Why India must strike back at China to save Himalayas

China wants to keep India occupied on two-and-a-half fronts, in order to scare smaller nations.

 |  10-minute read |   26-06-2020
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The year 2020, which has already been quite disturbing, may take a turn for the worse, for India and some other Asian nations. A series of ominous warning signals ignored amid internal differences in the last 8 years have brought us to a perilous brink. From battling the coronavirus pandemic, we have come to fighting the Chinese aggression along the Ladakh-Tibet border and South China Sea. The belligerence of China is fraught with ramifications for America, India, Russia and other South Asian nations.

Since the formation of People's Republic of China, in October 1949 by Mao, his Chinese Communist Party, the CCP, has been the unchecked power centre. It invaded and captured Tibet in 1950, and became a strategic concern for India. Our mute acceptance then was a cardinal mistake as challenging China, already embroiled then in the US-Korea War, could have saved Tibet.

galwan_690_062620082010.jpgIndian troops in Ladakh. (Photo: Reuters)

Once Tibet was conquered, the CCP eyed areas south of the Himalayan watershed. With this ambition, the Chinese Army (PLA), intruded India in August and October 1959, leading to loss of lives at Galwan and Longju. This was followed by a war in 1962, which ended in our defeat. We still carry that scar.

As of today, both armies are locked in a grim face-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and Sikkim. The skirmishes have been bulletless but intense, with deaths and injuries on both sides. The Galwan clash where 20 of our solidiers went down fighting and killing the PLA ambushers with bare hands, is a grim echo of 1962. From June 6 to June 23, military talks were held at unprecedented Ladakh Corps Commander levels. But the Chinese troop mobilisation has only expanded, now threatening Pangong Lake, Depsang plains and the Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip. It is imperative to analyse the larger picture which has led to the face-off, that the American President Donald Trump has been terming as a 'Raging conflict between India and China'.

Should the current crisis be seen along with the Wuhan virus outbreak?

The face-off at the LAC can’t be seen in isolation, as reactions from across the world against China over the pandemic are sharply critical. That China is to be directly blamed is a fact beyond doubt. Enough research indicates that the virus leaked out of the only BS 4 level laboratory in China, either deliberately or accidentally. Despite being aware of the spread of the virus in December 2019, China went into a brutal internal lockdown, halting all inland travel, but strangely continued international flights, even from Wuhan.

Thus Shanghai and Beijing were virtually unscathed, but the US, Italy and other nations landed in chaos. The US has lost more citizens to Covid-19 than in all its wars, after and including Vietnam.

In India, the social media storm against the Chinese, resulted in the government instituting stricter controls over Chinese contracts and investments in India, so much so that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an address to the people of India, called for a nationwide movement to shun imports and focus on “Make In India”.

The Chinese concept of warfare articulates the use of unrestricted warfare in open terms. The Chinese promise to use “all means, armed force or non-armed force, lethal, non-lethal, military, non-military to compel the adversary to accept one's interest”. We can add biological, water, climate, chemical and nuclear warfare to these options.

Warfare is all about control of the economy and majority population. To control the economic markets and minds across the world, every trick or tactic is fair for the CCP.

BRI: Central to the Chinese Constitution

The other reasons that have brought upon this aggression by the PLA could be a fallout of several factors. In 2017, India categorically refused to have anything to do with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as the road leads through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and a breach of Indian sovereignty.

It was soon after the first international BRI conference in Beijing and India's refusal to participate that China violated Bhutanese territory at Doklam, towards the right shoulder of Chumbi Valley. The Indian Army which is a trusted partner of Bhutan, swiftly mobilised to defend the territorial integrity of our borders. The standoff ended with loss of face for China.

In August 2019, Indian Parliament revoked Article 370 from Jammu & Kashmir. The revocation led to the creation of two distinct Union Territories that China and Pakistan opposed vociferously. On maps, but not in immediate intent, the areas allotted to Ladakh included parts of Aksai Chin which are under Chinese occupation.

It also covers Gilgit-Baltistan, currently under illegal Pakistan occupation and strategic for CPEC, that is part of the larger BRI scheme of China. Thus, the Doklam standoff, revocation of Article 370 and refusal to join BRI, all irked Beijing, thereby presenting China with an excuse to teach New Delhi a lesson for obstructing their global BRI ambitions.

china-1_690_062620082104.jpgThe area where the 20 Indian soldiers were martyred. (Photo: Satellite image)

The CCP has gone through a transition from being a rigid communist regime to a market-oriented state. But with internal dissent growing, CCP rigidity has returned to Tiananmen days, as we are witnessing in Hong Kong. The internal politics of China has never been more ruthless than now, due to growing civil unrest, poverty and resentment in high circles over Xi Jinping’s anointment as Chairman for life.

His ‘endless’ rule is central to the success of BRI. The huge investments already made and damage to global economy due to the coronavirus is a setback. BRI has been added into the constitution of China. Hence technically, BRI and one China policy are enshrined in the Chinese constitution and their rejection is a diplomatic affront. The focus on BRI to the point of no return and its failure will be the beginning of internal collapse.

Balance of military power in Asia

From an Indian military point of view, any aggressive step by the CCP is a larger ploy to force CPEC acceptance and to divert world attention from China. The arm-twisting tactics are a message to smaller nations. Most dangerously, our friendly neighbour Nepal has yielded to this coercion by tabling and unanimously approving an anti-India border resolution. The passage of this resolution in both houses of their Parliament is an ominous diplomatic failure and opens a potential third front after Pakistan, which is a virtual Chinese colony today.

Reports emerging since the end of 2018 highlighted increase in PLA troops in Tibet. Apart from deploying regular troops to forward areas, they have upgraded airfields at Shigatse, Lhasa and Ngari with more fighters and radar units inducted. Since the last armed escalations in 1967 (Cho La) and 1987 (Sumdorong Chu) or Doklam, there hasn’t been a face-off as tense as the ongoing one.

The CCP would like to believe that it can bully the Indian military with its aggressive behaviour, but India today, is different from the one in 1962. If India succumbs to pressure, Ladakh will be lost in near future to a joint Sino-Pak offensive. China will next have its way in its ambitions for South China Sea and Taiwan under their one China constitutional vision.

Beijing is seized of the situation in the South China Sea rim, but China won't precipitate a situation where the USA is called out for retaliatory action, due to treaty obligations.

That leaves only India, as a regional power that China can take liberties with, while providing weapons to its vassal Pakistan, to continue the ongoing proxy war in J&K.

In short, keep India occupied on two-and-a-half fronts, in order to scare smaller nations. China wants to demonstrate its power, knowing that India is facing its worst internal crisis, which has been triggered by China’s own coronavirus. Since May, skirmishes with PLA have taken place in Sikkim, Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso sectors. Galwan riverbed is the strategic gateway to the Aksai Chin valley. The tragic loss of our 20 soldiers at Galwan, who even with bare hands fought to the end and took down many of their PLA ambushers, can once again be a prelude to a larger conflict soon.

Options for India and developing a national resolve

The Chinese art of warfare revolves around winning a conflict through surprise and psychological pressure, without firing a shot. That’s why the confusion over perception of the LAC has lasted so long. There is a vast Info War machinery embedded in India to mount campaigns against the government. Nibbling tactics have led to loss of precious territory by us and bitter political battles, which China takes advantage of.

Despite the standing military balance stacked in favour of China, it must be remembered that in mountains, it is always the man behind the machine and his resolve to fight that win wars. The Indian soldier fights where he's ordered to, under whatever circumstances. On the contrary, the same can’t be guaranteed of the Chinese PLA soldiers, who have been seen to be risk averse under fire. It has happened in Vietnam, Sikkim, as well as during Sudan UN Operations. The one child policy is a major factor for the Chinese soldier. The PLA today is weaker than it was during the Korea war and in 1962. They may have reached Pangong Tso and Galwan, or maybe inching towards DBO and Depsang now, but we need to fire the first shots to throw them out.

The key battle factors

The crucial factor of surprise has been lost. But eviction is imperative to hold off both China and Pakistan from developing a crushing pincer on Ladakh and Siachen. This can be achieved by a nationwide mobilisation of all our forces.

Once mobilisation is demonstrated, bring all paramilitary border forces, under operational control of the army for six months. Next, clearly announce complete re-raising of the Brahmastra mountain strike corps. Relocate strategic assets to launch pads in the East. Aggressively expand the war zone into the high seas. Completely dominate the Indian Ocean and create multiple pressure points for China up to the Malacca Strait.

depsang_690_062620082132.jpgIt is time to answer China in its own language. (Photo: Reuters)

Areas where India has terrain advantage, like Sikkim and Arunachal, need to be intruded into by elite units to show solidarity with the Tibetans. Clearly, the decision for escalation to the point of shots being fired needs to be with the junior commanders. The forces must also issue a call-out notice to all veterans of last four years, below brigadier ranks, to rejoin their regiments.

This will be a clarion call and a signal to both China and Pakistan.

History has shown that no two major nations with common borders can be at peace for long. More than a vacillating US, it is to the age-old friend Russia that is more uncomfortable with China’s increasing ambitions, and who we must look towards. If we lose today, the bear may be the next victim of the dragon. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit on Russia’s Victory Day would have had many significant decisions taken.

Since intrusions commenced in April, the crisis will last till October. This gives enough time for the world to recover from the corona crisis. Primarily, US, UK, Australia, Russia, Germany, Taiwan and Japan will react to make the corona bio-war, a rallying point to take punitive actions. The message to China from the world should be that hegemony is unacceptable and both Tibet and Taiwan need their freedom.

China of 2020 is worse than the battle-hardened China of 1962. The residual powers of CCP can last only for 5-10 years, before internal dissents, poverty, collapse China. We must re-seize the initiative to achieve victory even if it has to come after great sacrifices. For more inspiration, we only need to look at tiny Vietnam or Israel. Or re-read the order to a despondent 4 Corps by FM Manekshaw, the greatest Gorkha Leader ever: “Gentlemen, there will be no retreat without written orders and those orders will never be written.”

Jai Hind!

Also Read: How India can hit China where it hurts them most


Col A Khanna, SM (Retd) Col A Khanna, SM (Retd) @ashnorthstar

The author is a veteran with special forces and J&K experience.

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