How China and India Came to Lethal Blows - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 22 June 2020

How China and India Came to Lethal Blows

By Ajai Shukla
The New York Times 
20th June 2020

Tensions between Indian and Chinese troops have simmered since early May in the remote Karakoram mountains that separate India’s northern Ladakh region from the, alkaline desert of Aksai Chin, a disputed area claimed by India but controlled by China and abuts its Xinjiang province. 

It is a forbidding landscape of cold deserts, snow-capped peaks, sparse vegetation and freezing temperature about 14,000 feet above sea level. On Monday evening, in a brutal hand-to-hand fight, Chinese soldiers killed at least 20 Indian soldiers with wooden staves and nail-studded clubs, in the severest escalation of the dispute on the Sino-Indian frontier in decades.

British colonial authorities bequeathed India a border with China that was neither delineated on a map nor demarcated on the ground. After China invaded Tibet in 1950 and the two Asian giants sought to formalize their frontier, the territorial dispute emerged. The Sino-Indian border dispute involves about 13,500 square miles in Ladakh and Aksai Chin and about 35,000 square miles in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls South Tibet. 

In 1962, the border dispute flared into a war. China won conclusively but retreated after a ceasefire to what were broadly its prewar positions. That de facto border, which is called the Line of Actual Control, is patrolled by both armies. Occasional unarmed clashes have taken place over the years despite five agreements aimed at reducing the risk of combat.

China has built a network of roads and tracks on its side of the Line of Actual Control but Chinese military has consistently objected to India’s far slower but steady improvement of borderland infrastructure. 

One of the key Indian projects is the construction of the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road in Ladakh cutting through treacherous mountain ridges as high as 16,000 feet. The road runs almost parallel to the disputed border with Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin and reaches Daulat Beg Oldi, an Indian military base and landing ground for the Indian Air Force, about 12 miles from Karakoram Pass, which separates Ladakh from China’s Xinjiang.

The road, which includes 37 bridges built over snow-fed rivers, took 19 years to construct, providing India the ability to move its troops with much greater speed toward Aksai Chin and Karakoram Pass. On Oct. 21, India’s Defense Minister, Rajnath Singhinaugurated a major bridge on the road, which made it completely operational even in the summer melt, when the rivers are in spate.

China saw the road as reducing the power asymmetry between the two countries and threatening its interests. Two and a half months earlier, an aggressive political move flaunting the muscular nationalism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “New India” had not gone unnoticed in Beijing. On Aug. 5, Mr Modi’s government unilaterally abolished the constitutionally guaranteed semi-autonomous status of the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is disputed among India, Pakistan and China.

Mr. Modi also bifurcated the erstwhile disputed state into two federally administered territories: Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. India’s home minister and Mr. Modi’s confidante, Amit Shah, insisted in the Indian Parliament that both Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin belonged to India.

Beijing objected. Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s foreign affairs ministry, described Mr. Modi’s move as undermining China’s territorial sovereignty, described it as “inclusion of the Chinese territory” into Indian administrative jurisdiction and warned, “Such practice is unacceptable and will not come into force.”

New Delhi ignored it. In November, Survey of India, the cartography department of the Indian government, published new maps of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. The new official map continued the tradition of the Indian claim on Aksai Chin by placing it within the boundary of Ladakh. 

In the high altitudes around the disputed Indian-China border in Ladakh region, the bitter winter stretches till April and even May. In between, the coronavirus pandemic took over the world. But Beijing had neither forgotten nor forgiven. 

Between May and June, the Chinese military seized about 40 square miles of Indian territory, including an area known as Galwan River valley. The high ridges of the Galwan valley overlook the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road leading toward Aksai Chin and Karakoram Pass. The seizure of the Galwan River valley allows the Chinese army to watch the road and, when necessary, bring down artillery fire to preclude its use, rendering a significant strategic asset inoperative.

India protested. On June 6, Indian and Chinese military officers started talks to de-escalate the crisis. The Chinese agreed to vacate some positions. On June 15 evening, an Indian Army patrol set out to verify whether the Chinese had withdrawn from positions on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. 

According to the Indian officials, the Chinese had not withdrawn as agreed and several hundred Chinese soldiers ambushed the Indian patrol. The Chinese claim they were on their own side of the Line of Actual Control when the Indian soldiers crossed over and attacked them. 

While both Indian and Chinese soldiers carry weapons when they patrol the border, it has been a long standing practice, in accordance with agreements signed by the two countries in 1996 and 2005, not to use firearms during patrol clashes. Brutal hand-to-hand fighting followed in which the Chinese killed at least 20 Indian soldiers with wooden staves and nail-studded clubs, pushing some of the wounded over the steep cliffs overlooking the Galwan River. 

Beijing has admitted that there were Chinese casualties but has not given any details, possibly to avoid inflaming the situation further. New Delhi has not officially claimed any count of Chinese casualties either, but the Indian press and social media claim, with no evidence, that 43 Chinese soldiers were killed. 

A shocked and stunned New Delhi took a full day to release statements acknowledging the debacle. In sharp contrast to the bellicose Indian statements that follow attacks by Pakistani militants, the Indian government’s reactions were mild, almost careful not to offend China. 

Only on Wednesday, did Mr. Narendra Modi discover his voice and declare that “peace loving” India would ensure the deaths of its soldiers would not go in vain. 
India’s foreign minister, who rarely holds back in railing against Pakistan, was restrained in his criticism of China’s actions and agreed with his Chinese counterpart to “cool down” tensions on the ground  “as soon as possible.” The reasoning was underlined by Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a spokesman of Mr. Modi’s party, who argued on television that the confrontation was “with China, not with Pakistan.” 

With China not stepping back from the territory it has captured and the deaths of Indian soldiers, India’s beleaguered opposition parties are cornering the government and asking: Can Mr. Modi, who makes political capital out of his muscularity in dealing with Pakistan, adopt an entirely different set of standards in dealing with China?

Over the years, Mr Modi has invested a great deal of personal and political capital into building a relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he hosted in his hometown, Ahmedabad, during a state visit to India in 2014. 

Mr. Modi also set up India as a soft target through his pusillanimous handling of an earlier border crisis in 2017 at Doklam, at the disputed tri-junction of China, India and Bhutan. This ended without bloodshed after a 73-day eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between Chinese troops and the Indian Army. 

New Delhi was content with taking political credit for resolving the Doklam crisis peaceably but the Chinese military violated the “mutual withdrawal” by sending back troops and equipment back into the disputed area. Mr. Modi’s government chose to do nothing about the remilitarization of Doklam by the Chinese military. Beijing could have drawn a lesson from it: Seize disputed territory at multiple points, withdraw from a few places and let New Delhi claim that as a victory.

After the Doklam crisis, Mr. Modi met Mr. Xi twice in Wuhan in 2018 and in India last year. Mr. Modi hailed both summits as harbingers of a new strategic convergence with China. The Wuhan summit particularly had significant outcomes that were described as building a “consensus” between the two sides to deal with border tensions.

New Delhi’s diplomatic behavior has been thoroughly subservient to China since the Wuhan summit with no significant criticism of China over Taiwan, Hong Kong, Covid-19 or Mr. Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

India’s opposition parties are portraying Mr. Modi’s embrace of Mr. Xi as a grave misjudgement. The outrage over the killing of Indian soldiers leaves Mr. Modi’s strongman image dented and confronts him with the difficult choice of appearing to stand up to China while preventing a full-scale war. Mr. Modi’s party has responded by aggressively arguing that the fallen Indian soldiers killed 43 Chinese soldiers, despite the absence of any proof. 

For Mr. Xi, the agreement reached with Mr. Modi at Wuhan in 2018 to rein in their troops and to resolve border tensions through peaceful negotiations seems to have been clearly expendable. The Chinese president’s image has been dented by his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak; the setback in Taiwan where heavy-handed pressure and subliminal military threats resulted in the re-election of the anti-unification president, Tsai Ing-wen; and Beijing’s failure to clamp down on anti-China protests that continue roiling Hong Kong. 

Given China’s growing incursions in the Senkaku Islands, claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo, its ever increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, and the passage of a new security law in Hong Kong, Mr. Xi would not have lost much sleep over violating the five border agreements signed with India between 1993 and 2013.

Some analysts believe that, just as Mao Zedong strengthened his control over China by going to war with India in 1962, Mr. Xi is burnishing his strongman image by slapping down an India that is growing uncomfortably close to the United States.

Mr. Modi, his China policy in tatters, confronts the question: Should New Delhi accept assistance from Washington to handle the crisis? Since May, American political officials have communicated Washington’s support to New Delhi repeatedly but Mr. Modi has replied that India is capable of handling the situation and that diplomatic and intelligence support from Washington would suffice. 

Mr. Modi rightly apprehends that Beijing would regard as “anti-China” any overt Indian embrace of the United States, or strengthening of New Delhi’s ties with the Quad, the diplomatic grouping of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. 

For the Sino-India border, the current tensions have destroyed the existing playbook, which had maintained peace since 1993, when the two sides signed the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement. 

If China withdraws from the Indian-claimed territory it has occupied, the two sides could negotiate new border agreements and operating procedures. But if China holds on to what it has gained, India would most certainly shift more overtly toward Washington.


  1. India really has no stomach for war. Even the actions on Pakistan doesn't really deter them from doing what they do. These "surgical strikes" are really just for political gain with little real effect.
    When it comes to China, we are even more careful and not just India, most countries are like this due to several economic factors. Trump is the only US president to openly criticize China and he has the most powerful military behind him.

    - Cujo

    1. As of now indian armyh army not allowed Chinese army to enter into indian territory . The clash happened near patrolling point 14 where pla had put up temporary tent on 15th evening it's patrolling point of India when indian army removed that tent the clash has started and lasted for more than 4 hours.. during night .. rescue operation has next till the rescue operation completed they dint give the proper information of wats the casualties.. I don't know why mr Shukla is trying completely giving the biased information supporting China and not supporting Indian so sad..

  2. The only fault of Modi,if at all any,is that he has been in power for only 6 years That is too little time to prepare for a showdown with China.Indian military buildup only began seriously from 2014 onwards.If this currrent standoff had happened a few years later when India is better prepared ,I do not think the Chinese would be sitting pretty at Galwan,Pangong Tso etc.

  3. hi sir, could you please fix the hyper links. none of them are working.

  4. So where are we now ? Has India literally surrendered and given away that land occupied by China ?

  5. Send the military in, and throw them out.

  6. China is not going back. Its simple. RAW was sleeping when China came in. Shukla did not mention Indian army failure bcz he is also an ex army mole

  7. Gautam Bambawale, former Indian Ambassador to China and Pakistan.This time it has crossed the limits. I agree with some of the comments made by authoritative sources in the Government of India, that this is a premeditated and well-thought-out action. I do not see what gain China has had, because for some minor tactical gain on the ground, I believe they have strategically lost India. I don’t know if that is something they had calculated or not. I believe if there are these kinds of anxieties they could have been discussed over the table and spoken about, even between the two militaries, even the road building could be discussed. This leads me to think this particular action by the PLA this summer is purely something where they are trying to actually control territory which they believe in their conception is theirs. This is something which is premeditated. It is purely to do with territory, but its implications are both tactical as well as strategic. Are we looking at an inflection point in the relationship that could be as significant as 1988, which marked the normalisation of ties? I believe that it is. I no longer speak or work for the Government of India, so I say this as an ordinary Indian citizen who has some knowledge about this relationship. I believe that India will strengthen its partnerships with the democracies of the world. In the long term, the way I look at it is that the diametrically opposite values that India holds vis-à-vis China, and the values which we share with other democracies across the world, are going to assert themselves and are going to dictate India’s position. I am afraid that the India-China relationship has not merely deteriorated, but will deteriorate further.

  8. I have never read more biased and factually incorrect article than this piece by Mr Ajay Shukla. Its gross factual anomaly makes it ridiculously idiotic.
    1- Twice he has mentioned that soldiers were killed by nail studded clubs though many soldiers died by boulders thrown from high ground.
    2- Then he states after 1962 war China won and retreated without even mentioning the land we lost?
    3- Then he mentiones that Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road was constructed over a period of 19 years without mentioning that it was satrted on 2000 and was supposed to be over by 2014. But in 2011 out of what ever was constructed, 2/3 rd of it was found unsuitable (another UPA corruption) so the whole road was rebuilt (almost 90% under NDA).
    4- Then he shamelessly calls India's effort at Doklam pussilaneous. It was first time since many decades that India objected to China's illegal expansion and succeeded. During UPA, due to their spibeless attitude, China had free run.
    5- Then he talks about new map. For his information, its same map which India has been using for many years. India considers whole Jammu Kashmir and Laddakh as its own (the has been agreed in parliament by all parties). Mr Ajay Shukla may be keen to give Kashmir to Pak or Laddhak to China, but his wishes carries no meaning. What India did in Aug 2019 was completely within its jurisdiction. The whole region was divided into 3 parts and made UT. The part which was shown under Laddhak was there in Indian map even before 2019. Why China or Mr Shukla should have a problem whether GOI consider Laddhak a state or UT?
    Worst part is he is consistently downplaying the efforts of Indian army by asking for proof of Death on Chinese side though even China has agreed that they have lost many lives incuding a commanding officer.

    Showing full loyalty to dynasty Mr. Shukla prefers not to talk about more tha 600 incursions during UPA regime and more than 650 Sq Km land grabbed by China during UPA. No infrastructure developed, Army was not allowed to retaliate, low morale, weak PM, even a meek Defence secretary who cited financial reason for not developing bordrrs.

    In few lines what actually happened was-
    China illegally intruded in no mans land which it has been doing for many decades "Unopposed". Indian army retaliated (for the first time). China agreed to withdraw but ambushed and killed some of our soldiers when they went to check.
    Our soldiers fought back and killed nany Chinese (probably more than us). China after having a bloody nose and realising they can not fight with our Army hired some traitors in India to write one sided story.
    Right now, they have retreated significantly in Galwan valley, They have come upto finger 4 at Pangong Tso, but talks are going on and I am sure soon they will be retreating from there too.
    Mr. Shukla has proved beyond doubt he is a stooge. I dont think he can be relied upon.

    1. What a befitting reply.
      But I can't say it is befitting becoz Mr. Shukla has deliberately given factual incorrect data.In today's environment if u don't know the things correctly , it's ok. But if u r giving deliberately inaccurate data that's wrong. This is the curious case of Ajai Shukla.

    2. He is sick

    3. I have never read a more stupid answer than your reply to Mr Ajay:

      1. Satellite images corroborate what Mr Shukla has been reporting.
      2. The "1 inch" statement made by our PM is not factually correct, but that is being conveniently forgotten.
      3. The so called talks aimed at "de-escalation" have resulted in more Chinese tents coming up at exactly the same point where Col.Santosh objected. Again, this is conveniently forgotten.

      Unfortunately, a sagacious advice to arise from slumber doesn't have any effect on one who has been pretending to sleep. Instead the advisor is being called traitor. That is the tragedy of this nation's "elite": not just in politics but in every department.

  9. is the distance from DBO to the karakoram pass just under 20 km or is this the distance to the line of control. if this is indeed the case, then will beijing allow the continuation of this forward base that can only have one purpose, for them, - to interdict the pass, and compromise the economic corridor joining china, pakistan.
    while opening, establishing an axis of maintenance, viz the DBO, Darbuk-Shyok road, this operation would have been conducted tactically given its location, and purpose, aim. in any advance the flanks are to be secured, protected. this would have required the galwan heights to be secured, rather than leaving it to periodic inspections by patrols, viz 'grand rounds'. and it seems that owing to the fear of corona influenza this too was honoured more in the breach than in adherence. since all we know about corona, and similar influenzas is premised on statistical conjectures, it may have been relevant that in an infantry battalion of 900 men, let us say 1000, 850 will be asymptomatic, of the remaining 150, 3, less than five will die. if the sector commander in leh had factored in the significantly higher fitness levels of his infantry and not put his forward troops into lockdown, but continued patrolling, five would have succumbed to the flu in a battalion, 15 in a brigade. if there is another round of hysteria, policy paralysis, when the second phase of the influenza at exponentially higher rates rages through in august, will china move in to take over DBO, putting paid to grand strategy aims on aksai chin. all that they have to do is roll down from the galwan heights, move across pangong tso, to secure, control our vital axis of maintenance, and mount an attack onto DBO, with a hammer from the north and the anvil from the south. and establish a new alignment along the line of chushul, tangtse, shyok, satti, sasoma. the leh khardung la DBO axis will be available however its limitations were indeed the raisond'etat to prefer the alternated caravan route along the shyok's torrents with the darbuk shyok DBO road.

  10. Very good analytical blog with facts and figures, thanks Ajay ji for giving latest update and reality of the situation. We appreciate your daring voice against the manipulation’s and false statements of Modi & company on national issues. They must be exposed.
    We salute to your knowledge and experience and sharing it with people of india with facts n figures.
    ~Pratapbhanu Sharma, Ex mp Vidisha

  11. Mr. Shukla twice in 1 article you make the point that Indian claims of 40 or so casualties are without proof, which is code for "I don't believe it". It is entirely possible that the Indian side is playing up Chinese casualties to save face. But if it was a massacre as you seem to imply, the fighting would have hardly lasted 5-6 hours. Why not just hold your positions at PP 14 assuming you have made short work of Indian troops?
    Even with some skepticism, I would be inclined to believe the side that is actually releasing some information rather than the side that releases no information. For someone as knowledgeable as you , I would assume you wouldn't just buy the Chinese claim of "Not wanting to raise the tensions, by releasing their casualty numbers". So they amass troops, occupy territory and ambush Indian troops. And suddenly we are supposed to believe that they don't want to escalate? If there is one thing you can take to the bank about the Chinese, is they are not in the business of doing India any favors.

  12. I wish Ajay Shukla as India's Defense Minster but unfortunately in current Indian political setup only morons and hate-mongers can hold such posts.
    India made a grave mistake by revoking Article 370 in Kashmir and it has to pay a very heavy price by not only loosing Kashmir and Ladakh but also Balkanization of India in coming years.
    Only way to resolve the China standoff and get back India to its glory is to accept the reality of Kashmir and move back Indian borders to Lakhanpur/Pathankot. Make Kashmir an autonomous region and be a part of Chinese Belt and Road initiative. That only can bring peace and prosperity to the region.

  13. there is much discussion everywhere, but no culpability has been fixed or being talked about. in my eyes, the army is to be blamed - if they were waiting for political assent, why didnt they quickly suggest and press for a counter attack on jun 16th despite political misgivings, if any. and more importantly how come we were outnumbered that night if reports are to be believed, despite having weeks of prior intel?

    but of course, all this will be classified and in the great traditions of our venerated army, asking questions, especially by civilians, will be blasphemy. rawat will keep his smug smile intact kowtowing to his political masters who made him COAS and the external affairs ministry will sheepishly keep at its pacifist line. the rest of us will nurse a wound for god only knows for how long.

    its clear as daylight to me that people start asking questions of the army rightaway otherwise this will become a habit where everything goes unchecked.

  14. Most Indian media is too frightened to oppose the government line, hence why pedals the official story rather than the facts which sometimes are a bitter pill to swallow for government and populous at large. The masses are frequently fed a staple diet of misinformation via economical truths,sensationalized empathy mixed with conjecture and blatant fake news.
    This has become a mantra of the Indian media so when a situation like the one being discussed comes to pass the Indian media is stumped and left spouting nonsensical verbiage from a position of cognitive dissonance which is representative of both the government and the population at large.

  15. Mr Shukla is a well known congress sympathizer and his barely concealed vitriol against Modi is visible for all to see. He has learnt the masterful art of peppering opinion with facts on the ground to consistently show the Modi government in a bad light. Since this view is the one adopted by the New York TImes and the left liberal folks, it is easy to see why he was accorded a reception on the pages of the New York Times. Readers of this article are well advised to see alternate sources.

  16. Shukla, even for a rabid sold out prestitute you always were, this article crosses all limits.

    Deliberately trying to undermine Govt's, & army's efforts to confront china at various places when incursions happen.

    2) asking for proofs of 43 chinese killed...why don't you ask your communists pay masters for the proof, probably, they will provide you with one with your pay packet ?

    3) Why don't you give your estimates of the no. of PLA killed ?

    4)in 2013, you mentioned china controlled entire Galwan valley, if that was the case, did china create a new Galwan & occupy its 48 sq km territory ?

    5) Have you guys, including Panag, have no shame in openly peddling enemy's agenda for a few crumbs ?

    I have been reading your blog since I was in school, at the time it was commonly said " the army has gone to the dogs". Now I understand the full extent of this statement. The statement was aimed at the likes of Panag, who was still serving, and you...probably kicked out of the army, which you spun as "with desk job beckoning, I decided to serve the country some other way". Only you forgot to say which country.

    Also, you served for ~20 yrs, did you ever fire a weapon in combat ? Maybe in Punjab, Kashmir, sri lanka. kargil ?or were you to busy selling your country ?

    Peddle all agenda you want, the country stands with/behind its PM, & army

  17. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Sad to see that professional soldiers ( veterans ) have turned to political bashing at a critical time when Nation need all heads to put together to fight out Chinese adventurism. Time if it is a biggest healer then Time is also biggest disease which needs to be cured . Past, present & future are & will never be governed by a common factor. Col Shuklas present blog portrays a picture of ppresent crisis as if whole damn problem has just started all after Article 370 has been abrogated.Why should he not take pride in that these areas were well under control under Maharaja Ranjit Singh ,Generals like Zoravar Singh ,then British Raj & Tibeteans had own areas to enjoy freedom. Let's not rest our bum's till such time we undo wrong done in the past specially Partition in 1947 of the great Mahabharat . No doubt J& Khas put all into a spin all after abrogation of Article 370 but, This decision of Nations democratically elected Modi Govt has rejuvenated our strengths . Every sane Indian will standby with Govt . Insanity of Chinese Pakistan & secessionists was bound to rise. Forward & frowning posturing was bound to happen &therefore Galwan Dokhlam & Pangangtso fingering was bound to happen. What Nation need is Soldier turned Columnist to hold Gun & not fingering through Blog. Crisis will be much bigger to handle then it is being projected at this stage. History & Blogs can be written later. Indians at this stage must not show any complacency & be prepared to pay any prize. Personally have defended these heights with lot of pride. God has given Himalyas in our side of Indian culture to protect & not to Godless Dragon. Jai Hind . GPSV

  18. As a retired fauzi, I have 2 points -
    1. When India decided to construct this road some 19 years back, did it not occur to anyone that it will all along be vulnerable to anyone occupying the heights that run on its side it? An IMA cadet would have told them that
    2. The fight of 15 Jun was a thing apart from build up etc. Who started it? From all accounts known, it was set in motion by the Indian side attempting to destroy it. If so, it was unpardonable. Which enemy will not react violently to it? Wouldn’t we have? We had a right to use force, as all armies have, but then it should have been done as a military operation, not as a kabaddi match? 106 Indians paid for this folly, without gaining ANYTHING. Did they also kill Chinese is totally immaterial to assessment Of the results. Achievement of objective was Zero.

  19. I have never read such a biased article that too from an ex-army officer who doubts his fellow countrymen and who I now think was serving the country he is writing in favour of.. you seriously are disgusting Mr. Shukla

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