Did pugnacious Modi bow to Xi on Ladakh?

At the height of 14,000 feet (Galwan Valley), two nuclear powers exchanged fisticuffs and threw stone one each other besides using barbed-wired-enveloped bludgeons. India lost 20 lives, including an officer commanding (colonel) in this lethal game. Indian claims China lost 43 lives as per radio intercepts.

Kerfuffle: A host of Indian generals, politicians and China-centered media gurus claimed that China was out to alter status quo ante. Planet-Lab-imagery `corroborated’ exhibited pre-incursion and post-incursion positions.

India’s Maj Gen (Dr) G G Dwivedi, who commanded a Jat battalion in this sector in 1992, said,

“It is part of China’s ‘nibble and negotiates policy’. Their grand aim is to ensure that India does not build infrastructure along the LAC, change the status of Ladakh, cozy up to the US and join the anti-China chorus caused by Covid-19. It is their way of attaining a political goal with military might while gaining more territory in the process.’’ He added. “We used to patrol up till Hot Springs and so did they. The Ladakh Scouts controlled the Galwan valley and did not encounter any problems either’. His troops learned of Chinese patrols from graffiti on the rocks that read ‘Chung ko (This is China)’. Indian troops retaliated by scribbling ‘This is India’ on the rocks.

He interpreted China’s current belligerence as a reaction to ` India’s recent actions of reorganising [disputed] Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and improving infrastructure in the region, Dwivedi clarified, “It [China] has high stakes in PoK [Azad Kashmir] as the $60-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) traverses through it, and it is also the site of the proposed $9 billion Diamer Bhasha Dam, a joint project of China and Pakistan.’’ China’s aim is to ` dominate Durbuk-DBO road, strengthen its position in the Fingers area, halt the construction of link roads in Galwan-Pangong Tso [salt lake] and negotiate de-escalation on its terms (Maj Gen (Dr) G G Dwivedi: ‘Right now, Chinese have an edge, we must neutralise it’. Indian Express, June 18, 2020). Chinese media insisted that it is India, not China, who has outstepped Line of Actual Control. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, however, reiterated China’s allegation, squarely blaming the Indian troops for the incident. “The right and wrong of this case are very clear and responsibility doesn’t lie with the Chinese side” (Indian Express June 19, 2020).

False allegations: India alleged, “An analysis of high-resolution satellite images of the Pangong Tso area in Ladakh shows that not only have the Chinese changed the status quo at the Fingers, the mountain spurs along the lake, but also built `substantial’ structures in the contested region of the Line of Actual Control’. The hills protrude into the lake like fingers and are numbered 1 to 8 from west to east. According to India, the LAC lies at Finger 8, but China points to Finger 4. The May 27 images by Planet Labs show dozens of new structures, most likely tents, that have come up between Finger 8 and Finger 4 on the north bank of Pangong Tso, one of the main points of contention in the current standoff (Satellite imagery shows how Chinese changed status quo on Pangong bank, IE, June 6, 2020)

However, the Chinese view was confirmed by prime minister Narender Modi. While addressing the all-party conference, Modi said, “Neither have they [Chinese] intruded into our border nor has any post been taken over by them [China]. He added, “Neither have they intruded into our border nor has any post been taken over by them (China)”. He added, “no one can take even an ‘inch of the land’ (China did not enter our territory, no posts taken’: PM at all-party meet on Ladakh clash, Hindustan Times, Jun 19, 2020).

The media alleged that China had taken over 640 kilometers of Ladakh territory. This fact had been recorded in former foreign secretary Shyam Saran in his 2013 report. But, this allegation was rebutted not only by Saran himself but also by former defence minister AK Antony. (Antony to clarify whether China occupied 640 sq km in Ladakh in April, NDTV, September 06, 2013; also, see NSAB chief denies reporting Chinese intrusions to PMO,

Business Standard and China did not enter our territory, no posts taken’: PM at all-party meet on Ladakh clash, Hindustan Times, Jun 19, 2020). Even `The Indian army denied that Ladakh had shrunk. Change in the river course was cited as a reason for the loss of 500-1,500 meters of land annually (Standoff between India, China troops end in Ladakh after talks: Report, IE May 26, 2020).

Real casus belli: Since 1962, India has been building bridges and constructed roads in the disputed border areas. India wanted faster access to feeder roads to LAC. `Under the phase 2 of the India-China Border Roads (ICBR) project, 32 roads will be built along the India-China border. As per sources, now the government has asked concerned officials to accelerate the construction of these roads’ (India to accelerate the construction of roads along Chinese border: Sources. India Today June 17, 2020).

Coupled with improved road links, India constructed many air bases and airfields in forward locations. Following Galwan melee, India alerted its forward airfields and moved its fighters/bombers there. Even Indian air force chief undertook whirlwind tours of forward fields, including Leh (IAF chief visits Leh, IAF on high operational alert, India today June 19, 2020). Russia is upgrading the existing fleet of the Su-30 MKI to match Chinese aircrafts Su-35 and J-31 fighter jets.

The existing fleet of Su-30 will be upgraded to the level of `Super Sukhoi’ with long-range stand-off missiles with a range of 300 km; adding more powerful EW and jamming systems, high-performance engines, multiple ejector Rack, and AESA radar. Rafale’s delivery of the aircraft from France is on track. The delay is due to the ferrying of the fighters which will arrive in July end. The first four out of the 36 aircraft expected to come from France will reach Ambala Airbase and there will be three twin-seat and one single-seater.

Thirty-six Rafale fighter aircraft in a flyaway condition from France’s Dassault Aviation is arriving. On its way to India, these will be refueled mid-air by the Russian IL-78 and one French Air Force Tanker.

It may be noted that the first of the 36 Rafale jets will physically arrive in India only in May next year after India-specific enhancements are made to the aircraft. The Rafale jets will be based at Ambala Air Base in Punjab and Hashimara Air Base in West Bengal.

China is worried also about Indian Navy activities in the Indian Ocean. India is developing Andaman and Nicobar as a strategic outpost to monitor rival Chinese naval activity in the Eastern Indian Ocean. It has set up an integrated surveillance network there. The Indian Navy has been developing the Strengthening anti-access capabilities in the Andamans. In the coming days, we could expect a Modi’s volte-face re-agitating claims over the Galwan Valley or Pangong Tso.

Expected trend: China has already achieved what it set out to achieve, which is control over the Galwan Valley and Finger 4. Modi told the political parties that China did not move an inch across LAC. Shortly after he announced that he would not recognize the Chinese occupation of Galwan Valley.

The situation in Ladakh is calm but tense. A viral video of Zakir Hussain, a councillor from Shakar constituency in Kargil district, hints that the Indian army and government is concealing the bitter truth of their humiliating defeat at Galwan. Indian casualties were around 200. No Chinese were killed. The councilor has been arrested on a charge of sedition.

India is trying to plug up its shortcomings on land and in air. India may get tougher with China in August when it becomes president of the Security Council. India hopes that Pakistan would remain aloof owing to the United States’ pressure if here is an armed confrontation with China.