INDIA CHINA STANDOFF - DECODING THE DRAGON
| Col. Bipin Pathak - 27 Sep 2020

PLA May Try to Create a Rift between Tibetans and Ladakhis 

BY COL BIPIN PATHAK (RETD) , MILITARY INTELLIGENCE, INDIA

Present situation unlikely to diffuse till formulation of exit strategy. Practically the issue would remain unresolved as the issue of perception line is not acceptable to both sides. The 30th Aug incident has changed the dynamics; it may go beyond border conflict to proxy war in Tibet. PLA would try to create a rift between Tibetans and Ladakhis. They would be deploying Tibetan troops, hence one will have to see how our SFF and PLA Tibetans confront each other. The solution lies on McCartney - McDonald line of 1899  which divides COJK (Aksai chin) into north and south as Chinese infrastructure assets are East of this line. The McCartney–MacDonald Line has also been a foundation of the Sino-Pakistan Agreement of 1963.

A quote of Mao Tse Tung “The commanders and fighters of the entire Chinese People's Liberation Army absolutely must not relax in the least their will to fight; any thinking that relaxes the will to fight and belittles the enemy is wrong”. Going by this thought process, it is easy to assess the Chinese intent. As it is the Chinese are masters of deceit, propaganda and disinformation campaign which they orchestrate against their enemies by influencing the mind space. The PLA is also known for dummy deployments as part of their tactics and strategy, due to limitations of satellite imagery analysis , at times it becomes difficult to conclude a realistic assessment.

Even official Chinese maps of 1893, 1917 and 1919 showed the boundary in this area exactly as depicted in official Indian maps today. Since April this year, China has failed to respect the Nov 62 line as decided by them after the Indian defeat. Their intent seems to shift the LAC further East. (Map - 1) 

Dragon Objectives

China’s objective is not to probe or test our troops and deployment on ground but to stretch and exhaust our troops and capability development before they launch their offensive in any of the sectors be it Eastern, Middle or Western. Control entire Himalayan Ridge Line which includes Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. This is with the purpose of making India Water dependent thereby causing impediments on India’s road to become a Regional Power. Chinese are very explicit in their goals to be achieved.

Chinese intent seem to be to secure their strategic assets in Gilgit, Karokram and China Occupied Jammu & Kashmir by confronting India in anticipation that our response would not be adequate with China having an ascendency. Till now their appreciation of the situation and course of actions seem to have failed to achieve their desired effect. The mirror deployment by India to counter the deployment of Chinese Western Theatre Command may compel Chinese to reevaluate and target areas opposite Himachal , Sikkim or Arunachal.

A new aggressive China after Xi Jinping took over in 2012, shall not stop along the LAC but would have a long term aim of occupying entire Ladakh so as to establish a communication \ surface link from Galwan to Hasan Abdel Highway in Gilgit , through a treacherous mountainous terrain of 385 KMs. It will give an alternative link to Gilgit besides Karokaram Highway for the CPEC.

Present Situation

At present the situation still seems fluid in various sub sectors of the Western Sector. Large scale mobilization continues with escalation ladder being at its vertex. Battle field shifted from Northern to Southern bank of Pangong Tso. Indian troops occupied some lost ground on the ridgelines on 29/30Aug near Thakung and heights such as Gurung Hill, Magar Hill, Rezeng La, Mokhpari and Recehen La subsequently. The occupation of the strategic heights extends advantage in controlling the southern bank of lake, areas around it and a clear view of Moldo and Sumdo Garrison. This initiative of India has sent ripples within the PLA command resulting in augmenting garrisons and posts in vicinity of the LAC. (Map 2)

The two armies are still in a standoff in areas of Pangong Tso, Hot Springs area and Despang-DBO sector, under command of the Southern Xinjiang Military District. Besides these areas the Chinese have a considerable force level in areas around Chusul, Rezangla and Demchok.  China had also constructed a metalled road up to Finger 4 and set up defensive positions. A considerable deployment is also in the Depsang plains. The likely intent may be to cut off DBO and SSN, thereby linking up with Karokram and also imperilling Indian deployment in Siachen.

Enhanced Chinese activities have been reported in areas opposite Arunachal Pradesh such as Yanbaijan, Tsethang, Shannan, Tsonadzong, Nagdoh, Asaphila and opposite Tuting axis. Reinforced PLA Camps at Rima and Tatu. Unconfirmed inputs indicate presence of PLA Camps in general areas near Kepang La and Sying La passes. Border transgressions may have increased after the Ladakh Standoff in areas along McMohan Line.

In recent months the Chinese have upgraded the existing air bases at Hotan, Gar Gunsa, Kashghar, Hopping, Dkonka Dzong, Linzhi and Pangat of the PLAAF in the Xinjiang and Tibet region by constructing hardened shelters and extension of runway lengths.

As a diversionary, PLA may have also dovetailed in their plans to intrude in thinly held areas of Himachal and Uttarakhand. Air violation include drone activities have been reported in Sumdoh Sector of District Lahaul and Spiti. Road construction activities to Khimokul Pass opposite Morang Valley in District Kinnaur and a road towards Yamrang La in China Occupied Tibet opposite Sangla Valley of District Kinnaur have been seen. Chinese Roads have nearly been completed on Manza-Churup and Tayak-Shipki axis.

China has speeded up road construction along the border in the Tango and Yamrang regions. Chinese have also increased their activity in the area opposite Chitkul in District Kinnaur.

Opposite Uttarakhand the Chinese have a better surface communication along the axis Bobra-Mana Pass, Lungi-Jindu-Niti, Lungi-Tunjun La and Pulan-Lipulekh. As per open media PLA has reinforced troop deployment opposite Harsil sector, Uttarakhand.

China has also raised 5 militia units comprising of local Tibetan youths. On 15 June 20, PLA Tibet Military Command and Tibet Autonomous Region had organised a flag presentation ceremony for these militia units which include an air patrol team, polar communication team and extreme climbing team. Under China's Communist party, the Militia serves as an auxiliary and reserve force for the PLA. The induction demonstrates the importance for China to integrate local Tibetans into its defence forces. This gives a lucid warning that the Tibetans will participate in future conflicts with India.

During the first round of Moscow talks Chinese had taken a hard stand. They had clearly stated that No inch of land will be given to the Indian side.  This, rules out any negotiations. However during subsequent interaction between the two foreign ministers a five point programme was suggested which on paper seems to balance more towards the Chinese. Talks and tension continues.

China is already in a protracted war with India by attempting to dominate on ground and also the mind space. Without contesting in a conventional mode , the Chinese have already shown aggression by siphoning of metadata of Indian population through their various apps , funding of Start Ups and other telecom products which includes Huawei.

Future Scenario

Present situation unlikely to diffuse till formulation of exit strategy. Practically the issue would remain unresolved as the issue of perception line is not acceptable to both sides. The 30th Aug incident has changed the dynamics; it may go beyond border conflict to proxy war in Tibet. PLA would try to create a rift between Tibetans and Ladakhis. They would be deploying Tibetan troops, hence one will have to see how our SFF and PLA Tibetans confront each other. The solution lies on McCartney - McDonald line of 1899  which divides COJK (Aksai chin) into north and south as Chinese infrastructure assets are East of this line. The McCartney–MacDonald Line has also been a foundation of the Sino-Pakistan Agreement of 1963. China ceded over hundreds of miles territory to Pakistan and Pakistan recognized the Chinese sovereignty over hundreds of square  kilometers of land in Northern Kashmir and Ladakh.

China may focus during negotiations on the issues such as, India to delink from Quad , Non interférence on CPEC and South China Sea, peace with Pak by accepting Gilgit - Baltistan and PoK as part of Pakistan, consent for BRI/ OBOR. Recognize China as dominant power in this region. Dominate Indo - Pacific by having a compliant India. It wants to humiliate India and destroy our confidence, thereby sending a message to America that their ally India is a not worth supporting and investing.

The ensuing days could be to keep the Indians engaged along the entire stretch of LAC and impress upon Pak Army to launch limited offensive for capturing large tract of land in Kashmir which will assist the Wahabi Pak Army to regain their lost stature amongst their local population and divide the Indian Forces strength in case of a two front war. China is also exploring the future possibility of prolonged terror warfare by including Nepal in its nexus with Pakistan.  China has come prepared for escalation to achieve its strategic aim.

Chinese intelligence by now would have activated their long term human assets, such as ideologues, journalists and China apologists, inclined towards Marxism. Endeavour to cultivate spies, agents, informers and sympathizers along the LAC in the entire stretch must be in progress. The Chinese intelligence operations are likely to focus on, creating internal strife by way of massive protests , strikes , escalating insurgency in North East, nuclear and their deployment, Missile developments, deployments and capabilities, C5I (command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, and intelligence systems), Space research and programmes, Satellite surveillance and Indo-US Relations in terms of strategic deals.

Conclusion

Chinese Intelligence agencies under their Ministry of state security would have cultivated targets like scientists, policy analysts, staff in defence establishments, Space R & D establishments, journalists and think tanks, Study Groups for intelligence acquisition. It’s time now for Indian agencies to identify, monitor and neutralize the adversaries assets thereby creating a intelligence void for the Chinese.

As months before 1962 war, the Chinese along the LAC may adopt similar methods of acquiring human intelligence. Induct compromised porters, Animals fitted with devices, New roadside vends, Monasteries may have new faces,  Induct agents as labours in BRO and Infiltrate relatives of Indians residing in areas of Chinese occupied Tibet (COT). This calls for Identifying newly inducted  porters and verify their antecedents, check new induction in monasteries, identify new vends, profiling of villages to check new faces. China besides human intelligence, snoop on Indians through network technology and through hackers who operate on directives of PLA’s Third Technical Department.

The battle has just begun as the tensions with China in Ladakh would eventually result in increased permanent deployment of Indian Armed Forces along the LAC not for months but for years to come. The quote of Mao as mentioned at the beginning would be valid for Indian troops as well. The government has to tread cautiously on any negotiations or agreements as the Chinese Communist party is known for circumlocutions. Negotiations should only commence after the Chinese vacate areas such as Bottleneck in the Depsang area, Jeevan Nullah, the Y-Nullah in the Galwan River valley, Patrolling Point (PP)-15 in Galwan, Gogra Heights at PP-17 and the north bank of Pangong Lake up to Finger 4. The winner of this standoff would be the one who wins the game of logistics and perseverance.

Col Bipin Pathak is a retired Army Officer from Indian Military Intelligence and can be contacted at bipin146184@yahoo.com 

Map-1 Courtesy-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aksai_Chin_Sino-Indian_border_map.svg

Map-2 Courtesy - https://static.toiimg.com/photo/imgsize-674026,msid-77920359/77920359.jpg


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