Why are the Chinese creating issue with India: a brief note and analysis on China
On 9th December 2022 there were clashes between Indian and Chinese forces at Yangtse of the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh. 1. The troops belonging to three different battalions, including Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, Jat regiment and Sikh Light Infantry, were present at the location of the clash last week when the Chinese tried to unilaterally change the status quo in the area. This time the Chinese brought Drones to shoot the clashes.
As per reports published in the media, there was another “face-off” between Indian and Chinese troops in the last week of November in the Demchok region of Ladakh, further to the north.
It was unclear if there were any injuries resulting from that incident, which was the first since September 2020. The army source said that there has been increased activity in Ladakh by the Chinese military, as well as a “possible” airspace violation by the Chinese air force in the same area. This follows joint military exercises which irked Beijing last month between India and the United States in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, which borders China. The Chinese soldiers also displayed a banner objecting to the Indo-US military exercises, the source said.
Interestingly, both Indian and Western media reported that the Indian and Chinese troops clashed along the disputed border near the Yangtze area in Arunachal Pradesh, bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region. Yangtse is one of the 25 contested areas along the 3488-km Line of Actual Control between the two countries, stretching from the Western Sector to Middle Sector to Eastern Sector.
A majority of these areas – Yangtse included – were identified by the two sides during multiple meetings of the Joint Working Group (JWG) in the 1990s, during an exchange of maps for the Middle Sector in 2000, and a comparison of maps for the Western Sector in 2002. The remaining contested areas were identified over a period of time due to PLA actions.
During the expert group meeting in 2002, maps for the LAC in the Western Sector pertaining to eastern Ladakh were to be exchanged. But the Chinese side refused to formally exchange the maps, effectively stalling the process of clarifying the LAC mentioned in the 1993 Agreement for maintaining peace and tranquility on the border that was signed between Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and Chinese Premier Li Peng.
In the present context, Chinese media is claiming that the specific location of the conflict between China and India was in the Dongzhang area. This is the same area, 25 kilometers east of Xiaocun and Bangshankou, where the two sides clashed in October 2021.
It is pertinent to recall that Bangshankou Pass is the demarcation point of actual control between China and India, and it is also the place where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attack was launched to control Tawang during the 1962 war. According to the Chinese reports describing the latest face-off, the demarcation line between the actual control of the two sides in the direction of Cuona-Tawang is still the Bangshankou Pass.
According to the Chinese media, Dongzhang is an extremely important frontline area in the fight against Indian encroachment in South Tibet, or Nan Zang, as Arunachal Pradesh is called in China. The Dongzhang area refers to the virgin forest valley area in the south of Langpo Township, or Langpo Xiang in Chinese (also Lampu Township), in Cuona county. The Cuona River – also called the Langbo or Dongzhang River – flows from north to south in Cuona county. It is located on the alpine plateau, a windy, cold, and dry semi-arid monsoon climate zone at the northern foot of the Himalayas. Along the river valley and the winding mountain road down to Langpo Township, it enters the humid, warm, and rainy subtropical mountainous semi-humid and humid climate zone at the southern foot of the Himalayas.
Additionally, Dongzhang waterfall is a highly respected holy place and it is believed to be the place where the Tibetan Buddhist master Padmasambhava practiced. Dongzhang is situated at the river’s narrowest point; one can actually cross it on foot during the dry season.
India Occupies Land Near the Dongzhang Waterfall
Chinese reports claim that in the past there used to be a wooden bridge across the river, and Chinese and Tibetan people could cross the river to receive holy water from under the waterfall. However, in 2001 the wooden bridge was lost. Subsequently, Indian troops set up a sentry point to the south of the Dongzhang waterfall. According to a long feature article written by Tang Banhu on a Chinese online news website, the Indian Army there consists of a platoon from the 19th battalion of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles under the 40th Mountain Brigade.
Following the setting up of the Indian sentry point, Chinese troop movements have been restricted at the foot of Dongzhang waterfall viewpoint, which is located at an altitude of about 3,550 meters. Further up in the mountain, at an altitude of about 4,300 meters, is the 1.3 square kilometers of Dogoer grassland, which is currently under Indian occupation. Originally a summer pasture for the local Tibetan herdsmen, the grassland has a gentle slope and abundant pasture.
According to the article by Tang Banhu, the Indian Army first entered the area in 1968. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army began carrying out regular patrols in 1988 and started bringing local herdsmen into the area for grazing – their purpose was to declare Chinese sovereignty through joint grazing and patrols. On July 6, 1999, the Chinese joint grazing team consisted of 33 people, including 13 herdsmen and 20 patrolling border guards. They brought 60 livestock into the Dogoer grassland for grazing. However, the following day they were intercepted by the Indian Army when they entered the eastern end of the Maila Pass.
Blocked by the Indian Army and unable to advance further, the herdsmen from Langbo County along with the PLA soldiers were forced to graze only at the Maila Pass. The next day, the Chinese group was surrounded by 46 Indian soldiers, who conducted searches of the Chinese tents. The Indian side also set up five tents and built fortifications. Meanwhile, more PLA border guards arrived at the spot and suddenly the situation became very serious. The situation eventually took an ugly turn and both sides got entangled in a confrontation. This led to a face-off that lasted for 82 days.
Why the December 9 Dongzhang Clash? ( credits: Hemant Adhlakha -The Diplomat)
According to Chinese media reports, the Dongzhang area clash between the PLA and Indian Army on December 9, 2022, is just a resumption of what happened in September-October last year. Just as in 2021, this time around the PLA team consisted of about 250-300 soldiers – larger numbers as compared with 200 people in 2021 – who went to the frontline of the Dogoer grassland mountain pass with the purpose of demolishing illegal buildings. Unexpectedly, this time the PLA was confronted by a large Indian patrol team comprising 400 troops. Both sides entered a scuffle in which six Indian soldiers received serious injuries and were admitted to a hospital in Guwahati.
A quick glance at the various Chinese media reports presents three specific yet mutually exclusive explanations for the Dongzhang conflict on December 9. First, some Chinese strategic affairs analysts have tried to stitch together various neighborhood conflicts or controversies involving China in the Western Pacific, Southeast Asia, and South Asia with the expected visit to China by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, sometime early next year. These experts say the recent joint Indo-U.S. military exercise near the LAC, the Philippines-U.S. joint military exercise, and the Tawang border clash with India are all aimed at creating an atmosphere in which China will be besieged on all sides and the U.S. will have an upper hand during the Blinken visit. As the tensions between China and India escalate along the LAC, Chinese analysts predict there will appear more friction points between China and Australia, Japan, South Korea, and even Taiwan, respectively.
Second, given India’s increasing expansion of infrastructure building along the border with China, Chinese analysts say Beijing is compelled to take the initiative in dismantling Indian fortifications. For example, the main reason why China lost the Dongzhang waterfall to India in 2001 was a lack of roads. China did not have a single outpost or support point in the area. Now, not only has China built up a formidable border defense deployment, China has established a vast network of highways and transport networks.
Third, India’s enhancement of the logistics and transportation capabilities along the LAC in recent years, in particular in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, is perceived in Beijing as a growing threat. For example, at the Xishankou Pass, which the Chinese describe as the “throat” of the India-occupied Tawang, the Sela bi-lane tunnel being built by the Indian Army Border Roads Organization (BRO) at an altitude of 3,000 meters, is viewed in Beijing as a “threat” to the newly built border villages in the Dongzhang area. It is absolutely clear from Chinese media reports that Beijing is determined to carry out more such “initiatives” aimed at dismantling and even demolishing Indian infrastructure and logistics in the area.
Though at times self-contradictory, the various Chinese media reports should leave no one in doubt in India: notwithstanding China accusing the Indian side of belligerence and provocations, Beijing is determined to accelerate the frequency of border standoffs, including conflicts and skirmishes, especially along the LAC in the eastern sector. Additionally, as has been manifested during the December clashes in Tawang, China will also be aiming at carrying out larger and longer-lasting “attacks” in the future. For example, a section of the Chinese media prominently highlighted the current clashes in Tawang as involving an inflated 1,000 troops from the two sides, stating the number of Indian troops involved in the clash to be as high as 600.
The Chinese has immediately launched the DECEPTION DIPLOMACY after the event. The Chinese has this typical way of putting the onus of disturbances on the opposite parties, with their media and experts trying to give a totally different view of what all actually happened. No wonder the Chinese side did not make any attempt to hide that they were not surprised by the incident at Tawang. Consider, for example, the observation made by a well-known Chinese specialist on relations with India, Professor Lin Minwang, who said in a statement on Monday, “In a way, it was not surprising that both sides would clash in the eastern section of the border.”
The other factor:
While China has a permanent policy to keep India engaged at the borders more as an irritant and keep testing its nerves and preparedness besides moving the actual line of control further into the Indian side there are always other domestic and political reasons to do the play.
We are of the opinion that this time the Chinese attempt to intrude had more to it than the obvious.
1. Indeed the US-India alliance and growing proximity have irritated the dragon. One of the main reason behind China to become more hostile in recent times can be attributed to Indian proximity to the United States and the strategic formation of QUAD and other bilateral military activities that is now seen as a more proactively and cohesive force. The earlier hesitation has gone and all the countries are moving steadfastly on the path.
2. But we must also try to see the domestic scenario of China. Covid is still posing a severe threat inside China, and there has been quite an unrest simmering among the masses. As a rare of a rare event, the Chinese authorities were forced to take back restrictions and allowed the free movement of its citizens. However, this may further increase the Covid scare and infections with variants of the Omicron virus on the rise. This can be another catalyst for China to keep tinkering on the borders for keeping the masses emotionally engaged.
3. Second the economic situation in China is also taking continuous beating. After a very challenging 2022, China’s GDP growth to accelerate from 3.0% this year to 4.5% next year on the back of China’s potential exit from its zero-Covid policy, which will start shortly after the “Two Sessions” in March. China’s reopening would imply a strong consumption rebound, firming core inflation, and gradually normalizing cyclical policies in 2023. It is expected that the Chinese recovery will still be a bumpy ride and not smooth which may allow the PLA to fiddle at the borders and keep the public distracted.
4. And another reason is we are approaching the election year 2024. Therefore both China and Pakistan will try to create disturbances on the borders. The call by Rahul Gandhi against the Indian army, therefore, looks suspicious to say the least.
5. Last but not least, the Chinese will continue to exert pressure so as to keep it away from Taiwan and its other geopolitical adventures. So far China nurses the ambition of being a world power number 1, it will not allow India to emerge and be strong. That is how and why it has raised Pakistan up against India. There are views mainly of experts that Pakistan is led by an Islamist ideology that will keep it as an adversary of India as long as it takes. Which is true. Indian-Pakistan enmity has more of a divine connection and its a fight between the devtas and the asurs kind of thing. But this enmity is very well used by China to further its own agenda which keeps
Pakistan’s machinery especially arms, ammunition, and other military equipment well oiled. The US also did the same thing with the same intention. Thus Pakistan does gets benefitted by playing its cards well and engaging the two powers constantly to keep on its side.
Therefore we see that such incidents will keep rising in the future for which the Indian army has to remain on alert. The AIIMS incident can be a precursor to more cyber incidents in the future. Indian cyber laws and practices need lot of action and groundwork to be more effective. After the successful conclave: Vision 2047 where many such issues were talked and discussed we plan to give a report on the same.
India has to be proactive on the borders. As Vijay Gokhale, former foreign secretary says, the Chinese assumption that there will be no immediate backlash to low-level coercion on the Line of Actual Control “because India is risk-averse may no longer be valid”.
In a paper on “A Historical Evaluation of China’s India Policy: Lessons for India-China Relations”, published by Carnegie India, Gokhale, has said the 2020 Galwan incident “reshaped national public opinion about China”.
India has to maintain a tough posture on the borders, basically a tit-for-tat or even some surprise aggressive postures at times and keep a tight policy towards Chinese goods and business. The 100 billion dollar business between the two nations is still heavily skewed in favour of China. India must leverage this strong tool against an adversary who will not listen with softness or sweet diplomacy.
India must also consider and review its policies favorably towards Taiwan, and other nations that are against the dragon in Asia and around. with best wishes
Note: this post has inputs from various media sources in the public domain and our own analysis.
Dr Asheesh Shah