PLA muscle-flexing part of exercise to shape the environment in China’s favour

A major aim of China’s aggressive actions is to derail demands at the United Nations for independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. This has led to muscle-flexing all over,  writes Lt Gen P. C. Katoch (retd) for South Asia Monitor

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China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) indulged in physical fights with the Indian Army troops on two occasions recently, though no bullets were fired. The first incident was on May 5 in the area of Pangong Tsong lake in Ladakh where PLA had resorted to stone-pelting and attack with sticks on  an Indian patrol. Both sides rushed reinforcements to the area. Simultaneously PLA helicopters were observed flying close to the line of actual control but retreated after seeing Indian Air Forces fighter jets on routine training mission in the area. 
 
On May 9, PLA troops tried to rush into the area of Naku La in North Sikkim, which resulted in physical fights. In both incidents, injuries were suffered on both side but more by PLA troops. One PLA major who rushing forward shouting “Sikkim is our Territory” and India should vacate was aptly punched on his nose. For the unaware, India and China signed an agreement on June 23, 2003, to open trading posts on Sikkim-Tibet border, which was recognition of Sikkim being part of India by the then Chinese Premier Wen Jibao.

In all such hostile acts, PLA troops carry video cameras, obviously under orders to send the footage all the way up.  The response from China's state-run media to the above two incidents was somewhat sheepish in saying that Chinese and Indian troops had been conducting increased border patrols thanks to improved road networks on both sides and quick resolution to the face-off showed that the communication mechanism established between the two sides was effective. The terrain in Sikkim, particularly in North Sikkim is plateau on the Tibetan side compared to mountainous on the Indian side. These aggressive actions by PLA are in no way related to “improved communications”. China’s aggression towards India can be traced to Mao Zhedong’s ‘finger problem’ when he said, “Tibet is the palm of China and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA are its fingers.” This was also repeated by Deng Xiaoping. On the lighter side the areas in vicinity of Pangong Tso where PLA goes bananas are called ‘Finger Four’ and ‘Finger Five’ while Naku La area is called ‘Finger’.

Hiding outbreak of the virus from Wuhan as also the data of virus-related casualties apparently did create dissent within the CPC and the Politburo, no matter how well covered up. That is why the massive exercise to rebuild the image of Xi Jinping.  Even his mother’s photos are being flashed prompting him to carry on with his job - she may be unaware of maniacal obsession to dominate the world. Xi is also being exhorted by scholars to annex Taiwan while the US and allies are busy battling the virus. China has stocked up unprecedented levels of 937 million barrels of oil in observable storage (https://qz.com/1844371/china-went-on-a-oil-buying-spree-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/) and is similarly stocking up food grains, as if readying for war. Xigaze Army Division of Tibet has urgently pulled troops to an unfamiliar area more than 4,600 meters above mean sea level. By simulating battlefield environment, multiple emergency situations have been set up to comprehensively test troops for long-range mobile combat operations (http://tv.81.cn/jq360/2020-05/09/content_9809919.htm).

A major aim of China’s aggressive actions is to derail demands at the United Nations for independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. This has led to muscle flexing all over - against Taiwan, in South China Sea and further south, and in Indian Ocean. On May 11, China’s Maritime Safety Administration website announced that Tangshan Port-Jingtang Port Area will hold large-scale military exercise and ban on relevant sea areas will last for two and a half months (May 14 to July 31), which is extremely rare. 
 
China has not even spared Nepal which it sucked into its strategic sphere through the blood-soaked Maoist insurgency lasting decades and maneuvering both Nepalese communist parties from Beijing. In a sudden move China has announced that Mount Everest and its surrounding areas belong to China. There goes the revenue Nepal was earning from Everest expeditions. But China will always remain at hand with generous loans to help Nepal and push it deeper into debt.

Chinese scholars want Xi to capture Taiwan. But as China has been practicing operations on multiple fronts, it may be tempted to move against its illegal claims on Indian territory, especially areas not permanently held.  However, the present PLA muscle-flexing could be to pressure India not to get too close to the US, not support call for independent inquiry for COVID-19, not overexert for relocating foreign firms in China to India, and most importantly don’t threaten Pakistan about taking over POK or Gilgit-Baltistan. With a brigade-worth PLA locate in Gilgit-Baltistan, China could even instigate Pakistan to up the terror on India, watch India’s reaction and activate its border with India, if required. The whole game is to tame India and shape the overall environment in China’s favor.      

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. The views expressed are personal) 

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