‘China Wants To keep India On The Hook’

Interview of Bharat Karnad published in Rediff News, September 12, 2022 08:54 IST at

https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/bharat-karnad-china-wants-to-keep-india-on-the-hook/20220912.htm

‘This was Indian land the PLA advanced on and occupied.’
‘The Chinese then ‘negotiated’ a pullback of their troops a small distance on Indian territory even as Indian jawans draw back further into India from the forward position.’
‘An apparently satisfied Indian government says this is a great move for peace! How great is that for China!’

IMAGE: September 11, 2022: Army Chief General Manoj Chandrasekhar Pande on his visit to Ladakh to witness Exercise Parvat Prahar. General Pande was briefed on operational preparedness by commanders on the ground. Photograph: ADG PI – Indian Army/Twitter

“This is only a shallow disengagement conceded for immediate political gain, namely, Modi’s presence at the SCO heads of government meeting,” Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, tells Rediff.com‘s Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

“It is neither a permanent withdrawal nor the harbinger of a more enduring arrangement and, even less, a first step in the process of formally delineating a boundary which does not serve Beijing’s purpose,” he adds.

How far can the present Gogra disengagement be seen as a positive step, breaking of the gridlock as it were, or is it being done keeping the SCO meet in mind?

This disengagement, while good in itself in that it reduces the possibility of armed units of the two sides coming quite literally to blows with proximal patrolling, is essentially a Chinese attempt to see the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit mid-September pass off without incident.

It also seems like a placatory or even an incentivising move to ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the heads of government meeting.

Beijing continues to claim that the April 2020 status quo is a result of India’s illegal crossing of the Line of Actual Control and is therefore not acceptable to China.

This is the offensive negotiating strategy Beijing has always adopted in a nutshell — claim that because it is India that has intruded into Chinese territory, it is Indian troops that need to vacate all the land they have illegally occupied or encroached upon, thereby reinforcing its claims on Indian territory.

And because, the MEA/Indian government never asserts its own position in equally blunt manner, in the optics of this confrontation, it is India that ends up looking like the aggressor!

Will this disengagement which incidentally only involves only the going back of 50 troops on both sides lead to greater de-escalation of troops or is this only another ploy by the Chinese?

The first thing to keep in mind is that this withdrawal by both sides is happening on Indian territory!

This was Indian land the PLA advanced on and occupied. The Chinese then ‘negotiated’ a pullback of their troops a small distance on Indian territory even as Indian jawans draw back further into India from the forward position.

An apparently satisfied Indian government says this is a great move for peace! How great is that for China!

In any case, this is only a shallow disengagement conceded by the Chinese for immediate political gain, namely, Modi’s presence at the SCO heads of government meeting in Samarkand.

It is neither a permanent withdrawal nor the harbinger of a more enduring arrangement and, even less, a first step in the process of formally delineating a boundary which does not serve Beijing’s purpose.

It is better to keep the dispute on simmer, bring the situation occasionally to boil, and keep India on the hook,

IMAGE: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake area in eastern Ladakh, February 16, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Depsang Plains area remains a critical flashpoint. This area has seen massive deployment and buildup of Chinese troops since May 2020. Do you see any signs of this being resolved.

No. Because the capture of the Depsang Bulge is critical in military geography terms to the People’s Liberation Army holding on to — and thus denying to India — the vast border frontage northeast of the Y-Junction, on the northern shore of the Shyok river and adjoining the southern Tibet area through which passes the Xinjiang Highway (GS 219).

The significance here is that the GS 219 bifurcates at the Karakoram Pass to become the arterial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor terminating in the warm water port of Gwadar on the Balochistan coast.

Were India to retake this sub-sector on the Line of Actual Control, it would have a stranglehold on the highway — the lifeline to Xinjiang, and the Karakorum Pass, which China will not allow.

Hence, the PLA will never pull back from its foward position in the Depsang Plains.

IMAGE: General Pande interacts with officers and troops in Ladakh. Photograph: ADG PI – Indian Army/Twitter

The Chinese army continues to block the Indian Army to their traditional PPs 10,11,12,13 since April 2020 having moved 18 km inside what India considers to be its own territory…

Because all these patrolling points are in the area northeast of the Y-Junction pivotal, for reasons alluded to in my response to the previous question, to the PLA and China.

The basic problem for India has always been to hold the nearly 500 km-long line — Daulat Beg Oldi-Demchok in the Depsang Plains, in which mission the army has manifestly failed, losing ground over the years in small parcels until now when the PLA has annexed and absorbed some 1,000 sq kms in this whole sub-sector.

If Modi-Jaishankar (Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar) somehow get President Xi Jinping to agree to a ‘restoration of the status quo ante‘ involving this piece of territory, it will be a very tremendous diplomatic feat.

The Chinese have built massive infrastructure in eastern Ladakh which includes a key bridge in the Pangong Tso area. Also, they have doubled the deployment of fighter aircraft in the Eastern Ladakh sector.
What has our response been to this?

The Pangong bridge constructed on the north shore to connect their garrisons in the Khurnak Fort area to Moldo will cut the PLA forces’s transit time from one to the other area from a couple of days to only a few hours.

And the PLA Air Force bases have gone up from three to 30 in the southern Tibet region, and increased deployment from some 30 combat aircraft to reportedly as many as 300 combat aircraft.

The IAF’s response, insofar as what can be made out, is the occasional aircraft sortie along the southern Pangong Lake shore with extreme care taken to offer the PLAAF no provocation. This is in reaction to the PLA Air Force combat aircraft flying well beyond the Line of Actual Control into Indian territory almost at will and unmolested by IAF.

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

China is not at all happy to see the growing closeness developing between Japan and India on military matters including conducting joint military drills and advancing their security relationship.

I have always maintained that China and the PLA are spooked by two countries: Vietnam, who gave the PLA a bloody hiding in 1979 when they deigned to invade northern Vietnam to, what else, ‘teach Hanoi a lesson’ and instead were taught one.

It was an embarrassing defeat and the PLA hightailed it out of the battle areas.

And the other is a militarised Japan.

The ‘rape of Nanjing’ and the horrors committed against the Chinese population by the Japanese imperial land forces have so seared the Chinese consciousness, Beijing still has nightmares.

And so I have long advocated that India should do every thing possible to stoke these Chinese fears.

It ought to urge Tokyo rapidly to build up militarily — a process already initiated by the late prime minister Abe Shinzo, and offer strategic nuclear cooperation with Japan in whatever form (and to Taiwan).

And nuclear missile arm Vietnam as payback for Beijing’s equipping Pakistan with nuclear missiles.

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, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indo-Pacific, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, nonproliferation, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, South Asia, South East Asia, Taiwan, Tibet, Vietnam, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to ‘China Wants To keep India On The Hook’

  1. Deepak says:

    Sir,official line is there is no loss of territory in Ladakh under Modi. If you question more then they ll blame UPA.
    You have to fight if you want something, nothing comes for free but our leaders consider it is not worth fighting for a small piece of remote land and instead go for useless never ending talks to fool public that they are serious about territorial integrity of the country.
    On the one hand Modi is doing tokenism to remove symbols of colonial past but when Queen Elizabeth dies he declared 1 day mourning which is nothing but celebrating the colonial past.
    What is you opinion on India taking real steps to remove colonial symbols like coming out of common wealth which is nothing but league of countries still celebrating past slavery days.

    • After becoming a republic, India had no business remaining in the Commonwealth and accepting the English monarch as its head. But Nehru wanted certain benefits to continue and hence accepted membership. Getting out instantly is problematic, unless the political ground is prepared for such separation, which Modi should, perhaps, begin doing.

      • Deepak says:

        Queen Elizabeth is no more. Is this not the best time to come out of Commonwealth ?How many more generations of British royal family India is ready to serve even though only symbolic.

  2. Amit says:

    Professor,

    Now that I understand the US military strategy on China, and read more about Indian and US collaboration, it is clear that India is preparing to apply two front pressure on China (maybe even three front if you include the Malacca straits), and is working with the US on a ‘denial defense’ strategy as Elbridge Colby puts it.

    The current US denial defense strategy includes India as a key partner for the defense of the Indo Pacific with the US acting as an ‘external cornerstone balancer’. It is in US interests to see India develop as a strong military power in the Indian Ocean region. There is no doubt about this.

    The question that arises is whether the US will act in India’s defense in case China attacks India. Firstly, this is unlikely as fait accompli on Taiwan is the best Chinese strategy according to Elbridge Colby. So it is unlikely that China will attack India substantially before it acts on Taiwan. In fact, I do not think there will be anymore salami slicing tactics too as the Indian response in Galwan was fierce.

    Secondly, to recapture Depsang Plains (1000 sq. km) would be militarily costly for India (as is any recapture of territory) and could lead to escalation to a major war – India is not prepared to handle this situation currently as there is significant power imbalance. All those who are jumping up and down in these columns to demand immediate military action need to understand this.

    Thirdly, there is substantial collaboration going on with US armed forces even across the LAC. There are statements now being made about a two front situation for China – as opposed to just India facing a two front situation. This has some deterrence value.

    Fourthly, the US understands India’s intentions of being militarily self reliant. There is no cognitive dissonance regarding this in US military circles. And the US is acutely aware of ‘differentiated credibility’ with its allies and partners in the defense of Taiwan. Again, people should stop jumping up and down and stomp on their feet, on US reliability and its focus on defending Taiwan and its allies.

    In summary, Indian defense strategy on China, while not public, seems to be on the right track. I expect to see India hunkering down in the next few years and building its military capabilities to reduce the gap with China. And partner with the US and ASEAN states/Quad to build significant military deterrence. It seems like India is quite integrated with the US military on its denial defense strategy.

    • The problem with Colby’s “denial” strategy is that it is reactive. And in any case, denial is what the army has always prepared for by way of holding operations.

      • Amit says:

        Colby reads almost like a logician and his writing is sometimes hard to clearly follow, but he lays out why other strategies are less effective. His logic lays a lot of importance of the burden of escalation to be on China. The US will not go pre-emptive on China due to the massive risks involved, also taken for another country. Additionally, with denial defence, the US is being pretty proactive in denying China dual use technologies.

        As for India’s strategy, if China’s best military strategy is fait accompli in Taiwan (as Colby argues), it won’t start a war with India. Frankly, now even salami slicing is out of the question. India can go to war with China to recapture Depsang Plains or even Aksai Chin, but there is a power imbalance. The costs could be high and the outcome quite uncertain, especially as the burden of escalation would be on India. Why would India do this?

  3. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202209/1275048.shtml

    Modi will hug Xi Jinping and proclaim the same sentence, which he used during the height of second Corona wave in India during 2021; ‘sabb changaa si’

    The list of world leaders, who hugged Modi; Nawaz Shariff, Benjamin Nethanyahu, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Shinzo Abe.

    All of the aforesaid lost power and the last one even his life 🤔

  4. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    When any country is confused in the matter of knowledge, they look towards the vision of India, said Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak Dr Mohan Bhagwat in Ahmedabad Wednesday.

    An excerpt from;

    https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/world-looks-towards-the-vision-of-india-mohan-bhagwat-8151833/

    Why & how, any examples?

  5. Kunal Singh says:

    Here they debate that new aircraft carrier will be unoperational and wait for sufficient aircraft. What do u say?

    • Sankar says:

      Thank you for this link. To me, it is meant for only the “Hindi” speaking Indians as one of the experts (“Dr Shastry”) being interviewed was “curtly told” to swittch over to Hindi” as if the non-Hindi speaking Indians do not qualify to be the real “Indians” and consequently do not matter. I condemn this mindset of Hindi supremacy and am sure all right thinking Indians will stand up for this. It exposes the backwardness of the Hindi lobby Mind you Indian civilization and “Indianness” extend way beyond the Hindi heartland states in the north, south and east of the Indian subcontinent. It has not been worth my while to follow the interview and I switched off the You Tube. .

      • Kunal Singh says:

        Hindi was format of the discussion, u r deriving too much out of it btw interviewer supports non hindi language. But an observation, I see South Indians too much insecure about evil hindis(as no non hindi has lost their mother tongue by so called hindi imposition)so they adopt english from their colonial master to feel secure

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