The continuing dialogue between India and China has so far not resulted in the disengagement and there are no indicators that it would be possible in near future given Dragon’s duplicity- talk of negotiations but take military action to occupy Indian territory. On the 6th February, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had aptly pointed out that while the talks for disengagement are going on, there has been “no visible expression on the ground”, while accepting that the this is a complicated issue. There have been nine rounds of talks without any progress. It is meeting the same fate that our border negotiations for boundary demarcation have met. Talks have continued for about 18 years without any real progress.
While the dialogue for resolution of the border standoff are continuing, the PLA units are strengthening their positions with additional induction of troops and heavy equipment that include artillery guns, self-propelled howitzers and missiles along the entire Indo-Tibetan border covering 3844 kms. Fresh revetments along the slopes in the finger area of the Pangong Tso have also been observed.
The enhanced deployment of PLA in all the three sectors of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have been noticed-western, middle and eastern. In the Western sector of LAC, the deployment in East Ladakh has been increased recently. A fresh induction of 35 vehicles and four 155 mm PLZ 83 self-propelled howitzers in sheds around the Shiquanhe PLA camp just 82 kms from the LAC across Chumar in Eastern Ladakh has been reported. Chumar has been targeted earlier also in 2012 and 2014 by PLA with a view to clear Indian troops from Chumar and Demchok positions as they provide a clear line of sight of the Lhasa-Kashgar highway- a crucial artery for the PLA logistics supply in this region.
The PLA has also strengthened its position in the Spanggur Tso to support the Moldo garrison. There has been some construction activity too is going on for the past one month near the Rudok surveillance facility, which is about 90 kms from the LAC. The Indian army had moved at Rechin La and Rezang La, among others, on Kailash range in August in a counter move to dominate the Spangur Gap and to secure the south banks of the Pangong Tso lake. Crucially, these positions also allow us to keep a watch on the Chinese Moldo garrison in that vicinity.
In the middle sector, a new shelter comprising five barracks near the Lipulekh pass at the tri-junction of India-Nepal-Tibet has been observed. It may be recalled that PM Oli of Nepal had issued a new map of Nepal in which Indian areas near the Lipulekh pass were shown as part of Nepal. China’s role in this was strongly suspected. The deployment of multi-barrel rocket launchers at the Rubinkha camp just 23 kms from the trijunction of India-Bhutan-Tibet has also been observed.
In the eastern sector, China had tried to intrude into the Indian territory near the Naku la on the 22nd January but they had to withdraw in the face of stiff resistance from the Indian troops. China has also built a village across the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. While this change of ground facts is against the agreements between the two countries, China’s defence of this act was highly provocative. It stated that the construction across the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh was beyond reproach” because it had “never recognised” Arunachal.
In addition, in the depth area, China continues to deploy more troops, missiles and improve airbases.
The PLA has also moved a surface-to-air missile (SAM) unit near the PLA camp in Lhasa, 228 km from the Indian border. Several vehicles were noticed coming to Lhasa. It is suspected that troops and military equipment were brought in those vehicles under camouflage in the second half of January 2021. At the Lhasa airport hardened hangers have been constructed to protect fighter jets. Similarly, in Xinjiang new constructions have been noted at the Hotan airport. The Hotan airbase is crucial for operations in Ladakh. Besides roads and railways are being upgraded in the Tibetan region. Last year’s Stratfor report had revealed that 13 new military positions including airbases and air defence units along the LAC after Doklam standoff in 2017.
In the above background, it is easy to understand the entire game plan of Xi-led PLA. China wants to change the ground facts by occupying key positions that would ensure protection to the CPEC project and the Karakorum Pass and if possible, to carve out a shorter and well protected route to the area that has been acquired illegally in Gilgit-Baltistan. The aim was to take advantage of the differing perception of LAC and advance in an aggressive manner to occupy certain strategic points in Eastern Ladakh. They viewed the India’s the building of Darbuk-Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) road and revival of Advance Landing Grounds at DBO, Fukche, Chushul and Demchok with apprehension. For keeping India under pressure, they are now opening friction points all along the LAC.
Any hope that China would change its expansionist policy under Xi would be totally unrealistic. He has placed the Chinese dream that all the areas in the periphery would be brought back to China, which allegedly were lost to the imperial and colonial forces, before his people and the domestic population is fed on the diet of nationalism. The ant-India rhetoric has become shriller and louder. Any change in China’s policy would not only result in a face loss for Xi but could seriously endanger his position.
India has to accept that our relations have been damaged significantly and there is no hope of early resolution of the border problem. China is delaying the formalisation of LAC so that it can keep on changing facts on the ground to advance its claims. It did this in the South China Sea (SCS) where it created artificial islands and militarised them.
Under the circumstances, India has to adopt ‘a policy of active prevention and pre-emption’ like it did in August 2020. The entire LAC needs to be taken into our calculus and vulnerable points should be strengthened, particularly in the East Ladakh, trijunctions of India-Tibet-Bhutan and India-Tibet-Nepal as also along the Arunachal Pradesh.
The aim should be to deny them any chance of taking advantage of differing perception and occupy our territory.
Simultaneously, strategic pressure should be exerted both militarily and diplomatically. Militarily the Quad should be strengthened by induction of more countries to actualise the concept of free and open Indo-Pacific. The US President Biden too has spoken in its favour. Diplomatically issues connected with Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan should be openly supported. Tibet demands priority as it is receiving due international attention. The economic boycott of the Chinese goods should be pushed further. The anti-China sentiments world over have significantly increased and India should take advantage of this aspect to put pressure on China.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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