Just when India-China bilateral engagement is peaking up, to and fro highest level visits are being planned and a calendar for the next round of Special Representatives’ level talks on the boundary issue is being prepared by the two sides, suddenly China has come up with the most ambitious, brazen and well thought out incursion into the Indian territory. The Chinese New PM is visiting India next month.
At least half a company (50 personnel) of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has intruded around 10 kilometres inside Indian territory this week in Daulat Baig sector of Leh in Ladakh region and established temporary posts there.
At least 2-3 Chinese helicopters were hovering over them to give aerial cover. The PLA also wrote China in Chinese language and marked boulders in the intruded area.
Indian Army after observing cross Line of Actual Control (LAC) movement rushed a contingent of Army to the sector on April 16 and they camped half a kilometre away from the PLA camp. “And on April 17, 5th Battalion of Ladakh Scouts was sent to the sector to take on PLA challenge and they are also camping there now”.
China has intruded Indian territory of Ladakh region up to 10 KMs inside & seating there from last two weeks. Brig Hemant Mahajan analyses the provocative events…
“The Indian Army asked for flag meeting with the PLA to sort out the intrusion, and on April 18, it was held in Chusul.” “Indian army commander raised the issue of intrusion with their Chinese counterpart. The Chinese Army commander told his Indian counterpart that it is their own territory where they are camping. The meeting ended in deadlock.”
Daulat Baig is named after Daulat Baig Oldi, a 16th century Yarkandi nobleman who is supposed to have died at this place after descent from the Karakoram Pass, which is 17 kilometers to the northwest on the Indo-Chinese border.
Indian Army maintains helipads and a gravel air strip in this sector, the highest airstrip in the world. Routine sorties are carried out using AN-32 aircraft to provide relief and supplies to the troops stationed nearby.
The base was established during the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962. It was operated with American-supplied Fairchild Packets from 1962 to 1966, when it had to be closed down when an earthquake caused loosening of the surface soil, making the area unsuitable for fixed-wing aircraft. The airfield was made operational again on 31 May 2008, when an Indian Air Force AN-32 landed there.
There has been no firing from either side but the India-China border can hardly be described as “tranquil”. Why did the Chinese choose Daulat Beg? Does this place hold any strategic significance?
The Chinese have not forgotten that it was at this place where the Indians had set up its landing strip during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. India reopened this strip and operationalised it five years ago. If a war were to break out between India and China, Daulat Beg would be a frontline airstrip to launch air strikes against the Chinese. China knows that Daulat Beg is a strategic asset for India as this 16,700 feet airstrip in Aksai Chin area is the world’s highest airstrip and is very close to the China border.
400 incursions along Sino-India border
Ladakh region shares a 646 kilometre long LAC with China, which is not demarcated at several places. The PLA in the past has intruded into Indian territory in Ladakh several times and Indian Govt has been playing down such intrusions in the past.
Last year in September, six soldiers of the PLA were detained and let off by an Indian patrolling party in the Chumar area of Leh. The Chinese troopers riding on horses entered into Indian territory when they were detained by Indian Army patrol.
In October last year, a team of Indian Army personnel, engaged in the repair of a road in the Chumar sector in Ladakh, was questioned by a patrol party of PLA.
The face-off lasted about half-an hour, during which the PLA troops painted Chinese letters on the marking stones in red and destroyed a map made by the Indian troops. They also snapped the communication line of the Indian Army that was being used to contact the road repair party.
In July last year, a PLA patrol painted China on the rocks near Charding-Nilung Nala in Demchok in Ladakh. In May last year two face-offs were reported in Dokala, in the western sector.
In August 2011, two PLA choppers with seven to eight Chinese soldiers had landed around 300 feet inside the LAC in Chumar in Ladakh and damaged the unused Indian bunkers.Over 400 instances of intrusion by the PLA has been reported along Sino-India border
Clear act of violation of international border
Intrusion of about 50 PLA troopers ten miles inside Daulat Baig Oldi is a clear and blatant act of violation of international border. This is not the first time that China has betrayed its lurking desire of coveting more and more territories contiguous to its borders.
China has developed highly effective network of border roads and connectivity besides the rail link to Lhasa in Tibet. China has the ambitious plan of building railway line along the Karakorum Highway connecting her Xingjian province to Pakistan and finally through Pakistan to Gwadar deep sea port on the Makran coast in Arabian Gulf. China has already grabbed the vast area of Aksaichin which once happened to be part of the princely kingdom of the Dogra rulers of Jammu.
Intermittent but unrelenting intrusions of the PLA over several decades in the past along our borders whether in Arunachal sector of in Ladakh sector sufficiently reveal the real designs of Beijing. The history of China tells us that that country has never given up greed for territories adjoining her original ones. With increase in population and widening of commercial activities, the greed for grabbing more and more territories has been accentuated. The real purpose behind intrusion in Daulat Baig Oldi is that China wants to secure the Karakorum Pass that stands close to Daulatbaig to its north. In Chinese perception Indian military presence in Daulatbaig is a threat to Chinese strategy in the Karakorum though India never betrayed any indication that she would adopt belligerent posture there.
The purpose of these intrusions is to test India’s military capability of defending the forward posts. The Chinese know that after every intrusion, Indians would call for flag meeting, debate the issue, promise restoration of normalcy and put a lid on the boiling pot till it is forgotten and the Chinese remain in occupation under the oft repeated but seldom honoured pretext of withdrawing from the intruded areas. India side, feeling shy of talking to Chinese in a language which they would understand, have been found playing down the incidents and calling if faceoff with the Chinese. Even in this case as well, the Indian side has termed it faceoff and has expressed the hope that tension will die down and normalcy will return. Nobody has tried to assess how far the Chinese have kept such promises in the past and what inference we need to draw from our past experience.
Matter for concern
The continuing (since April 15) Chinese troop intrusion 10 kms into Indian territory in the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) area of Eastern Ladakh in the western sector of the Sino-Indian border should be a matter for concern & alarm.
There is no evidence of further troop buildup. The Chinese troops are presently camping in the area in a tent. We will have reasons to be more than concerned if they stay put there and construct permanent defences as they often do in the uninhabited islands of the South China Sea.
Since last year, the Chinese have been assertive of their sovereignty claims over the islands of the South and East China Seas. They have constructed permanent defensive and administrative structures on some of the islands over which they have disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines.
In the East China Sea, where they have sovereignty disputes with Japan, they have avoided any such construction, but stepped up aggressive air and naval patrols of the areas in the vicinity of these islands. The Chinese Navy has also stepped up its visits to the islands in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing.
Till now we have seen greater Chinese activism in the enforcement of their sovereignty claims only in the South and East China seas, but not across the Sino-Indian border. If the Chinese troops stay put and construct defensive structures in the area, that will be an indicator of their deciding to follow a similar policy of activism across the Sino-Indian border too. That should add to our border concerns. We may have to rethink our peace and tranquility strategy and think of a more activist policy to face the Chinese activism.
Intrusions by Chinese troops into Indian territory are signals meant to assert China’s growing political and military stature as well as means to test India’s resolve. Given India’s gradual emergence as a powerful military and economic power in Asia, China is unlikely to be keen on settling the border issue till such time India slumps into a period of weakness. Thus, for the foreseeable future, the India-China border is likely to be characterised by tensions, incursions and skirmishes, interspersed with endless border negotiations. Given this, India needs to be prepared for any eventuality and calibrate its responses to Chinese intrusions.
From the Indian point of view it is important to strengthen its force level in the region. The 1962 war in this region was fought at the height of around 14,000 feet. Keeping forces active at this height even during peacetime is a logistical nightmare. No infrastructure development has taken place in this region for many years, further hampering military support. India has to build roads, railway lines air fields at much faster speed than in the past. Can Indian army fight a war with China today? The nation need not worry. Indian army is capable of defending the border. What does the army expect from the government ? It requires help from the government for modernization of its weapons & equipment. It also requires political leadership which understands how to fight war.
Brigadier Hemant Mahajan (YSM) joined armed forces since 1973. Started his military life as an officer with the ‘7 Maratha Light Infantry’. Brig. Mahajan has served in the most sensitive areas like Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, North Eastern states. Importantly Brig. Mahajan had an experience of serving his duty in highest and tough warzone like Kargil, handling peace situation in furious Punjab after the ‘Operational Blue Star’ and the Ayodhya region. Along with ‘Yuddh Seva Medal’, Brig. Mahajan is recipient of various Military awards for his excellent track record.
He is a defence analyst & a avid writer focussing on India's security scenerio.