Chinese Intrusion - Psychological Challenge ?

Lt Gen PC Katoch, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC (Retd)*

As per indigenous media, the government has surmised that the Chinese intrusion in area of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) of Ladakh region is a localized action taken by the concerned PLA commander in the area. How such an assessment has been arrived at will remain under wraps but the media is also reporting that the Indian Army Chief has met the Defence Minister and that the Army has recommended tougher response. Understandably, the recommended response has not been elaborated. The Indian Foreign Minister is scheduled to visit China in first week May as prelude to Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visiting India later in the same month. Also, that flag meetings between the Indian Army and PLA are continuing on the standoff despite the Chinese Foreign Ministry stating categorically and repeatedly that PLA has not crossed the LAC.

Feeding the information that this Chinese action is ‘localized’ may serve the immediate political aim of soothing public and media outrage temporarily but not analyzing the issue in finer detail would be fooling ourselves and constitute disservice to the nation amounting to treason. There have been some 400 transgressions by PLA across the LAC during 2012, as informed by the Defence Minister to the Parliament. These, as also similar incidents in previous years, have been generally described as the PLA coming up to “their perception of the LAC”. The presence of some 50 Chinese firming in at DBO since April 15, 2013 has also been remarked about “as these things keep happening” but is that really so? This presence of the PLA platoon has been reported 10 kilometres deep inside Indian Territory. The Times of India dated 26th April says 18 kilometres. However, what is more significant is the admission by our Ministry of External Affairs that this PLA platoon is sitting more than three kilometers beyond even the “Chinese perception of the LAC”. That makes it a ‘deliberate intrusion’ which really cannot be passed off as mere routine transgression based on differing perceptions of the LAC. Media is also reporting that the assessment of this being a localized affair has been surmised from recent flag meetings. However, how much of what is said should be taken at face value is a moot point, given Chinese history of ambiguity and deceit plus PLA military strategy anchored on surprise, shock action and deception.

During an international seminar on China in late 2012, when Indian scholars spoke about Chinese assistance and arming of the Maoist insurgency in India, the sheepish response by the Chinese was that this could be happening without the knowledge of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the PLA and Chinese intelligence agencies, to which the Indian response was that this cannot be believed in the first place but if true, China was permitting anti-India non-state actors to operate from its soil. If the PLA has actually conveyed that the DBO intrusion is localized then this mischievous feed needs to be seen in the same context. Besides, when the Chinese Foreign Ministry has reiterated the LAC is not crossed then where is the requirement of an explanation that this is a localized action. Conversely, if the DBO action is actually localized then where is the problem of the PLA ordering pull back?

What needs to be understood is that the military strategy of China is chalked out very deliberately and intimately between the CCP and the PLA. The PLA Chief reports directly to the CCP, not to Chinese Government. National interests are both the starting point and destination of military strategy and in formulating military strategy, the Chinese also take into consideration factors other than the routine: geostrategic relationship; natural geographic elements; human geographic elements; geo-economic relations and conflicting interests among states; religious sects; alliances that determine alignment of players; and comprehensive strategic studies view war from various aspects and stages (space, time etc). To this end, not only would the DBO intrusion be with the blessings of the CCP, China would have assessed what would be the Indian reaction for which the assessment of the Ambassador and intelligence head of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) – 国家安全部 posted at the Chinese embassy at New Delhi would have been sought and studied in detail. Axiomatically, such assessments would have taken into account the prevailing political situation within India with approaching elections, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik invited against bureaucratic advice and his anti-India utterances not being responded to, our Foreign Minister rushing off to Jaipur to host the Pakistani Prime Minister on a private visit and the latter heading an anti-India resolution in the Pakistani Parliament on return, India’s response to Pakistan in general and in the wake of recent beheading of an Indian soldier, India’s relations with smaller neighbours and the like.

Even the most foolish would fail to believe that a local PLA commander on his own accord would go and establish a post more than 10 kilometres from his existing location. The DBO intrusion needs to be seen in context of the strategic importance of the area in relation to the Karakoram Pass astride the silk route to Yarkand, proximity of Chinese presence in adjoining Aksai Chin, the situation in Demchok and Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistn-Shaksgam. The policy makers would do well to analyze how this intrusion can be used as a base to threaten the sole route to troops at the Base Camp of Siachen Glacier and beyond to the Northern and Central glaciers on the Saltoro Range, affect patrolling by the ITBP to Karakoram Pass, threat to defence of Ladakh from the cumulative Chinese presence in the region, what would the Chinese have done if such an intrusion had been done by India and would mere diplomatic rhetoric and vacillation not imply giving time to the Chinese to establish more firmly; develop a metal road linking DBO with Aksai Chin, make permanent high altitude defences including a helipad and reinforce and expand the post gradually, and should that happen (of which possibility exists), what will India do? Even more important is to analyze the effect of keeping the issue in limbo on the prestige of India as a nation who is being looked up to as a “Security Provider” by many countries in the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean Region. If you cannot even guard your own territory and treat an intrusion 10 kilometres deep into your territory as “these things keep happening” simultaneously harping upon illegal occupation of Indian Territory by China with successive resolution in Parliament that J&K is an integral part of India, what worse recipe can one concoct to become the laughing stock of the world? Not to mention the hapless Tibetans who are immolating themselves in Tibet and the ones that will be baton charged and jailed when they protest the visit of Li Keqiang to India, even the Mongols are asking why India does not support them. Last year, visiting Afghan scholars queried why India cannot show some spunk against Pakistan?

At the macro level, theory provides cumulative wisdom harvested through cumulative strategic study of campaigns that help exploit practical opportunities. Clausewitz had said, “Theory exists so that one need not start afresh each time sorting out the material and ploughing through it, but will find it ready to hand and in good order”.   Strategic theory can help practitioners by providing the kind of conceptual education required for evolving policy. In this particular instance, the political hierarchy who does not want to take any step beyond dialogue (despite clear assertions by Chinese Foreign Ministry that PLA is in their own territory) would do well to educate themselves as to what constitutes “escalation” and how to respond in such situation by studying the yesteryears Sino-Indian standoffs at Nathu La, Doka La, Wangdung, especially what escalation or diffusion did the Indian response cause in these cases. In 2007, when Chinese destroyed Indian bunkers near Doka La, at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction, the Chinese had already buried the 2005 agreement promising peace and tranquility till the border is settled. Our policy makers appear suffering from the same 1962 syndrome that China has no evil designs against India. Chinese designs on Ladakh have never been appreciated. The 2006 Google imagery showed an extraordinary large scale (1:500) terrain model extensively duplicating eastern Aksai Chin built close to Yinchuan (capital of Ningxia autonomous region), the 3,000 × 2,300 feet model is being used for tank war-games. When India was battling Pakistanis in Kargil during 1999, China was already developing a road in eastern Aksai Chin towards south of KK Pass, significance of which was glossed over. In April 2012, China called upon Japan and South Korea to establish astronomical observatories in Aksai Chin. To think that China has no plans on Ladakh will be the height of foolishness considering persistent ground and air Chinese violations in the area. India should have had a complete Division deployed in Eastern Ladakh a decade back considering LC or LAC, grabbers are takers and we should not expect anything different just because we were fool enough to hand back a captured strategic height like Hajipir. Flogging the military in more and more flag meetings on the same issue has no meaning in view of the official Chinese stance. There is no reason why India cannot establish a new post behind the Chinese intrusion in an area that is considered India Territory or at least do this in another sector – a new post beyond existing positions. This Chinese intrusion aside from being a physical challenge is a psychological challenge. We must measure up to it. If we do not, we should be prepared to lose more territory. Leave it to the Chinese to take physical action to evict our new post. If they do, we should evict them from DBO. This is a game of nerves. Let the Chinese up the ante and if they do, there should be no reason to fear. The Foreign Minister should cancel his trip to China due to the unprecedented situation created by this deep and deliberate Chinese intrusion. Such an action will actually send a message to China and enhance India’s prestige in the world. You need to first deal with the thief that has entered your house and not go visiting the don - the thief’s employer. China should be informed that the atmosphere having been vitiated, it is not conducive to peaceful dialogue during visit of Li Keqiang. Should the Chinese Prime Minister still come, there should be direct discussion on the DBO intrusion, future of Sino-Indian relations, Chinese support to Indian Maoists, cyber attacks on India emanating from mainland China, correcting gross imbalance in bilateral trade, aside from other issues.

Let us be very clear that China intends to consolidate at DBO. This should also be viewed in conjunction the military heavy Track II Indian delegation that agreed with its Pakistani counterpart at Lahore to recommend withdrawal from Siachen. There appears a larger sinister design to bridge the China-Pakistan handshake between Gilgit-Baltistan with Aksai Chin. If our policy makers cannot see the writing on the wall, we should be prepared to lose our hold on many places along the Himalayas.


 *Prakash Katoch is a former Lieutenant General and a Council Member of USI. 

 (Article uploaded on May 01, 2013).

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI.


MacGregor Medal