Reading the tea leaves: Chinese troops won't stay out of Ladakh

Why would China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops scuttle a crucial maiden visit to an important neighbouring country like India by their supreme commander and Chinese President Xi Jinping by launching an incursion in Chumar in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ladakh region on the eve of Xi’s trip?

Because that is exactly what they did.

They roiled the tranquil Sino-Indian waters further by beefing up their numerical strength in Chumar hours before Xi’s formal delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.



Hours after the Xi-Modi talks, the PLA troops backtracked and told their Indian army interlocutors that they were going back to their original positions.

Now that Xi has left Indian shores, 35 PLA troops have staged a comeback in Chumar. So, what is happening? What is China trying to communicate to India through this flip-flop in Chumar?

Perhaps an even more important question: Is the PLA is acting on its own, working independently of the Chinese government controlled by the monolith Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?

But there is method behind the apparent Chinese madness! But has to read the Chinese tea leaves to decipher it.

China is known for pushing the envelope and pin-pricking its neighbours with whom it has boundary disputes – and China’s strike rate of using boundary dispute politics in its engagements with such neighbours is one of the highest in the world.

China is also the land of Sun Tzu, the great military strategist (544 BC-470 BC) who wrote his immortal masterpiece “Art of War” which was relied upon greatly by the Americans during their Iraq War 11 years ago.

Before we get any further, just have a look at some of quotable quotes of Sun Tzu in “Art of War” which may bring some clarity as to what China is doing with regard to its incursions into India and why:

* “Appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak.”
* “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
* “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.”
* “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

“Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:
1 He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
2 He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
3 He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
4 He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
5 He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

These are the kind of philosophical thoughts and military strategies that any nation will do well to imbibe in its strategic ethos and India is no exception to that.

Now coming back to the question asked upfront: whether the PLA is working independently of Chinese government and the CCP in context of the PLA launching high-profile incursions into India at the time of important to-and-fro top-level visits in India-China bilateral relations.

The answer is a big ‘no’. The PLA is not the ISI of Pakistan. It works within the parameters set by the Chinese government.

So when the PLA launches such big-ticket incursions into India at a time when the two nations are engaged at highest political levels, it should be seen as a part of a bigger and more subtle design.

That’s why Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is relevant here.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is engaging with China the way an Indian premier should do. He can’t be blamed if Chinese troops land up deep inside Indian territory even while he was engaging in serious talks with visiting top leaders of China; just as former prime minister Manmohan Singh or his predecessors cannot be blamed for the same thing.

Through its military incursions in Chumar and Demchok in Ladakh, China is telling India that the boundary dispute is an unfinished business. No matter how many billions of dollars China invests in India or vice versa, the political problems have to be addressed upfront and resolved.

In many ways China is wielding the stick of military incursions to India the way Pakistan has been using terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy with regard to India.

The best way to deal with China for India will be to take its military and economic might to much higher levels and not cower down. There is no room for knee-jerk diplomacy here. It is a long haul.
*The writer is FirstPost Consulting Editor and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.

Updated Date: Sep 20, 2014 19:29 PM

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