Strategic Deadlock - Reality Check!

NewsBharati    14-Sep-2020 11:01:09 AM   
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Strategic deadlock is real between the Indian Armed Forces and the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) of China on the undefined and undermarketed Line of Actual Control (LAC) of the Indo-Tibet/China border. Following the 14 June 2020 “Galwan Valley” clash, the Special Representatives of India and China on the Boundary Question - Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor of India and Mr. Wang Yi, State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of China – held virtual talks on 5th July 2020.

The two Special Representatives agreed that both sides should take guidance from the consensus of the leaders that maintenance of peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas was essential for the further development of bilateral relations and that the two sides should not allow differences to become disputes. Therefore, they agreed that it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquility and to avoid such incidents in future. And, following a series of Corps Commanders, GOCs, and Brigade Commanders talks at the military level that stands deadlocked due to differing claims of the LAC.

The disputed area map and the claims and the different perceptions of the LAC claims in Eastern Ladakh provide the existing realities on the ground. As per latest satellite pictures, Chinese PLA forces have firmed in at the Fingers 4 to 8 instead of disengaging and withdrawing beyond Finger 8 on the Northern Bank of Pangong Tso and made an attempt to occupy ridge lines on their “LAC Claim Line” South of Pangong Tso, which was pre-empted by the Indian Army on 29 and 30 August 2020.

The Chinese laid the blame for the latest intrusions into their territory on 29 and 30 August 2020 at all political and military levels. No end to Chinese “blames games” and “Information War” blaming the Indian Army for the latest intrusions into their territory on the South Bank of Pangong Lake and near the Reqin Mountain pass. China, meanwhile, claimed it has "not occupied an inch" of other country's territory nor "provoked" war in its 70-odd year history and its border troops never crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India.

In retort, India is blaming the PLA for engaging in "provocative action" to change the “status quo” in the South Bank area of Pangong Tso Lake even as military talks were underway which is complete disregard" to bilateral understandings. So, the Indian side prevented PLA attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo due to the timely "defensive action" to safeguard our interests and defend the territorial integrity, and asked China to "discipline and control" their frontline troops from undertaking such "provocative" actions.

Understanding the Chinese strategic realities is vital to expose Chinese “lies” and its future plans. Ipso facto, the pattern of activities on the LAC follows the directions issued by its Commander in Chief and President, XI Jinping. One, Xi Jinping defined the “Chinese Dream” in clear terms since 2013 – Rejuvenation of the Middle Kingdom clearly reflecting its aggressive, expansionist and hegemonic intentions in its area of influence not only on the borders but also in the Indo-Pacific region. Let none suffer from illusions on the above count.

On assuming power, Xi Jinping defined the “Grand Strategy” with shifts considered appropriate from Hu Jintao to match the prevailing geo-strategic environment at international, regional, and local levels and to face the challenges and complexities of threats to national security interests. Its stated positions on the external front were unambiguous. Integration of Hong Kong with the national mainstream, Taiwan’s national reintegration, and maintaining territorial sovereignty and maritime rights particularly in the South China Sea are non-negotiable.

Most importantly, Xi Jinping enunciated the policy of “Creeping Incrementalism and Extended Coercion” familiarly known as “SALAMI SLICING”. In particular, he implemented the policy effectively in the South China Sea by converting submerged rocks and reefs into islands and militarized them besides laying territorial claims to the entire South China Sea.

With the recent imposition of National Security Law in Hong Kong, Xi Jinping has virtually ensured integration with mainland China. Add to them, Xi Jinping’s aggressive and expansionist initiatives against Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Furthermore, Xi Jinping’s consolidation and integration of Xinjiang with mainland China.

What is most important is to note the exhortation of Xi Jinping, in his address during the second day of the country's plenary parliamentary session on 26 May 2020, directed the PLA to scale up for war-like preparations and make themselves ready for "worst-case scenario" amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next, at the two-day [28th and 29th Aug] 7th Tibet Work Forum attended by the senior Communist Party leaders in Beijing, Xi Jinping delivered a fiery speech calling China to build an “impregnable fortress” to maintain stability in Tibet, protect national unity and educate the masses in the struggle against “separatists”.

It was hailed in the official Chinese media as “setting policy direction for Tibet”. Xinhua News, one of the Chinese Community Party’s (CCP) official mouthpieces, quoted Xi as saying, “Efforts must be made to build a new modern socialist Tibet that is united, prosperous, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful. Work-related to Tibet must focus on safeguarding national unity and strengthening ethnic solidarity. More education and guidance should be provided for the public to mobilize their participation in combating separatist activities, thus forging an ironclad shield to safeguard stability.”

Xi Jinping terms it as the “Sinicization” of Tibet to include two clear goals: one, make the communist party the only religion in Tibet; and two, crush any dissent.

Xi Jinping has spelled out a three-step plan to takeover Tibet: one to promote the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism, that is, Buddhism with Chinese characteristics with his nominee to be the next Dalai Lama; two, to strengthen political and ideological education in Tibetan schools through re-education; and three to build an impregnable fortress around Tibet quite specifically strengthen border defense and frontier security of Tibet.

Yet another key announcement making media rounds, PLA has asked its soldiers near the Taiwan border to write goodbye letters to their spouses with soldiers being asked about what they would write if war broke out the next day. So, it is also not far-fetched to say that the PLA will adopt this strategy for their entire force keeping in mind the fact that Xi Jinping has placed China on the brink of war with India, Taiwan, and Japan. It seems that the PLA has genuine fears that its soldiers will likely not meet their loved ones again as all three – India, Taiwan and Japan have capabilities and political will to annihilate China if the situation arises.

In sum, Xi Jinping wants to impose his will on the Tibetans. So he is deploying the same tactics --- used against the Muslims in Xinjiang. China has turned to cultural genocide to seize control of Tibet. Few analysts believe that Xi Jinping is rapidly turning into an Adolf Hitler or Stalin. From committing unimaginable atrocities against the Uighur Muslims and running Holocaust like detention centers to unleash a pandemic which threatens to wipe off the entire human civilization, Xi Jinping has done it all and he is in no mood to stop. China is continuing to expand aggressively at the expense of other nations, but India is not letting China escape scot-free in Tibet.

Meanwhile, in a related latest development, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, in Paris said the India-China boundary is yet to be demarcated due to which there will always be problems and the two countries should implement the consensuses between their leadership to not let differences from escalating into conflicts. He also said China is ready to manage all issues through dialogue with India. So, the “blow hot and blow cold” Chinese postures at the behest of “His Masters Voice”, that is, Xi Jinping’s directions.

Also, on 01 September 2020, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that in "70 odd years since the founding of new China, China never provoked any war or conflict and never occupied an inch of other country's territory," skirting any reference to the 1962 border war with India. At the same time, Hua Chunying said that the “Indian side has severely undermined China's territorial sovereignty, breached bilateral agreements and important consensus, and damaged peace and tranquility in the border areas, which runs counter to the recent efforts made by both sides for de-escalation of tensions on the ground." China has exercised great restraint to avoid escalation. China on Wednesday said, “the responsibility lies entirely with the Indian side” for the continuing tensions along the LAC.

Reacting to another question about the delay in disengagement of troops in eastern Ladakh despite diplomatic and military-level talks and India's demand for restoration of status quo, Hua said, “on issues left over from history including boundary issues, China always believes in peaceful consultation to find a mutually acceptable solution.”

Perhaps there are some communication issues. I think both sides should stick to facts and have goodwill to maintain the overall bilateral relations and take concrete measures to jointly safeguard peace and tranquility along the border," she added. She also reiterated the Chinese military's allegation that the Indian troops crossed the LAC on Aug 31 on the South Bank of Pangong Lake and near the Reqin Mountain.

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Most importantly, the Chinese Embassy in Delhi warned India to avoid going astray and playing geopolitics coaxed by the US. The Chinese official laid the blame on India for not taking negotiations as the main path. India's actions have seriously increased the strategic mistrust between China and India and heightened the damage border frictions are creating on relations between the two countries.

The Embassy Official blamed Indian troops for violating the consensus reached in previous multi-level engagements and negotiations. He urged India to immediately withdraw its troops illegally trespassed the (LAC at the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake and near the Reqin Pass and conducted flagrant provocations, which again stirred tension in the border areas. He urged the Indian side to restrain its frontline troops and immediately end all provocative actions that could escalate tensions.

In a direct threat, if China and India are really engaged in comprehensive antagonism, it will be much easier for China to rope in countries, including Pakistan, against India. But Beijing hasn't ever implied that. This shows China is quite capable of handling challenges from India. At the same time, in reconciliatory double-speak he claimed that China doesn't want to be India's enemy. China's development is far ahead of India's, but we still believe that continuing development is the priority to assure our national strategy. India has just started its modernization, with a large number of people in dire poverty. High time that the Chinese realize that it is no more 1962 and the Indian Armed Forces are no easier walkover. Casualties suffered by the PLA in Galwan clash is a good indicator. High explosive demolitions in mountains can create landslides and avalanches.

Instead of pointing out that New Delhi is obsessed with "national security" while overlooking homeless people, China must introspect about its own domestic events. The Indian government has forgotten that its main task should be improving living standards. He alleged that India's national security outlook is twisted. New Delhi's defence budget for 2019 reached $71.1 billion, ranking the third in the world, or about 2.4 percent of its GDP. However, a large part of it was spent on meaningless border frictions with its neighbors.

As per the latest US intelligence assessment, China's transgression attempt near the southern bank of Pangong Tso Lake was a deliberate move to provoke India. The US intelligence assessment stated that Chinese troops this time were building encampments in contested space, a tactic adopted by both sides to gain a foothold that can later be expanded into infrastructure to support broader operations. As per the latest Pentagon's annual Military China Report, China's leaders use tactics short of armed conflict to pursue China's objectives. China calibrates its coercive activities to fall below the threshold of provoking armed conflict with the US, its allies and partners, or others in the Indo-Pacific region.

In sum, considering the pattern of activities flowing out of the Chinese Dream, Grand Strategy, and the Doctrinal Policies, the logical deductions should be quite clear to all alike including the laymen in India. To expect the PLA to revert to status quo ante considering Xi Jinping’s latest “3-Step Sinicization of Tibet” will be simply absurd and foolish. Xi Jinping is bent upon creating a "cycle of provocations" on the entire length of the India-Tibet border. Xi Jinping cannot retract and reconcile to India’s LAC claim line. PLAs Western Theatre Command can ill afford to de-escalate and disengage its formations and units from their LAC claim line perspective. Having allowed their eruptions from time to time, Xi Jinping cannot be expected to order the PLA to disengage and revert to the status quo without appearing to be seen as weak by his detractors on the domestic scene.

If so, endless peace talks either at the “Special Representatives” mechanism or at Corps, Division, and Brigade Commander level cannot produce concrete outcomes to restore peace and tranquility in the border areas of not only Eastern Ladakh but also in the other border areas of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh.

Viewed in the above framework of developments, how India should prepare to face the Chinese “PLA Juggernaut” not only in the “military domains – land, air, sea, space, and Cyber – but also on the diplomatic and economic front? China’s “Achilles Heel” or vulnerable front is on the seas particularly the Malacca Straights. Not only the Indian Navy must be prepared to wage the sea battles but also prepared the “Great Nicobar Island” as an impregnable fortress with the shore, air and ship-based “Brahmos Missile” and submarine forces dominating and deterring the PLA Navy and its maritime shipping resources in case of major escalation on the land frontier.

Furthermore, India must cooperate and collaborate with other nations with converging security interests in the Indian Ocean region that includes USA-Japan-Australia-Taiwan-South Korea among others. At the same time, maintain a strategic alliance partnership with Russia to tame the “Chinese Dragon”. Also, win over many nations on the diplomatic front as a caution to China to desist from its “Chinese Dream” of emerging as the sole hegemon to arm-twist others to submit as vassals.

At the military strategic level, it is high time that the ITBP, SSB, and the Assam Rifles battalions must be merged and integrated with the Indian Army and operates under its command. At the operational art level, troops must be deployed on unheld “hill Tops” on the LAC in the Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Arunachal Pradesh borders to pre-empt PLAGF provocative intrusions as per Xi Jinping’s latest directives. Finally, organize and activate local village militias to act as guerrilla stay behind parties.

China must get the message in unambiguous terms that the threat on the land borders will not only be met with demolitions of all advanced types to include atomic demolition munitions, mines, and other means but also in the Seas with submarine cables, underwater mines, etc.

Brig. G B Reddy (Retd)

G B Reddy, former Brigadier has seen frontline battles in India-China War in 1962, India-Pakistan War in 1965, and India-Pakistan War in 1971 (Liberation of Bangladesh). He has served in various insurgency areas to include Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and West Bengal at the height of Naxal problem; Punjab, J & K and IPKF in Sri Lanka.

Author of seven books and numerous articles covering national security strategy, international, national and local political and social developments, he participated in international and national seminars whilst serving as Consultant/Senior Visiting Fellow at the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad. He also served in Corporate Assignments of Vice-President, Kitply Industries and C.E.O, Hilton Tobacco Ltd.

He is a Graduate of National Defense College, New Delhi, Command and Staff College in Canada, Long and Senior Defense Management Programs at College of Defense Management in Hyderabad. He has served on the faculties of Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, College of Combat, and Infantry School, Mhow.

He was awarded Ati Vishist Seva Medal for Distinguished Service of an Exceptional Order in Nagaland 1986. Menitoned-in-Despatches for gallantry in 1971 war. Chief of Army Staff Commendation Medal in 1977 for exceptional contribution for faculty development.

Seven books published: 1) Rising Dragon – China’s Holistic Security Strategic Perspective; 2) Nation in Crisis – Dimensions of National Security and Terrorism; 3) In Search of National Values - Withering Democracy, Secularism and Socialism; 4) India’s Nuclear Dilemmas; 5) Fight Against Corruption and Leadership Decay; 6) Democracy in Peril; and, 7) Cost Effective Rural Housing Technologies.