India last week conducted its first night-user firing of the newly introduced AGNI V ICBM. The missile range extends to the northern part of China. It forms a crucial part of India’s minimum deterrence policy. Earlier, China had questioned India’s missile trials by stating, “As for whether India can develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, the UNSCR 1172 already has clear stipulations.”
This UNSC resolution was issued post nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan. It mentions that the two nations must not develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. India ignored Chinese comments. Simultaneously, China has passed its new border laws which make the PLA responsible for border regions. China has constructed border villages, where it forcibly moved Tibetans from their traditional grazing grounds, handing over those lands to Han Chinese to exploit for minerals.
The new land laws make it mandatory for Tibetans living in these border villages to support military activities. These laws are mainly applicable against Bhutan and India, the two nations China has not settled its borders with. It is aware that its border dispute with Bhutan can only be settled with Indian concurrence. Though nothing changes between India and China with the passing of the new laws, the intention appears to be to project continuation of the dispute.
The Indian foreign ministry reacted and stated, “It may be noted that India and China have still not resolved the boundary question…In this regard, China’s unilateral decision to bring about a legislation which can have implication on our existing bilateral agreements on border management as well as on the boundary question is of concern to us.”
Chinese foreign ministry officials dismissed Indian objections. Tensions between India and China continue along the northern and eastern borders. Talks with China have stalled. Additional forces would remain in place through harsh winters for the second consecutive year. In the past twenty months, China has replaced 20 battalions in Ladakh and has had large medical casualties due to weather conditions; however due to its own stubbornness, it is compelled to remain in situ for future winters.
As per the Indian army’s Eastern Army Commander, Lt Gen Manoj Pande, Chinese exercises in the region have increased, as also has its troop density. Development of infrastructure continues by both sides. China is aware that India is no pushover. The recent incident in Tawang where Chinese troops were temporarily detained has hurt Chinese ego. It employed every social media forum to deny the incident and stalled the last round of talks to convey its displeasure.
When India announced it would impart lessons on Tibetology to its soldiers deployed along the LAC, the Chinese mouthpiece, the Global Times, stated that the Indian intention appears to be to deploy these troops in disputed regions. Indian deployment of K9 Vajra and M 777 155 mm guns in Eastern Ladakh was commented upon by the Chinese spokesperson as “China opposes any arms race in the disputed border areas for the purpose of competition over control.”
In retaliation, China deployed 100 long-range PCL-181 light, truckmounted howitzers. In the Eastern theatre India has deployed Pinaka and Smerch multiple barrel rocket systems in response to China deploying its rocket regiments. Troop levels maintained by both sides are at near parity, thus making operations difficult. India has sent the message that it will not be cowed down by Chinese pressures.
The Indian armed forces have been building their capacities to counter a belligerent China, though not at the rate at which they should have. These additional capacities gave the forces the confidence to stare down China in Doklam, Galwan and currently across the entire front. While India seeks talks to resolve the issue, there is no doubt that it possesses the will and capability to counter China.
Few writers have projected stronger Chinese capability in noncontact warfare, forgetting that in declared fields India possesses a near equal status, while in unannounced fields, India is not far behind. Further, India has changed its concept of operations against China from defensive to offensive. The repositioning of strike corps forces from the west to the east and north as also completing the raising of the mountain strike corps, alongside rapid infrastructure development, send the message that India would retaliate if provoked.
The Global Times, had attempted to brush aside India’s growing military capability by linking it with Indian dependence on imported weapons. It stated in an article, “Indian forces use weapons bought from different countries which may not coordinate with each other well, not to mention their undisciplined troops who can blow up their own submarine in a dockyard and shoot down a friendly helicopter.” It even attempted to drive a wedge between India and its western allies.
The Global Times stated, “They (Quad) want to create a ‘dragon-elephant rivalry’, in which China and India are hostile against each other and consume each other in the long run. This way, they can cause loss to China in the short term and impoverish India in the long term – strategically killing two birds with one stone.”
For China, India remains a major threat, against which it is compelled to concentrate large forces. The major Chinese fear stems from India opening a second front in case its operations against Taiwan, US or Japan are stalled or the US joins in to support Taiwan. The realignment of forces to enhance offensive capabilities has China worried. Its construction of additional billeting is due to this concern.
The Global Times has stated, “with its national strength, China is fully capable of simultaneously dealing with challenges from the US, Japan, as well as India.” Evidently, this fear lurks in Chinese minds. In such a scenario, India must continue to stoke Chinese fears by ensuring that its force levels in the region possess offensive capabilities which can threaten key Chinese positions along the G 219 Highway. Regular offensive exercises must be conducted close to the LAC. India must remain a threat until the current border crisis is resolved.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)