How should India Deal with China’s Threat

Introduction

Indian and Chinese troops have been having a face-off in Doka La general area of Sikkim since 16 June 2017.
Reportedly, Chinese troops entered into Indian Territory in the Sikkim sector and jostled with Indian Army
personnel guarding the Sino-India frontier, besides destroying two bunkers.
The Indian troops formed a human wall against the Chinese personnel to prevent them from advancing further into the Indian Territory. The incident was also video-graphed by some of them, the clipping of which has gone viral on the social media.
China, on the contrary claims that Indian troops had violated the border and transgressed into its territory.
Consequently, China closed the cross-border Nathu La mountain pass, which China and India had re-opened in 2006 and has said that the passage will remain closed until India withdraws its troops.
The closure of Nathu La pass automatically blocked the entry for Indian pilgrims travelling to Kailash
Mansarovar.
The reason why this stand-off is significant is that it has taken place in the Sikkim sector, where the border is
well settled. The earlier stand-offs between soldiers from the two sides have usually taken place in the western
and eastern sectors, where the status of the boundary remains unresolved.
Previous History of Military Stand-offs
China does not accept the Mc Mohan line as the legal delineation between India and China. It says that this
was a demarcation agreed upon between erstwhile British Raj and Tibet.
In late 1967, there were two skirmishes between Indian and Chinese forces in Sikkim. The first one was
dubbed the “Nathu La incident”, and the other the “Chola incident”, where exchange of heavy fire took place
at the Sikkim outpost.
During the whole conflict Indian losses were 88 killed and 163 wounded, while Chinese casualties were 300
killed and 450 wounded in Nathu La, and 40 in Chola.
Once again, when India granted statehood to Arunachal Pradesh (formerly the North-East Frontier Agency) in
February 1987, there was an escalation on the border, resulting in both sides to deploy additional troops in the
area, raising tensions and fears of a new border war.
However, by the summer of 1987, both sides backed away from the conflict zone.
The term ‘LAC’ gained legal recognition after the Sino-India border agreements signed in 1993 and in 1996.
The 1996 agreement states that no activity shall overstep the Line of Actual Control.
China formally recognized Sikkim as an Indian state in 2003, on the condition that India accepted Tibet
Autonomous Region as a part of China. This mutual agreement led to closer Sino-Indian ties, including trade
and commerce.
The Daulat Beg Oldi Incident May 2013:A three-week standoff between Indian and Chinese troops took
place along the Line of Actual Control, 30 km south east of Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh region and Aksai Chin.
The matter was finally defused on 05 May 2013. India agreed to destroy some military structures along 250
km stretch near Chumar, which Chinese perceived to be threatening.
Later, in October 2013 both sides signed a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement to ensure that border
patrolling does not escalate into a military conflict.
The Chumar Incident September 2014: Chumaris an area 300km northeast of Leh, bordering Himachal
Pradesh. China has since long been trying to reduce India’s dominance in the area.
In the said incident, China commenced construction work of a road, which, as per the border understanding of
2005, should have only started after prior intimation to India.
Indian troops rushed to the site to stop the construction work. Meanwhile, China also called for reinforcement
and eventually 1000 strong Chinese force was mobilised that sat 5 km into India territory in eye ball to eye ball
contact with Indian troops.
The tension was eventually defused by mediation at the highest level.
The Demchuk Incident: Demchuk is the area where LAC ends and IB starts and also the area where Indus
River enters into India from China.
The Demchuk incident was considered to be a diversionary ploy played by China, in which it objected to the
construction of an irrigation canal by India at Demchuk, about 80 kms from the above stated Chumar site of
confrontation.
They dispatched dozens of civilians and nomads to object, and who pitched tents on the Indian side of the
LAC. So, it was more of an impasse between the local civilians of both sides of the LAC.
Reasons for the Ongoing Stand-off
The specific reason for the ongoing stand-off happens to be India’s objection to China building a road in the
Sikkim sector of the border. India alleges that the area in question comes under its jurisdiction, China, on the
other hand, claims that the area belongs to China as per the 1890 Sino-British Treaty.
The Indian state of Sikkim is sandwiched between Bhutan to the East, Nepal to the West, and China to the
North. The road construction by China in question is a stretch of road near the narrow tri-junction where
Sikkim, Bhutan, and China meet.
Meanwhile, Bhutan which does not hold diplomatic ties with China has also entered the fray and asked China
to immediately halt its road construction activity and restore the status quo.
Political Reason: The timing to rake up this issue, when PM Modi was visiting US to reset ties with Trump
administration suggests that it was a demonstration of muscle-flexing by China to intimidate India. The
proximity between US and India appears to have rattled China.
Furthermore, in an effort to appear politically correct, China wants to soften-up India’s objection to the ‘One
Belt One Road’ initiative on the grounds that China’s construction efforts were impeding on India’s
sovereignty. In this case, China is claiming to be the aggrieved party on the sovereignty issue.
Strategic Reason: The road in question is being built at a very close distance from India’s most vulnerable
geographic choke point, the Siliguri corridor.
The Siliguri corridor forms a chicken’s neck and is the primary link between the North-eastern states and the
rest of India. Capture of this strategic choke point can cut-off the complete North-eastern region in one stroke.
Hence, it goes without saying that India would aggressively react to checkmate any such Chinese manoeuvre
and that’s what precisely China wanted at this point in time.
China’s Larger Strategic Objective
Incursions from China continue despite protests and meetings by India. The intrusions are well coordinated
and show marked interest by the PLA in areas of military significance.
China has highly developed surface and air communication facilities all along the Tibetan Autonomous Region
(TAR), especially, opposite Arunachal Pradesh and is in the process of preparing a dozen more airfields in
Tibet.
Indian side on the other hand, is highly under developed with difficult terrain and therefore, builds up,
movement and reinforcement of troops will be laborious and time consuming.
Assertive stance of China on the border is an indicator that it wants to stake its territorial claims and also
dissuade India from building up infrastructure along the border.
Also, by slowly biting into pieces of Indian Territory through continuous intrusions, the Chinese are observing
how India’s political leadership and its security forces react to such provocation.
The PLA is training for short and swift conflict preceded by a cyber-offensive. An offensive could involve the
use of missiles, anti-satellite weapons, overwhelming firepower and control over the air space. The extent and
scale of conflict would depend on Chinese motives and intent.
China’s larger strategy is to isolate India and keep it confined to the back waters of South Asia through its
policy of establishing a ‘string of pearls’ by increasing its influence over all neighbours of India, like, Nepal,
Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan and of course with its all-time ally Pakistan.
Proactive Measures by India against China’s Threat
India must vigorously pursue its ‘Act East Policy by engaging all SE Asian nations, who have clashing
interests with China in the South China Sea.
Similarly, engaging with a heavy weight like Japan in trade and diplomatic ties will serve as an effective
counter weight against China’s expansionism, especially, when Japan and China are at daggers drawn over
their dispute to control Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands in the East China Sea.
Improvement of infrastructure in the Northeast will go a long way to bind the region with the rest of the
country, as also, serve for swift deployment of troops during an exigency.
The newly commissioned 9.15-kilometer-long Dhola Sadiya Bridge across the Brahmaputra River, which is
designed to carry the weight of 60-ton main battle tanks, connects Arunachal Pradesh with the North-eastern
state of Assam has been built with the primary aim of strengthening India’s military prowess close to the
disputed border with China.
The North East State Roads Investment Project will undertake road upgradation/ construction of a total of
433.4 km for the complete North East at a total cost of Rs.1355.83 crore. Under North East Road Sector
Development Scheme (NERSDS), four inter-state neglected road projects have been taken up by Ministry of
DoNER for upgradation through National Highway & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited
(NHIDCL).
The Indian Railways is also all set to go beyond Assam and cover the rest of the seven sisters by 2020.
Militarily, India needs to improve its force level along the LAC and NE border with China. Towards this end, a
new Mountain Corps is being raised to meet this explicit requirement.
In order to appear more assertive and forceful in projecting its footprints, at the tactical level, renewed
emphasis must be laid on patrolling and surveillance using satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and
battle field surveillance radars.
Deployment of strategic assets, keeping the threat perception in mind, will serve as a serious deterrent and ‘a
threat in being’, e.g. deployment of Agni V.
Last but not the least, considering that China is our largest trading partner, we must continuously engage China
into meaningful talks and sincerely endeavour to resolve the long outstanding border disputes amicably.

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