India-China Relations: A Watershed Moment

The conflict that occurred on the night of June 15th at Galwan Valley in Ladakh has been a shocking turn of events, amidst the recent build-up of troops on either side of the Line Of Actual Control (LAC). The loss of 20 Indian Army soldiers during the de-escalation process has plunged the entire nation into sadness. Initial reports claimed three casualties – Col Santosh Babu – Commanding Officer of 16 Bihar Regiment, Hav K Palani and, Sep Ojha who belonged to the same unit. The nation expressed its heartfelt condolences to the families of the soldiers and their respective units for making the ultimate sacrifice while staying committed to their duty of protecting the sovereignty and integrity of the nation under the harshest possible conditions. The country is praying for the speedy recovery of the soldiers injured.

The Night at Galwan Valley

As more details of the clash come out, it becomes more apparent that this was, by no means, an accidental move by the PLA or People’s Liberation Army. Instead, this was an ambush, and a backstab in the agreement of June 6th, which called for force disengagement and restoration of April Status quo. The patrol party of Colonel Santosh Babu from 16 Bihar Regiment was waiting to ensure the compliance of the agreement at patrolling point 14 or PP14. As per the disengagement agreement the PLA was to fall back to Post 1 — which is about 5 km to the east. By dusk, a group of PLA soldiers unexpectedly turned around and attacked Colonel Babu and the other two jawans with iron rods and stones, injuring the trio. The Indian side immediately retaliated, and a serious fight broke out which went on for hours till midnight, after which the troops disengaged and dispersed. Post this incident, Major-General level talks took place at the clash site to defuse the tension.

This clash has been the bloodiest one in the last 45 years or so, resulting in rising tensions not seen since the Doklam standoff. The Chinese troops vastly outnumbered the Indians. While most sources on Internet claim it was 55 Indian soldiers against 300 Chinese soldiers, the number of personnel involved in the clash has not been revealed as of yet. The Chinese media have claimed that five deaths had taken place on their side with 11 injured, but as more reports come out, especially from the US intelligence, the number seems to be at 35 and counting. It is improbable that we will hear the official number of Chinese casualties. Revealing the exact count will raise many questions in Beijing and would shatter the carefully crafted image the PLA has built over the years as an invincible Army.

While one can debate the numbers involved in this clash, the reality of serving at high altitude deployment is freezing water of Galwan, sub-zero temperatures and the altitude exceeding 15000 feet. Without expert medical attention, it is a fatal combination. The challenge is not only to fight the enemy but the harsh weather as well. Despite these extreme conditions, our soldiers didn’t shy away from the fight. They fought not only to protect India’s border integrity but also upheld the “Naam, Namak, Nishan” of their respective regiments.

Differing Perceptions

Since the beginning of this tense standoff, many words like “Galwan Valley”, “Pangong Tso”, “Finger 4”, “Finger 8″ have been casually thrown around in the media reports with incomplete information and context. Unlike the Line Of Control or LoC, the Line of Actual Control isn’t a precisely fixed-line. It is a series of overlapping claims and perception problems, with some issues since the 1950s and ’60s. There is no formal agreement per se, and the Chinese refuse to show maps of their claims.

The result of these differing claims is a grey or smaller zone, where the patrol parties of both sides meet. Occasional clashes occur when both parties appear face-to-face. However, the events post-May 5th, wherein an alleged video had surfaced showing stone-pelting, indicate that this is not normal. Recent upgradation of infrastructure and induction of better equipment has resulted in increased patrolling by the Indian side. Hence, both the sides have been running into each other more frequently. The bone of contention has been mainly in three points along the border: Pangong Tso, Galwan River Valley and the ‘Hot Springs” near the Kongka Pass.

 

 

 

Many have questioned the legitimacy of the information from the Chinese concerning these key three regions. This, along with opposing claims from both countries and no clear official statements have caused confusion regarding the situation on the ground. As the days pass, this confusion only increases. Social media has only added to the disorder, thanks to the botched analysis conducted by military enthusiasts. To say that the intruders have crossed into our territory is a rather vague statement.

Galwan Valley, in particular, is an exception, as there is a clear demarcation of the border, so the possibility of Chinese intruding and staying put is wrong. Furthermore, the actual number of troops is challenging to figure out, given the vast range of possible answers (1200-10,000 soldiers). A massive build-up of forces along the river banks, however, is correct as recent satellite images have shown evidence for the same.

With all sources contradicting each other, what does the ordinary citizen make out of this situation? Journalists publish what they want us to hear. While the truth is buried out there somewhere, we never listen to it, because of the selectivity on the journalist’s part and pushing the narrative that best suits them.

In all totality, it is unlikely that the Chinese have occupied any part of Indian land and have most likely set up base camps in the grey zone. Although this doesn’t seem much of a threat, it could be very much a push by the Chinese counterpart to alter status quo in the highly contested region, meaning that New Delhi will have to look at this situation a lot more seriously. While talks about disengagement in the past have yielded some result in earlier standoffs, going by the current scenario, it seems like any further talk at any ranks of the Army is likely to produce a result in the immediate future. Simply said, peace can’t be achieved without parity.

What’s Next?

An army convoy moves along Srinagar-Leh highway
Source: Rediff News

We are not a pushover when it comes to military might, and we have proved that with the 2015 surgical strike in Myanmar, 2016 surgical strike in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and the Balakot strike last year. Whatever the response will be for the heinous attack on our troops at Galwan, it has to be a carefully calibrated one. We must not rush in for a counterattack, as it would risk more damage to ourselves in the end. The Indian Armed forces are more than capable of taking on any class of advisory, should the need arise. The Government of India has been mature when it comes to diplomacy and has shown moral courage when issuing official statements. We should stand behind the Government and our Armed Forces, in these difficult times.

While security meetings are being held in Raisina Hill and the next course of action is being plotted, the final frontier of warfare lies with us — the citizens. In the upcoming days, it will be necessary as the Chinese have a doctrine called the “Three Warfare”. The “Three Warfare” consists mainly of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare. Beijing looks at how they can use the systems of other countries to their advantage without even firing a single bullet. The first of the three warfare’s attempts to reshape the way we interpret information for the public, both domestically and internationally. The second one focuses on how policymakers will approach any given scenario involving China and may influence their decision making. The third focuses on how best to defend China and build up a legal response for actions taken by the CCP. All these three modes of warfare are used as political warfare. We can expect Beijing to exploit every one of these methods to gain traction in the post-COVID-19 world.

As the days go by, more posts that are either pro-Government or anti-Government are popping up on social media. The diversity of opinions that exist in India is enough to divide us without a single bullet being fired. If we look at social media, right after the news of the incident was announced, it was ablaze with opinions. Worse still, if we look at the statement issued by the Foreign Minister of China, it was portrayed as if India was the aggressor and that we have been violating the end-user agreement of the talks held at the military and diplomatic levels. The Chinese are the master at propaganda, and a simple look at the recent ramp-up of the articles by Global Times, known for having links with the CCP, is enough proof of the Dragon’s intention of being denial while continuing to be the aggressor.

These are testing times. We face a significant hit in our diplomacy. Even a country like Nepal, with whom we have had excellent relations in the past is making decisions that can lead to fractured ties. India is at a crucial junction, and any decision we make today will have an everlasting effect in the future. And we as citizens of this nation must put aside our differences and stand united behind Armed Forces and show them that we support them unconditionally.

Lastly, India-China relations aren’t going to be the same, especially after this incident. We must put every sort of effort to show that politically, militarily and diplomatically, we are no pushover nation. If push comes to shove, we can and will deliver action required to protect our sovereignty and integrity of our country.

As the war cry of the Ladakh Scouts goes:

Ki Ki So So Lhargyalo!

Written by Vaibhav Aatreya for MTTN

Edited by Siri Rajanahally

Featured Image by Ritwika Sarkar 

Sources: OutLook India

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