Opinion: Why China’s LAC Moves Appear To Be Aimed At Increasing India’s Financial Burden

With the 31 months old military standoff in the Eastern Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) still continuing, there is no possibility of an end to or reduction of heavy deployment on the icy heights in near future. Amid this, China has opened another front in the eastern sector, further impacting the already tense Sino-Indian relations. The United Nations has taken note of this latest development of serious nature, and advocated peaceful resolution of the issues, while the US has also intervened, promising to stand by India and extend all help to support its Indo-Pacific partner. 

The December 9 Yangtse incursion by the Chinese in the Tawang sub-sector of Arunachal Pradesh led to physical exchange of blows and violence between Indian and Chinese armies, reminding the international community of the bloody night of Galwan valley in Eastern Ladakh (15 June, 2020), which fortunately did not result in a major flare-up. However, the possibility of the two nuclear powers of the world confronting on a bigger scale cannot be ruled out now. The two armies are standing face to face, with battle tanks, Howitzer guns, machine guns, missiles and attack helicopters targeted towards each other. A situation of ‘no war, no peace’ prevails on the entire length of the LAC. With the latest intrusion attempt in Tawang, Chinese military strategists seem to be planning to militarily activate the entire LAC. 


Why Is China Putting Military Pressure On India?

The strategic community is perplexed as to why China is asserting its territorial claims by putting military pressure on India, when China had agreed to resolve the issue through the highest level of dialogue between Special Representatives of the Prime Ministers of India and China. As many as 21 rounds of Special Representative dialogue from 2005 to 2020 have not been able to hammer out any solution. This special dialogue mechanism was created after the Joint Working Group headed by joint secretary-level diplomats in both countries failed to yield any positive result. The joint working group was set up in 1988 after the historic visit of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, during which he was welcomed by China’s then top leader Deng Xiaoping, with whom his five-minute handshake gained international fame. In fact, Deng had earlier offered a package formula to then PM Indira Gandhi, which was said to be much better than what Xi Jinping wants today.

Indian leaders had a good rapport with earlier regimes in Beijing led by Jiang Zemin (1991- 2003) and Hu Jintao ( 2003- 2012) as they displayed their commitment to resolve the border issue in a peaceful manner with the principle of “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation”, for which they agreed to maintain peace, stability and tranquillity on the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control, straddling from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Aksai Chin (Ladakh) in the West, which was earlier known as the Ceasefire Line from 1962 to 1993. The Chinese made a clever proposal to India to convert the Ceasefire Line into LAC, without identifying where the line runs, which became the special feature of the 1993 agreement. Later, in 1996, this agreement was further reinforced with specific confidence building measures with many dos and don’ts and guidelines to soldiers on both sides on how to maintain peace and how to avoid any conflict. If there were any issue, the soldiers were to raise it with their commanders, who would resolve them on the table. This resulted in bonhomie between the two armies, with soldiers exchanging sweets and garlanding each other on the LAC, congratulating each other and visiting each other’s camps during festivals or important days. Both sides also invited national cultural troupes during those engagements to entertain themselves, while guarding their perceived territories. If there was any dispute, the commanders of both sides would find an amicable solution on the table. 

But when Xi Jinping assumed the Presidency of China in 2013, he clearly made a turnaround as the PLA started to create disturbances on the border. Though the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi did its best to continue with the same cordiality in the bilateral relations, the Chinese evidently looked the other side. Modi invited Xi to his home state Gujarat and went to Wuhan in China for an informal summit with him. President Xi was further invited to Chennai for the next round of informal dialogue, with the hope that he would see reason in resolving the issues with India. But Xi, it seems, had other designs in mind. The international community did not realise then that Xi had an expansionist mindset from the very beginning. 

After he assumed power in 2013, the Chinese Army first entered the Chumar area of Ladakh. This was repeated in Depsang plains and continued in Doklam tri-junction area on the Bhutan border. After 73 days of military standoff, when the two armies came face to face, the Chinese agreed to go back to their previous position. But there are worrying confirmed reports now that the Chinese have built solid infrastructure of permanent nature just near the LAC in the Bhutanese territory. 

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Burden On India’s State Exchequer To Keep Borders Secure 

These activities by the PLA have compelled the Indian Army to position similar military strength on the LAC in Eastern Ladakh where the Chinese succeeded in creating five friction points from Galwan to Burtse to Depsang and Pangong lake. The PLA has not only deployed over 50,000 troops along the LAC but they are also erecting permanent military infrastructure. To counter the Chinese designs, the Indian Army had to also deploy over 50,000 troops along with all offensive weapon systems and platforms. This is proving to be a huge burden on the state exchequer. According to rough estimates, the Indian Army is spending anywhere between Rs 100 crore and Rs 150 crore on daily basis on the food, lodging, and safe housing and maintenance of the weapon systems and platforms. The first incursion started in April 2020 and since then the PLA has made the rugged mountains their permanent homes. Almost 31 months have passed and the Indian Army must have since then spent anywhere in the region of Rs 1 lakh crore to Rs 1.5 lakh crore till now. 

This must be proving to be a costly affair for India, and that could be one of the objectives of Chinese strategists to put so much military pressure on India as this will compel the Indian government to divert its financial resources on securing the borders instead of spending them on economic development. An overambitious China views India as a rival and roadblock in its way towards achieving super power status by 2047. This explains the Chinese design to either force India to succumb to its untenable conditions to resolve the territorial disputes or continue to forever face the brunt of military and financial pressure.

The author is a senior journalist and strategic affairs analyst.

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

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