India received a rude jolt on June 16. As greater clarity emerged about the events on the night of June 15-16, the utter disregard of soldierly ethics in the conduct of the PLA added to the ignominy of the incident. Its gamble at bullying failed against a well-trained army. The unprovoked attack by the Chinese border troops on Indian soldiers, after confirming the implementation of the de-escalation plan by the Chinese in Galwan valley, is unpardonable. The contours of de-escalation, based on a phased withdrawal of troops to their respective predetermined ground positions, were decided on June 6 during the corps commanders-level talks. To think that this incident was spontaneous is naïve. The brutal assault did not happen during the “face-off”, when emotions can run high, but post rapprochement. It was pre-planned and with the connivance of China’s senior leadership. The use of iron rods and wooden staves, wrapped with barbed wire, attests to this.
It perturbs me to see the debates in the mainstream media. A section of people seems to have forgotten that China only respects firmness in words and actions and does nothing on “the spur of the moment”. The timing of these intrusions and the other concurrent events in the neighbouring countries have undoubtedly been according to a plan. Our approach should be firm and unambiguous. The signalling should be explicit in pinning the blame on them, as they have instigated all the physical clashes and the unfolding drama over the last 40 days. The resoluteness of intent must be supported by overt and covert actions, indicating that India will not hesitate to take the extreme step of fighting for its territory and sovereignty. Therefore, the body language and debates in the public domain have to be nuanced, mature and reflect the national resolve. There is a need for media platforms, active participants and public personalities to be conscious of this. Irresponsible insinuations or utterances and premature chest-thumping are exploited by inimical elements — in this case, the Chinese propaganda machinery — as part of their information war. The sub-optimal discussions on the TRP-driven channels adversely influence international opinion-makers and provide fuel for anti-India rhetoric.
The way we handle the ongoing, complex situation with China will set the foundation of future relations. Let us not forget that our firm resolve to protect our national interests with matching military capabilities has contributed to our enhanced global stature. The resolution to the current conflict has to be to revert to the earlier recognised positions, irrespective of the retaliatory means that we need to take.
Recent events in Hong Kong, the South China Sea (SCS) and in India’s neighbourhood, the blatant disregard for human rights in subduing the Uighurs and the censorship of the COVID-19 toll in China reflect its confidence, arrogance and belligerence. India, on the other hand, has become the proverbial thorn in China’s side. Our resolute political leadership and a growing economy, despite the COVID-induced slowdown, are seen as an affront. Also, India’s pro-activeness in asking for an equitable and inclusive global and regional order is seen as being against China. India’s growing confidence in its official and unofficial engagements with the Chinese officialdom, coupled with accelerated infrastructure development in the border areas, are viewed as contrary to Beijing’s interests. This “resurgent India” required more than a rap on the knuckles. It became important for China to make territorial gains before it’s too late. This would also act as a signal to the other nations not to mess with China. Events in Taiwan and North Korea have not been to its liking. Displaying firm resolve against the strongest military nation in the region which is not under the US’s security umbrella is a way to kill two birds with one stone.
The India-China LAC in Ladakh is an outcome of the territory illegally retained by China after the 1962 conflict. The Chinese occupation of parts of Aksai Chin is not supported by historical or legal documents. China’s aspiration to be a global power has renewed its interest in the region. To this end, it is in the relentless pursuit for secure access to the warm-water port of Gwadar in Pakistan. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is an important element of the BRI.
China has conducted these intrusions now to exploit the fact that India is dealing with the challenges of the pandemic. The actions at Finger 4 on the northern bank of Pangong Tso are not just for territorial gains on land, but enhanced domination of the resource-rich lake.
India’s resounding success in the Kargil War set the pace for continued capability development in the country. Today, Indian armed forces are battle-hardened, with experienced leadership and adequate resources. The continued involvement in suppressing the Pakistan-supported “proxy war” and border skirmishes on the LoC are a constant “on-job training” for soldiers. In comparison, the PLA has been in flux due to the reorganisation and restructuring it has been undergoing since 2017. Its capability development is largely in the maritime domain or for strategic weapons. The focus has been directed towards the Pacific and primarily to counter the US challenge. Its assertiveness in the SCS is more bullying and less of military prowess. Its weapons and soldiers are not combat-tested. China’s last major military conflict was against Vietnam, over three decades ago, and that was not a feather in its cap. China’s resilience against a well-matched adversary is questionable.
The nation should speak in unison, reflecting our resolve and support for a befitting response to China. The handling of this ugly turn of events will signal the future tenor of India-China relations.
This article first appeared in the print edition on June 19 under the title “The road from Galwan”. The writer is a former army commander and served as general officer commanding of the 3 Corps, which was stationed at the China border in Arunachal Pradesh.
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