No control, actually

LAC standoff: Indian, Chinese military initiate disengagement near ...
[Lt Gen Harinder Singh, XIV Corps commander with his PLA opposite number at their talk venue two days back]

India has no answer for China’s creeping annexation


For China, the unarmed skirmishes on the disputed border with India do not merit notice. The May 26-28 meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference ignored them. But the Ladakh confrontation is a muddled preoccupation of the Indian government with no clarity about what happened, how many People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops violated the 2005 Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the extent of territory illegally occupied by them.

According to former northern Army commander Lt Gen H.S. Panag, there is ingress by a brigade-sized PLA force in the Galwan River valley and in the Pangong Lake area, and occupation of some 60sqkm of Indian territory. If one adds the 640sqkm—which former foreign secretary Shyam Saran says India had lost up until 2013, and which may have doubled by now—the total territory ceded to China without a fight may exceed 1,300sqkm!

The astonishing thing is that these developments surprised the Indian government and the Indian Army. Why this should be so is a mystery, considering there was satellite imagery and that Chinese President Xi Jinping objected to the Indian infrastructure construction—never mind that it is a matching but less dense build-up on the Indian side—in his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Mamallapuram Summit on October 11 and 12, 2019.

Of particular concern to China is the all-weather road connecting Daulat Beg Oldi and Durbuk with Depsang, inclusive of the bridge over the Shyok river, to ease the strain of maintaining the Indian military’s presence on the Siachen glacier. Delhi had six months to prepare for an adverse reaction and to pre-emptively establish forward Indian military posts in the areas the PLA has now advanced into before the summer patrolling season began in April. It should have moved some long-range artillery, even if with an inadequate supply of shells, to put down stakes and show intent. But beating China to the punch is not India’s forte.

The passive-reactive Indian government banks on diplomacy to restore the status quo ante that the Army, lacking the offensive will, wherewithal and endurance, is unable to deliver.

This condition is a boon to the Xi regime, which can withdraw the PLA or not in this or that instance as it suits Beijing’s political purpose, while inexorably pushing the LAC India-wards. At each turn then, Delhi is presented with new territorial faits accomplis, reinforcing China’s policy of creeping annexation of Indian territory.

The prerequisite for such policy is an undefined border. To keep it so, but to make it easier for Delhi to swallow the incremental territorial losses, Beijing promises more productive talks—the next round will be the 22nd in the series—between the special representatives to exchange maps and resolve the dispute. The Indian government will again fall for it, hail it as a great diplomatic achievement. The excitement will abate until next summer when evidence of new encroachments will trigger armed face-offs along the LAC, and this unvirtuous cycle will repeat itself until China realises all its claims.


The above piece is published in The Week, current issue dated June 21, 2020, at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, society, South Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to No control, actually

  1. RG says:

    A few questions:

    1. “Chinese President Xi Jinping objected to the Indian infrastructure construction—never mind that it is a matching but less dense build-up on the Indian side—in his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Mamallapuram Summit on October 11 and 12, 2019. ”

    whaaa, never heard of this? has this been in public domain? Whats ur source?

    Clearly a political mistake as well as military. Why is everyone scared of calling out the army on this? why not?

    2)Also, DBO is under India’s firm control? Yes or no? Gen Mallik says Karakoram highway is under our reach. How do u see we can maintain this? To maintain a upper hand? I see this as of immense importance, in case of war we can demolish the highway.

    3) I ahve a strong hunch that journos like Ajay Shukla have shady integrity:both on political count and monetary,hes done some bidding for some aircrafts if i remember correctly. Anyhow, how do u see ppl like Ajay Shukla.

    4) Pravn Shawhney is a man with very limited intellect, its so clear in his videos, glaring logical coherence . How to u see the caravan magazine? It looks very suspect.

    Congress opposition et al should be calling the Govt out on this, all out. They are not!!! Because their own record is shady (Nehru and 630 sq km).
    But the common man like myself will forgive Congress et al if they spoke now, speak and bite like rabid dogs for it might force the gov to change its china policy . But they wont.Because they themselves dont have any china policy and aint got any balls to change it themselves if they came to power again.

    • Tim Caine says:

      What do you think of “journos” like Arnab, Sudhir, Rahul, Gaurav, etc.? Lol!

      It is ironical that you try and malign Ajay Shukla and Pravin Sawhney who are actually the only few who are writing about what is really happening at the LAC, which the host of this website also agrees on. You know, the same website where you are posting your stupid comment. Are you implying that Karnad is also of “shady integrity” and of “limited intellect”?

      You seem to be a very conflicted person. Quit fighting your inner self, and let your andh-bhakti for saffronism consume you.

      • Soham says:

        They will write on anything anti modi. Just as republic tv:BJP The wire,scroll,ndtv:Congress

  2. Bhaskar says:

    Wondering if army would consider a Tit-for-Tat by occupying other side of the perceived LAC!
    More importantly, why has this not been taken up during Indo China border meets all these years.
    If satellite imagery was available why army ‘slept’ on it? Or is it the political dispensation was not at all forthcoming…

  3. RG says:


  4. Surya says:

    What type of force structure our Mechanised forces should have for a conflict with the Chinese and deter the pakis?

  5. Indian says:

    Most worrying aspect for GOI and India army is the needed fire power to thwart Chinese incursion. First would be to do a tit-for-tat (but now it is more difficult as PLA is ready for it) and if China starts armed conflict, India would have to fire back. The problem here is – Does India have the bullets and shells required? Against China, definitely no. Our Ordnance factories won’t be able to keep up and especially during these times, getting any raw materials is difficult.

    Can we trust US and allies to provide firepower – most likely no.

    The only way armed eviction would work is if US guarantees supply of firepower

    Mr Karnad – what do you think?

    • If China had planned on hostilities, we’d have had them by now. Unlikely now.

    • Tim Caine says:

      You really have no comprehension about these thing, do you? It is not only about firepower. It is also much to do with having the “balls” for to go against a superpower, which China is definitely. Can the US supply India with “balls”?

      I thought Karnad has implied such quite often. Try to keep up.

  6. Satyaki says:

    Does ISRO’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) have anything to do with the ICBM you wrote about in your 2008 book on India’s nuclear policy? Since the latter can put a 800+ kg satellite in 45 degree 300 km LEO, has three solid stages, it seems to be capable of sending about 2 tons to a 10000 km trajectory. Could the powers that b have decided not to go in for an ICBM and use the rocket developed for that project as a SLV ?

    • In my books, have called for militarizing certain lift and payload carrying tech developed by ISRO. It turns out the Agni program at the Advanced Systems Laboratory are just as confident about their A-6 ICBM design. Now, if only the Modi govt got up the will to order a test-firing of this last it’d be good. The previous regimes were too much into pleasing Washington which, think of it, may be the mode the current govt may be in too, to permit test launches.

  7. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Another wonderful and epoch-shattering article by Mr. Karnad. Sir what are your thoughts on the current India-Nepal crisis? In my view Nepal could harm India more than either Chinese or Pakistan
    1. Many Nepalese have worked or continue to work for various Indian military positions. Henceforth they know the Indian military like the back of their palms. What if they sell these information to Beijing and Islamabad for money? 2. Nepal borders UP and Bihar two of the most populous states with numerous faultlines involving caste and religion. Nepal could create severe problem by creating and supplying arms to an armed insurgency by manipulating those faultlines. Beijing can bankroll this project. This could bleed India for Perpetuity. 3. India enjoys a 7-8 billion USD trade surplus with Nepal. Nepal can nullify this by sourcing it’s requirements from Beijing. I would love your views on the above aspects of how a potentially hostile Nepal could harm India. I sincerely request your expert comments on the same.

    • Nepalese by hundreds of thousands stream into India for livelihood, not to China, and over the years it is the remittance economy that has kept that country from sinking. Not a factor that Beijing can match or Oli overturn.

  8. vivek says:

    Re. Agni 6 with MIRV, situation is different this time and US would like india to stand against china. at least govt should give go ahead with limited range test. Not sure who is stopping Modi gov though.

  9. Sohamg says:

    Mr.Karnad,what do you make of the Indian navy’s activities and attempts to make andaman and nicobar an upgraded base and a strategic stronghold?

  10. Surya says:

    Mr. Karnad do you think our Arihant class SSBN can be a serious deterrent to China with 3500km range k4 with Bay of Bengal as patrolling area.Doesnt that mean we need S5 with K5,K6 mirved by the end of this decade?

    • Look, ideally, Arihant SSBN should carry MIRVed K-4s. And MIRV design and tech has been on ASL shelf since the early 2000s. It is incomprehensible GOI is not allowing it to be tested. Just as the A-6 ICBM is being stopped from being tested.

  11. Surya says:

    Sir,do you think we should somehow teach Nepal a lesson or engage in covert means to dissuade them from their Chinese stand?

  12. Satyaki says:

    How long would it take for an A-6 test to happen once the govt. gives the go ahead ?

  13. Ravi says:

    Sir,do you think military alliance of QUAD powers plus Vietnam and possibly Philippines,Indonesia,Taiwan,South korea combine can put china under pressure in south china sea.

  14. john doe says:

    “If one adds the 640sqkm—which former foreign secretary Shyam Saran says India had lost up until 2013,”

    Shyam Saran denied media reports he made that statement

    “NSAB chief denies reporting Chinese intrusions to PMO” Business Standard, Sept 06 2013

    Now what i find interesting is AK Anthony’s reply in parliament on Sept 6 2013 to this 640 sq. km question

    “I would like to state categorically that Shri Shyam Saran has not stated in this report that China has occupied, or has denied access to India to any part of Indian territory. I would like to assure
    the House that there is no question of India ceding to China any part of Indian territory. Government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India’s security and takes all
    necessary measures to safeguard it. I would further like to assure the House that Government would continue to strengthen our capabilities in border areas to protect our national interest. ”

    Sounds a lot like what the PM has said so far.

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