Are we being strong-armed by China into submission?
I suspect that our fears about encountering enormous Chinese pressure to acquiesce to their demands on establishing their orientations of the LAC are coming true. Although the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh whilst speaking to the troops near Pangong Tso on July 17 was very strong in his message to the nation about defending Indian territory but was candid enough to admit that he could not guarantee a solution in keeping with our principles. He hoped that the two countries should resolve the matters. But that will be an arduous path as there are several contentious issues. At the Pangong Tso sector itself, it was reported that "Chinese troops have intruded 8 km into Indian-claimed territory up to a spur called Finger 4 and are refusing to withdraw to Finger 8 unless India withdraws to Finger 2."
Then on the Galwan River at the insistence of Chinese military negotiators, the defined point from where the disengagements were to commence has been moved further westwards deep into India controlled territory. No agreement has been reached for the Chinese to disengage or pull back from confrontation points south of Galwan at PP-15 and Hot Spring area. Further, near PP-15, the Chinese have built a road extending 3 km into Indian-claimed territory and in the Hot Spring area over 1,500 Chinese troops have intruded 2-3 km into Indian territory at the Gogra Heights (PP-17A).
Veteran infantryman and retired Major General Ashok Mehta sums up when he writes that, "at least 60 km of the Indian strategic real estate has been occupied by China through PLA intrusions from Depsang to Galwan in Ladakh and at Naku La in Sikkim, 1,500 km away, where the PLA and Indian troops are in a standoff 2 km inside a settled border. Multiple intrusions may eventually be traded in China's policy of two steps forward, one step back, to retain the possession of territory".
In recent times from 2013 onwards, this was the process adopted by China. On April 15, 2013, about 40 soldiers of the PLA of China intruded into Indian territory for about 20 km in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO). These soldiers refused to back off when told by ITBP border guards. DBO is an important military base of the Indian Armed Forces and Despsang is about 20 km South of DBO. Finally, after a series of flag meetings between the local commanders from the two sides took place and after three weeks, the Daulat Beg Oldi standoff was resolved. But we are not sure so far whether the occupied areas were fully vacated.
Hours after Chinese troops pulled back from DBO, they came back to the Chumar area in Ladakh. Chinese troops dismantled their tents only on May 5 and then the Indian forces removed their tin sheds. Chumar standoff was resolved in 21 days with China agreeing to Indian troops' patrolling in the area as before.
Then in the backdrop of Xi Jinping's India visit in September 2014, Demchok standoff began on September 10, 2014, as Indian patrol teams discovered that the Chinese troops had deployed heavy machinery to build a road inside Indian territory. Demchok is located in the same Chumar area. The Demchok standoff continued even when Modi and Xi Jinping were signing 12 deals on September 18. But, it took another week for the Chinese forces to withdraw to their pre-September 10 position.
What is material to note is that from DBO to Demchok all these points lie on India's Eastern Borders straddling Aksai Chin-Ladakh and would facilitate easy ingress into Indian Territory namely Leh, Thoise and most importantly Siachen Glaciers. Quite clearly the Chinese have been aiming at that slowly, nibbling at our territory at vantage points for many years. As a well-honed practice, the People's Republic of China as a matter of national policy uses force and negotiation at the same time. We must be prepared to not just play the same game with them but beat them at it.
In the meanwhile, an invitation to Australia is seemingly being extended asking them to join the next round of Malabar Exercise. According to senior Indian officials, this exercise will bring together the navies of India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. in the Bay of Bengal at the end of the year. A spokesperson for Australia's defence department accepted that "Australia sees value in participating in quadrilateral defence activities to increase interoperability and advance our collective interests in a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region." Although, in the current circumstances an exercise by this group in the South China Sea is likely to leave a salutary message to the Chinese Regime.
It would seem that the several assurances of the US government conveyed by their Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to India's Minister of External S Jaishankar are being fulfilled. Aircraft Carriers of the US Navy, the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Theodore Roosevelt are both patrolling in the western Pacific, while the USS Nimitz has entered the Bay of Bengal having crossed the Malacca Straits to participate in Exercise PASSEX with Indian Navy. With each vessel containing more than 60 aircraft, it represents the biggest deployment of US aircraft carriers in the Eastern Seas in recent times. It is time that like minded liberal democracies join hands against an expansionist regime.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and a strategic affairs commentator. Views expressed are personal