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Opinion | China will have to move back in Ladakh, though it may take some time

The Indian army was building a road and a small bridge near Pangong Lake and Chinese troops raised objections. The Chinese troops brought rocks, stick and barbed wire to fence off the area and the confrontation soon began.

Rajat Sharma Written by: Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive
New Delhi Published on: May 28, 2020 13:28 IST
Aaj Ki Baat May 27
Image Source : INDIA TV

Aaj Ki Baat May 27

There has been tension in eastern Ladakh between Indian and Chinese armies on the issue of the latter's incursions and troops buildup along the Line of Actual Control. So far, there has been no breakthrough at the sites of confrontation where Chinese troops have set up tents and brought in armoured vehicles. These are areas that had been under Indian control for the last several decades.

On Tuesday, India clearly signalled it would not step back from forward positions where the army is facing Chinese troops until the latter withdraw to their usual lines of patrol along the LAC.

Both countries have started using their diplomatic channels to resolve the issue, while army officers at the operational level are also in touch with the other side to ease the situation. The Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday hinted at dialogue over diplomatic channels to defuse the tension.

US President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday offering to mediate in what he called a 'raging border dispute' between India and China.  Trump tweeted: "We have informed both India and China that the US is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!" No points for guessing whether India or China will accept his offer for mediation.

Let me try to recap what exactly happened in eastern Ladakh. China has a 3,488 kilometre long border with India that adjoins four states and one Union Territory. The issues of concern are about Chinese incursions in Galvan valley and Pangong Lake. On May 5, Chinese troops came face to face with Indian jawans in an aggressive manner at both places.

The Indian army was building a road and a small bridge near Pangong Lake and Chinese troops raised objections. The Chinese troops brought rocks, stick and barbed wire to fence off the area and the confrontation soon began.

The Chinese army, meanwhile, deployed its troops near Galwan river that passes through Aksai Chin. Nearly 4,000 Chinese troops with tents and armoured vehicles came to the area. Galvan valley falls between Galvan river and Shyok rivers, at a point where the two rivers meet. The Indian army has already built a bridge on the Shyok river. It has prepared a 255 km long strategic road from Leh to this area. Earlier, it took 23 hours for our troops to reach here, and now the duration has come down to only 12 hours. Indian troops have an airfield in Daulat Beg Oldie.

The Chinese army does not want the Indian counterparts to fortify their positions here. India has deployed three brigades to counter any attempt at misadventure by the Chinese army. The Chinese never imagined that India would come up with such a strong response. At the moment, the Chinese troops have set up tents in Galvan valley and arms and ammunition have been readied by the other side. Our forces are keeping a keen watch on the situation.

China has been consistently staking its claim on these two areas. Its English newspaper 'Global Times' went to the extent of describing Galvan valley as an area that belongs to China. The officially backed newspaper alleged that the Indian army was illegally building military facilities in this area and China has objected to this.

Satellite images show China has deployed nearly 5,000 troops of its border defence regiment in Galvan valley along with tanks and armoured vehicles. 

The Galwan river has strategic importance. It flows from Karakoram ranges to the plains of Aksai China. This area was illegally occupied by China during the Fifties. Till that time, the Chinese laid claim to the eastern part of the river, but in the Sixties, they now extended their claim to the western part of the river.

In July 1962, when a platoon of the Gorkha Regiment set up a camp in Galvan valley, Chinese troops surrounded them. This was one of the longest sieges during the 1962 war, that continued till October 22. The Chinese army destroyed our post using heavy artillery. After the war, the Chinese troops returned to the area and continued with their illegal occupation. 

The Chinese claim an area which falls two kilometers inside Indian territory, right up to the hills of Shyok valley. The Galvan river meets Shyok river at that point and later joins the Indus River that flows in Pak Occupied Kashmir.

The bitter reality is that China has deployed 5,000 troops on the LAC. This is an unusual number of troops not deployed during normal times.

On Wednesday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, and the three Service Chiefs, after which Gen Rawat briefed the Prime Minister about the military options available before India.  National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is also working on measures that would be required to counter China's aggressive plans. It is because of India's strong response that the Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday toned down its stance.

My reading is that the Chinese will backtrack in Eastern Ladakh though it may take some time. There seem to be three main reasons. 

One, India in 2020 under a strong leader like Narendra Modi is not the India of 1962 when Chinese troops attacked and occupied large chunks on Indian territories. The Chinese strategists know that India will react, swiftly and resolutely. 

Two, China is fast becoming the outcast on the global arena and most of the developed economies, including the US, hold China responsible for the Coronavirus pandemic. US President Donald Trump had in the initial stage described Coronavirus as the 'Chinese virus'. China wants to divert world attention by carrying out incursions on the LAC. 

Three, most of the global companies want to wind up their operations in China and are desirous of making investments in India. The Chinese strategic planners have now realized that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not an easy nut to crack. 

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