Shifting the goal post and use of diversionary tactics are basic tools used by battle weary empires in order to buy time for their recovery. China’s hyped ‘transgression’ inside Ladakh is of similar nature. The prospect of a global retribution against China for its role in spreading the COVID-19 pandemic is real and has left Beijing petrified to an extent that it’s desperately looking for an alibi.
Global ring-fencing coupled with its fast deteriorating domestic economy has become too much for the mandarins of CPC (Communist Party of China) to be able to comprehend. Corporate biggies have begun to silently explore newer manufacturing bases in India, South East Asia and Eastern Europe. In coming months several thousand companies that make smartphones, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, textiles, electronic equipment, fertilizers, steel etc. may either completely shift out of China or scale down their production units within China. This effectively means that Chinese economy is all set to go into a tailspin and Beijing’s crown as the world’s factory is under direct threat. Unemployment is at a historic high and there’s a probability of Tiananmen Square type of protests as the discontent amongst Chinese middle class grows further.
Protests and discontent in Hong Kong continue to grow bigger by the day, Taiwan has become the fresh flashpoint, and the Baloch revolutionaries have ensured that the $62 billion CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) remains a non-starter.
It is in this backdrop that China decided to shift the goal post and nudged its soldiers in Ladakh to have a faceoff with the Indian Army. What could be a better alibi than shoving the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) to ‘transgress’ in Ladakh where there’s several hundred kilometres marked as ‘Areas of Differing Perception’ that have not been resolved for the last three decades.
Beijing’s gambit is simple. Order PLA to ‘transgress’ and have a faceoff with the Indian Army and then get down to perception management and spin doctoring to create a fear psychosis within India.
Unfortunately, sympathisers of communist China within a section of Indian media swirled to the dragon’s hiss and dressed up the story about People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entering several kilometres inside the Indian territory. These spin doctors screamed about the “possibility of Indo-China war”, “disadvantages of India vis-à-vis China”, “India caught unawares” etc. etc. In fact, more than the transgression in Ladakh, this psychological war being waged by China at the behest of its sympathisers in Indian media is far more serious.
And yes, let’s be clear. China is not in a position to fight a war with India. We need to bury the ghosts of 1962. This is 2020.
But before I talk about China’s weaknesses, let me first explain the ground realities in Ladakh which continues to be misreported.
Reality of Chinese “Transgressions”
Transgressions by the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) have primarily taken place in Galwan Valley and North Bank of the Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh. While the presence of PLA troops at Galwan Valley is strictly within their side of the LAC (Line of Actual Control) where there is no transgression, the one at North Bank of Pangong Tso is within Indian side of the claim line. Now, this did raise red flags within the Indian Army and it responded with appropriate measures like commander level talks and director level talks. Even Indian soldiers were sent in as reinforcement. However, as commander and director level talks between India and China were still on, a section of Indian media sympathetic to communist China began drumming up the fear psychosis. Articles, opinion columns, tweets, sound-bytes everything was geared up to make it appear as a repeat of 1962 and was painted in a manner to show that New Delhi and Indian Army commanders were caught napping while China just walked inside.
This is absolute rubbish.
There’s a basic difference between LOC (Line of Control) and LAC (Line of Actual Control). LOC is used in context of Pakistan with specific reference to Jammu and Kashmir. LOC is a single and well identified line along the geographical features that are known and accepted by both sides. Any attempt to cross the LOC or occupy an area is taken as an act of war. It warrants a counter action to evict. At LOC, troops occupy important geographical features in eye ball to eye ball mode and dominate the area along LOC by observation and/or firing. Presence of enemy is unacceptable at all for any amount of time.
On the contrary, border with China is either in the form of International Border (IB) or LAC (Line of Actual Control). At most of the places LAC is accepted by both sides as a single line, however at number of other places there are different perceptions of the LAC by India and China. Areas bound by two claim lines (India’s Claim Line and China’s Claim Line) are called as “Areas of Differing Perceptions”.
And the current standoff with China is in these “Areas of Differing Perceptions”.
Areas of Differing Perceptions (ADP)
There are a number of such Areas of Differing Perceptions all along the LAC and efforts have been on for last three decades to resolve them and define the LAC by a common and mutually acceptable line which can be respected by both India and China. In fact, over 20 meetings between ‘Special Representatives’ of both countries have been held but no common ground has been achieved as yet. Based on agreements in 1993, 1996, 2005 and BPMs (Border Personnel Meetings) several guidelines and mechanisms have been evolved for peace time management of the ADPs. These mechanisms also spell out the ways and means or protocols for surveillance through patrolling and resolution of frictions if any. Patrols are sent by both sides into these areas.
Whenever PLA patrol crosses the Indian Claim Line or vice-versa, it is called as ‘transgression’. Similarly, when patrols of both sides come across each other or meet, it is called as ‘faceoff’. Transgressions and Faceoff have been happening very frequently and were resolved amicably by both sides without any aggression or use of force. The differences that crop up during patrols, due to construction activities or activities that are taken upon as transgression or not permissible under the agreements are taken up through Border Personnel Meetings (BPMs). These meetings happen at two levels–delegation level meetings and highest commander level meetings. In case these issues are not resolved through these meetings, the meeting levels may be increased or taken up through the diplomatic channels.
“It needs to be understood that Indian and Chinese perceptions about the LAC (Line of Actual Control) are different. There has been no agreement between India and China on the maps of LAC. Except in the Middle sector where maps were briefly shown to each other, there has been no exchange of maps of the LAC. For the last three decades, the Chinese have not shown any inclination whatsoever to even demarcate the LAC, let alone solve the boundary issue,” explained Dr Arvind Gupta, Director Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) and former Deputy National Security Advisor (NSA). He added that due to these misperceptions about the actual LAC, patrolling parties of India and China often come face-to-face that results in local standoffs. “This happened at Depsang in 2013, Chumar in 2014, and is happening now at the Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake in Ladakh.”
Background of the Current Transgression
Even as concentration of PLA troops in Galwan Valley was on, Indian Army patrols were actively operating in all the Areas of Differing Perceptions (ADPs) and a strict vigil was being maintained. However, on the 10/11th May, an Indian patrol operating at North Bank of Pangong Lake came across a PLA patrol at Finger 4. The banner drills were executed as per the norms but PLA patrol refused to move. Hence both patrols took their positions. All this while the Indian Army kept maintaining a constant vigil through all types of intelligence resources. And India’s intelligence wings IB, RAW and NTRO were also vigilant over the developments.
Subsequently, PLA brought in more troops along track from Finger 4 to Finger 8. Indian Army also responded by increasing its troop strength in areas of face off and with a rise in PLA force levels started moving reinforcements from outside. Mobilization of Indian troops from within the Ladakh region was followed by induction from outside and at each stage there were more number of acclimatized combat ready Indian troops than the PLA. Also, ever since first face off on the night of 5/6th May, Indian Army was aware about what was happening on the other side and kept mirroring force build up in terms of foot soldiers, artillery and armour.
“…there are well laid out, mutually agreed mechanisms and definite Do(s) and Don’t(s) for militaries at both sides of the LAC to handle such situations. Further, the military and diplomatic channels are functional and are working to resolve this issue. Higher-level channels can also be used to resolve the issue, if need be,” Dr Gupta said “…it’s true and a matter of concern that these skirmishes have occurred for 3-4 times over the last few years but the current situation is not a build-up to an Indo-China war, as is being made out in certain quarters. That is being too alarmist. No doubt, India will stand firm and resolute in this crisis too. It must. But the situation is delicate and we have to be very cautious on how we handle it. The government should have a proper communication strategy to keep public opinion informed,” explained Gupta.
China’s domestic problems
China’s current unemployment is estimated at around 10%, which is its highest over the last several years. Chinese economy contracted by 6.8% in the first three months of 2020 when compared with the same period in 2019. This degrowth compares with a 6% growth in the October-December quarter of 2019. Further, China’s industrial sector growth has dropped 9.6%, services sector fell by 5.2% and the primary sector went down 3.2%. Car production dropped in the negative and was down to (-)44.6%.
Economists point out that China’s GDP contraction is an indicative of the severity of damage caused by COVID-19 pandemic to its economy.
As global manufacturing shifts out of China and/or if the production bases are scaled down, the unemployment will increase further thereby fuelling anger among the already restive masses.
And to add to China’s misery, there have been reports that New Delhi is in talks with thousands of companies to set up their manufacturing units within India. In this scenario PLA’s transgression into Ladakh is nothing but Beijing’s tired tactic of putting a psychological pressure upon New Delhi to stop wooing the manufacturers by abandoning the entry barriers and to stay away from Taiwan. But this is Beijing’s way of bullying.
A resurgent and confident India must brush away these irritants. India Army is responding in the way that it should. Indians, on their part, must not fall for Chinese propaganda of multiplying the fear psychosis that ultimately weakens the nation’s resolve to stand up to a bullying neighbour. Much like Chinese products the Chinese propaganda is not going to last long.