Understanding the Chinese game-plan for disengagement at the LAC: India should pursue the policy of ‘distrust and verify’


While the talks are going on for resolving the standoff at the LAC and the final results are awaited, some media reports suggest that the proposal includes three steps. In the first step, there would be withdrawal of tanks and heavy equipment from the combat zone. The second step would involve simultaneous withdrawal of troops from the Pangong Tso Area. In the third step, the Indian troops would be withdrawn from the dominating positions in the Kailash range. There is neither any clarity on the post withdrawal positions, nor any mention of decisions on the highly strategic areas of Daulat Beg Oldie-Despang and Hot Spring-Gogra, nor of the larger issue of the status on the remaining LAC. Any agreement that would not address these issues would be useless for India.

In order to understand the China’s approach towards the Indo-Tibetan border, the dimensions of its overall strategy need to be understood. First, at the strategic level India is seen as China’s adversary with the potential to create hurdles in its plan for hegemony and expansion. Hence, it tries to contain India with a ring of pro-Chinese nations and ensuring its direct control over the wide swathe of territory connecting Tibet to Pakistan’s ports in the Indian Ocean. Second, it perceives that the LAC can be unilaterally changed by coercion and pushing India southwards in baby steps. The Chinese expansionist policy began soon after the CCP’s taking over of control in Tibet. India’s part of part of Ladakh known as Aksai Chin was also annexed illegally. It had stealthily constructed a road in this area in mid 50s. It did not accept the Jonson-Ardagh line. It is also not accepting the Macartney–Macdonald Line, which it had informally accepted till 1959. Subsequently China occupied Lingzitang Plains to the west of this line. However, at that time they left the Chip Chap Valley and Galwan Valley. After the 1962 war, China changed the LAC which included these two areas and began to push westwards beyond Samzungling and Khurnak Fort by anywhere 10 to 100 kms. Since then the Chinese intruding parties often destroy Indian bunkers at the patrolling points. From 2006, China has started claiming the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Third dimension is that China does not adhere to its agreements with India. This is clear from the fact that despite five agreements, the Chinese intrusions into the Indian territory continue unabated. It has also scant regard for international law as was seen by its rejection of 2016 PCA Ruling on the South China Sea (SCS).

Fourth dimension is extensive cartographic aggression couple with high voltage propaganda to strengthen its claims in its periphery. In 2012 China established a Steering Sub-Committee for guiding, coordinating and supervising, educating, propagating awareness of national map and controlling entire national map market with coordination of 13 Ministries. China began to issue biometric passports with a map of China showing areas in its periphery as parts of China. China’s propaganda is based on its concept of ‘three warfare’ that contains three elements- psychological warfare, media warfare and legal warfare (lawfare). Its propaganda seeks to influence targets’ decision-making capability, create doubts, foment anti-leadership sentiments, disinform targets and diminish the will to oppose China. Recent analysis suggests that its cyber-based influence operations are focussing on the strategic community and opposition of the target nations to project invincibility of China, who operate the “useful idiots”. Some of them get so influenced that they beat hollow the editorials of the CCP’s mouth piece the ‘Global Times’ in projecting the Chinese power and desirability to yield to the Chinese wishes.

Coming to the current issue of disengagement at the LAC, India should keep in the calculus the Chinese strategic objectives and tactical plans for salami tactics to gain incrementally from the dialogue process. Our concerns include that we do not surrender any advantageous position acquired on 29th-30th August in view of the Chinese duplicity and perfidy. It withdraws from advance positions after dialogue and then again comes back stealthily. This is what it did at Doklam in 2017. The Indian army moved at Rechin La and Rezang La, among others, on Kailash range in a counter move to dominate the Spangur Gap and to secure the south banks of the Pangong Tso lake. Crucially, it also allows us to keep a watch on the Chinese Moldo garrison in that vicinity.

Another aspect that must get due attention is the restoration of unrestricted patrolling rights which we had before April 2020. In the last decade, China has been focussing to occupy Despang and Chumar sectors where the Indian Army has advantage in military terms. For China, the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector is important as it provides access to the Karakoram Pass and shorter route to Shaksgam Valley, which was illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963. For India, this has a great strategic value as it separates the Chinese occupied Aksai China and our position in Siachen, where we are facing the Pak Army. The Chinese occupation of DBO would sandwich the Indian forces at Siachen between the Chinese and the Pak forces. Hence, India is quite concerned about its security. In 2013, the PLA established its camp at Raki Nula about 30 Km south of DBO that created a crisis. India quickly responded by establishing its post near the Chinese post. The matter was resolved after negotiations with India keeping its patrolling rights up to April this year. After April, China is denying Indian Army access to patrolling points from 10 to 13.

To conclude, India should not give up its advantageous position in the Kailash Range as this puts China under pressure. We cannot afford repeating mistakes we committed in the past. We did not take up the case of Tibet forcefully when it was occupied early in 1950s and remained unmoved with the Chinese occupation of Aksai Chin. Similarly, we gave Haji Pir to Pakistan in 1965 and did not take full advantage of 90,000 Pak war prisoner in 1971. Any such step would place us significantly in a disadvantageous situation. Pragmatism demands a careful examination of larger implications of any proposal in depth. We should follow the US policy of ‘distrust and verify’ while dealing with China.

Any expectation of China giving up its advantages along the border in the negotiations would be unrealistic. The Chinese continued depredations with focus on strategically important regions along the border only prove its expansionist approach. China is trying to create new facts on the ground to buttress its claims. These constitute a direct challenge to India’s sovereignty. India has to think of creating effective levers against China in the long run. In this context, we need to revisit our Tibet policy. Recently the Tibetan- Govt.-in-exile has become active and the world opinion too is going against China on its policy in Tibet. This provides a good opportunity to extend moral, political and diplomatic support to the Tibetans demanding self-rule.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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