China’s third confrontation with India’s border build-up - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 25 April 2013

China’s third confrontation with India’s border build-up

An IAF AN-32 landing at Nyoma in Sept 09, activating the crucial landing ground in Ladakh

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Apr 13

China’s intrusion into the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector, at the northern tip of India just below the towering Karakoram Pass, is a demonstration of anger --- certainly that of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and possibly that of Beijing as well --- at the Indian Army’s third surge towards the Sino-Indian border.

The first Indian move to militarily occupy the Sino-Indian border began after 1957, when New Delhi discovered that China had built a nearly 200-kilometre-long highway through the Aksai Chin, a high altitude desert that abuts Ladakh on the east. Belatedly realizing the need to establish a presence along its claim lines in Ladakh and the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh), New Delhi rushed troops into these unknown areas in what was known as the “Forward Policy”. With the PLA fearing that India was backing a massive Tibetan rebellion, and with that apprehension inflamed by the refuge that New Delhi granted the Dalai Lama India in 1959, the Indian move forward degenerated into war.

The second Indian move to the border began in 1982. Army chief, General KV Krishna Rao persuaded Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that twenty years of fearful holding back had to end and the Indian Army moved forward again, deploying in strength over the next four years in Tawang and Chushul. In 1986, a Chinese patrol pitched up tents in a disputed area called Wangdung, north of Tawang, triggering a furious Indian Army build up that came close to actual hostilities. China sought a flag meeting; the PLA realized that it was dealing with a very different Indian Army from the one it had whipped in 1962. Diplomatic engagement led to Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to China. In 1993, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao visited Beijing and signed an “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China Border Area,” which maintains a largely peaceful border even today.

We are now in the middle of the third Indian surge to the border and, like the previous two, it is being contested by China. It began with the raising of two Indian mountain divisions for the defence of Arunachal Pradesh and with the activation of three Sukhoi-30 fighter bases in the Brahmaputra valley. Simultaneously, seven Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) in Arunachal were refurbished, permitting their use for forward replenishment and for heliborne operations. Two armoured brigades are currently being raised and a mountain strike corps will begin raising shortly. The improvement of road infrastructure forms a part of this effort.

In Ladakh, too, India is thickening its presence on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border with China. The arrival of 8 Mountain Division in Kargil during the Kargil War freed a full brigade for the LAC. With militancy reducing in Kashmir, another brigade moved out to Chushul. Landing grounds were activated in Nyoma and DBO and roads started coming up to connect isolated posts.

All this raises China’s hackles. Road building near the LAC, especially in the areas of Chushul-Demchok and a new alignment that will connect DBO, has been steadfastly resisted by the PLA. Chinese patrols objected to new bunkers built by the Indian Army near Chushul several years ago; like today, the PLA retaliated by establishing a camp on India’s side of the LAC, forcing the Indian Army to negotiate a settlement. The current PLA encampment at DBO is again retaliation for Indian Army defences constructed elsewhere.

The Indian Army has no good options in DBO, unlike in 1986 during the Wangdung intrusion. Then, the army was close to its road head and the helicopter base at Tawang, permitting a massive build up that quickly dominated the Chinese camp (that the Chinese are still there is another matter). Today India has no surface link to DBO, and the DBO landing ground permits only a limited build up. In contrast the Chinese enjoy a road link to their camp across the wide Depsang Plain. Like in 1962, India’s logistical build up has not kept up with the operational build up. Now there is little option but to negotiate a Chinese withdrawal.

China has clearly signaled its discomfort with India’s troop build up, submitting a draft proposal for a freeze on troop levels that will solidify and make permanent India’s disadvantage along the LAC. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), eager to create “deliverables” that could create an air of success around Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India next month, is studying the proposal.

China’s strategy is evident: to confine Indian strategic attention to the Sino-Indian border, preventing New Delhi from looking beyond at Tibet and Xinjiang, China’s most sensitive pressure points. Beijing apprehends --- with the fearfulness of a state that knows its weaknesses --- that signing a border settlement would free India from the burden of having to continually lay claim to, and physically defend, a challenged border. China realizes that a settlement would change the fundamental nature of the New Delhi-Beijing engagement. No longer a supplicant, India could raise the issue of Tibet, a lead that western democracies would quickly follow.

So far, India’s military, bureaucracy and political elite have fallen for China’s game, directing their energies into placating China in the hope of a border settlement. Realizing our ill preparedness to defend our territorial claims has created endemic strategic defensiveness. New Delhi remains disinclined to change the game by challenging China on Tibet.

This remains so despite frequent reminders of China’s vulnerabilities. On Tuesday, 21 people were killed near Kashgar, in Xinjiang, in a violent armed stand off. The anger against Beijing in its restive border regions was again underlined on Wednesday when two Tibetan monks in Sichuan set themselves afire, adding to the gory tally of more than 100 self-immolations since 2011. China has flooded Xinjiang and Tibet with black-suited armed militias, whose members now carry portable fire extinguishers to douse Tibetans who are attempting self-immolation. But there remains widespread resentment at Beijing’s increasingly colonial presence in these areas.

In contrast, India’s border population along the LAC remains heartwarmingly Indian. In Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, despite New Delhi’s inexplicable neglect, pro-India sentiment is high and China is regarded with distrust and suspicion that is constantly reinforced from across the border.


  1. Loved the post... made me remember the Ajai I knew from Imphal Coy.

    Arvind Passey

  2. As expected, detailed cause n effect of defense engagements are analyzed with professional acumen. Important facts and effects are narrated sincerely, honestly n beautifully but what is missing is broader ecopolitical n military outlook of dragon which actually stimulates its ambitious game plan for the world that starts from Asia where India n Japan are potential threats for any unchallenged world power.

  3. sir,
    why india was not prepared for such aggressive action by china
    witha spine less political leadership & a weal army hampered by little logistic support do you think india will seal its fate by agreeing not to increase its defensive position
    why can't india adopt aggressive postures else where or threaten to rake up tibet & other weal chinese spots

  4. hi ajay

    could you be more specific about the Indian encroachments along LAC to which chinese is responding.

  5. India needs a radical shift in its tactical policy (foreign as well as military) going ahead.
    Avoiding conflicts is the wise thing but such mellow behavior will always put India on receiving end of any provoking tricks.
    India is acting on short-term policies while China is playing well ahead on Asiatic terms.
    1. Form a foreign policy that will benefit India in long term. Geographic, strategic and military goals should be clearly defined by this policy.
    2. Identify friends, would be friends, foes and neutral entities.
    3. Exercise arm-twisting (unheard of in Indian strategies) just like China uses Pakistan to pressurize India.
    4. Infrastructure and inadequate weaponary are most crucial pain points in Indian side.
    5. For once at least, use a "show of power" option.

  6. This is really disheartening...
    For India and those people trapped in xinjiang and tibet.

    China sucks.period.

  7. Very insightful sir. Lets clear the logistics bottleneck & we are all set to tame the 'Dragon'. Some things they just don't change. Sigh !


  8. Why only... Wangdung... DBO... in 20 years... be there... that millions of points... and we match that... xinjiang... tibet... south china... will be free... countries...

  9. So according to you... What china doing currently is in response to india's earlier actions. Wow... Now you started to defend even dragon just like you did in case of beheading our soldiers by pakis. Shame on you.

  10. So China illegally set-up a forward post inside Indian territory and then wants India to "negotiate" a pull back by "giving up" something on our side ??

    That sounds a lot like rewarding bad behavior and outright cowardice by the Indian government.

    This latest provocation by the Chinese should be taken to mean that China does not follow their own agreements and therefore India is not bound by them either. India should immediately build bunkers in Chushul, DBO etc areas as fast as possible while mobilizing sufficient troops to counter any reactionary moves by the PLA.

    Let these Chinese camp on that desert in DBO. If it means India can buildup its own infrastructure unimpeded by any agreements then it was worth it in exchange for one Chinese tent site.

  11. I have to disagree with one point: the border population's loyalties.

    China does not care if the Uigurs support China or not. Even in Kashgar, the Uigurs only make up 40% of the population while the Han hold all the major posts make up the rest.

    The Chinese have superior infrastructure, superior numbers and are at the top levels in every government office in the
    "autonomous" region. They don't need "local" support. Whereas in India where our infrastructure is worse off, we need local support.

    Smart politics dictates that this "provocation" by China be used as an excuse to launch a massive build-up of infrastructure in the region and move ahead with building capabilities along the entire region in earnest, while "negotiations" carry on.

    It is better to let the Chinese think they are needling India while India uses their "needling" to spur our own developments and projects in the region as a matter of national importance which otherwise would not be possible.

    Also, this "provocation" can also justify India moving more units to the border areas including tanks, mechanized infantry and more rocket artillery to the region.

  12. Ajai Sir,

    You contend that this situation will blow an uninitiated person absent your keen knowledge of such matters I'll defer to you on that.

    My question though is..the Chinese have laid down the demand for dismantling existing least some part of it and a freeze on any further infrastructural development. I believe our current predicament is a result of, not ironically, lack of the same infrastructure. We have one unkempt road to BDO and that's it while the other side had multi-lane, all weather, motorable roads. This makes it difficult for us to mobilize and maintain any tangible presence in the sector.

    Q-Having said all of this. Is the GOI going to bow down to this draft and actually sign away our right to develop infrastructure on our border region?


    Q-Is the GOI going to JUST comply with their specific demand of drawing back from a certain observation post without any impact on our other border infrastructure


    Q-Is the GOI going to find an alternate solution?


    Lastly, Is there any hope that we will ever actually get down to building the infra- roads, tracks etc.- which we need in these areas? Do you see any hope for such a shift from our earlier lackadaisical approach to the

  13. India can spend on infrastructure if IA stops buying those third time replacement of tanks which will never be used

  14. Informative post. We shouldn't forget Pakistan in the case of an India-China conflict. Sure, they're in a messy state politically, but their military establishment has been known for its autonomy. Even if these official Chinese white paper documents turn out to be trustworthy, which I don't think they will, our 'numerical advantage' may not be an advantage in the larger scheme of things. Anyway, what do you think are the chances of the Pakistani military trying to take advantage in the event of an India-China conflict?

  15. The govt of india underestimate our armed force capabilities since chinese camping in DOB,our armed force have reciprocated from our side,but why they have not been moved since PLA have come 20kms inside our teritory,where is our sovereignity.India of 1962 is history,sine we have fought more wars than the PLA's & give a fitting reply just like Japan did to claim its islands India must claim its land before its too late.Cancel MEA & China Pm's visit to show our anger & not cow down by there diktats.wake guys

  16. These congressi netas don't give the damn to India and its security concerns.
    If these leaders will go and fight a war with china then where will they bank their black money?
    Macau (SAR) is now the latest hub of Illegal Indian money, which is a territory of china.
    These pricks have no respect for India and its people.

  17. India needs a "mard" sitting on top post of the country not some kill who dances on the wisphers of a lady
    this makes me remember of my dear leader indira ji who was a real "mard" of that sort the next generation of nehru Gandhi family is not even able to retain the honour leave talks of improvising
    these people are only capable of one thing which they are really good at the scams ghotalas eating peoples money
    welcome to new gen welcome eat India company "congress"

  18. Well said article sir. Reflects also my points of view giving confidence that even I can analyse things & my thoughts are right.
    As a citizen,even I can think of this & great people like the writer give an apt solution why this Indian Govt is not taking any step for the past 10years? 1 full decade!
    How can we stay without discussing politics when it's disgusting & nation's image & security!

  19. Fuck off bloody indians. You people discriminate us by calling chinky chinese but you want us to stay with india. China is far more better option than india. Indian army is no match to PLA army. Soon arunachal pradesh and upper assam is going to form an SAR TaniLand republic. So dear black racist indians fuck off


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