India and China share a border of almost 4000 kms. In the West it is along a Line of Actual Control (LAC), which was agreed to by Zhou En Lai, then Prime Minister of China in 1958. In a letter to Nehru dated 24 October 1959, Zhou Enlai proposed that India and China each withdraw their forces 20 kilometers from the line of actual control (LAC). Shortly afterward, Zhou defined this line as the so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west.
In the East the border is demarcated by MacMohan line, which was agreed to through an Indo-Tibet Shimla treaty of 1914. The line extends 550 miles West from western extremity of Bhutan and 160 miles East to wards great Brahmaputra River Bend and generally follows Himalayan crest line. Naku la pass falls on this McMohan line where Sino-Indian troops clashed on 9 May 2020.
China has been violating the LAC in the past too. On April 15, 2013, some 50 PLA troops intruded into Indian territory, up to 19 Km in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) Sector of Ladakh and established a tented camp. This was clear provocation and NO friendly act.
Though matter was resolved amicably, but it was at a great cost to India, where she had to accept Chinese terms to dismantle Indian look-out post in Chumar. Thereafter a number of times China had intruded into Indian territory and tried to dominate it. But India reacted responsibly, a diplomatic term for 'weakness.'
The recent Ladakh incursion in May 2020 by China in Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso lake, has to be viewed in a proper perspective. The issues involved in the current imbroglio range around Chinese perceptions of Indian military intentions on POK-Gilgit-Baltistan.
India’s pronounced intentions to seek POK back threatens Chinese Investments in CPEC and Gwador. China is building an exclusive Chinese city over 3 Lakh Sq foot area in Gwador. It is a massive investment which is threatened by India in claiming POK. As a long term measure, China wants to block this option of India through DBO axis.
The bone of contention is India’s Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi Road (DSDBO) —- which connects Dorbuk with DBO —- over a distance of 255 kms. Not only this, India has of late located an Independent Infantry brigade and renovated an ALG at DBO. Thus, Indian offensive capabilities in the DBO sector, as a secured launch pad, have increased manifolds. The road has also, increased the logistic support to her troops in the region.
Readers must note that DBO was just an 8 km crow flight from Karakoram pass and adjoining China’s Western highway linking XINJIANG Province and TIBET is very close. The UIGHAR problem in Xinjiang is known to everyone. It is China’s Achilles heel. At a future date, India could exercise the option of supporting UIGHAR as does China to Maoists, Naga and ULFA insurgents.
China’s problem is this renewed infrastructure by India which may threaten not only Western Highway but also Karakoram Highway going to Gwador port from Xinjiang province of China. It is the backbone of CPEC. As India is asserting her claims to POK and Gilgit-Baltistan, it could take action to throttle the highway.
At a future date, DBO Axis provides additional capability to India to launch a TWO PRONGED PINCER —- one from NE at DBO and second from Leh towards Skardu. It is this capability which is proving a thorn in China-Pakistan flesh.
In the above context, Galwan valley becomes important because DSDBO Road is just 1.5 km away from Chinese troops. China wants to throttle it midway and pose a “threat in being” to DBO. Also at the Northern Edge of Pangong TSO, it wants to strike at the root of this road at Dorbuk/Shyok. It is creating a flexibility to deny India the capability to logistically support any likely adventure to block Western Highway and cut off Gilgit-Baltistan.
It must be seen in this perspective from the Chinese point of view. It is a very well calculated move by China. In fact, right from 2013, China has been carrying out these incursions to stop India from doing so. But this time, it is determined to be a threat in being.
These motives, whether long term, short term or even of immediate concern, indicate only one thing that communist China and democratic India can never be friends because their strategic, economic and political goals cross each other’s path. To leftist thinkers and Chinese stooges in India, who have been shaping Indian policy towards China over the last 70 years, might seem bizarre.
One must also not be carried away by Chinese ambassador’s recent statement of an Elephant and Dragon dancing together. Jawahar Lal Nehru, architect of 'Panchsheel' and 'Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai' sentiments, with Chinese premier, Chou-en Lai, had realised much to his chagrin, that he was stabbed in the back in 1962. These statements are just to buy time.
Why did China make this move in and around the DSDBO Road of India? As brought out earlier, China has serious problem in its Eastern most autonomous province Xinjiang, also called Sinkiang. This province has Muslim Majority, who is wanting an independent East Turkistan state to be carved out of this autonomous region of China.
The Muslim population is around 51.6% of the province population. There are two types of Muslim ethnicities, one is of "Uyghurs" of Turkick origin and other "Hui" is more closer to Majority Han population of China. The separatist movement is headed by Uyghurs segment of the population under the banner of WUC (World Uyghurs Congress) headed by Dolikun Isa. China has tried her best to suppress the Uyghurs movement through force.
Annoyed with China for blocking its membership in UN Security Council, India had, a few years back, made a counter move by issuing Visa to head of WUC, Mr. Dolikun Isa. It was later withdrawn. But China is apprehensive of Indian intentions. He was coming to meet Tibetan spiritual leader his Highness Dalai Lama.
It is obvious, they were NOT going to exchange spiritual messages. Both Tibetans and Uyghurs are victims of Chinese oppression. Tibet, Xinjiang and Outer Magolia are China's three major internal vulnerabilities, which are waiting to be exploited. Add to it simmering protests in Hongkong. Allowing Dolikun was to visit Dalai Lama, India was sending a strong message of her TIT FOR TAT policy.
This was the first time India had made a significant counter move. China's bullying of India for exploration of Oil in South China Sea in collaboration with Vietnam was earlier rebuffed. Similar Border excursion by China in Leh have been strongly opposed by Indian military in the past though not in strength and now.
The counter move by India should tell China that India was ready to stand up to her. Infrastructure development along the LAC and open claims on Aksai Chin, Gilgit-Baltistan and POK are warning shots to China and Pakistan that India would take them back.
It is a known fact that China has always seen India as a weakling. This notion has existed since 1962. No wonder, Chinese official Government news paper, Global Times had sarcastically observed a some years back that India was like a beautiful woman, who was always wooing strongmen like USA and China. This was done when Indian ministers, late Mrs Sushma Swaraj, External affairs and late Manohar Parrirkar, Defence Minister were visiting China.
This does reveal China's over confidence in herself and perceptions of a weak India. Global Times, is the same news paper which published an article in 2009, later withdrawn, which talked of breaking up of India into 20-30 states through a soft war. Maoists and Naxalites insurgency in India ever since has gained momentum. There is a tell-tale evidence of Chinese involvement in this. India has to tell China that you too have similar vulnerabilities in Tibet, Outer Mangolia and Xinjiang.
China’s aggressive posture towards India and her hectic activities of 'string of pearls' policy in the Indian ocean, rail-road construction in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) along with positioning of its troops in the FCNA of Pakistan, some years back, is a sure indicator of her future intentions about India.
In all assessments, therefore, the threat to Indian security from China is considered paramount. In an interview, to editor-in-chief, Mr. Raj Chengappa of ‘The Tribune’, a North India daily from Chandigarh, published on October 17, 2010, General VK Singh, then, Chief of army staff (COAS) of the Indian Army, while talking of China, had rightly observed that notwithstanding the present peace on the Chinese borders, there was a need to be vigilant as the intentions can change when the capabilities grow. In other words, peace or no peace, Chinese threat cannot be discounted, particularly when you view it in terms of its latest activities around India.
India becoming Chairman of WHO is yet another issue which puts China in a quandary. In the overall context, it is pertinent to realise that not only China was getting isolated externally because of its misinformation on Covid-19 but it is facing an internal turmoil because of it. Then situation in Honkong, Xinjiang, Outer Mangolia and Tibet is also explosive.
Hongkong situation might lead to another Tiananmen Square incident of 1989 type. This time outside forces might intervene. In order to invoke nationalism and patriotism feelings, amongst unemployed and disenchanted youth, it may initiate a limited border skirmishes with India and then pass on the baton to Pakistan.
A border clash with India gives, three advantages to China, namely :-
—— It diverts US attention from South China Sea (SCS) to South Asia. It thus gives SCS on a platter to China.
—— It diverts her public attention from poverty and unemployment to national feelings. The Asian Public are known to be emotional fools.
——- It creates insecure conditions in India, thus driving away multinational companies, who might be thinking of shifting business from China to India.
To sum up, we must note that owing to political, social, Geo- strategic, economical, geographical and civilisational dissimilarities, India and China can never be friends in the real sense. There is a mutual distrust of each other which ensures their animosity. China has expansionist dreams while India believes in maintaining the status quo.
When China annexed Akasai Chin, Nehru dismissed it saying that "Not a blade of Grass grows there." This had been the thinking of Indian leadership. However a parliamentarian had retorted to Nehru that as he was bald, should he cut his head.
China would not like a major war with India at this stage. But it would encourage Pakistan to get going while it holds India in East and Ladakh. Some of such aggressive statements are coming from Pakistan. India might see some Kargil type action in Partapur-Turtuk axis by Pakistan.
Thus, China’s over all and long term military strategy against India would be four pronged:-
(a) Contain and isolate India by making her neighbors hostile and unfriendly.
(b) Outsource its low cost proxy war to Pakistan and Maoists/Naxalites by:-
(i) Supporting and encouraging internal insurgencies brewing in India and thus break-up India through implosion.
(ii) Using Pakistan to the maximum to retard India’s military and economic growth.
(c) Dominate sea-lanes around India through a ‘String of Pearls’ policy.
(d) Befool Indian leadership and Indian public through overt goodwill gestures in the interregnum period.
Therefore China would be stead fast in her approach to remove India as a hurdle. It is Chinese apprehensions of India. Intentions which led to 1962 war and it is India’s upgradations of infrastructures in the border areas particularly in eastern Ladakh which has sent alarm bells to China.
China would remain a THREAT IN BEING to DSDBO Road to deny India capabilities of opening DBO axis to Aksai Chin and Karakoram Highway. This posture would ensure for long time to come that two Asian giants were Foes and not Friends!
Col Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into the 3 Bihar Regiment in June 1971 and was the Commanding Officer of same unit in insurgency environs in Assam in 1990-93. Has vast experience in CI Ops from North East to Punjab and J&K. A prolific writer-cum-critic on defence and security matters, he has authored the book, ‘Kashmir: A Different Perspective’. His second book on Assam in scheduled for release soon. Held prestigious appointments in the army including as an instructor at a premier army institute, Col GS, Col Adm of an Infantry Division and Col "Q" works at a Command HQ. He can be contacted on e-mail: [email protected]
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')