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China's Advances in the Eastern Flank: An Analysis




As India grappled with the aftermath of the 2nd wave, China was busy plotting its next move.

It rotated troops on a regular basis to keep them acclimatised. Further, it has upgraded its forward air bases to handle heavy bombers and modern fighters. As a show of strength, it even conducted air drills without violating Indian airspace. India on the other hand watched every move carefully and prepared to repulse any offensive by the Chinese. These measures included increasing troop deployment in the area to about 50-60,000. India has also brought heavy armour in the form of tanks to the area. The induction of French-made Rafale fighter jets too provided the Indian Air Force (IAF) with the shot in the arm it very much needed. India and China not only met at the heights of the Himalayas but also at the negotiating table.


The Indian Tactical Advantage

India boasts a massive tactical advantage in the eastern theatre because IAF has bases that are not at high altitudes but are still close to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas. When it comes to China, the type of aircraft and the armament they can carry is severely limited. This is because Chinese forward bases are located on the Tibetan Plateau where the atmosphere is rarefied. India has another advantage when it comes to acclimatised troops. The Special Frontier Force (SFF) was established soon after the 1962 war with China. Their very existence was a secret. The SFF on the intervening night of 29-30th August 2020, took up a daring mission to recapture the Kailash Range. This ensured that the next time the two countries met, India had the upper hand.





Why Are Gogra Springs Important?

Gogra Springs is valued by India and China due to its proximity to highways on both sides which are the lifeline to the inhospitable region. If one side is successful in pushing troops across the border and securing the highway, it gains an unassailable position in the region. Hence, Gogra Springs is heavily defended and is the cause of much disagreement between both sides.


The Chinese Tactics

China is known to use a sinister technique of gaining territory using ‘Salami Slicing’. Salami slicing is a tactic where small incursions are planned and executed instead of capturing territory all at once. This ensures that the intensity of conflict remains low while the perpetrator makes slow and steady inroads. At the negotiating table, China insists on de-escalation while India wants to disengage. There is a subtle difference between the two. De-escalation refers to only reducing the intensity of conflict, whereas disengagement refers to the withdrawal of troops to mutually accepted permanent bases. China’s stance ensures that its troops are deployed at forward bases, while India’s stance implies returning to the pre-incursion status quo. If China accepts India’s terms, all the progress it has made until now would amount to nothing, hence it is adamant and has dug in its heels. India too has remained adamant and is trying its best to resolve the differences between the two countries. In a message to India, the Chinese ambassador for India Sun Weidong stated that India must put aside its border disputes. This is contrary to what Indian Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh had stated. The Minister had stated that harmony at the border was crucial in ensuring bonhomie between the two nuclear-armed nations.





Patrolling In Ladakh

It was routine for Indian troops to cross Finger 4 and enter Finger 8 in order to assert Indian claims to the territory. Indian troops would then have a mild scuffle with People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops before returning to their forward bases and vice versa. This has been the case for a long time before China unilaterally changed the status quo of the region. However, it has been noticed that over the years especially since 2013 the PLA has been overtly aggressive. This has been perceived as a sign of escalation by the Indians.


Current Situation

After multiple corps commander level talks, some 'friction points' have been seen as disengagement and de-escalation. This meant that India and China could no longer patrol their borders from Finger 4 to Finger 8 until further progress was made in diplomatic talks. There is a misconception that India is ceding land to China by having the buffer zone within Indian territory. It is incorrect because the buffer zone was created after India and China mutually withdrew.


References

Bisbo. (2020, December). Special Frontier Force SFF mountaineers, capture crucial peaks in the Indo-China stand-off in Ladakh. Bisbo. Special Frontier Force SFF mountaineers, capture crucial peaks in the Indo-China stand-off in Ladakh


CRUX. (2021, June). Dozens of Chinese Fighter Jets Fly Opposite Eastern Ladakh Border as India Watches Closely. CRUX. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPkDZHRrWFc&t=124s


ThePrint. (2021, February). India-China disengagement, Rajnath Singh's statement & next friction points along LAC in Ladakh. ThePrint. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1ScEWKSNaQ&t=


Image Sources:


1) https://theprint.in/defence/indian-and-chinese-troops-begin-disengagement-in-ladakh-army-to-remain-very-cautious/455365/


2) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52852509


3) https://www.rediff.com/news/report/india-china-to-hold-10th-round-of-talks-on-saturday/20210219.htm

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