Three Years Of LAC Standoff: The Story Of Chinese Deception

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” This famous saying of Sun Tzu, the renowned 500 BC Chinese thinker, philosopher, strategist and the acclaimed author of Art of War seems to be literally being practised by current President Xi Jinping, not only against India but all its neighbours. This May, the Chinese army would be completing three years of its deployment on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, during which the Chinese leadership have shown how to keep the enemy, i.e. India, confused, hopeful, confounded and frustrated. 

Sun Tzu has also taught the Chinese to speak in two voices to confuse the enemy. When Indian and Chinese foreign ministers released a joint five point consensus document in 2020, the then Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe, five days before that in Moscow, had blamed India for the LAC crisis. Actually, following the precept of Sun Tzu, the Chinese have mastered the art of committing something bilaterally or publicly but doing just the opposite on the ground. After three years, Chinese shenanigans have now been thoroughly exposed.

Ever since Xi Jinping took charge of Chinese Presidency in the beginning of 2013, China’s attitude and behaviour towards India has changed at the cost of bilateral relations. Showing adherence to the ancient expansionist mindset of the Middle Kingdom, Xi has derailed Sino-Indian relations, which were fast moving on right track during the two five-year terms of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. These two regimes produced almost five agreements of confidence building measures (1993, 1996, 2003, 2005, 2012) on the basis of which India and China bonhomie deepened, to the extent that Indian leadership started believing that there was no need for raising another China-specific mountain corps (comprising three divisions of 15,000 each) for deployment on the rear of the LAC. 

Chinese treachery is evident from the five-point outcome document after the September 10, 2020 meeting of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and then Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Moscow on the sidelines of the SCO foreign ministers’ meet. The five-point plan aimed at return of total normalcy on the LAC as the then Chinese foreign minister pledged disengagement and de-escalation of the forces. But today, the two armies are sitting on powder keg at the LAC, though new Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Li Shangfu during his April 27 talks with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh in New Delhi described the scene as normal. 

Gen. Li also tried to deliver homilies to the Indian side. He said as major neighbouring countries and important developing countries, China and India share far more common interests than differences. The two sides should view bilateral relations and each other’s development from a comprehensive, long-term and strategic perspective, and jointly contribute wisdom and strength to world and regional peace and stability.

It is just like pointing a gun at somebody’s head and asking the person to accept the situation as it is and be friendly. This is how a powerful emerging superpower tries to subjugate its weaker neighbours. This is very apparent from the Chinese behaviour — from South China Sea to Indian land borders.

Did China Ever Intend To Follow Sept 2020 5-Point Consensus?

In fact, treacherous behaviour of the Chinese army was very much for the entire world to see when the Chinese PLA backstabbed Indian soldiers in the Galwan valley in 2020. When the Chinese first encroached on the area on the Indian side of the LAC, they invited India to resolve the issue through dialogue. This dialogue resulted in agreement to disengage its forces from the Galwan valley. And when the Indian soldiers went to inspect the implementation of the agreement, they were attacked from behind. As many as 20 brave Indian soldiers lost their lives, who were completely unaware of such probable Chinese act of treachery. Indian soldiers had gone unarmed, solemnly respecting the 1996 confidence building measures agreement to maintain peace and tranquillity. Three months after this gory incident, India believed then Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi when he told Jaishankar in Moscow on September 10, 2020: “It is also important to move back all personnel and equipment that have trespassed. The frontier troops must quickly disengage so that the situation may de-escalate.” 

It would be pertinent to mention here the five-point plan for disengagement agreed between two sovereign representatives, i.e. then foreign minister Wang Yi of China and India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar.

1. The two ministers agreed that both sides should take guidance from the series of consensus of the leaders on developing India-China relations, including not allowing differences to become disputes.

2. The two foreign ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side, and therefore the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.

3. The two also agreed that both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters.

4. India and China agreed to continue to have dialogue and communication through the Special Representative mechanism on the India-China boundary question. They also agreed in this context that the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC) should also continue its meetings.

5. The ministers agreed that as the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude new confidence building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas.

The September 2020 five-point plan brought relief and satisfaction in Indian camps, but after two and a half years, India once again finds itself cheated. It has become obvious that the Chinese never intended this consensus to be brought to the ground. The five-point plan had raised hopes in India of early disengagement and de-escalation from all the incursion areas along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. But instead of withdrawing its forces, the Chinese not only kept increasing the troop strength but new permanent structures were also constructed, indicating their plan to permanently stay on the icy heights. A move never imagined in Indian strategic circles. This has necessitated counter response from the Indian army.

Hence, after three years, over 50,000 troops on both sides find themselves ensconced on the Himalayan peaks. After 18 rounds of army commanders talks, the situation on the LAC continues to be tense. The tough stance taken by Chinese defence minister during his visit to New Delhi for the SCO defence ministers’ meeting has signalled indefinite deployment of troops on the cold barren mountains. It is taking a huge toll on Indian military and financial resources. India would find it difficult to sustain over 50,000 troops along with their weapon systems for an indefinite period.

The author is a senior journalist and strategic affairs editor.

[Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs, and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal.]

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