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Addressing the 75th Session of UNGA on 22 September 2020, Xi says “We will never seek hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence. We have no intention to fight either a Cold War or a Hot War with any country.” He further said that China would continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through negotiations. Who in this world, granting that he has an ounce of grey matter, will ever believe these words? I am sure the delegates in the General Assembly (GA) who are armed with a cartload of patience to hear out drab, listless and monotonous rodomontades of Heads of States would have been pleasantly amused at Xi’s hogwash brimming with deceit and blatant lies. If not anything else, it broke the routine and ponderous atmosphere of the GA and brought forth some mirth. Inadvertent sniggers would have escaped many a lip of the usually unruffled diplomats who have mastered in the art of keeping the ‘stiff upper lip’ and sangfroid amidst the tumult and turbulence of geopolitical acrobatics.

 

China has occupied 90 per cent of the South China Sea by drawing a ‘cow’s tongue’ outlined with nine dashes. Have the six other nations voluntarily surrendered their EEZs and their islands to China with awe and deference? Are all their heads of states looking wide-eyed at Xi for his compassion, generosity and statesmanship? Does Xi want the world to believe it? Is what Xi has done on the Indian Frontier another act to spread world peace? He reneged six treaties/agreements including Panchsheel of 1954, Peace and Tranquillity Treaty of 1993, CBM Treaty of 1996, and border agreements of 2005, 2012 and 2013. Thereafter he just took over a thousand square km of buffer zone just for the fun of it, only to claim that India that broke the world peace and struck the peace-loving PLA at Galwan. [From China’s perspective] “An unspecified number of our soldiers were martyred in defending our motherland against the uncalled-for offensive by the Indians, whereas twenty of their soldiers died in their expansionist endeavour. When we were requesting Indians to shed more of their territory, they violated all the agreements and threatened world peace by occupying Kailash Range thereby compromising our Military Base at Moldo.”  

 

Come, a couple of years – China will rewrite its history by accusing Tibetans of making preparations to take over China in 1950 and in a surprise move they defended their motherland by annexing Tibet. So, when China talks it will only be believed by a raving lunatic in a padded cell. China is sieged with an overpowering self-righteousness that it does not see in others; what others see in it? As a case in point, let us just look at the recent election for the United Nations’ ‘Economic and Social Council’ (ECOSOC). India and China competed for the two slots for the Indo Pacific. It was won by Afghanistan and India. China with all its economic pelf and military might and even after leveraging its high profile Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), could not even cross the halfway mark in the number of votes. It is high time that China reads the writing on the geopolitical-wall. No doubt, China will have unstinted support from Pakistan and North Korea. Any other country that gets support from these two noble nations will take it amiss and will fiercely defend itself that it had not sought support from them. China waxes eloquently of their friendship with metaphors – deeper than the ocean and higher than mountains – more in tune with a primary school poem. You must have heard of the idiom – “as thick as thieves.” Exactly, so!  

 

Again, the peace-loving China in their relentless pursuit of world peace have encroached into Nepal’s territory in Lapch-Limi Region and have constructed nine buildings. Nepal’s Survey Department of Agriculture Ministry has claimed that China has encroached at 10 places and has also been diverting the flow of rivers to increase its territory. So much for antagonising India and embracing China: The Red Embrace will not only bleed Nepal but also blend the bloodstains caused by nibbling of its 1415 km of the border. Nepal has itself to blame for throwing its lot with China.    

 

Another surprise for China was the Russian concentration of troops on China’s North-Eastern border in Vladivostok, euphemistically called by Russia as ‘Eastern Strategic Direction’.  It was primarily to counter China’s claim of the region citing vague decrepit historical evidence! With two US aircraft carriers in the South China Sea and the third close by, with Japan, Australia and India in and around its seas, with Taiwan being armed with sixty-six F-16 aircraft, one may wonder, why on earth are countries ganging up against China? All it did was to occupy seas and lands of border countries. Telling innocent lies on the spread of COVID-19 and enabling the death of over a million people worldwide and infecting over 33 million and causing trillions of dollars losses to the world economy – should it evoke anger at the peace-loving Chinese?  Certainly not – for Xi.

 

Internally, Xi has undertaken massive re-education programmes for Uyghurs and Tibetans. Also underway is a mammoth forcible redeployment of labour from rural to industrial sector, deracinating them from their native lands.  It is basically aimed at serving the industries of motherland and obliteration of cultures and religions of the minorities.

 

For all the turbulence around China, there was one big country that would have never gone against them. China was earning $60 billion annually from India with a favourable trade balance. It was India that had used all its diplomatic power to ensure that China becomes a permanent member of the UNSC. It was PM Modi, who developed a personal equation with Xi with a series of personal rendezvous. India was sensitive to China and was against the ‘Quad’ having any military dimension. In spite of pressure from the US, still, India had not invited Australia for Malabar Naval Exercise so far. Not even once India had criticised China directly for its expansionism in the South China Sea. With the world blaming China for the spread of the novel coronavirus, it was India that had remained silent keeping the Chinese susceptibility in mind. In spite of all efforts by China to marginalise India with allurements to Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; it was India that had maintained a steadfast silence in order not to ruffle China and tread a path of ambivalence. All these gestures were taken by China as its weakness and did not once appreciate India’s implacable silence on several issues where the main accused was China.

 

Come April 2020, in conjunction with the pandemic, China unleashed its forces to occupy the patrolling buffer zone in Ladakh on the Indo-Tibetan Frontier. Though India has been at the receiving end of betrayals for the past seven decades, still culturally, we are susceptible and ever eager and anxious to be betrayed. Intelligence failures and believing in those who should never be believed have been our irresistible addiction. Like a firefly to the fire, we have flown to self- immolation time and again.

 

In the aftermath of the Defence Ministers’ and Foreign Ministers’ Meetings between India and China in Moscow, the situation has not only become murky but also more explosive. It was China that fired the first salvo by stating that as it was India that started the transgressions and the responsibility for disengagement and de-escalation also rests with it. After laying the whole blame on India, China is amassing troops, laying Optic Fibre Cables (OFC) to forward areas, moved up additional fighter aircraft from other commands into Tibet and generally is gearing up its preparations to wage a war against India. Its propaganda machinery is in full swing and is mobilising public opinion against India. India should be ready for a limited war that would be waged by China before the onset of snowfall.

 

Since the India-China Standoff in May 2020, we had been insisting that de-escalation can only take place if there is status quo ante ‘April 2020’.  However, the situation has since changed after the Indian Army’s pre-emptive occupation of the Kailash Range (Chushul Heights).  If, by chance, even if China vacates from Fingers 5-8 on the Northern Banks of Pangong Tso, should we vacate from the very formidable Chushul Heights? As I have written in my previous article entitled ‘Five Point Disagreement’, the heights give us tremendous tactical and also strategic advantages to look into Chinese base at Moldo, dominate Spanggur Gap and gives us a firm base for launching an offensive. More so, we are on our own side of LAC. Hence vacating it, is out of the question, even if we are threatened with war.  Then what are our options?

 

China’s occupation of Northern Fingers from 8 to 5 at Pangong Tso definitely gives it some real estate. However, it does not confer on him viable strategic dividends. Tactically we are holding Finger 3 and will certainly respond in case of any further adventurism. Our patrolling beyond Finger 4 to 8 has been blocked by China by its pre-emptive occupation. However, what should worry India more is the Chinese occupation of Depsang Plains. ITBP was patrolling our part of Depsang Plains for a distance of about 18 km from ‘Y’ Junction, to the limit of our perceived LAC. Come the month of April, the PLA has physically occupied the patrolling area buffer zone and is blocking our patrols from our routine patrolling activity to our perceived LAC. Why did the top brass of ITBP and the MHA did not anticipate the intent of the PLA is a question that we can hold in abeyance now and can be raised later in a more settled environment. This has been one of the biggest setbacks in the present standoff.  Still, our Government does not realise to put ITBP under the command of the Army but wants to leave them under the MHA. When will we learn to look beyond our turf wars and look at the security and integrity of our country, not in segments but under one cogent whole? Wars may break out and lives may be lost, but our own intragovernmental turf wars will continue as these wars are bigger than the integrity of a country called ‘India’!  In 2013, China had intruded in this area and our troops had also gone with their tents and had held parallel positions, but somehow it was not done this time. This has really brought the Chinese closer to our DBO post, forward airstrip and also closer to the newly constructed Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road. This pre-emptive occupation of the Western Part of Depsang Plains by China is acceptable neither strategically nor tactically.

 

Please note that it was China that violated the Patrolling Buffer Zone that existed for decades and occupied the empty space, thus technically occupying over a vast stretch of territory.  However, sad to say that neither the RM nor the Foreign Minister has been able to assert this point with their Chinese counterparts who continue to parrot that it was India, which started the transgression and the onus is on them to disengage and de-escalate. The Five-Point Agreement, in fact, gives China an upper hand that in spite of their incursions, we still share the blame of making the difference into a dispute. The foreign minister owes an answer to the country at a later point in time. What is done is done. Then how do we come out of this impasse? What should be our non-negotiable elements in the 7th Corps Commanders’ Meeting?

 

First, we have to ensure our right of patrolling in Depsang Plains to the limit of our perceived LAC; about 18 km from the ‘Y’ Junction.  If the Chinese do not withdraw from the plains with the onset of winter, we should mirror its dispositions with our positions, like what we did in 2013. If this is not done now, we would have lost the area for good unless we launch an offensive to recover the area up to the limit of our Patrolling Buffer Zone.

 

Second, we should continue to occupy Chushul Heights and in no way should we vacate it. In case we vacate, then the Chinese will come and sit on it and then we have no option but to launch very costly assaults to retake the range. The Heights are well within our LAC and we have not violated any previous understanding by occupying the Heights.  

 

Third, Chinese incursions in the Northern Banks of Pangong Tso and PP 17A should be addressed in a similar way by occupying parallel heights in the vicinity to gain leverage over them. Our patrolling rights from Finger 4 to 8 have to be restored.

 

Fourth, India should also amass troops in different sectors including the Middle and Eastern Sectors to capture important areas across the LAC. This contingency is most important as I visualise the Chinese to do it. It is just a matter of time before they open up other fronts. The more preparations we do for such a contingency, the sooner we would be able to execute it. Remember, the Chinese riposte could come in from other sectors and what is happening in Ladakh could only be diversionary tactics. We need to pick up battle indicators from other sectors as well.

 

Fifth, we should now discuss the delineation of the International Border. We take a stand that as the McMahon Line has already been accepted by China on Sino-Myanmar Border, the same should be accepted on the Sino-Indian Border. Discrepancies, if any, should be sorted out based on watershed principle. The Middle Sector is the only sector where maps have been exchanged. The minor differences can be sorted out through mediation. In actual fact, here also the watershed principle holds good as the Zanskar Range divides waters between the Ganges Basin and Sutlej River till the time the latter cuts across the watershed in Himachal Pradesh. In the Western Sector (Ladakh) discussion can take place between the Johnson Line and Macartney-MacDonald Line. With a couple of gives and takes, an International Border running between the two lines may be agreed. It would also give the Chinese consolation that the illegal road constructed between Tibet and Xinjiang in mid-fifties would be on their side of the proposed International Border.  The Tri junction between India-Myanmar-China, India-Bhutan-China and India-Nepal-China can be agreed progressively in consultation with the concerned countries, though the last mentioned would have a major problem with the intransigent attitude of Nepal.   

 

It has been long and frustrating that we have sat on an edge always apprehending the next move by China. It is time we make it trepidatious and anxious about our next move. It will enable us to retain the initiative. Our beating it in the race to Kailash Range is a case in point. We should be looking forward to more such opportunities.

 

I would be failing in my duty if I do not appreciate the political resolve and military capability in pre-empting the Chinese move to occupy Kailash Range (Chushul Heights).  For once the Chinese are nonplussed. If we can stay in Siachen for the past three and a half decades, surely, we will defend the Kailash Range round the year. In case the Chinese vacate for winters, we should seize the opportunity in occupying tactical heights forward of our areas to the limit of our International Borders. After all, it was China that was delaying the border resolution in order to do it from a position of strength.

 

Last but not the least, we should never underestimate our adversary. We should expect an offensive from China, and Pakistan would no doubt mobilise and activate the front with artillery fire and sending terrorists across to act in concert with the Chinese offensive. Though, my reading is that Pakistan will not join an all-out offensive against India. We have to watch and wait for battle indicators and be ready to thwart the Chinese offensive and gain some grounds in its territory. Ultimately, China should realise its folly for antagonising India and losing a plausible friend. The era of isolation of China has just begun!

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.