Does India's Handling of China Make Sense?
The Modi government's approach to tackling an obstreperous
China, like that adopted in the Vajpayee interregnum and by the Manmohan Singh
regime, is frighteningly stupid. President Xi Jinping would be a fool not to
exploit the situation to the hilt. He is not and China has.
The result is a significant loss of territory in eastern Ladakh, including on
the Pangong Tso and conceding all land beyond the Y-junction bottleneck on the
Depsang Plains without a fight.
The disposition on the ground is as follows: Pursuant to whatever understanding
was reached - and it isn't at all clear what was agreed upon by Lt General
Harinder Singh, GOC, XIV Corps in his confabulations with Major General Liu
Lin, deputy commander, 'South Tibet District' - in the fourth round of the
corps commanders' meet in Chishul-Moldo, Indian troops retreated pell-mell to
their long established post on the shore side of the Finger 2 hilly abutment on
the Pangong Lake even as the PLA pulled back their presence only a slight
distance to the line Finger 5. A pullback nullified by the Chinese remaining
atop the ridge on Finger 4.
Elsewhere, in the Depsang Plains the PLA is entrenched on the Y-junction bottle
neck, preventing Indian patrols from reaching not just Patrol Point (PP) 14
but, as Kapil Sibal, the Congress Party spokesman charged correctly on June 27,
also PPs 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13. Liu, it is obvious, refused to entertain any
talk of the PLA vacating the Y-junction (assuming General Singh brought up the
issue at all in their 4th meeting).
The Chinese called a fifth meeting to press home their advantage. Harinder
Singh was presented with a demand for further "mutual and equal" withdrawal by
the two sides from the currently-held positions on the Pangong. Meaning, that
India should get out of Finger 2 while the PLA, given its idea of equal, gets
down from the ridge above Finger 4?
That apparently is the limit of what the PLA is prepared to accept, if the
previous experience is any guide. Whereupon, the vanguard of the appeaser
brigade - the China Study Group - the worm, finally turned.
It held a stop sign to the China decreeing, in effect, thus far and no farther,
instructing Singh to inform Liu that this new Chinese formula was unacceptable.
CSG then reiterated, at least for the media, the Modi dispensation's objective
of restoring the status quo ante first enunciated by Foreign Minister S.
Jaishankar on June 17. Except, it's way too late because an awful lot of
territory has already been lost to China that all involved are responsible for.
This leads to the Question: Was Lt General Singh ordered by the CSG/Modi PMO to
accept the schemata for military "disengagement" whose details were not spelled
out, leaving it to to the two sides to decide whatever the hell was decided by
the firm of Messrs Harinder and Liu?
How otherwise to explain what came next - the Indian troops drawing all the way
back to Finger 2 - skipping Finger 3 altogether - even as the PLA remained
stuck on Ginger 4 top?
Was the hurry to withdraw several kilometers westward along the shoreline of
the lake mandated by the PM/CSG, or was it Singh's call? One can see why GOC,
XIV Corps calculated thusly: An already built-up facility exists at Finger 2
and is available for Indian troops to inhabit; hence, it makes sense for the
Indian jawans to pull back a longer distance than a smaller one to Finger 3,
which would necessitate construction crews to put up some kind of roofed
facility on a new spot for the troops to spend the cold nights in.
This option avoided the possibility of the new camp construction activity
triggering an adverse Chinese response. If this is how and why that decision
was made then it backfired. Because all it did was consolidate China's hold on
the Pangong and convince Beijing to become both more rigid in its negotiating
style and to enlarge their ask of India.
The more serious and strategic danger, however, is from the PLA blocking Indian
troops from proceeding to all the PPs northwest of the Y-junction occupied by
it - some 18 kms inside Indian territory.
How deep does an armed penetration by the Chinese PLA have to be before the
Modi government and army - in this case HQrs XIV Corps - decide, it is a
provocation requiring a military riposte? Apparently, 18 kms doesn't make the
Would the PLA occupying the town of Burtse - just 7 kms away on the DSDBO Road
leading to Daulat Beg Oldi, be a trigger? Not sure. Because Prime Minister Modi
has yet to publicly call out Beijing - three months into the confrontation, for
its brazen large-sized land grab.
What's involved is not some small parcel of barren, high altitude, real estate
where a few PLA stragglers have planted their flag. But a full-scale Chinese
military operation to realize the twin aims of establishing a second prong of
the pincer closing in on the DSDBO highway, the first prong is in place via the
Galwan corridor, and to absorb that entire part of Ladakh in the manner the PLA
did the Aksai Chin, albeit more secretly, in the 1950s.
The characteristically smooth and inflexible Chinese ambassador in Delhi Sun
Weidong in a webinar hosted last week by the Institute for Chinese Studies in
his presentation and in answers to questions prefaced all references to the
Indian territory China has occupied with the phrase "As is clear" to assert
Chinese troops were on Chinese territory and in all cases that it was the
Indian troops who had violated the Line of Actual Control!
This is the process by which Beijing legitimates its territorial claims - occupy Indian territory and validate its legal status as Chinese land by
pointing to the attempts by Indian forces trying recover lost ground! It is a
successful tactic that Delhi has not so far forcibly opposed, and given the
trend, won't in the future.
Should the PLA advance unopposed to the vicinity of Burtse, Daulat Beg Oldi
(DBO) along with its Advanced Landing Ground, will come within range of Chinese
artillery. PLA rocket systems will then be in a position to crater the landing
strip at will, rendering resupply of DBO by air and forward operations by IAF
combat aircraft ex-DBO in crisis, impossible.
Additionally, with the PLA so near to DBO, the military logistics system
linking Leh to DBO and Siachen, will be permanently compromised - exposed to
Chinese firepower. Simultaneously, India's ability to use the DSDBO Road to
interdict traffic on the Xinjiang Highway and at its junction with the
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor on the Karakorum Pass, will be hugely
Such are the stakes that led me to first propose a limited war to get the PLA
out of all the places it has ingressed in. Clearing the Chinese roadblock at
the Y-junction has to be military priority. The Indian Army, if it is not to
entirely soil its reputation, better begin planning and preparing for it
without regard to cost. One hopes the COAS, General MM Naravane, and Lt Gen
Harinder will together forcefully make the case to Defence Minister Rajnath
Singh and the government for a sustained military operation to accomplish this
specific aim, and also to evict the PLA from the Galwan Valley, and to push the
Chinese military presence back eastward of Finger 8 to capture enough territory
on the Chinese side to use as bargaining card.
Throughout this depressing episode, the Modi regime, advised by CSG, and the
Army have consistently misread China's aims and intentions. They assumed
wrongly that what was happening in Ladakh was the usual military to-ing and
fro-ing on an indistinct border, nothing that could not be settled at the
Instead, it has turned out to be what I said in my first post (May 25) on the
subject once the PLA's aggression became public, that the Chinese occupation of
Indian territory is permanent.
Further, the CSG and the Modi dispensation still believe, despite all that's
occurred, that talking with the Chinese is still the way to resolve the issues
related to the disputed border and to handling the flare ups. If the Corps
commander level talks don't work - as they haven't - there's the forum of the
Special Representatives to tap.
Except, Ajit Doval has had less than no success against a stonewalling Wang Yi,
who serenely brushes off the Indian NSA's protestations, while holding out the
vague promise of something working out. They need to be disabused. The only
time the Special Representatives forum will, in fact, be successful is when
China gets Delhi to formalize the latter's acceptance of all Indian territory
under Chinese occupation, as falling within the Chinese claim line.
Even so this is the false hope that apparently motivated the PMO to order the
Defence Ministry to yank a document it had uploaded to its website in early May
honestly stating that "Chinese aggression has been increasing along the LAC and
more particularly in Galwan valley since 5th May, 2020. The Chinese side
transgressed in the area of Kugrang Nala, Gogra and north bank of Pangong Tso
lake on 17-18 May, 2020."
It ended by saying "The situation in Eastern Ladakh arising from unilateral
aggression by China continues to be sensitive and requiring close monitoring
and prompt action based on evolving situation." There, of course, has been no
action, prompt or otherwise. The deletion of the document from the website
cannot be explained except in terms of the desire of the current dispensation
that nothing be done to, in the least, upset Beijing and that any reference to "Chinese aggression" be excised from the public record.
There has not been even a squeak out of the government regarding Beijing's
clampdown on Hong Kong, or about threats against Taiwan, and serious
provocations offered the Southeast Asian littoral and offshore states in the
South China Sea at a time when China routinely slaps India around
diplomatically. To wit, Beijing's egregious wagging of finger on the
anniversary of the Article 370 abrogation on Aug 5.
Does any of this make sense?