Thursday, 26 May, 2022
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LAC crisis will be a long haul, can cost both India and China

Prolonged deployment and maintenance of large bodies of troops in extremely inhospitable conditions is draining both India and China’s economies.

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The irony of the situation should not be lost on anyone: ministers are seen talking past each other; diplomats hold ‘good discussions’ that go nowhere, and soldiers are left to defend an undecided line, and find a “peaceful resolution”.

Meanwhile, the best minds in India and countries friendly with India wrack their brains to understand why the situation along the border with China has come to this, to no avail. Many possibilities have emerged — from personal peccadilloes to transnational trends, and the convenient blame game for the coronavirus pandemic. But these can barely explain why the Chinese did, and continue to do what they are doing in Ladakh. Crystal-gazing has not been the most perfect of arts, but here we are, all forced to gaze into the future.

Also read: Linking LAC peace with good relations shows India still doesn’t get China

Bottom Line

In the absence of face-saving exit routes for both sides, it is safest for India to settle for the bottom line option. This entails settling down to secure a simultaneously undefined, and not mutually accepted, Line of Actual Control (LAC) with many characteristics that resemble its sibling to the West, and with many potential differences. At least till the essential infrastructure comes up, this conflict portends to be a strain on the Indian State and its resources, but one that will have to be borne with stoicism.

The Chinese appear, at least in terms of planning, to have worked out the requirements in advance.

An elaborate programme of ‘Civil – Military Unification’ in logistics has been in the works for some time. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Military districts, the Logistics Departments of the PLA Theatre Commands, and the local civilian administrations are all vital to the execution of the programme. The PLA Strategic Support Force is reported to have already started working on providing essential support to forward troops through communications and other information warfare support mechanisms. One can expect satellite and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) coverage to give round-the-clock information, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support to the deployed force.

Logically, the imperatives of an LOC-type deployment will not be restricted to the LAC in Eastern Ladakh; such forward positioning of troops is likely all along the disputed border. There are already reports of additional PLA concentrations closer to the disputed LAC along other sectors as well.

Despite the publicity in the Chinese language press and electronic media about all these measures in place for its army, those with some experience of maintaining a live line of control will no doubt understand the many possible proverbial ‘slips between the cup and the lip’ as plans get executed on ground. Sceptics in India are also assessing the overdone publicity to the Chinese system, realising its weaknesses and proactively using this publicity as a screen to hide behind.

Also read: 14 hours of India-China talks fail to break logjam, more rounds of negotiations ahead

Drain on resources

Despite being a prosperous country, compared with India, the Chinese economy, too, will face severe strain due to the prolonged deployment and maintenance of large bodies of troops in extremely inhospitable conditions. Considering that the Chinese people are pragmatic and so is their political leadership, such a measure is likely to meet criticism and calls for revision from within the Chinese Communist Party. Even potential Chinese Presidentsfor-life, such as Xi Jinping, may have to backtrack at some point of time.

Also read: Beijing is probably aiming for its LAC claim of 1959, China expert Yun Sun says

Changing Tack

In the face of potential unified pushback against China from the rest of the world, it is quite likely that the models of Chinese external behaviour that has been on display, such as the ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy, will become more withdrawn and below the radar. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s words of wisdom when he advised China to “hide its power and bide its time” may soon come in handy.

Early indications of a possible change in tack can be seen in how several new Chinese ambassadors in South Asia now have more work experience as party apparatchiks than as Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) diplomats. In a return to Maoist practice, one can expect the line diplomat to present the smoke and mirrors , while the apparatchik runs the real show. We must also expect the United Front Work Department (UFWD) to lead operations in India’s neighbourhood, a matter of separate, and more detailed study. It appears that Chinese activities in South Asia will increasingly be under the direct supervision of the UFWD, rather than that of the MoFA.

The situation in Eastern Ladakh and along the rest of the LAC is unlikely to return to a pre–2020 state any time soon. The earlier India accepts that the present situation on the LAC will continue for some time, the easier it will be for India to organise and implement the LAC’s security. The PLA and the Chinese state, on the other hand, will also face a steep learning curve in grappling with how to set up and manage a not-so-friendly disputed line against India, if the situation is not to escalate further. Perhaps, the pain of going through this experience will grant both sides some wisdom, and help restart positive negotiations towards a final settlement.

The author is a retired infantry officer with extensive experience along the LAC. Views are personal.

Also read: Pakistan’s ‘upgrade’ of Gilgit-Baltistan is linked to the India-China stand-off


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  1. what do you expect, India should ho back, fruend India has nothing to go back for.
    India is there for good, yes the offensive posture once we have Aksai Chin, all occupied lands plus make Tibet Free then we stay back and relax little bit then we will becready for any counter attack by the Chinese.

    I forget all areas upto every direction till 500 kilometres from Bhutan, India will take grom China.

    India needs to break China otherwise China will break India

  2. Actually no one has a clue about the real reason for the PLA deployment since April 2020.
    Why would the PLA spend so much money and lives of their own forces on all this. Are we missing something?
    The Chinese have subtleties in their strategies and as we are just trying to guess what they are up to.

  3. I agree with the author.

    We should give up ladakh, Arunachal, sure Sikkim as they are hospitable.

    There is no point of posturing for these land masses where no one inhabits.

    Infact let POK connect with Ladakh via Jammu and Srinagar that will be wonderful.

    • @Neil, China should give up Tibet and Beijing and Pakistan should give Punjab, Sindh, Balochistand And Kashmir for peace in South Asia…every thing will be wonderful for all peaceful people.

  4. The mystery of why CHina’s PLA acted as it did, can be partially explained by the fact that in our Parliament, our senior Ministers have stated vociferously that Aksai Chin will be reclaimed back – even though its status was still under negotiation between the border consultative teams of both nations. With the Xinjian- Tibet highway at stake , China has decided to create a wider geographical buffer between our territories and the highway. For China, the best way is to gobble up more territory West of our LAC.
    The folly of making unduly aggressive looking statements aimed at a domestic audience on the floor of Parliament are only now coming home to our thoroughly inexperienced Cabinet members.

  5. Like the Ten Commandments and Ashoka’s Edicts, in present times, nothing is etched in stone. The world is evolving. The increase in rate of speed of change after the II WW War, in areas ranging from technology to tactics can rival the speed of light, so to speak. Methods (the way we talk) are less important than the core issue. It is better that we stick to basics rather than to methods in our analysis of all matters and situations. What is happening now between India and China has happened many times earlier; it is just that this time because of technology the game is being played out louder in the media.
    The fact is nothing about LAC has really changed since 1947, since the exact line of LAC has never been agreed by the two parties. Using this as an excuse, China often tries to grab unoccupied territories (patrolled by both etc…) wherever possible and whenever it suits them, along the LAC. The intend is nothing more than to keep India on a leash and ensure it is not a competition in South Asia. It is also sad that two Nations, even after wars and talks, have not been able to resolve it for decades. This happens when one or both parties do not want a resolution. It is abundantly clear here as to who does not want the issue resolved. It is fallacious to expect that it will get resolved any time soon unless China comes to the negotiating table. Like Snehesh (The Print) often says, War is not a solution while it can extend the problem; though we need to maintain a strong Army.
    China will win the day, if we as a Nation divert our excess energies here rather than on the economic and societal issues which are more fundamental and enduring to a better future for India.

    • For criminally neglecting healthcare and primary education the vilification of Nehru should never stop. His distrust of fellow Indians, especially if they were wealth creators and his failure to pay attention to improving the quality of India’s population are reason enough why his vilification should never stop. His failure to completely scrap British era laws including the sedition, blasphemy and official secrets acts and his attempt to curb the freedom of expression are further reasons why he should be forever vilified.

    • The fact that something was done wrong in the past doesn’t amount to “vilification” Its a mere reflection of the circumstances which led us to this point. Foreign Affairs is not a one day or a 10 year game. More so when dealing with civilizational cultures like both India and China are. Civilizational cultures have seen it all and when one is the aggressor you do not keep mute. If you do, the result is before us to see. Not just in Aksai Chin but also elswhere around the globe where erstwhile unshakeable civilizations were wiped out . Its important to look at things from this angle too because China for sure has opened a front on all sides based on its perception of glory of the Middle Kingdom.

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