India and China signed the historic Panchsheel agreement on 29 April 1954 which enshrined the five principles of mutual co-existence. That certainly didn’t help build any bridges and couldn’t stop the Sino-Indian war of October 1962 that killed hundreds on both sides.
Almost 58 years later, India and China have reached a five-point consensus in the meeting between Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. The five points broadly speak about continuation of dialogue, disengagement at the border, not allowing differences to become disputes, respecting past border agreements and new trust-building measures.
Jaishankar in the more than two-hour long meeting is believed to have strongly raised concerns on aggression by Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh and stressed on the need to maintain peace and tranquility.
The Indian Foreign Minister vehemently rejected China’s allegation that Indian troops crossed LAC on the night of 29 and 30 August.
India accused China of changing the status quo unilaterally through aggression and asked Beijing to immediately move back its troops from the areas where they are stationed presently in an eyeball to eyeball situation with the Indian troops.
The Immediate Task Before New Delhi
Indian Government believes that the provocative behaviour of the Chinese frontline troops at numerous incidents of friction along the LAC also showed disregard for bilateral agreements and protocols.
The immediate task New Delhi feels is to ensure a comprehensive disengagement of troops in all the friction areas. That is necessary to prevent any untoward incident in the future.
Jaishankar also emphasised that the Indian troops had scrupulously followed all agreements and protocols pertaining to the management of the border areas. Indian Army doesn’t want to escalate and has no intent to change the status quo but shall defend its territory, come what may, without an offensive intent.
Jaishankar’s meeting with Wang Yi in Moscow comes days after Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his counterpart at the latter’s request in Moscow on the sidelines of the SCO meeting and both sides decided to keep the communication lines open.
While the diplomatic and military parleys continue, the PLA troops of China in the Pangong Tso area have been strategising desperately to capture some of the Indian heights in the area for military dominance. The Indian Army, however, has outsmarted the Chinese learning its lessons after the Galwan Valley violent face-off in which India lost 20 of its soldiers.
Changes in How India Militarily Deals With Beijing
Over the last more than four months, Ladakh has been an unprecedented focus in national and international media because of fresh border tensions between India and China which began with casualties on both sides in the Galwan Valley, resulting in diplomatic as well as military standoff between the two nuclear-armed nations.
India initially failed to check Chinese aggression and was caught unprepared to tackle the bully. The violent episode, however, changed in many ways not just the China policy for New Delhi but also how India would deal with Beijing militarily at the LAC.
On the night of 29 August, a specialised unit of Special Frontier Force (SFF) which comprises mainly of the Tibetan soldiers and reports directly to Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), carried out a very challenging operation after India pre-empted that the Chinese were about to carry out transgression in the South of Pangong.
New Delhi in the darkness of the night put its best mountaineers and skilled soldiers in duty to capture three important heights for strategic dominance and successfully achieved the same before morning of 30 August. By late afternoon of 30 August, specialised equipment and ammunition including tanks were also pressed at those heights.
Beijing was caught napping for the first time, and quite expectedly in a furious tone asked New Delhi to vacate the territory which it called Chinese. New Delhi in response asked China to avoid indulging in further aggression to maintain peace. India also termed it as safeguarding its territory and national interests. Indian Army called it a purely defensive measure taken after observation of troop and tank movement on the Chinese side.
Contributions of SFF
India’s never seen before operation in the South of Pangong Tso, however, led to a causality.
Even though SFF has made many sacrifices in the last many decades, their operations and existence has mostly remained a mystery.
Known as the best mountaineers and ruthless in the defence of their territory in the most difficult terrain, the SFF almost entirely comprises of Tibetan refugees in exile, settled in India.
While Indian Government has remained silent on the operation where SFF Commando Nyima Tenzin was Killed In Action (KIA) for operational and national security reasons, tales of his bravery are being narrated by proud fellow Tibetans across the world.
“He was a very brave commando. Tibetan by blood but Indian at heart. He died in the line of duty on 29 August night during an operation near the Blacktop peak around the South Bank of Pangong when he stepped on an old anti-personnel mine which was put by Chinese PLA around 1962,” revealed a source.
Buddhist chants resonated across Choglamsar of Leh in the wee hours of 7 September as the mortal remains of Special Frontier Force (SFF) soldier Company Leader Nyima Tenzin were taken out from his home at the Tibetan Refugee Settlement for his last journey.
Thousands waited on the streets at around 7 in the morning to get their last glimpse of the Tibetan hero who was draped in both Tibetan as well as Indian national flag. The mortal remains were taken around the entire area and even touched the Headquarters of Vikas Regiment also known as Establishment 2-2, the secret Tibetan guerrilla squad which played a significant role in the recent repositioning and strategic mobilisation at the Pangong Tso by India.
First Time in 45 Years, Firing at LAC
The Chinese were in no mood to simply digest being outsmarted by a Tibetan Indian force.
On 7 September, Chinese PLA tried to yet again show aggression and used medieval weapons with sharp blades against Indian forces to enter Indian territory illegally and forcefully. The incident led to firing from both sides. It was for the first time in 45 years that a raging Sino-Indian conflict led to firing at the LAC.
Although China termed it as warning shots in the air, New Delhi outrightly rejected the charge and blamed China for violating bilateral understanding of no-firing at the borders.
Sources in the national security apparatus in New Delhi indicate that Indian Army in the last few days has further strengthened its position on several peaks on both North and South of the Pangong Tso even though there has been stiff resistance from the Chinese PLA.
India has also massively carried out redeployments of troops and readjusted them at strategic heights and points along the LAC to dominate over the Chinese. Looking at a long haul and the upcoming winters, massive preparations are underway to keep stocks and logistics for the troops in abundant supply along with the required artillery and ammunition.
The formal induction of Rafale has been keenly observed the world over and it’s only imminent that the omni role twin engine air dominance jet would be pressed into Ladakh as well.
On the other hand, the shrill media posturing from China and its loud statements indicate that both countries are at the brink of a war.
Yet, Beijing doesn’t realise that its expansionist tendencies and hegemonic approach won’t be tolerated anymore by India or the world and hence, slowly China is being isolated globally by major powers be it due to its actions in the South China Sea or the LAC transgression. Or for that matter the human rights violations against its own so called people in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. The coronavirus pandemic outbreak and the lackadaisical approach by China, too, has led to a global condemnation of Beijing.
Setback to Xi’s China Dream?
China seems to have taken the old adage of Sun Tzu that ‘all warfare is based on deception’ a little too seriously.
Empty threats through Chinese state media to put India in a spot has long failed as a concrete long-term strategy. The psychological warfare through military drill videos and warnings isn’t going to work anymore. In the process, China itself has all this while been hiding the number of casualties it faced in the violent face-off along the LAC with India.
For now New Delhi will have to tackle the wolf warrior diplomacy of the Chinese and be ready for any full scale eventuality. Beijing’s predominant fear has been the Aksai Chin which connects Tibet with Xinjiang, and with Indian Army’s stronghold over Ladakh there would remain a permanent threat for Beijing in the strategically important area.
India has shown its national resolve to not compromise on its territorial integrity. It has also shown a national will to walk the extra mile if need be to counter Chinese expansionism and provocation.
Yet both New Delhi and Beijing are on a rough pitch with no country willing to compromise or take a step back and resolve the face-off through a peaceful dialogue.
While India’s latest move in Eastern Ladakh is a clear message to Xi Jinping to keep his China dream under check, only time will tell if at all India can trust the dragon on the dialogue table?
For now diplomacy is the way forward but the two months to the onset of winter shall remain critical to decide the future of India-China relations that have taken a nose-dive and New Delhi’s fresh punch to the CPC may end up in unforeseeable outcomes. For now, however, Xi Jinping has lost face since the PLA failed to anticipate India’s surprise moves in the South of Pangong Two in Eastern Ladakh.
The question however remains: Will Xi be able to take the setback to his China Dream and the rejuvenation plan?
(Aditya Raj Kaul has a decade’s worth of experience in covering conflict, internal security and foreign policy for various national media outlets. He tweets at @AdityaRajKaul.)
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