Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Cameraperson: Abhishek Ranjan
Graphics: Aroop Mishra
Yeh Jo China Hai Na… it is saying to us – Galwan Valley clashes were India’s fault, the LAC is not where you Indians think it is, Pangong, ho ya Depsang, we believe the Chinese army is on Chinese soil, that’s not Indian soil, and so we’re not pulling back... Kar lo jo karna hai!
China’s ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, has repeated China’s new stand that:
- At the Galwan Valley, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is at the point where the Galwan river meets the Shyok river, six to seven kilometres west of India’s view of the LAC.
- At Pangong lake, too, defence expert Manoj Joshi says that after claiming since 1960 that the LAC was at Finger 5, China now claims the LAC to be at Finger 2,15 kilometres west of India’s LAC claim at Finger 8.
So naturally, China now says that “disengagement is almost complete” at the LAC because now, after shifting the LAC ‘westwards’, according to them, the land they occupy is Chinese territory.
China's Made New LAC Claims While India Sat at the Negotiation Table in Good Faith
Satellite pictures accessed by India Today show that China has now added dozens of Pre-Fabricated huts between Finger 5 and 6 – clear plans for troops to permanently stay there. They have extended the jetties on the lake, added many more boats, and they still occupy the ridges of Finger 4.
And of course, in the even more sensitive area of Depsang, which we don’t even seem to have discussed at the negotiations, the Chinese are again several kilometres inside Indian territory, blocking our troops from reaching patrol points 10, 11, 12 and 13.
And do note, all this – the new LAC claims, adding Chinese troops on Indian territory – has happened in the last few weeks, even as India has sat at the negotiation table in good faith.
China Uses ‘Negotiations’ Only to Buy Time: Experts
In fact, defence expert Brahma Chellaney has repeatedly said that China uses ‘negotiations’ only to buy time. And during that time, they make new claims, bring in troops and weaponry to create a new status quo and make it unalterable.
Even though China has signed 3 agreements – in 1993, 1996, and 2005, committing itself to clarify where their LAC claim is, last week, once again, China’s ambassador said that China will not put its LAC claim down on a map.
While we keep talking about status quo ante, the positions that both sides held in April, China has made it clear – there is no going back to that.
India’s Army Chief during the Kargil War General VP Malik has also called the negotiations a ‘delaying tactic.’
While senior former diplomats, Shyam Saran and Kanwal Sibal both say that dislodging the Chinese from the positions that they now occupy, getting even more solidly entrenched as each day passes, will be difficult.
What Are India’s Options?
So what are India’s options? While economic de-coupling is an option, provided its carefully planned and followed, here, we’re going to look at military and diplomatic options and the challenges of pursuing each option. In terms of military strategy, here are retired Lt Gen HS Panag’s suggestions:
Military Strategy #1: Push for Status Quo Ante With or Without Buffer Zones at the Negotiation Table
Push for status quo ante with or without buffer zones at the negotiation table, as has been achieved at Galwan Valley, where China has pulled back and there is now a 4 kilometre buffer zone in place.
Military Strategy #2: Prepare for 'Fortress Defence' of Areas Likely to Be Isolated & Attacked
Prepare for “fortress defence” of areas likely to be isolated and attacked – meaning DBO-Depsang-Galwan Sector, Hot Springs-Gogra Sector and Pangong Lake. Add soldiers, weapons, infrastructure at each on a large-scale and permanent basis, giving them the ability to defend and counter-attack.
Military Strategy #3: Deploy More Forces at Chushul Sector, Indus Valley Sector & Chumar Sector
Raise deployment of forces in the Chushul, Indus River Valley and Chumar Sectors, for counter-offensives, if needed.
The challenge here is cost – financial and human. Since 1984, we have lost 900 soldiers at the 76-kilometre Siachen Glacier, which is at over 17,000 feet. Deploying 30,000 troops across hundreds of kilometres at over 14,000 feet, will cost the lives of many more of our soldiers.
Financially, too, we will need better all-weather roads, living quarters for thousands, thousands of tons of food and fuel, to reach these remote areas daily.
Defence Purchases are Expensive
As General Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff has himself conceded – out of India’s $66 billion defence budget:
- A huge 82 percent goes in salaries and pensions
- Just 17 percent or roughly $12 billion is left to buy weapons and equipment, for all the three forces
And defence purchases are expensive – the 5 Rafale aircraft we have just bought cost almost half a billion dollars. With the economy already in a bad shape, worsened by the pandemic, raising emergency funds will be tough.
And the Chinese are aware of these constraints and so, they will be stubborn at the negotiations and at the LAC.
India Must Strongly Rely on Diplomatic Strategy: Experts
Moving on, most experts say, even as we build strong military deterrence at the LAC, we must rely most on diplomatic strategy – get China to see the high diplomatic cost of occupying Indian territory, and return to the pre-April 2020 positions.
India’s strongest diplomatic lever at the moment is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad, an alliance of the US, Japan, Australia and India. All four nations now finally making it much clearer that China is the adversary.
Experts say India must up its commitment to the Quad by:
- Taking part in naval exercises in the South China Sea
- Getting Australia to join the annual Malabar Naval exercise that already has the US, Japan and India
- Possibly offering naval facilities to the Quad at the Andaman & Nicobar islands.
The Andaman & Nicobar islands lie just a few hundred kilometres north of the Malacca strait and 80 percent of China’s oil supplies pass through here. If India were to ramp up its naval capacity at the Nicobar islands, pose a clear threat to Chinese shipping, backed by the navies of the Quad, it could put serious pressure on China to withdraw from Indian land at the LAC. Estimates suggest it could cost China upto 200 billion dollars a year if their ships were forced to take a longer route due to pressure from India.
China is Not Sitting Idle
But China, too, is not sitting idle. For example, look at the China-Iran relations:
- Reports say China plans to invest $400 billion dollars in Iran, the most China has pledged to any country in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- China will also station 5,000 Chinese security personnel to protect its investments in Iran, which include developing the port city of Jask.
Between Jask, the port of Gwadar in Pakistan, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor of CPEC, China could route a lot of its oil imports overland, and rely less on the Malacca strait. Last year, the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian navies held a joint exercise in the Indian Ocean, signalling a potential counter-balance to the Quad.
India Has Been Slack in Its Relationship With Iran
By contrast, India has been slack in its relationship with Iran. In 2016, Iran had tied up with India to develop its Chabahar port, and build a rail-link to Afghanistan, an apt counter-balance to China’s presence at Gwadar, also giving Indian goods overland access to Central Asia, by-passing Pakistan.
But India has gone slow on the project and last month, Iran suddenly dropped India from the railway project and China has stepped up and offered to help instead.
Yeh Jo India Hai Na… the way forward for it to deal with China is not easy. But if we demonstrate the will and the clarity… it can be done.
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