Explained: Why China’s Aggression Against India Along The LAC Is A No-Win Game For Beijing
For China, the only way out of LAC face-off is a climbdown. Beijing would do well to learn its lessons and correct its stance towards India.
The continuing face-off between Indian and Chinese troops at some stretches along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh is not an isolated incident, and may not be the last such confrontation either.
That’s because Beijing has a sinister design in provoking such face-offs by sending its soldiers to aggressively patrol territories along the southern side of the undemarcated LAC. Its objective: to rattle India, wear it down and then force it to agree to halt upgrading its infrastructure along the LAC.
China, it is learnt, is ready to offer a deal to India in exchange for maintaining status quo along the LAC. The deal that Beijing plans to propose involves India halting construction of roads, bridges, advance landing grounds (ALGs), fortifications and other infrastructure near the 3488-kilometre long LAC from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
China, on its part, will offer to stop aggressively patrolling the border and maintain the status quo ante. Beijing has been resenting India’s efforts to upgrade infrastructure along this side of the LAC and is not too happy with India playing catch-up with it. China has already constructed very good roads and other infrastructure on its side, and is keen to not lose the infrastructure advantage it now enjoys over India.
Top army sources say that China stepped up its aggressive transgressions of the LAC ever since the 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road was operationalised last year. India has also stepped up construction of other strategic roads and infrastructure along the LAC, causing disquiet in Beijing which is allergic to any challenge to its regional hegemony.
China, thus, wants India to stop upgrading its infrastructure along the LAC. It has been protesting India’s projects, but New Delhi has studiously ignored those protests. The Chinese leadership thus felt that India needs to be arm-twisted to make it back off from playing catch-up with China.
Beijing knows only too well that PLA troops and its military hardware are thinly deployed along the LAC in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), as Chinese-occupied Tibet is called. India, on the other hand, has enough troops stationed along the LAC, especially in the western and eastern sectors.
Apart from infantry, India has a good deployment of artillery along the LAC. Also, India enjoys a distinct advantage over China as far as air power in those sectors is concerned. Despite all the hype over the PLA Air Force’s advanced fighters, it remains a fact that their performance gets compromised when operating from the Tibetan plateau with its average elevation of 14,700 feet. India is in an advantageous position here.
China has considerable military reserves in Tibet, but those are required to quell the sporadic rebellions that erupt in the restive Buddhist province it forcibly occupies. China suffers from the real fear that if it steps up aggression against India along the LAC, New Delhi could instigate dissident activities in Tibet.
Tibet is China’s prime vulnerability and decades of its brutal military repression have not succeeded in stamping out dissidence from the province. Beijing suspects New Delhi of having a handle on this dissidence through Tibetan refugees it has sheltered in India. It fears that India will encourage revolts and rebellions in Tibet if the PLA steps up aggression along the LAC.
Thus, in the event of an outbreak of hostilities with India, even on a limited scale, China will have to deploy its reserve troops stationed in Tibet to the LAC. And that would weaken its stranglehold on the province, even if temporarily. The international ramifications of revolts erupting in Tibet will be deeply embarrassing for China.
Thus, Beijing feels it is in its interests that India continues to suffer from infrastructure disadvantages along the LAC, especially in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. That would act as a permanent drawback for India and allow China to maintain its hegemony.
But China has erred this time. The major miscalculation it committed was equating the Narendra Modi regime with its predecessors. In the past, India has mostly capitulated to Chinese aggression and China expects it to bend perpetually.
But over the past six years or so, New Delhi has never buckled to pressure from China and has engaged with Beijing on equal terms. In none of the border standoffs that have occurred over the past few years has India meekly withdrawn its troops and allowed the PLA to triumph as it used to in the past.
Doklam was a prime example of India’s changed attitude. It was China which had to back off in Doklam in 2017, and Beijing ought to have drawn its lessons from that. But China persisted with its aggression in the hope that it would eventually wear India down and force it to agree to its terms.
Beijing hoped that by stepping up aggressive patrolling along the LAC, making more incursions into territories held by India and thus provoking more frequent standoffs, it would make India weary of the constant needling. Beijing also calculated that given its preoccupation with managing the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and getting the economy back on the rails, New Delhi would not have the appetite for prolonged and frequent standoffs along the LAC.
But Beijing has not factored in the present government’s resolve. Not only has India exhibited its firm resolve to stand up to Beijing’s bullying, it has also gone aggressive against China on other fronts, notably Taiwan and the call for an international probe into the origin of the coronavirus.
China’s aggression along the LAC is ill-timed too. Beijing is facing a push-back in many parts of the world and its recent offensive moves in the South China Sea has triggered a coalescing of various littoral states against it. It is facing an aggressive US, and finds many other countries overtly or covertly ranged against it for its opacity on the coronavirus pandemic.
Given all this, Beijing upping the ante against India along the LAC appears to have been a blunder. There is no way that India will accept the compromise that China proposes to offer: India halting its border infrastructure development in exchange for PLA maintaining status quo along the LAC.
For China, the only way out now is a climbdown like in Doklam two-and-half years ago. Though it will mask the climbdown in a lot of angry rhetoric and posturing, Beijing’s inflated ego is bound to suffer a significant deflation.
China has, many times in the past, asked India to learn its lessons from 1962. India has, and that is why it is upgrading its infrastructure and military capabilities along the LAC. But China seems to have not learnt any lessons from the border clashes of 1967, ‘Operation Falcon’ in 1986 (read this) and, most of all, Doklam in 2017. Beijing would do well to learn its lessons from these incidents and correct its stance towards India.
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