Iron Rods And Stones At Pangong Tso: China In A Quandary
LT. GENERAL P.C.KATOCH
NEW DELHI: About half an hour before Indians were glued to their televisions to witness the unfurling of the Tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort at 7.30 AM on August15, a Chinese military patrol came to Finger 5, north of Pangong Tso, and started pelting stones at an Indian patrol.
Indian claims extend to Finger 8 though these areas are not held. The Chinese were in larger numbers and some carried iron rods and weapons too. There was plenty stone-pelting and some pushing, which was retaliated to by the Indian patrol comprising a mix of Infantry and ITBP personnel. Both sides received some injuries on account of the stone throwing.
The Chinese soldiers came from their base at Khurnak Fort, with pre-planned intent of stone-pelting. In all probability they were a mix of PLA and Border Guards, which anyway is immaterial since Chinese Border Guards are directly under command the PLA, both having political commissars posted down to unit level with every action, especially like this one, directed and monitored by the top hierarchy at Beijing.
It is usual for China to deny any knowledge of the incident, as they initially had when the PLA had made a 19 km deep transgression in area of Raki Nala in the Depsang Plains of Eastern Ladakh. The day after the Pangong Tso clash, the Chinese side put all the blame on the Indian patrol during a flag meeting at Chushul.
Some three years back, the video clip of PLA troops jostling with Indian soldiers in North Sikkim was put out on the social media. Subsequently, Chinese officials and scholars showed great concern to visiting Indian delegations, saying it would have a bad impression on the Chinese public.
With China recently clamping down on use of VPN (Virtual Private Network), regulators having announced crackdown this January to stamp out use of VPNs to circumvent web censorship, one wonders what percentage Chinese population will get to see the inset video, if at all. Those who do would realize to what extent the Communist Party of China (CPC) has degraded their soldiers – pelting stones like terrorists, in complete disregard to ancient Chinese civilization ethics and norms.
What China did at Pangong Tso on August 15 has completely killed the ‘code of conduct’ brokered by China itself post signing the BDCA (Border Defence Cooperation Agreement). It is usual for China to broker agreement after agreement and then break each one systematically, followed by proposing the next one. In invading Bhutan in the Doklam Plateau, China had no compunctions in violating her agreement with Bhutan “not” to disturb status quo while boundary talks were on.
The Doklam standoff and the incident at Pangong Tso are not isolated incidents. On the contrary they are directly related; latter result of the embarrassment China faces by its Doklam intrusion. The timing of the Doklam intrusion was timed with Indian PM being away in the US.
Some analysts like Bertil Litner believe that China made the Doklam move to not only pressure India join the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) but also to drive a wedge between India and Bhutan. China appears to have failed in both because it is Bhutan that issued a demarche to China for violating the MoU on maintaining status quo till border talks are on.
Used to slicing off foreign territory, China was confident it would merrily walk in and occupy Doklam Plateau which would give China the advantage of getting closer to the Siliguri Corridor and outflank the Indian defences in Sikkim, but also give control to the origin of the Teesta River emanating from that area.
The stand taken by India on request from Bhutan took China by surprise. Both the Chinese media and Chinese diplomats went berserk in threatening India and propagating lies like Bhutan agrees Doklam is not its territory (immediately denied by Bhutan) and China had informed India in advance about road construction in Doklam – blatant lies.
Luo Zhaohui, Chinese ambassador at New Delhi went running to meet leaders of opposition parties of India, and even the District Magistrate of Darjeeling, with the obvious ulterior motives to stoke instability. Luo Zhaohui’s deputy Liu made an air dash to Thimpu to canvass support, which obviously was snubbed. The worst part was these two-diplomats ‘threatening’ India while posted at Delhi, for which many may want to kick their butts outside the walls of their embassy.
China is now referring to the 1890 Convention between Great Britain and China, relating to Sikkim and Tibet to create deliberate ambiguity; this Convention by Lord Lansdowne, the Governor-General of India and Sheng-t’ai (the manchu amban from Lhasa) was never recognized by the Government of Tibet. Later, the British sent an expedition to Lhasa in 1904, paving the way for the Simla Convention (1914), with British India, Tibet and China on equal footing. China is proposing renegotiating the 1890 Convention and border agreement defining the McMahon Line in 1914, be scrapped to obliterate India’s borders with Tibet.
China also mischievously calls ‘Gimpochi’ as ‘tri junction’ but survey of ‘tri-junction’, which is at Batang La following the watershed principle, was done several decades after the 1890 Convention was signed. That all part of the Chinese concept of legal warfare; a game she is playing in the South China Sea also. Then is China’s chequebook diplomacy that has won her Laos, Cambodia and now Philippines too. That is what Liu’s dash to Thimpu would have conveyed, which India must bear in mind.
China today is in a quandary of its own making. The IMF warns that China’s economy growing around 6.7% with debt ratio of 235% may not seem alarming but official data should be taken with a pinch of salt when when national pride is at stake (imfs-china-debt-warnings-eerily-familiar/), implying a precarious situation.
The CPC has built a false aura of invincibility around it and President Xi Jinping having accumulated all power unto himself as the “Core Leader”, is finding it difficult to extricate from the self-made embarrassing situation at Doklam. He is also confronted with the US-North Korea situation and President promising strong military action against North Korea (Chinese protégé).
The biggest crisis which Xi faces is the internal split in the CPC with the 19th Congress of CPC in the near future where appointments in the national power structure will undergo major overhaul. Together with building the fervor of nationalism, how Xi plans to divert attention is anybody’s guess.
At the moment, China has launched a full-blown psychological war against India: threat to teach a lesson with war; massive exercises; firing drill close to the LAC; move forward of troops; announcement of shifting blood-banks to Tibet, derogatory videos, troop and helicopter transgressions in Chamoli area, you name it.
Where do we go from here?
India has recommended the only respectable solution – mutual and simultaneous withdrawal, as had happened during the Sumdorong Chu incident in the past. The ball is actually in China’s court.
India has also conveyed to China that while India doesn’t want conflict and wants peaceful solution to the Doklam standoff, conflict will only lead to casualties without any gain to China. So it is up to China to keep attempting to nibble more territory through shallow intrusions or conflict. India has had enough of this will not tolerate any more.
(Lt General P.C.Katoch is a Special Forces veteran of the Indian Army).