If China Does Not Restore the Status Quo: What Next?

"It is high time India makes a statement not recognising the Chinese claims on the South China Sea and stress on its importance as International Waters to facilitate world trade, sustain the global economy and ensure peace and prosperity."

If China Does Not Restore the Status Quo: What Next?

I am just looking at the scenario, if China does not withdraw to the April 2020 line and keep delaying the disengagement and de-escalation.  If it continues to maintain 40,000 troops in winter in Western Tibet, it entails that we do the same on our side as well.

Will its aggression become a permanent deployment?  How do we make such an option untenable for China? What options we have as longer China takes to return to statuesque ante; more permanent, he would become in legitimising his aggression. What is the cut-off time for India? How should India proceed?

The 5th corps commanders’ talk has just concluded. There is also news that the Special Representatives would also meet, separately. It would be the 23rd meeting indicating how purposeless we are in resolving the border issue? Shiva Shankar Menon the former NSA has been vocal trying to ramp-up anti-government opinion by giving a spate of interviews.  

In an interview at the beginning of the year, he laments that India has lost the ability to be a model country. Pray, let us know whether it was a model country under MMS when crores of government funding including from the PMNRF was being funnelled to Sonia’s RGF? Countless scams and open looting had developed into fine art; indeed, it surely makes India a model country? Let us see his own achievements; four annual Special Representatives meeting for resolving Sino-Indian Border has been wasted and lost in ambassadorial ambiguities.  

If he had really done his job, let him produce the Chinese claim lines in the Western Sector? Our own Ajeet Doval has also already attended five meetings and would be attending the sixth? He has proved as ineffective as Menon. Just ask these high profile NSAs; the same question; where is the claim line of the Chinese in the Western Sector? China has fooled these two and several others in the past by its ambivalence on LAC.

You know; why? Precisely, to reign in India and control its behaviour at the time and place of its choosing. At present, China’s transgression is basically to control India and ensure it tows the Chinese line and be fearful of taking any action that could provoke them. As I have written in my previous article, the PM not wishing HH Dalai Lama on his birthday is exactly what China expects from India. We have fallen into its trap and we need to come out of it.  

Banning Chinese Mobile Applications, scrutinising Chinese investments and also not giving Government Contracts to Chinese companies and scrapping contracts, where the Chinese companies are likely to win due to lowest bid, are a few of the good steps taken to counter China. More needs to be done. India’s participation in the Quad Exercise with USS Nimitz in seas between Andaman & Nicobar and Malacca Straits and USS Regan with Australia and Japan in the Philippines Sea shows our collective will against China.  

The capability of Quad to dominate seas, on either side of the Malacca Straits should unnerve China. The ability of the US, Japan and Australia to block China in the first and second island chain in the Western Pacific in conjunction with Malacca straits would ensure that the entire coast of China is blockaded. You can imagine what devastating impact it will have on its export intensive economy?  

It is high time India makes a statement not recognising the Chinese claims on the South China Sea and stress on its importance as International Waters to facilitate world trade, sustain the global economy and ensure peace and prosperity.

The SCS has been a major thorn in Sino-US relations

Since the formation of PRC in Oct 1949, it has vowed vengeance to the world. Exactly a year later it invades and assimilates Tibet. Nehru’s deferential and obsequious jockeying to appease and please China emboldened it and it started scoffing at our country. The trend became so deep-rooted that the MEA excelled in its propitiating China making a habit to please it by sacrificing national interest. At last, it was Sushma Swaraj who articulated “China should believe in ‘One India Policy’ before India Believes in ‘One China Policy’.

It was a bold statement but not carried forward in action. Still, the PM believed that with his ability to project sincerity he would be able to win over Xi. The so-called chemistry between them has resulted in an exothermic reaction in Ladakh. It has put the PM also on the defensive for having relied on purported goodwill of Xi.

I am sure the PM is wise; now that he has seen through his advisers; a few heads need to roll.  However, it is not going to happen in our country where the leadership generally prioritises loyalty over competence. China professes three Warfare; Public Opinion, Psychological and Legal in dealing with its adversaries. It tries to give a legal narrative to all its armed incursions flaunting its legal right in defending ‘its territory’ against the self-professed attackers.

‘Its territory’ is defined by him irrespective of opinions of other contestants. Never mind; if they do not accept the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in relation to the South China Sea; still it actually wants to masquerade as the law-abiding nation? If an inadvertent sardonic snigger is playing on your countenance; so be it; as China has dulled its senses to reality by overwhelming self-righteous gratification.

Now, let us look at the historical perspective of the present Ladakh standoff.  The crux of the dispute is Ladakh-Tibet Border.  Following points stand out. There was a treaty of Tingmosgang in 1684 between Ladakh and Tibet determining the extent of Ladakh; from Zojila Pass in the West to Hanle in the East including Rudok and Cogpo Gold districts (now in Ngari Prefecture in Tibet).  

China denies the existence of this treaty. Then comes the Treaty of Chushul of 1842 following Gen Zorawar Singh’s Expedition. It was signed by three parties: On behalf of Raja Gulab Singh; on behalf of Emperor of China and the Lama Guru of Tibet. No ambiguity can be attributed to this treaty as it has been signed by all legal representatives of sovereign authorities.  

The treaty asserts “We shall neither at present nor in future have anything to do or interfere at all with the boundaries of Ladakh and its surroundings as fixed from ancient times”. The ancient time that was referred to was the earlier Treaty of Tingmosgang. These two treaties set the customary and traditional boundary between Tibet and Ladakh. I am sure all the original texts of the treaties are available with the Government of India.  

Both these treaties were quoted by Nehru to Zhou Enlai in their exchange of letters in 1959.  Zhou writes back that he is not aware of 1684 Treaty and avers that the Chushul Treaty was only notes written by the three parties and cannot be termed as a treaty.

Further in 1865 Johnson line was drawn by the eponymous cartographer.  In 1893, the Chinese representative at St Petersburg handed over to British consul in Kashgar an official Chinese map which broadly follows Johnson Line. It was only in 1896 that China showed its objection to the line. The Johnson Line was later verified by another cartographer Ardagh in 1897 and the line came to be known as Ardagh-Johnson Line.

Meanwhile, the British Ambassador to China Sir Claude McDonald proposed to the Chinese government a new line ‘McDonald-McCartney Line in 1899 that was not protested by China, rather it accepted it tacitly as it was more favourable than the Ardagh-Johnson Line. Probably, keeping this point in mind when China built Tibet-Xinjiang Road (Highway 219) it respected the McDonald-McCartney Line as the highway was constructed to the East of the line.

It was later in 1959 that Zhou Enlai rubbished all the lines as they were unequal treaties negotiated by Britain; an imperial power. However, the 17 Point Agreement which his HH Dalai Lama (then a 15-year-old boy) was coerced to sign in Mar 1951 with marauding Chinese armies devastating Tibet is the fairest treaty in the annals of world history?

Coming back to the stand taken by Zhao Enlai; the Tibet-Xinjiang Road was constructed by China between Mar 1956 to Oct 1957 and they also carried out a myriad of activities in the area, and the Indian Government was completely unaware of it is an eloquent proof that the area had always been within the jurisdiction of China and never under Indian jurisdiction. His stand legitimises the possession of territory occupied illegally by stealth.  

I also cannot exonerate India for not even consolidating its borders after independence. The ghosts of Nehru and Krishna Menon have to answer for this lapse. Legally, India is in a strong position provided the Historical Section in the Government of India and MEA do their homework.

Options to End the Standoff

China over a period of time is salami slicing our areas gradually.  As I said earlier in my previous article that in 1962, China had captured Aksai Chen with an area of 37,555 sq. Kms. Also, as per undisclosed Sham Saran Report, another 640 sq. Kms have been captured over a period of time by salami slicing. His typical methodology has been to advance two steps and when an alarm is raised go back one step and assuage the hard-pressed adversary.

In the present standoff, the disengagement process and de-escalation have been happening at a very slow rate. Most of the places the disengagement is selective and marginal while de-escalation has not happened. On the contrary, artillery, tanks, rockets and logistics are being built up in rear areas. Even disengagement at PP-14 and Fingers 5-8, North of Pangong Tso has not happened. In addition, his forces have come into Depsang Plains which was not one of the earlier faceoff points.  

As per the latest ground report, its forces are digging down in these areas?  The Chinese ‘Global Times’ is parading a narrative of progress in disengagement and de-escalation process lending credibility to its old tactics of ‘two steps forward and one step rearward’. It legitimises and gives permanency to its transgressions.
We have no option but to restore status quo ante there is no alternative but use all our instruments of state power and build up our forces to retake it by force if required.  

Indian Army Ghatak troops (File photo)

A timeline has to be given to the Chinese forces to withdraw to the positions of April 2020. The Chinese diplomatic and political leadership need to sounded at appropriate levels that such dilly-dallying will not be accepted.  No more delay thereafter and if need be one of the following options should be exercised after the deadline:-

A quid pro quo operation in some other areas to occupy feature(s) across the LAC to have a bargaining stake of real estate in our hands. Or, advance and occupy areas in the Galwan Valley and Hot Spring which were vacated by China as a fallout of the first three Corps Commanders’ meetings. The propriety of such an action be damned as China has not disengaged from Pangong Tso and PP14. Alternatively, launch limited attacks to reclaim areas which he has occupied since May 2020 and not vacated after the deadline.

Counter ‘Salami Slicing’

How to pre-empt China in future? The answer to his ‘Salami Slicing’ is our own ‘Salami Slicing’. The Army has to reconnoitre the entire 3488 Km Indo-China Border and identify areas where China can effectively salami slice areas on our side of the LAC and in ‘No Man’s Land’ and areas where we can do likewise to China.

A study of terrain will enable us to identify such areas as these areas would be based on the layout of mountain features in the area. In salami-slicing, we need to occupy a piece of ground which should be capable of being held after occupation.  It may involve occupying unoccupied heights on either side of the LAC.Certain areas could be suitable for Chinese Forces and some could be suitable to own forces.

Areas, which are suitable for him should be kept under 24 hours of electronic and human surveillance.Any additional movement of forces; we should be capable of pre-empting and occupying heights which he is likely to seize.  We should also exercise the option of doing quid pro quo in pre-selected areas and occupy heights in his areas. We should have quick reaction forces (QRF) ready to do such salami slicing.

As speed is essential, we should Heli-drop forces on preselected heights where they can be supported logistically by ground linkup.  It boils down to executing the following steps: pre-selection of likely areas for salami slicing, continuous surveillance of the movement of enemy forces, keeping QRF with Heli-drop capability for occupying pre-selected heights as pre-emption or quid pro quo operations; and lastly, retain the capability to support by fire, reinforce, replenish and turnover. We should have such forces ready at the brigade level.

A brigade commander should have the authorisation to launch his QRF, simultaneously keeping the higher commander informed. Our forces should have adequate handheld drones to keep the enemy side of the LAC under 24X7 surveillance. This is in addition to drones, UAVs, air photos and digital satellite imageries available at higher levels of command. The surveillance resources should be available to each commander from battalion level upward to enable them to keep their respective areas of interest under day and night surveillance. After all, an attack is the best form of defence.

As the foreign minister has already said that the policy towards China has to change. I feel cosmetic changes won’t do and it needs a transformation. The earlier script of eternal appeasement has to be replaced with cool, calm, and ruthless pursuit of national interest. Strategic autonomy has to be achieved.  

The PM after starving the Defence Budget for successive six years under myopic ministers like Jaitley and Sitharaman, who unfortunately held both the defence and finance portfolios has at last said albeit in Sanskrit “There is no virtue like protecting the nation and there is no vow like the defence of the nation”.

I only hope the strong emotions manifest on the ground in viable defence and deterrence, compatible with the threat we are facing and the capability we have to acquire to fight and win the ‘two and half front war’.

(Lt. Gen Kamath is a highly distinguished general who has held some of the most prestigious appointments in the Indian Army. Views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)


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