Interview on China and developments in Ladakh — Rediff News

‘PLA is into ‘salami slicing’ of Indian territory’


Last updated on: July 13, 2022 19:10 IST 

‘This reluctance to respond forcefully to Chinese PLA provocations and outright aggression has as much to do with Prime Minister Modi personally, as with the institutional mindset of the MEA or even the Indian Army.’
‘They are scarred by the 1962 War and are still cowed by China.’

IMAGE: General Manoj Chandrasekhar Pande, the chief of the army staff, on his visit to Ladakh in May. Photograph: ANI Photo

Dr Bharat Karnad, Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, analyses why there has been a muted Indian response to the Galwan clashes which took place between Indian and Chinese troops two years ago.

“Let’s be clear: It is Modi, and Modi alone, who is responsible in toto for India’s foreign and military policies. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is just the medium and has no say in these matters other than overseeing their conduct and implementation; and army generals have even less of a role,” Dr Karnad tells Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

Two years after the Galwan clashes, there is an accusation by some analysts that China continues to steadily encroach on Indian territory and has taken over almost 4,000 km of Indian territory.
How far is this assessment correct?

Given the 24/7/365 surveillance via various sensors, including those mounted on Indian and friendly foreign satellites, it is unlikely India has lost territory to this extent since the Galwan incident.

That said, the 1,000-odd sq kms in the area northeast of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plain the PLA occupied much before the clashes on the Galwan river remain in China’s possession.

A large part of this Chinese deployment has reportedly been in the Depsang Plain. This continues to be a dangerous development given that the Chinese aim to build a connecting road up to PoK.

The significance to India of the territory China now occupies is that this traditionally Indian area is alongside the arterial Xinjiang Highway that branches off southwards at the Karakoram Pass to constitute the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

This territorial loss means the Indian Army is blocked from moving northwards from Daulat Beg Oldi to apply military pressure at the conjunction of the PLA-Pakistan army interests on the Karakoram Pass, and thus threaten the CPEC.

This is what the Chinese People’s Liberation Army intended with pre-emptively capturing that swath of land.

The Chinese are building another bridge over the Pangong Tso lake to improve their logistics in countering our troops positioned there.

The Chinese plan obviously is to have redundancy in connectivity by building a number of roads, shunts and bridges linking the northern and southern shores of the lake under their control.

It enables them to consolidate their logistics infrastructure, and launch a concerted military action on either shore at a moment’s notice.

IMAGE: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake area in eastern Ladakh in February 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

We have had 15 rounds of border commander talks since April 2020, but there is little talk of a reversion of positions to status quo ante pre April 2020 when these talks first started.
Analysts believe we are back to the 1959 position.

The periodic field commanders’ meetings are a waste of time and of no real account other than affording these uniformed folks some downtime with tea and samosas!

I long ago suggested that the Indian Army should not partake of these conferences the PLA does not take seriously.

I had warned precisely of such a denouement at the very beginning of this confrontation in eastern Ladakh.

It was Pollyanna-ish of the Indian government, in any case, to expect China would ever agree, for any reason, to the restoration of the status quo ante.

Why is there no White Paper on these talks providing the public at large details about what was discussed and what were the lessons learnt from the tragic death of our 20 soldiers on the night of June 15-16, 2020?

There’s no White Paper because it will have very little to report other than that China has not, and will not, move an inch from their proclaimed 1959 claimline which, by the way, Beijing never formally resiled from.

IMAGE: Indian Army soldiers stand guard at the Zojila Pass. Photograph: ANI Photo

Nor is there any clarity from the government or the army about what led the Chinese army to occupy Indian land. Or is this just a Chinese continuance to continue with their objective of ‘salami slicing’?

The PLA is into ‘salami slicing’ of Indian territory with a definite design (such as blocking Indian access to the Karakoram Pass). Such activity is not purposeless.

Why has the government’s response to China been so muted in contrast to the chest thumping that goes on each time something happens along our border with Pakistan?

This reluctance to respond forcefully to Chinese PLA provocations and outright aggression has as much to do with Prime Minister Modi personally, as with the institutional mindset of the MEA or even the Indian Army.

They are scarred by the 1962 War and are still cowed by China.

In retrospect, what exactly was discussed between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping at their 18 meetings prior to this standoff?
Can this be seen as another betrayal by the Chinese as happened in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962?

Look, the Chinese negotiating tactics are always to first delineate the border as per historic claims and then to change the status quo on the ground to conform with those territorial claims.

The rest is artful waffling and stretching the negotiation in time and space to hope that the other side loses patience and gives in.

Zhou Enlai in the 1950s did offer Nehru a territorial swap — recognition of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh for Indian acceptance of the Aksai Chin the PLA had built the Xinjiang Highway through.

That was not a bad deal for Nehru to have accepted then. He didn’t.

IMAGE: General Pande interacts with Indian troops posted in Ladakh. Photograph: ANI Photo/Indian Army twitter

Was it a prudent decision to have given up the Kailash Range getting little in return? What is our actual position today in Hot Springs and the Depsang Plain?

It was the biggest strategic blunder the Modi regime committed by agreeing to withdraw the Special Frontier Force unit from the heights in exchange for paltry returns — the PLA’s drawing back eastwards a bit from the terrain feature Finger 3 on Pangong Lake’s northern shore.

Again I had warned against this unequal deal.

IMAGE: Prime Minister N D Modi and Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist party and president of the People’s Republic of China, at their informal summit in Mamallapuram, October 12, 2019. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Trade with China continues to grow with India hardly being in a position to stop its dependence on Chinese imports. Is there any serious attempt to curtail Chinese imports?

Indian imports in trillions of rupees from China are growing by nearly 50% annually, and the repatriation of profits in billions of dollars in hard currency by Chinese companies is keeping pace.

It is among the bright spots in the current Chinese economy and something Beijing would not like to disturb.

Reason why the PLA is pretty quiet in Ladakh even in the summer military campaign season.

Delhi can change this situation in a trice, but percieves Chinese exports to India as negotiating leverage with Xi Jinping, which it is loath to give up.

Is it not time for the political leadership to come forward and take charge instead of leaving this issue to the generals especially given the fact that China has changed the goalposts?

Let’s be clear: It is Modi, and Modi alone, who is responsible in toto for India’s foreign and military policies. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is just the medium and has no say in these matters other than overseeing their conduct and implementation; and army generals have even less of a role.

Published in Rediff News, July 13,

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.
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13 Responses to Interview on China and developments in Ladakh — Rediff News

  1. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    ‘They are scarred by the 1962 War and are still cowed by China.’

    This statement is not correct. India gave a befitting reply to China during the 1967 border clash between these two sides.

    Why the Indian establishment remains silent about the aforesaid victory?

    This is something which should be highlighted prominently across all sections of the Indian society.

    • Considering the record, the 1967 confrontation seems to have been a one-off thing and only because then Maj General Sagat Singh — who as a Lieutenant General commanding IV Corps and the real hero of the 1971 War, was GOC, 17 Mtn Div at Nathu La.

  2. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    The Chinese gave an excellent opportunity to the Indian forces during the June 2020 clash.

    They attacked with stones, barbed wire laced sticks and other medieval era weapons. What stopped the Indian army from unleashing their guns on PLA?

    The 1,000-odd sq kms in the area northeast of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plain is gone from India’s control forever.

    The Chinese will not vacate it because if they do then the PLA which lost approximately 50 odd soldiers during the aforesaid clashes (mostly drowned in the river while retreating back) will get highly upset with the Chinese political leadership.

    Therefore these meaningless rounds of talks between China and India will continue forever without any positional change on the ground.

  3. Amit says:

    You accept that that the Indian defence industry is not up to the mark, Indian infrastructure on the border is still a work in process, the Indian economy is still recovering from COVID and oil prices are sky high which further constrain the Indian economy. On top of it, you are also not for closer cooperation with the US, and propose a Quad plus, minus the US (though you also support the off shore balancing role of the US). Then you also have the balancing act with the US and Russia, where India needs to be a swing player and therefore cannot be too antagonistic with China. Pray Professor, please explain how a more aggressive stance against China is feasible in such a situation? Even if the Indian military has become more ‘offensive’ than defensive in recent years. Are you suggesting instigating a war with China? The US would like nothing more than this!

  4. Sankar says:

    “Zhou Enlai in the 1950s did offer Nehru a territorial swap — recognition of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh for Indian acceptance of the Aksai Chin the PLA had built the Xinjiang Highway through.
    That was not a bad deal for Nehru to have accepted then. He didn’t.” –

    In my understanding of the records available in the public domain, Chou-en-Lai’s so-called “deal” was on a cryptic map of the Indo-Tibet boundary. When Delhi pursued to clear up the matter by questioning Beijing for the details, the real trap for India set by China became clear one by one – China was changing the map every time a joint meeting was held between the officials of Delhi and Peking which pushed the boundary deep inside India – Brahmaputra valley gone, Ladak gone and so on. until it dawned onto Delhi the perfidy of the Chinese. There have been a number of joint meetings held between Delhi and Peking to resolve this but to no avail. It was then that PM Nehru turned back and stood firm on the decision to defend India’s “boundary”. The point is he realized that historically there was no boundary between China and India – India’s northern boundary was with Tibet drawn by the British Raj’s record – the McMahon line! The reality was China has invaded Tibet to which Nehru had acquiesced in 1949.

    I fail to understand when the Indians say that the McMahon Line is a British legacy and dismiss the fact that Peking invaded Lhasa. It is on the basis of the same McMahon line that China has settled her boundary with Myanmar (Burmah). And what was the cartographic basis on which Pakistan signed a treaty with China to cede the Shaksgam Valley in Kashmir? Remember when some years back when Beijing invaded Vietnam, the Hanoi Radio blared repeatedly that the Chines are “professional liars”.

    In sum, I hold the view that Nehru made initial blunders in believing the Chinese and propagating “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai”, but finally he was absolutely right in rejecting that deal of Chou-en-Lai and fighting China in 1962. The tragedy is that Indian morale broke down to continue the 1962 war when China called a “truce”. Had India then decided the fight China to the end, the table could have turned on China to deliver a bloody nose. There are accounts in IDR appearing over the years that lead to such an assessment. Alas, Modi has stepped into the shoes of Nehru and is continuing the same “Hindi Chini bhai bhai” in modern times. I guess, it boils down to the genes of Hindus the absence of “killer instinct”. And without that character strength, India can never be a “superpower” in the world at large. Nevertheless, one must acknowledge that in our times there has been one exception – Indira Gandhi.

  5. Ayush says:

    @Dr Karnad,
    I am assuming that your assertion that “modi and modi alone is responsible for pol-mil policy” is based on your well known connections/sources.However,if this indeed is true than its perfect recipe for a national cataclysm. For modi has at best a dubious matriculation degree and has zero background .He, I am sure is blissfully unaware of the bare alphabets of modern warfare.He wasted the first six critical years of his regime in “song and boat” diplomacy.Had he kick started the current modernization program back then,we would have been in an excellent position by now.The chinese lack of respect for the indian is purely because of the lack of credible military deterrence which we are currently scrambling to build at break neck speed.His only attempt at using hardpower spectacularly backfired in OP Swift retort.But then again,how can one expect the H’onble PM to know what Network centric warfare or “Software DEF RAIDOS” are.Whether team Modi admits it or not, the drubbing they received at the hands of PAF makes them think ten times before using force and that too against China.SFFs manouvers at Kailash heights was purely a “non kinetic” show of force.Ideally, our response our response should have involved massive cyber attacks,destruction of a few chinese spy satellites using ASAT weapons as a warning.That’s the “high tech” language PLA understands.They could have easily blanketed the kailash ranges with heavy arty and made “sushi” out of the SFF,their would have no response from our side.Modi’s failure to kickstart mil modrenization in 2014 and also to read Xi’s intentions early on were a most criminal mistake due to which we currently face a near existential threat.Fortunately, “baniya” modi is using trade to atleast postpone a rather inevitable military confrontation with the PLA.

  6. From Joydeep Sircar:
    bharat karnad
    Fri, 15 July at 9:01 am

    Brilliant expose of Modi’s cowardice. The Savarkarite RSS worldview saw Muslims as enemy but had no perception of China as a dangerous foe. Modi has gujju bania genes that predisposes him to hug and crawl rather than stand up and fight. His primary agenda is his own political survival, not standing up for lndia at the LAC. He correctly percieves that the mass of the lndians know little and care less about the LAC and Chinese salami-slicing.

    J. Sircar

    • whatsinitanyway says:

      Gandhi Patel Jinnah all had Gujju baniya genes … and kow towing is a very Indian thing, Manmohan Ji is Sikh, he called for restraint after 26/11. Tamil leaders were complicit with LiTTE. Bengalis caved in front of English first. Malik Kaifur was a Maratha converted to Islam, raided kingdoms as deep as Madurai. Man Singh the deft Rajput general who was the goto guy for Mughals to subjugate other kingdoms including other Rajputs. Unfortunately in CE the ones who stood up were exceptions rather than the norm. The Pakistanis having the same genes kow tow to all the possible outsiders just to get even with India.

  7. nileshko says:

    Owing to the Indian habit of discarding one’s own and donning adversary’s(superior’s?) culture and language, one finds it hard to take the Indian concerns about the China’s rise seriously. What is it that the Chinese are going to do to us that we haven’t already done to ourselves or are in the process of doing. which cultural-linguistic identity the Chinese imperium will desprive us of that we haven’t already forsaken. China may want to hanify the northern border but the destruction of the cultural-linguistic ethos of the nation was carried out by the brown-westerners. How one is going to convince the natives to worry about the Chinese when they’re already under the jackboot of western neocolonialism, whereby they are forced to learn the master’s language and culture or else abondon any hope of good employment. Should they be blamed for their indifference towards the prospect of Chinafication of Westernized-India, after all Mandarine, unlike English, is far more colorful and poetic language, Chinese culture too is similar to our own.
    Worrying about the Chinese while being the subject of western neocolonialism is equivalent to worrying about the Mughals while getting crushed by the Delhi Sultanate.

  8. Amit says:

    India’s treatment of China fundamentally changed after Doklam. Prior to that India did not consider China to be a major threat and there was talk of Chindia, Asian century etc. etc. Your warnings about the threat from China for 20 years prior, made eminent sense. The babus and political class in India were in some kind of a stupor. Mr. Modi ignored defence reforms in his first term and there was a revolving door in defence ministers.

    But now, India rightly sees China as its main threat. For this we have the Chinese to thank as on their own, the Indian political class and babus would never have changed their minds about China. The Chinese made two attempts to dominate India – 2017 and 2020. They failed! It is unlikely the Chinese will attempt a military adventure in the near future as India has responded fairly well. Not well enough to meet the jingoistic aspirations of many here, but well enough that they will be extremely wary of another military tussle.

    Also, the existential threat that India faces from China will likely prod India to make real defence reforms. Never before has India faced such a credible, massive and consistent military threat as from modern communist China. So while no one had any reason to be optimistic about India, the existential threat that many Indians see from China will lead to some real reform. And so far the Indian economy has held up reasonably well to the several shocks it has received (some self inflicted). I’m in the optimist camp about Indian military strength and it’s ability to handle China.

  9. Sankar says:


    This link is from the horse’s mouth – hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil (about China)!
    What can one conclude about India’s Statecraft? How shameless the power holders in Delhi can be – the shepherds in upper Ladakh are routinely losing their pasture land for grazing and the villagers are uprooted from their land as the PLA is encroaching year by year in its salami slicing as exposed in this article.

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