Why China dislikes India and LAC in 2021

  • By Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa
  • July 29 2020
Pic courtesy Indian Defence Review.
  • Article looks ahead on how the LAC would be like in 2021 and how India helped China in the 1950’s.
  • Why does China want to cut India down to size, some answers provided?
  • And what would be impact of deployment of forces year round along the LAC?

The 1962 Chinese attack was – “To demolish India’s arrogance and illusions of grandeur. China had taught India lesson and would do so again and again.”- Chinese President Liu Shaoqi to Sri Lankan President Felix Bandaranaike


2021 is the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. The party has pledged to achieve a full Xiaokang society by then. By “Xiaokang” (roughly meaning “moderately well-off”) the party has outlined this in objective, quantitative terms: a doubling of the 2010 per capita income figures. 


It is one of the basic foundations of Xi Jinping’s ideology of “Chinese Dream”. It will, therefore, brook no obstacles or hindrances in its pursuit of its ‘Chinese Dream’.

Areas of Chinese patrolling in 2021

So as the winter of 2021 recedes in the high Himalayas of the desolate region of Eastern Ladakh, there is fervent activity by the Chinese Border Guards all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) supported by freshly inducted formations of regular PLAA (People’s Liberation Army Army), PLAAF (PLA Air Force), elements of PLARF (PLA Rocket Force), PLASSF (PLA Strategic Support Force) and PLAJLSF (PLA Joint Logistic Support Force) from Kashgar, Xining and Chengdu. 


Armed patrols are racing to reach the points on the LAC which China has unilaterally and arbitrarily defined for itself. An LAC, which, it has deliberately not wanted to share with India to maintain ambiguity so as to up the ante when it wants to.


There is similar activity in Shipki La in Himachal Pradesh; in Barahoti in Uttrakhand. There are patrols in the area of Limpiyadhura which Nepal has declared as the new Western Tri-Junction of India-Tibet-Nepal. There is a large presence of PLA forces along with the Nepalese Army troops in Tinkar in Nepal near Gunji which lies on the Kailash-Mansarovar track to Lipulekh. This deployment was undertaken consequent to the Nepali Parliament redefining the boundary with India in July 2020.


The PLA is also active in North Sikkim in Naku La and also east of the prominent ‘Finger’ jutting into the Tibetan plateau in North Sikkim. 


Having had an unfavourable encounter in Doklam in 2017, this time around the PLA has crossed the Thagla Ridge in Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh and raised a dispute with regard to the location of the Eastern Tri-Junction of India-Tibet-Bhutan, contesting India’s alignment of the McMahon Line here. 


There are reports of Chinese patrols in the area or the upper Subansari River near Taksing and Longju. They have also set up summer camp of approximately a company strength North of Geling on the West bank of the zig-zaging Brahmaputra just before the river turn finally south and enters Arunachal Pradesh. Increased Chinese patrolling activity has also been reported east of the Lohit River towards the India-Tibet-Myanmar Tri-Junction.

Consequent to the premeditated coordinated actions of the PLA in the summer of 2020 in Eastern Ladakh, the Indian military forces had been deployed in forward locations all along the LAC so as to be prepared to thwart similar misadventures in future. The army remained in its forward locations along the LAC throughout the winter and were thus poised and prepared to deal with the situation as hypothesized.


It is a purely defensive deployment poised only to react to any PLA transgression. However, this time around there is no restriction to hold back use of force as necessitated to effectively counter the Chinese actions.

The above may have been a hypothetical worst case scenario conjured up by a “Devil’s Advocate” some years back, but in 2021 this is now accepted as the “new normal” along the LAC.     


Chinese transgressions

The Chinese focus on Eastern Ladakh has become a perennial summer activity. In April 2013 it was a 21 day stand-off in Depsang. It was a sort of curtain raiser to the visit of the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. In April 2013 it was a 21 day stand-off in Depsang. It was a sort of curtain raiser to the visit of the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. In September 2014 it was a 16 days stand-off in Chumar and Demchok this time in close coordination with the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India!!
Three years later, on 17-18 June 2017, the Chinese were back to realign the LAC, in Doklam, in Bhutanese territory. This was an attempt to change the location of the existing Western Tri-Junction of India-Bhutan-Tibet at Batang La to ‘Gipmochi’.  

Transgressions across the LAC in Ladakh by Chinese patrolling parties have been a norm. 


In 2017 the number of transgressions recorded were 337, 2018 it was 284 but in 2019 there was a quantum jump to 497 transgressions. The figures for the entire LAC for these three years are 473, 404 and 663, respectively.

The Training Mobilisation Order (TMO) of 2 January 2020 is, as expected, much hyped by Chinese official media and interpreted as something very special by India’s hyperactive media. All training in the military is undertaken to practice procedures and drills to fight a war and win it. Xi Jinping saying it does not make the TMO very special. He signed it in his capacity of Chairman CMC not President of China. 


India too practiced conduct of operations in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh in October 2019 by three of the newly conceptualised Integrated Battle Groups. China was compelled to respond. Operation Brasstacks of 1987 was more threatening with a force of 600,000 participating from all three Services against Pakistan!

Why is there an increasing frequency of transgressions over the years? 


Does China intend to use force to establish a LAC favourable to it? Were the talks since 1988 only to bide time while it strengthened itself in Tibet? Why does China harbour an antagonistic attitude towards India?


This in spite of India bending over backward to appease China over these decades!! On the contrary, India had adopted flexible and cooperative approach towards China.


This approach is clearly reflected in the following statement of Prime Minister Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru – “Any policy towards China would have to take into consideration the close proximity of the two nations having a frontier of 2,000 miles . . . We have to consider our policy in regard to China remembering not only whatever past we may have had, that we have to live together in peace and friendship, and I hope, cooperation.” 


India continued to be sympathetic to China particularly at the time of Korean conflict. After the Korean conflict, communist China had taken on an ideological task of spreading communism in the other parts of the world. Under this pretext, she reiterated her determination “to liberate Tibet from imperialistic aggression. It was quite clear that the communist China had planned to subjugate “independent Tibet”.

In a sudden move in 1950 the PLA ‘invaded’ Tibet and surprised all. A helpless India accepted the capture of Tibet by the Chinese without a demur. 


In fact India went out of the way to help PLA consolidate its hold in Tibet.


It took on the responsibility of transporting all the equipment and logistic requirement for the Chinese force in Tibet. The Chinese never divulged the number of Chinese troops and labour present in Tibet, but the logistic supplies were for approximately 50,000 personnel. The loads were received at Kolkata and transported to Gangtok, in Sikkim, which acted as a trans-shipment point. Here bulk load was broken and prepared for loading it on Animal Transport that carried it all the way over Nathu La to Yatung.


All this was being done while the Chinese were fervently building a network of roads in Tibet and into Tibet from the Mainland. However, they did not extend the road south of Yatung to Nathu La to hide from India the extent of road construction in Tibet had progressed.


Consequently, the Central Highway from Gormo to Xining to Lhasa was completed in 1950 but the supplies through India were stopped only in 1954 when the Eastern Highway from Chengdu in Sichuan was completed.


China as Security Council member

In 1950, in informal talks by US State Officials with the Indian Ambassador to US, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, they hinted of the possibility of India replacing Republic of China as a UNSC permanent member. However, there was never any official correspondence on the matter as such. 


Moreover, the PM made it clear to the Indian Ambassador to the US that such a move is not acceptable as it would be detrimental to India’s relations with China and instead recommend that Communist China was a more deserving candidate.


Again in 1955, the Soviets did informally seek a “sounding out India’s views” whether India would accept the seat as UNSC member but again India did not respond or pursue the matter any further. Nehru was clear that the PRC was not an ordinary power. 


In 1950, he had stated in the Indian parliament: “Can anyone deny China at the present moment the right of a Great Power from the point of view of strength and power?…she is a Great Power, regardless of whether you like or dislike it.” He underlined that the PRC was a “well-established fact” and that excluding the PRC from Security Council was an “unrealistic state of affairs.”


In 1960, Nehru argued that it was “absurd” to have the ROC represent China at the UN. He believed that “the whole balance of power has changed not only in the Far East but in the world because of this new China.” Not accommodating the PRC in world politics was not only foolish but dangerous. Prudence dictated that the PRC be provided a status commensurate with its power and that it not be shunned.


Cause of India China conflict 1950-60’s

On the contrary, China has viewed India with suspicion. Besides what Liu Shaoqi said to Bandaranaike (quoted above), Mao Zedong confirmed this line of thinking when he told a Nepalese delegation in 1964 that the – “Major problem between India and China was not the McMahon Line, but the Tibetan question”. 


Later in 1973, Zhou EnLai was to tell Henry Kissinger that the conflict between India and China took place because Nehru was getting “cocky”!!!

The birth of these two nations could not be more contrasting


One shed the yoke of colonialism through a non-violent struggle and the other had to first fight to oust the Japanese from the mainland. Next China’s two ideological factions got embroiled in a three year long civil war. These very different scenarios in the inception of the two Nations, coloured their leaders world view and influenced the formulation of their national interests. 


PM Nehru believed that India’s own policies were based on firm, higher principles of law, history and simple justice. China, however, seemed to be pursuing its policies oblivious of those principles! India acted on the basis of high moral principles, while China acted on the basis of mere power and expedient advantage. A corollary then would be - any law upholding power, confronted by a flagrant violation of law must resort to force to achieve compliance with norms. China was violating recognised legal norms for the sake of its own power.


Counter power must be used to constraint it for the sake of upholding those norms. Did Nehru think so too? 


This was in the 1950’s, and there seems to be no change in its current behaviour.

Right from the beginning there was an underlying sense of contempt towards India in the Chinese attitude. Communist China was not happy about the “non-aligned policy” of India and openly criticised India as a stooge of western imperialists. 


When the Communist Party of India sent greetings to Mao Zedong, for a grand success of communist revolution, he expressed his desire by following statement (19th October 1949) – “I firmly believe that relying on the brave Communist Party of India and unity and struggle of all Indian patriots, India will certainly not remain long under the yoke of imperialism and its collaborators. Like free China, India will one day emerge in the Socialist and Peoples Democratic family; that day will end the imperialist reactionary era in the History of mankind.” 


The statement of Mao Zedong shows that since 1948, Chinese had displayed rigid negative attitude towards democratic India.


One is compelled to ask that have these same issues, as stated by the Chinese leaders of the bygone era, resurfaced? Has India now become more vocal in its support for greater and genuine autonomy of Tibet which is irking the Chinese? Is India becoming arrogant and having illusions of grandeur in Asia and globally? Is PM Modi becoming too “cocky”?  Is it exasperating the Chinese that PM Modi has not spoken to Xi Jinping on the situation in Ladakh, as he did during the Doklam impasse, so too be he too needs to be cut to size? 


Is China harking back to the era of the late 1950’s under Mao and seeing India a ‘running dog of imperialists’?


Consequent to a meeting with Manmohan Singh at the BRICS summit in Durban in 2013, in Xi’s declaration he stated that he wanted to settle the Himalayan border dispute not “gradually” but “as early as possible”. Was he hinting at resolution by force or coercion? Later, not too long back in 2014, when India’s newly appointed ambassador to China Ashok Kantha presented his credentials to Chinese President Xi Jinping, he was one of only three diplomats with who regarded furthering the India-China strategic partnership as his historic mission. What he wished to do was to move India-China relations beyond the bilateral context and deepen cooperation on regional and global issues. 


Why is it that the Chinese word cannot be taken at face value? Is there always a sinister motive behind such a façade?


Did India miss the lessons of the 1962 debacle?


Expecting reciprocity from China for projecting it on to the global stage in the 1950’s! Neglecting the remote and distant border areas by not building infrastructure. Pursuing a ‘Forward posture’ in a modified way by establishing a series of indefensible ‘Police’ (ITBP) posts under the direct control of the MEA (this time MHA) and PM’s office. 


When the situation gets too hot to handle for the Police force, hand over the situation to an ill prepared and ill equipped army to resolve. Harbouring the notion that since India believed in the philosophy of non-violence and did not covet a neighbour’s territory it can manage without a large military force. Indulging in political interference in the Army and not allowing it to follow the established procedures and tradition. And more.


Speaking in the Lok Sabha on 25 November 1959, the then PM had said:– 


“I can tell this House that at no time since our Independence, and of course before it, were our defence forces in better condition, in finer fettle, and with the background of our far greater industrial production to help them, than they are today. I am not boasting about them or comparing them with any other country, but I am quite confident that our defence forces are well capable of looking after our security”.

This was a very confident statement and it must have reassured the Indian public about the country’s defences. Politicians do sometimes, for the sake of expediency, make statements which they know to be incorrect. Not long thereafter these words were to be proved blatantly false and misleading. The Army is fighting ‘with what it has’ because modernisation has been neglected. The politician of today has not learnt this lesson.


The Chinese document, Science of Military Strategy, 2013, prepared by the Academy of Military Sciences expounds that the “nature of deterrence is a threat of violence”.  It goes on to further state that its deterrence posture is multi-dimensional intended to deter foreign invasion, prevent conflicts from escalating to war but it is not a tool to dominate others. 


This seems a contradiction of its own theory.


It further elaborates that - “China does not see itself as seeking to use force to threaten or coerce other countries and does not seek regional or global hegemony.” This is an abominable mishmash of contradictions and rhetoric which has no relation to its actions on ground. 


However, it must be acknowledged that China has created institutions for the study of national strategy and comprehensive national security – some of the seven main Institutes are the Academy of Military Sciences, Institute Military Sciences, Institute of Strategic Studies of the National Defence University, National University of Defence Technology, China Institute Of Contemporary International Relations, Chinese Academy of Social Science, and Chinese Society for Strategy and Management. 


India has not been able to get its own Indian National Defence University started due to military-bureaucratic turf war for over a decade. The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, is the only government funded institute which is undertaking objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security, but with not much influence on decision makers in the corridors of power and so remains more academic oriented.

In international relations it is said that “there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests”. 


To those espousing moral law or ancient cultural bonds are forced to bite the dust. The reality with regards to bi-lateral relations with China is concerned, is that India is an obstacle in China’s quest for regional hegemony. Appeasing it will not alter its behaviour towards India.


For too long India’s strategic defence posture was based on the premise of ‘trading space for time’ by defending deep in the hinterland making it difficult for the adversary to develop large scale operations in early timeframe due to the need to develop the mandatory lines of communications. 


To make it difficult for the adversary, India chose not developing infrastructure in the border lands. A more defeatist mind set could not have prevailed!! The major thrust to reverse this trend started only in 1997-98.


However, it did not take long for spokes being put in by agencies like the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, National Green Tribunal, Non- Government Organisations (those with vested interests and agendas inimical to India’s security receiving funds from unknown foreign sources), State Forest Ministries and of course the ubiquitous local politician. 


The requirement of ‘Compensatory Reforestation’ needs unforested land to be identified; this was not easily made available; in effect it involved allocation of additional funding for every project. 


A quaint situation exists in Arunachal Pradesh even today, where the land belongs to the tribes and not the State. To further confound the matter there are multiple agencies developing roads in the border areas with no single point of coordination or funding. Projects get delayed by decades and costs rise manifold jeopardising the project itself. Nothing could be more absurd and brazen.  .. China does not face such issues in its development and infrastructure projects. Viva la democracy!!


After the incident at Longju in Arunachal Pradesh (25 August 1959, 9 Assam Rifles) and Kongka La, in Eastern Ladakh (21 October 1959, 1CRPF Battalion) the border with China became a ‘live’ border. 


Beginning December 1961 under its ‘Forward Policy’ India began to establish a line of isolated indefensible posts in Ladakh strung out north to south. The Army setup 60 posts (with just one infantry battalion and one J&K Militia battalion that could be inducted by then) which were so located that most of them overlooked the Chinese road through Aksai China. 


This was a situation that China was virtually guaranteed not to tolerate. It demonstrated this by setting up its posts opposite the Indian posts and frequently surrounding Indian posts. This led to five armed confrontations. The most serious occurred in the Galwan river valley.


In NEFA, the Assam Rifles (under direct control of the MEA) set up 24 new posts. Many of these were up to 14 days’ march from their bases. This created a logistical nightmare and put the troops at risk of death through exposure, disease and starvation. The Chinese responded by setting up posts opposite the Indian posts. This brought the troops into eyeball confrontation. The deployments were dictated from Delhi and did not take in consideration the ground realities. The modus operandi seems to persist.


The Indo Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP) was raised on 24 October 1962. Post the Group of Ministers recommendations (2001) of ‘One border One Force’ the ITBP has been entrusted the responsibility for Border Guarding along the India-Tibet LAC. The LAC is more ‘live’ in particular sections of Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. 


As was evidenced in the recent incidents when the PLA violently asserted its claim in Ladakh, there was a statement issued by the Home Minister before Raksha Mantri got into the act. It reflects the true situation on ground too where the ITPB operates under its own independent hierarchy with minimal informal coordination at the operating and controlling levels with the Army.


Why is it that ITBP is reluctant to be under operational control of the Army?


If the Border Security Force (BSF) deployed on the Line of Control (LC) in J&K can be a Border Guarding Force under operational control of the Army it defies logic to not follow the same pattern on the more sensitive stretches of the LAC. The Army is surely not keen to topple the applecart of the ITBP ‘empire’ and nor is it keen to usurp it!! Another case sacrificed at the altar of the deep rooted military-bureaucratic spat! If the Government does not understand the simple logic of the requirement then do so be it. 


The ‘butter versus bullet’ debate needs to be countered effectively. By its actions of the summer of 2020, China is forcing India to maintain a year round comprehensive deployment of forces all along the LAC. It will have some significant fallout. 


Impact of deployment of forces year round along the LAC

One, there will be a dramatic escalation in the revenue component of the defence budget. Two, wear and tear of all types of equipment and weapon systems will be greater leading to shorter effective life.


Three, chances of fire fight in a face off and skirmish will increase. Four, to suitably equip and arm the forces, adhoc off the shelf purchases of weapons, ammunitions and equipment will be resorted to which may not be the best solution for long term modernisation plans. Five, Chinese military forces will be operating from comfortable garrisons since they have the wrested the initiative and left India to only react.


It evidently is a replay by the Chinese of a “Star Wars” game on India similar to that which had been inflicted by US president Regan on the Soviet Union forcing the Soviets to divert large quantum of funds and national resources for that new arms race resulting in the economic implosion of the Soviet Union. With the Corona pandemic gripping the whole country, als othe country is facing a serious economic downturn with very rate of unemployment and no work for the self-employed and to cap it the serious monsoon floods in large parts of the country; the situation that is already grim is being further burdened with serious security threats from China and Pakistan.  


Of late there have been voices commenting on India’s naivety in not being prepared for the Chinese violent actions in Pangang Tso and later in Galwan. It is their opinion that treaties and agreements are only commitments on paper and need not be followed in letter and spirit, or words to that effect. 


Therein, probably, lies India’s problem. India tends to take the moral high ground and comes out a cropper. In the dog-eat-dog world of strategic power dominance, expedience is the name of the game not propriety or moral rules. India tends to speak softly but it also does not carry a big stick, that’s its inherent weakness. If we do not have the strength or vision to lead, then other powers will take our place and we will be pushed around unceremoniously.


It is a ‘given’ that China is not a trustworthy neighbour, will not allow India to develop and compete with it in the region. 


India need not be too polite and considerate about Chinese ‘core interests’ when it has no qualms of interfering in the internal affairs of India. China cannot waggle a finger at India and make it ‘come to heel’! 


India must shed the cumbersome redundant ideological yoke of ‘non-alignment’ and bandwagon with like-minded countries. 


India should shed its inhibitions of ‘carrying a big stick’ when talking. India is paying for the neglect of successive governments in the modernisation of the Armed Forces and they have been pussyfooting on the revamping of the defence PSU’s and DRDO in particular, for self-reliance in the defence sector. When will it be done – when the pigs fly?! 


It only indicates that the country does not have the ‘stomach’ to be a great power. And so because of the pusillanimity of India’s political class India shall remain mired in mediocrity.


Author is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry


Article is courtesy Indian Defence Review and was first published here eSamskriti.com has obtained permission from IDR to republish.  


You may like to visit India's largest online military newspaper www.indiandefencereview.com.


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