In my assessment, the present PLA intrusions are obviously with the approval of C-in-C and President Xi Jinping, China's supreme leader, writes Lt Gen P. C. Katoch (Retd) for South Asia Monitor
The much-awaited meeting between Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, India’s Leh-based Corps Commander, and Major General Liu Lin, Commander of South Xinjiang Military District, on June 6 was unprecedented. Earlier, talks at battalion commander, colonel level, and later brigadier and major general level had failed to resolve the LAC standoff.
On June 5, the Indian media reported "conciliatory signals" in joint secretary-level India-China video conferencing, with both sides agreeing to handle differences through peaceful discussions. When has China not talked of resolving differences peacefully and not acted in a contrary manner?
News reports added if the June 6 meet was unsuccessful military should seek fresh directions from the politico-military hierarchy. China is clear what it wants but India continues harping on protocols and treaties which Beijing evidently treats like disdain.
India has said the June 6 meet ended in both sides agreeing to resolve the issue as per existing protocols. If that were the case, China would not have intruded in such large numbers as stated by India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Therefore, talking of resolution through existing protocols is just a ploy with China maintaining that the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) is in Chinese territory. China is also exploiting the COVID-19 turbulence to advance illegal territorial claims, as stated by US President Donald Trump.
In my assessment, the present PLA intrusions are obviously with the approval of C-in-C and President Xi Jinping, China's supreme leader. China would like to retain some of these, especially Galwan Valley, Demchok and Fingers proximate to Pangong Tso (Lake) for future expansion and keeping India under pressure with troop movements in other sectors.
The PLA in recent years established posts in Shaksgam Valley and is extending the road to Karakoram Pass, occupation of which will jeopardize all Indian defences south of it. This is a real possibility and the PLA could be creeping up while we are busy in talks with PLA.
‘Kill with a borrowed knife’ is one of the '36 Stratagems' China employs through Pakistani terrorists attacking India. It has now put in motion the ‘loot a burning house’ tenet. The latter says that when a country is beset by internal conflicts and disease, when corruption and crime are rampant, then it will be unable to deal with an outside threat.
Beijing views India’s Western partnerships as anti-China. Chinese media asserts that India should eschew Western views. The India-Australia prime ministerial-level virtual summit on June 4 - including the signing of the highly significant Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) - would have riled Beijing even more.
The Chinese media denies intrusions while India says the PLA must withdraw to positions of April. Accused by a majority of nations for spreading the Wuhan virus, China has become belligerent. China perceives India as an Asian rival and wants Delhi to shun Western alliances.
Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Special Representatives for border talks, have held 22 rounds of talks so far. Doval needs to talk directly to Yi rather than wasting time over more military-to-military talks. This would clarify the Chinese stand and help configure required Indian response.
George Fernandes, one of the ablest defence ministers of India, had said China is India’s number one enemy, not Pakistan sitting in Beijing’s lap. This will remain true till China resolves the LAC / border with India. India needs a comprehensive politico-military-economic response to Chinese aggression. Appeasement won’t work. Jingoism by politicians and some sections of media must be stopped.
Ironically some panelists, even senior military veterans, on TV are seen justifying the policy of appeasement against China and reiterate that firing a bullet would be suicidal for India. But the same individuals applaud when proclamations are made that India will retrieve Aksai Chin. Will that be a cakewalk?
Status quo of Indian Army holding positions facing the current PLA intrusions at best is a temporary arrangement with the nation’s pride at stake. It would be good for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the nation on the issue. Military operations must be part of the national response as mentioned above. A situation must be created putting the PLA in a dilemma as to whether to fire bullets or not. The government, it goes without saying, must ensure complete secrecy of plans.
During the battle of Mahabharata, Lord Krishna told Arjuna that deception is an essential part of battle. China practices it, but we remain adept at leaking secrets. Finally, India must not fall for the Chinese trap of wanting to evolve yet another border protocol or treaty while they remain in possession of the current land grab.
(The author commanded a brigade in Siachen and a division in Kargil in the Indian Army. The views expressed are personal.)