Indian and Chinese soldiers jointly celebrate the New Year 2019 at Bumla along the Indo-China border, Arunachal Pradesh
Representational image | PTI photo
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As the Mamallapuram summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded last week, two things became clear. First, China is in no hurry to settle the boundary dispute and India is relatively too weak to force the issue. However, the days of China asserting its hegemony by triggering embarrassing border incidents are over. Second, the preferred phrase used for China by military scholars as well as Army Chief General Bipin Rawat in relation to the Line of Actual Control — “salami slicing” — is a misnomer.

From the strategic point of view, China had secured all Indian territory it needed to before 1962. Following the 1962 War, it vacated all captured territory, barring some strategically important areas in Ladakh as per its claims in Depsang, Sirijap-Khurnak Fort, Kailash Range and Demchok areas, made prior to the war. Since then, apart from the historic territorial claims and the perceived threat to Tibet emanating from India, the confrontations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have been more about China asserting its hegemony by embarrassing India. There has been no permanent ‘salami slicing’.

It mainly stepped up ‘intrusions’ by patrols in areas of ‘differing perceptions’ about the alignment of the LAC or triggered a ‘border incident’ as in Depsang and Chumar in 2013 whenever Beijing perceived a diplomatic or security challenge from India.

All Indian prime ministers until May 2014 responded to Chinese aggression by following a policy of ‘strategic restraint’ — focusing on economic relations while putting the contentious boundary dispute on the back burner. A number of confidence-building measures were put in place through various border defence cooperation agreements (1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013) to this effect.

But things changed in 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. While he generally sustained this policy, Modi adopted a tougher stance with respect to border incidents.


Also read: Balakot, China ‘incursions’ prove OSINT images are new threat for democracies and military


Chinas salami slicing– a misnomer

Over the years, China has managed to create 23 areas of ‘differing perceptions’ to gain tactical military advantage and to needle India. Of these, nine areas are disputed where intrusions or incidents have taken place while 14 are considered sensitive. There are two types of border incidents. One is the routine patrolling up to the respective claim lines by both sides in areas of ‘differing perceptions’.  Technically, these can be termed as intrusions and both sides lodge protests at border meetings and through diplomatic channels. The media, particularly in India, blows up these ‘intrusions’, which number 400-500 every year.

The second type of incident is triggered when China intrudes into ‘areas of differing perceptions’ to establish temporary military posts. India responds by deploying its forces to block and threaten the intrusion (Depsang 2013, Chumar 2013, and Demchok and Chumar 2014). Chinese actions are deliberately timed with important visits to assert territorial claims or to simply embarrass India. Such confrontations last one to three weeks before being diffused.

But the tactic of ‘salami slicing’, which Army Chief Gen Rawat said in September 2017 India needs to prepare itself against, isn’t a permanent feature.


Also read: Bipin Rawat’s plan to train jawans for officer role is Army admitting staff shortage, quality


Tough posture on LAC

Since Prime Minister Modi’s arrival at the helm of affairs, there has been a visible change in India’s strategic response, both diplomatic and military. Modi set things off by openly playing the ‘Tibetan card’ when he invited the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile for his swearing-in in 2014. During President Xi Jinping’s visit in September that year, when China attempted to embarrass the new government by intruding into Demchok and Chumar sector, India responded aggressively by camping opposite the Chinese troops and to the flanks to isolate the intrusion. Modi even took the unusual step of diplomatically cautioning China during the joint press conference. The situation was diffused by the end of that month.

India’s opposition to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the ‘semi-official’ status accorded to Dalai Lama’s Arunachal Pradesh visit in April 2017 annoyed China. The Chinese responded by blocking India’s move to have Masood Azhar designated as a global terrorist by the UNSC and its quest for entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). This competitive conflict led to the Doklam crisis lasting 74 days between June and August, when China and India came closest to an actual military confrontation since the Nathu La incident in 1967.

Taking note of the risk of an escalation between two nuclear states, both sides mutually agreed to diffuse the situation. India officially ‘distanced’ itself from the activities of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. China too responded with a conciliatory attitude, paving the way for the Wuhan informal summit in April 2018.


Also read: ‘Chai pe charcha’ in Doklam — daily ritual for Indian, Chinese troops now to ease tensions


Informal summits and border management

The seriousness of the Doklam crisis led Beijing to conclude that despite the economic and military asymmetry, India had the will and capability to stalemate China in a limited conflict below the nuclear threshold. It also concluded that any assertion of its hegemony through border incidents will be aggressively contested by India even at the risk of an escalation like it happened during 2014 Demchok and Chumar, and 2017 Doklam standoffs.

Consequently, both sides agreed at the Wuhan summit to issue “strategic guidance to their respective militaries to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs.” It was also agreed “to earnestly implement various confidence-building measures agreed upon between the two sides.”

Since Wuhan, the border management has improved. The ‘intrusive’ patrolling in areas of differing perceptions by both sides is better managed. All incidents and confrontations have been mutually settled at border meetings between local commanders.

At Mamallapuram informal summit held on 11-12 October, the Wuhan agreement on border management was reiterated: “…efforts will continue to be made to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas.”

Prognosis

There is a huge difference between India and China in terms of economic and military components of Comprehensive National Power. However, India is the fifth-largest economy and fourth-largest in terms of military strength ranking. It possesses the military capability and the will to stalemate China and give it a bloody nose in a border conflict. As a great power, China cannot risk such a confrontation.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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6 Comments Share Your Views

6 COMMENTS

  1. Reading this now, I am sure Lt. Gen. Panag was wrong. China’s border skirmishes and Nepal’s Oli commenting negatively on India is part of the PLA strategy to put pressure on us to retreat.

  2. Chinese are aggressors and should be stopped at all cost.
    Ii is not the same weak India under Nehru.
    Its s very strong and capable India under Mr Modi Chinese are finding it difficult to come to terms with this and hence their frustration.

  3. The muscled policy adopted by the present govt, since 2014 is best suited while dealing with a contender like China, which always has tried to push India down. With so much military power at it’s disposal, still China think not twice, but ten times before embarking on an adventure with India under Modi. It has been a historical happening that whenever there is some internal political convulsions in China they get in to some external confrontation with their traditional adversaries. During doklam incident, Xi Jinping was trying to get crowned as the president for life. He wanted to create an impression that he is a strong leader etc, so orchestrated the doklam. The Chinese miltary cannot undertake such an important adventure without the consent of it’s political leadership. So, when India showed it’s appropriate response they did not have any other option but to slink back. We can expect more such reaction from China, when they have some internal political turmoil in future.

    • I think you may be mistaken that President Xi Jinping orchestrated the Doklam incident.
      It is probably the local Chinese overseer of the Yadong Road contract, who seeing that they had a bit of a budget that year, decided to extend the track a few hundred meters towards the Jampheri ridge.
      A bulldozer and half a dozen civilian workers were allocated to the Task.
      Imagine their astonishment when one morning they were confronted with 300 Indians holding hands blocking the path. The Chinese garrison at Yadong was equally bewildered and unprepared, so the whole thing was not orchestrated.
      New Delhi overreacted – particularly as the building did not occur on Indian territory – and China had already built tracks on the Plateau and the PLA frequently patrolled the area.
      But Parcharak Modi though Brarat Mata had been violated, not a inch of our Mata can be stolen.
      THE RESULT OF THE INDIAN DOKLAM HYSTERIA WAS.
      The Chinese have now had large structures constructed on the Doklam plateau including barracks helipads, and artillery emplacements. Chinese roads are now criss cross the area right up to the disputed ridge. Huge amount of infrastructure has been built since the standoff.
      This can be clearly seen on Google maps.
      The road from Yadong has been tarred. There is also a road that leads to Jampahari ridge by another route fulfilling the Chinese objective.
      Overlooking the Siliguri corridor from Jampheri ridge by Chinese forces is not a threat as an observation position, Chinese satellites already can overlook every inch of India. The corridor is over sixty miles away, too far for a rifle shot – and artillery mortars and rockets do not need line of sight.
      Narendra Modi’s stand has only succeeded in the Chinese militarisation of the plateau. The Chinese will have their presence there further legitimised via negotiation with Bhutan.

  4. The Chinese take a more pragmatic and calm approach to India, in contrast to India’s nationalistic and somewhat hysterical attitude towards China. Indian BJP politicians after all, have to play to their voters .
    With China’s 60bn dollar trade surplus with India, its priority with India at the moment is trade and profit.
    However China’s main concern is elsewhere with American forces in the Pacific.
    In the above context a few thousand acres of barren land here and there do not matter to China, but is of great emotional significance for RSS ideologues.
    Example: With Pakistan we refuse to let go of an inch of the Siachen Glacier and agree to mutually demilitarise the area, despite the continuing deaths and hardship of our troops.
    General Panag is quite right in pointing out that in the last war, China having achieved its objectives and unilaterally withdrew.
    In 1962 China denied any Indian claim to Akshai Chen as it wanted to secure its road, but was happy to let India come back and occupy from Daulat Beg Oldi and dozens of other places along its borders right up to Arunachal Pardesh.
    After the 1962 war, Mao a military commander himself, effectively wanted to demilitarise the area. He at a military meeting, pointed at places in the India Tibet Border and said these are useless bits of barren land to scrap over, no rice will grow here Mao said.
    The provocation over the years has come from India, it has militarised hugely (in contrast to its military presence prior to 1962) China has only reciprocated.
    As China’s economy and educated population has surged It has massive resources and organisational skills available to built infrastructure in Tibet.
    Panag is right China takes any adversary seriously and after the 1967 clash at Nathu La China realised that India was not interested in demilitarisation.
    Some of India’s latest provocations has been landing planes at DBO, upgrading the road to Demchok and interfering in a boundary dispute between third parties at Doklam.
    At DBO China is building a tarmac road to their national highway 219, The whole of Akshai Chin will be designated by the Chinese as an international tourist destination and is firmly in China’s grasp.
    At Demchok China has responded by building air bases, tarmac roads and enhancing its garrison at Nagari.
    China has commenced upgrading to a tarmac road to Lanquen Zangbo where it becomes the Sutlej river and building permanent structures along the Sutlej, in areas disputed by India but strangely not contested by Indian army petrols.
    At Doklam plateau such has been the surge of Chinese building of infrastructure and reinforcing of the nearby garrison town Yadong that they completely dominate the Chumbi valley although it is not possible to attack via here, the worry should be the linking up of the China’s S204 highway to Bhutan, surveys have been done for a future railway to Will Bhutan follow Nepal’s example of railway to China?
    India cannot afford a race to build infrastructure in the Himalayas as it cannot compete with China’s economy,
    The Indian budget must have other priorities like education and healthcare. India will only gain parity and security with China via diplomatic means and an integrated economy with China , raising mountains divisions for an already bloated army is folly.
    Our security is best served by joining the Belt and Road initiative.
    We chickened out during the Doklam crises, our greatest threat is right wing ideology and BJP Jingoism, this prevents any rational way forward.

    • Your, lopsided and negative opinion about India, its military capabilities and present policy makers has only exposed the bias.

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