident in September 2020 is unlikely to see any “de-escalation” notwithstanding the Five Point Declaration. Analytically, no optimistic indicators exist on the horizon to suggest that China will miraculously restore peace on the Borders. China has ‘dishonoured’ all past Boundary Agreements with India since 1993. This too shall follow the same fate.

More pointedly, China has been in betrayal breach of trust on the Agreements reached for disengagement of Chinese troops in Eastern Ladakh arrived at in dialogues at various military and diplomatic levels between China and India  since May 2020 when explosive confrontations were resorted to by Chinese PLA formations to alter the ‘status quo’ of the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. China has set the tone and tenor of the ongoing explosive military confrontation with India in 2020.

Lending credence to my assertion in the opening paragraph that the Five Point Moscow Declaration by Chinese and Indian Foreign Ministers was a Russian contrivance which for geopolitical reasons would hate to see an all-out war between Asia’s two major powers and further illuminating China’s insincere intentions in imposing a China-dictated LAC on India is the following Tweet of September 10, 2020 of an Editorial by China’s official media mouthpiece as the Chinese and Foreign Ministers were to sit down in Moscow for disengagement talks. The Global Times Tweet assertions should be an eye opener for the Indian policy establishment, and it reads:

If India wants peace, China and India should uphold the Line of Actual Control of November 7 1959. Let’s see which country can outlast the other”.

China’s above assertions made through its traditional mouthpiece ‘Global Times’ should be read by India’s political leadership and its China-policy establishment on China’s unfolding intentions and strategy on China’s military moves and course of actions. It should also be an eye opener to the tribe of China apologists in India peddling China narratives.

No refutation on the above assertions from Chinese official circles has been issued to date. It is also surprising that these assertions have not found any significant mention or analysis figuration in the extensive Indian media debates on the ongoing situation. Whatever is the case but it would be imprudent to be dismissive of these China assertions simply because they stood articulated by China’s semi-official mouthpiece.

Analytically therefore, China’s underlying and implicit intentions in the above assertions clearly denote that China has no intentions to restore the LAC ‘status quo’ in Eastern Ladakh existent in April 2020 and so demanded by India in all negotiations in 2020. Further, China has put India ‘on notice’ that China intends to alter the existent LAC to what existed in November 7 1959. This is ominous and will pose major military challenges for India’s Armed Forces of extended military confrontation and conflict-escalation by China, extending into long-term perspectives. A ‘Dual Front War’ by China-Pakistan Axis is a possibility and India’s force planning and force structures should cater for it.

China’s intentions stand betrayed in the above quoted assertions. China’s intentions so articulated find credence in the pattern of China’s military operations since April 2020 in Eastern Ladakh to alter the existent LAC. China inducted sizeable PLA formations into Eastern Ladakh in the cover of major Chinese Western Theatre military exercises. With such major military inductions in Eastern Ladakh completed, China resorted to multiple points of LAC alteration in Eastern Ladakh and especially having a bearing on India’s hold in Daulet Beg Oldie defences and airfield. This resulted in the major military clashes at Galwan on 15/16 June 2020 where the Indian Army in unarmed combat inflicted losses of 45-60 Chinese PLA soldiers killed with 20 Indian Army soldiers killed when Chinese PLA after a show of disengagement returned to find Indian Army verification patrols.

China could not have been unaware that following large-scale Chinese PLA inductions in Eastern Ladakh, India too had ordered matching inductions of sizeable Indian Army formations including heavy artillery and tank regiments. China otherwise noted highly for its intelligence inputs including those from Pakistan Army and its institutional  readings of its military adversaries seemed to have failed in May-June 2020 on this account when it came to Indian Army counter-responses.

China seems to have failed or misread India’s new resolve and intentions to checkmate China firmly in the wake of China’s intentions to forcibly change the existent LAC to an alignment that gives more depth firstly to its illegally China Occupied Aksai China Highway and secondly to China’s flagship project in Pakistan, the CPEC whose upper reaches traverse Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. 

Facilitated by extensive strategic border roads fast-tracked in the last six years and acquisition of large transport aircraft for strategic airlift under the present Indian Government the Indian Army could rapidly mobilise and respond withadditional military forces to checkmate Chinese PLA operations to shift the LAC further into Indian Territory. Following the Galwan military clash in mid-June 2020, when it became clear that China persisted in dishonouring’ all commitments for disengagement arrived at in preceding weeks, India then decided to adopt a military strategy of “Offensive Defence” against Chinese military expansionism, the results of which were evident on the last two nights of August 2020.

In pre-emptive military operations, Indian Army moved-in to occupy dominating heights/ridges commanding the SpanggurGap towards which Chinese PLA troops were headed. This was a new element in India’s military strategy to which China had not been exposed earlier but enough indicators were given to China ever since Doklam standoff in 2017 and recent statements by India’s Chief of Defence Staff. Never before had China’s PLA be so pre-empted by India in its military operations against India.

China long used to timid or feeble responses by past  Governments to Chinese military provocations emerging from ‘Risk Aversion’ policies and lack of War Preparedness had not calculated India stiffening its military responses to Chinese military provocations.

China also analytically needed to note that India under PM Modi had after deliberate appraisal of all China-related factors for months had come to the conclusion that India would no longer tolerate China infringing on Indian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

 India therefore in September 2020 stands poised in September 2020 for an extended military confrontation and checkmating any military operations by China to alter the LAC ‘status quo’ as existent. The situation continues to be an explosive flashpoint.

In clear signals to China, India has also activated all Indian Air Force Bases and deployed front-line fighter aircraft at Forward Bases in Ladakh and in the Eastern Sector. India had shirked from using the Indian Air Force in 1962 to stem Chinese military offensives out of Nehru’s timidity. This time India has displayed the resilience and will to use its Air Power against China in any conflict.

The Indian Navy is also on ‘High Alert’ in the Indian Ocean undeterred by Chinese Navy nuclear submarines prowling in Indian Ocean.

In a further expression of India’s military resolve, India has prepared itself to the logistical sustainment of the additional 50,000 plus troops inducted into Ladakh even through the winter. China needs to note that India’s Ladakh military deployments will not be scaled down from additional force-levels inducted as India in its assessments perceives that in the event of a full-scale war with China, Ladakh will be the major battlefield.

With such a threatening scenario, the moot question exercising the policy and strategic community pundits is where are China and India headed? Will the China-India Five Point Moscow Declaration of disengagement and de-escalation hold? Will China blink in face of global diplomatic isolation emerging from its military expansionism in South China Sea? Will China desist from altering the LAC ‘status quo’? Will China cease to be a military expansionist power nibbling at other nation’s territories on its peripheries? Will China ever be ready for a fair boundary settlement?

The answers to all the above questions are a BIG NO. Will India resile from its NEW RESOLVE to protect its Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity in which is implicit that it will militarily oppose all forcible attempts by China to alter LAC ‘status quo’?

The answer was provided by PM Narendra Modi in his live address to Indian Army troops in Ladakh in his post-Galwanclash visit that expansionist powers have to be stood-up to and that history is a witness that expansionist powers always bite the dust.

Analysing the above statements of the Indian Prime Minister Modi made in clear in declaratory terms is that while India would keep exploring dialogue processes, India today is in no mood to be dictated or coerced by China nor is India cowed down by China’s asymmetrical military superiorities. India is in the process of reducing its military differentials with China and in any case China’s massive military size has to cater for all other military threats on its peripheries, most notably the threat of United States military intervention in the Western Pacific whether on the South China Sea conflict or China militarily annexing Taiwan.

Reverting to the history of expansionist Powers biting the dust one can foresee that the Chinese President with his aggressive imperialist instincts could be challenged and displaced from within the CCP or domestic discontent boiling over due to a faltering economy or to be exploited by external forces on secessionist movements in Xingjian and Tibet challenging China’s hold. Nothing is improbable.

Concluding, India having made the conscious decision of jettisoning ‘Risk Aversion’ policies of the past pertaining to China or starry-eyed idealistic earlier delusions of ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai’, India should stay the course in resolutely opposing China’s military nibbling of Indian Territories. India as an Emerged Power with aspirations to be a Major Global Power should be prepared for decades of China-India Military Confrontation till history overtakes China as it overtook other expansionist Powers.


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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

Dr Subhash Kapila

is a graduate of Royal British Army Staff College Camberley and combines a rich & varied professional experience in Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat and diplomatic/official assignments in USA, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan.

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