Decoding India-China Standoff at the LAC
Lt Gen AS Bedi (Retd.)

Recently, a distinguished author in an article in a prominent Indian newspaper while giving a detailed account of the India China border dispute has brought out some pertinent and relevant facts. However, while the facts may be appropriate, these have been used in a warped context to present an alarmist picture of the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Western Sector. Observation in the instant article that China having gained control of massive disputed territory since 1980s as a result of India following a policy of “Differing Perceptions of LAC” is not borne by the facts on the ground. In the Western Sector India has been following the policy of exercising control up to the limit, identified by various patrolling points. These patrolling points have been identified by the China Study Group after due diligence keeping various attendant factors in mind. This control has not been diluted in any manner and the current incident is a fall out of Indian troops adhering to this policy.

The genesis of the present day standoff can be attributed to the infrastructure development by India in the border areas especially in the Galwan Valley and faster reaction capability of Indian military personnel as an outcome of the same. A comparative analysis of the previous stand offs of 2013 in Depsang, 2014 in Chumar and the present day action in Ladakh throw up a large number of similarities. The 2014 standoff, was triggered by the Chinese desire to overcome the handicap it had as compared to the Indians in the area. In Chumar, India had a motorable road right up to their perception of the LAC, whereas the Chinese had to patrol on foot in the same area. Efforts to construct the road by the Chinese when opposed led to the faceoff.

China has had an early mover’s advantage as far as border infrastructure is concerned. At majority of the places in the Western Sector, starting from Samar Lungpa in the North till Demchok, they have motorable roads up till the Line of Actual Control which have been continuously upgraded with time. The sole location, Chumar, where the Chinese tried to remedy the disadvantage they had led to confrontation, when Indian troops stood by their red line and prevented the road construction. This asymmetry in border infrastructure all across suited the Chinese designs as long as India did not upset the equation by building infrastructure in the forward areas.

The efforts to upgrade own infrastructure in forward areas have been happening in bits and pieces. The Chinese have been opposing those depending on the degree of advantage it gives to the Indian troops and likely effect on their border activities. This principle is evident in the confrontational attitude undertaken by the Chinese in the recent years in all the three Sectors of the LAC.

The Chinese have been upgrading their capability of surveillance as well as action on ground in the Pangong Tso lake area over a period of time. They have created a pressure point for India here by preventing Indian efforts to patrol up till their traditional point at Finger 8 area. Indian measures to relieve this pressure point have not borne fruits physically as well as through Border talks’ mechanism.

Indian troops have been handicapped in their activities in the Northern areas of Sub Sector North for long due to limited access because of lack of a suitable road connectivity. The situation became grave during the summer season when it was impossible to cross the Shyok River thereby cutting off the complete Sub Sector North and virtually making it an island. The scenario, however, changed last year when Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road got completed. This single feat, achieved afterherculean effort opened up multiple options for India to access the LAC in a faster time framein the Northern areas.

As a follow up step, as also to neutralise pressure points in other areas, India graduated to construction of feeder roads from the main artery of DSDBO road up to its perception of the LAC. The current flare up started on one such avenue along the construction in the Galwan Valley. This is when the Chinese saw apple cart of their advantage getting upset and decided to up the ante by opposing the same physically.
As has been the wont in previous times, the area of confrontation usually gets enlarged by either party to exercise pressure on the adversary. Chinese resorted to this tactics in 2013 as well as 2014 by encompassing Chumar and Demchok on these occasions. In the earlier instances of face-offs as well as Doklam crisis, China has also felt the handicap of troop strength as well as capability to push their designs. It appears that they have learnt their lessons and have taken measures like stationing larger number of troops as well as military equipment nearer to the LAC to overcome these deficiencies. This new found confidence has also brought in added aggressiveness in their behaviour.

Seeing the much greater adverse cost benefit analysis this time, the Chinese have not only reacted to the particular spot in the Galwan Valley but also enlarged the area to include Hot spring, Pangong Tso and Demchok areas. These are the same areas where the Chinese have managed to preserve their advantageous position till now.

The present face off in Western Sector, though much larger in scope does not principally differ in content from the earlier ones. Also to link the activity in Nakula in North Sikkim to the developments in Western Sector may not be logical. The ante has been upped by the Chinese in Nakula for some time, probably to relieve pressure from the Plateau Area where they find themselves at a disadvantage.

The trajectory of current developments points towards a much higher level of planning and coordination rather than mere exuberance by some local commander. However, while the Dragon may have been baring its fangs in the South China Sea, the motives here appear much more limited and not necessarily linked to larger territorial gains.

Well established mechanisms at military, diplomatic and political level must be leveraged to resolve the issue. While military efforts appear to have not borne any fruits, diplomatic channels and if required political channels need to be opened up earliest for consultations. It would be in India’s interest to stand its ground and not buckle under pressure from the Chinese as they have the habit of taking a step back only when steel is met by steel.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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