Previous Sino Indian Logjam Articles :-
The CDS has publicly stated that China poses the biggest threat to India. In fact, he is so right that the Chinese have even lodged a protest. Given the reality of the threat, the question is how when and where will this threat manifest? The bigger question is how do we respond?
A pattern has been emerging ever since Xi Jinping assumed power. The LAC standoffs have slowly but steadily turned into violent confrontations. In 2013 , PLA intruded at Depsang and pitched tents in our area to stay put for weeks. They went back only after diplomatic and political intervention. In 2014, when Xi and the PM were swinging in a Jhoola with at Ahmedabad, PLA was busy intruding into Chumar, with heavy equipment to build a road and change the status quo. Everyone thought that Xi’s rivals and likely rogue elements in PLA undertook this action. It is now clear that it was an orchestration. In 2017, they attempted to change the status quo at Doklam. It took resolute jostling action by Indian Army to thwart the attempted change. When thwarted the PLA enlarged their existing incursion eastward into Bhutan and built a village there. The multiple incursions in Eastern Ladakh and the attempted ones at Naku La in 2020 are too fresh in memory and well known. Ever since Xi assumed power in Nov 2012, the significant incursions indicate a time pattern – 2013 -2014 – 2017- 2020. The next one is due in 2023-24 as per the established pattern.
In 2020, China realized that PLA was ill prepared to execute its expansionist designs in Tibet. India was no pushover. This has resulted in a flurry of PLA activity along the LAC. It includes induction of fresh troops, runway extension, construction of new airfields, infrastructure build up, induction of heavy/ long-range guns and missiles and upgradation of communications. Troops are busy training at high altitudes including carrying out regular firing practices. Border villages are being built which can serve as firm bases for PLA offensives. New border laws have been enacted. Their ministers are visiting Tibet, including Xi’s well publicized surprise visit to Lhasa and Nyingchi. China has stated that it is preparing to take on India even when embroiled in South China Sea or Taiwan. Xi Jinping is repeatedly exhorting China to prepare to fight. The three warfare strategy is on full blast. Let us not have any doubt. China is preparing PLA for a war with India.
XI Jinping started putting together his military machine when China’s economy was booming. That growth has now acquired an unstoppable momentum of its own. As China’s economy is slowing perceptibly, its military belligerence is increasing. This is explained @ https://www.gunnersshot.com/2021/11/chinese-bunker-mentality-and-indian.html. The growing military capability will be leveraged by China to become a superpower. Simultaneously, if Xi Jinping has to be an all-time great in China, he must annex Taiwan or nibble off some portion of India. If he does either, he would have also kept USA at bay successfully. These options have also been outlined in an earlier article @ https://www.gunnersshot.com/2021/11/blog-post_24.html. Amidst this, Kissinger has thrown in his hat to predict that he does not visualize China invading Taiwan in the next 10 years. Let us assume that he is correct given his vast experience with China. Also, China might not even want to undertake a high risk complicated action across Taiwan Straits despite the growling. In such a case, Xi Jinping really does not have any other option but to alter contours of the Sino Indian situation in China’s favour. He will gain immortal greatness in China’s history, which he has already pre-written, for having put a nuclear power and competitor in its place. Look at it from any point of view – the pattern, preparation, intent, and motivation are all there. In my opinion we are sitting on a powder keg which can blow any time 2023 onwards. Why 2023? After 2022, Xi would have consolidated his position fully. By 2023, PLA would have got adequate time to put everything in place to prosecute its chosen option in Tibet.
Like everything else in China, the political intent is critical. That is very clear in this case – India must be humiliated to hoist Xi Jinping on the tallest pedestal in China. How can India be humiliated? By a military land grab through a ‘local’ action. Thereafter present a fait accompli in which India is unable to retaliate. The aim will be to ensure that ‘humiliation’ is shoved down India’s throat for future generations to remember. To ensure such a scenario, China will prepare, train, and build up forces slowly and steadily. When it wants to execute its option, it will find an excuse to attempt multiple grabs along the LAC. At a time and place(s) of its choosing it will carry out a heavy incursion or two in strength to create a criticality. The LAC offers many such locations where a criticality can be created for India. Thereafter, China will deter any counter move by threatening unacceptable escalation or even point nuclear gun at us. It can and will do this in collusion with Pakistan in all probability.
In April 2017, even before the Doklam incident, I had written in an article @ https://www.gunnersshot.com/2019/12/are-we-ready-across-himalayas_8.html that the chances of an elevated stand off or heavy intrusion was more likely than the protracted war the Indian Army was then appreciating. In fact, I had written “the nightmare scenario is an intrusion or two with a force level ranging from a battalion group to a brigade sized force in areas which they claim as theirs backed by elevated levels of mobilisation of their reserves. A bright case for executing an ‘ informatised local war’…To handle such situations we need strong political leaders, military commanders, and supportive bureaucrats with guts and a deep understanding for proportionate responses. There is a need for adequate planning and equipping of our forces in a focussed manner to be able to take on such variable situations”. As things have evolved, this is the most likely scenario in future also. The requirement is a clear headed politico-military response.
The military options available to deal with the likely situations are essentially containment, eviction and proactive moves, or a combination thereof. These options have to be calibrated, firm, and decisive to be result oriented. Containment is simple – physically block the intrusion and do not let it expand. An adventurous variant being blocking the ingress/egress route or cutting of supplies of the intruding force, if feasible. This is however the least pay off option. Such an option will be attritional in nature. It could also result in a protracted face off with the PLA eventually consolidating its gains. This is their least cost – best pay off option. Eviction by force is conflict escalation – make no mistake. If the intrusion is by a big enough force, we will have a Kargil like situation on hand! The difference being that PLA has heavier artillery to hit back. Eviction is possible only before the PLA consolidates. The third option of proactively counter intruding in any other area is dynamic, indirect and effective. The action on Kailash Range, even though in own area, proved that. It avoids direct contact, has better escalatory control. Any pro quid quo action needs solid capability, staying power and a mental change since an offensive will be taking place in one area while being defensive elsewhere. Very significantly, we have demonstrated the capability and will to do so. Rebalancing a corps to the North sends the requisite message of intent and capability. A combination of any of these can be brought into effect depending upon prevailing conditions and ground situation(s) as also international and national sentiment. But to do any of this, one needs clear headed leadership and adequate military capability. Have we built that?
The larger question is that while we are preparing to tackle the PLA head on in the Himalayas, there are other actions which we can take to deter the Chinese from any misadventure. First and foremost, the very fact that we are discussing these options indicates that nuclear deterrence does not work in ‘local’ wars. Hence we need to build conventional non-contact deterrence based on IAF and Artillery firepower; meshed together seamlessly through communications and enhanced by battlefield transparency. This is not a ‘support task’ in the CDS mode of thinking. Secondly, the contest between a ‘full spectrum’ USA and ‘no spectrum’ Taliban has a lesson to offer. India needs to take the battle deep into Tibet. That can only be done if we play the Tibet card. It is time to get a start on it before it is too late. Xinjiang should also be conflated. China’s war space must be expanded. Thirdly, we must exploit indirect options. China has overextended itself in the CPEC and is in the process of doing so in the CMEC. These need to be targeted. Targeting these projects are low cost, low risk and high payoff options. Pakistan and Myanmar are both unstable enough to provide adequate opportunities. Fourth. The time to make a political move on Gilgit Baltistan has arrived. Start the process and things will happen. This move kills two birds with one stone. Fifth. Just as China has started militarising the South China Sea, start militarising the Andaman Seas and thereabouts reciprocally for China only. Laws enacted by China in South China Sea should be reciprocally applicable to Chinese maritime activity on entry into designated areas of Andaman Seas especially in the 5 Degree and 10 Degree channels. Lastly. There is a need to build international opinion and shape Western thinking that Chinese offensive intent transcends their Taiwan fixations. The value of making China defend its front and rear door simultaneously should be driven home. QUAD needs to orient accordingly.
A major issue is that the coming war will be largely fought in traditional domains plus Tibet. Economic, diplomatic, space, cyberspace and such domains have limited value in a Sino – Indian conflict as was seen in Eastern Ladakh. In fact they might just backfire on China. Also if Xi Jinping seeks greatness, he needs a victory in traditional domains. Claimed victory/ dominance in ephemeral/intangible domains will not convince his own people that he is the Chinese alternative to Superman. AI and other disruptive technologies are nowhere near being battle influencing factors leave alone being battle winners as yet or in the foreseeable future specially in the Himalayas. Overall, we must prepare accordingly without getting our head wrapped around woolly or fancy ideas.
The worrisome factor for India is that we have been repeatedly surprised. Twice in the recent past – at Kargil and Eastern Ladakh. Our national intelligence setup has always been fragmented during peace and war to make excuses and point fingers at each other rather than being together to pre-empt any hostile moves. In both cases our initial military reactions at local level have been found wanting. We have also been unable to set a narrative. We lost the narrative completely in Balakot to Pakistan. We have also lost the Galwan narrative in international circles. People have gone to the extent of commenting that India has lost face in Eastern Ladakh whereas it was the Chinese which withdrew from Finger4! India needs to re-think its overall Information War strategy ( if we have one at all) . Considering that many of our political parties run slick elections campaigns with stinging narratives to discredit the opposition, it is indeed surprising that we are unable to replicate it for national security. The party in power needs to rethink this issue. The most important factor which will win the coming war is Politico-Military-Bureaucratic convergence. Unless we have that in place we will come out second best. Just consider. The CDS states that China is our biggest threat. The Chinese are stone walling at LAC talks. Yet the Government states that it fully supports China in holding the Winter Olympics, when many are contemplating its boycott. Why are we appeasing China?
This is a video we recorded a couple of months back. The difference from then to now is that China has become more belligerent as its economy is slowing and Xi Jinping seeks personal cult status and fame.