December 9, 2021

China’s Perceptions of Conflict with India

India’s resistance to Chinese expansionism has become a stumbling block for China’s onward march for supremacy in Asia
Keywords: LAC | Border Conflict | Ladakh | China | CPC | Expansionism | Galwan | Media | MEA | Asymmetry
Listen to article

In the ongoing armed stalemate on the borders between India and China in the western sector, China’s perceptions at the official party-state, media and scholarly level are getting firmed up in the background of the 19th Communist Party Congress injunctions in 2017 about “occupying centre stage”.  Harbouring false notions of victimhood and a superiority complex, making irredentist claims on the territory of its neighbours, advocating rabid nationalism and displaying militarism, China has upped the ante. 

India’s resistance to an “expansionist mindset” has become a stumbling block for China’s onward march for supremacy in Asia as witnessed with the nearly five-month long standoff between the troops. India’s diplomatic, military and economic push back against China’s encroachments has earned New Delhi much needed moral support, regionally and globally. 

Given the growing regional and global resistance to its aggressive posturing from multiple fronts in East, Southeast and South Asia, China is surprised by the strong response of the Indian armed forces. Beijing is mobilising massive military, political, economic and human resources to counter India in vain.

Official responses

China’s official responses to the Galwan imbroglio is full of obfuscation, half-truths and invectives, it is indeed diversionary and misleading. When the incidents of stone-throwing and fisticuffs were reported first at Pangong Tso in the Western sector and Naku La in the Sikkim sector in early May 2020, China denied that it had crossed into Indian territory. Its Foreign and Defence ministries have claimed Pangong Tso, Galwan and other areas “always belonged” to China. However, no maps nor evidence for such claims was made by China in the past seven decades and despite the thirty-six years of focused discussion on the border issue with India at various levels. 

Given the growing regional and global resistance to its aggressive posturing from multiple fronts in East, Southeast and South Asia, China is surprised by the strong response of the Indian armed forces.

At times, China invokes Premier Zhou Enlai’s unilateral November 7, 1959 line of actual control, while India has at one time or the other considered the Ardagh-Johnson Line of 1897, the Macartney-MacDonald Line of 1899, the Karakoram ranges, the September 8, 1962 line when China’s troops first entered Ladakh or November 20, 1962 or the ceasefire line after the border skirmishes. In any case the joint statements called for a “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable” solution to the territorial dispute.

India’s External Affairs Ministry has stated that such Chinese claims are “exaggerated and untenable” and reminded Beijing that it is “not in accordance with China’s own position in the past”. India further raised the issue of why China had mobilised so many divisions and military equipment in the borders despite being a signatory to several binding agreements on confidence building in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2013 and others for maintaining peace and stability. No convincing arguments are forthcoming from China in support of its aggressive stance.

The worst event in the bilateral relations recently is the killing of 20 Indian soldiers by the PLA troops in a “premeditated and planned” attack in the night of June 15 at Galwan when the process of “disengagement and de-escalation” was being discussed following the June 6, 2020, commanders meeting. China’s troops used barbed wire fencing bats and nail-studded sticks to badger the Indian troops. China did not explain why a “civilised” state’s army behaved in such a manner. 

Despite six rounds of talks at the local military commanders’ level, foreign ministry working-level mechanism talks, Special Representative level interventions to “disengage and de-escalate” and the foreign ministerial 5-point agreement at Moscow, the borders remain tense with military mobilisation on both sides. 

In order to maintain a perception of supremacy and showcase asymmetry in power, China positioned heavy equipment for the long haul but also conveyed signals of territorial control by despatching foreign minister Wang Yi to Tibet. On the other hand, the Indian Prime Minister, Defence Minister and the Defence Services, Army and Air Force Chiefs have visited Ladakh.

China thought that it would have a cake walk over India given the spread of Covid-19 to the rest of the world and the disruptions it has caused. The first Covid-19 infection in India was traced to the student returnees from Wuhan. India’s stout resistance to land encroachment in Aksai Chin-Ladakh surprised China.

Party-State Perceptions

China’s media, think-tanks and scholarly analysts – all of whom serve the party-state – followed the predictable path of wringing nationalism, one-sided and sectarian view, arrogance and with cold-war pretensions.

Taking the lead is the editor of ultranationalist Global Times who employed all tricks to cajole the Indian side by waging “three warfares”, viz., psychological, media and legal wars. The tabloid and sundry scholars reminded India of the defeat in 1962, boasted about the performance of military hardware in Xinjiang and Tibet, talked of denying any investments or trade opportunities to New Delhi and advocated “punishing” India by all means. Several of the Chinese articles listed ways and means for carrying out reprisals against India. 

China’s media, think-tanks and scholarly analysts – all of whom serve the party-state – followed the predictable path of wringing nationalism, one-sided and sectarian view, arrogance and with cold-war pretensions.

First is the advocacy of a PLA onslaught with scenarios of overall invasion, limited conflict, or even a protracted war of nerves. China’s media and think-tankers compared the military, economic and technological strengths of the two nations by “bean counting” to dismiss India’s capabilities. They ridiculed Indian military preparedness, logistical supply chains, or the spread of Covid-19 and cited in support the “self-critical” or even caustic criticism of certain retired Indian foreign, national security and armed forces officers and others. 

India’s standing the ground, mobilisation of battle-hardened mountain divisions, high-altitude training and special operation forces that took over crucial mountain-tops dominating the Kailash ranges shocked the Chinese. The expected easy victory over India has become a noose for the PLA, now mired in “barren” lands and incurring huge costs in personnel, equipment and in strategic terms. The arrival of body bags from Galwan in large numbers unnerved China as it may have cascading effects on the politico-military establishment at Beijing as it faces growing criticism on its handling of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Second, in order to evolve and sustain the “all-weather” friendship with Pakistan and in the hopes of counterbalancing India both through sub-conventional terrorist infiltration and at conventional and nuclear levels, China pumped in $42 billion out of $62 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Some of these projects were commissioned in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India. 

India’s construction last year of the 260-km long Daulat Beg Oldi-Darbuk-Shyok road provides a supply line all the way to the Karakoram ranges. The construction this year of feeder lines from this road to the Line of Actual Control was opposed by China, despite the fact that China had already constructed such feeder lines to its perceived LAC. China now began feeling the heat with India making preparations for troop movements and logistical supplies to the front. India’s preparations since 2009 on “fighting a two-front war under nuclear threshold” has paid it rich dividends.

India’s standing the ground, mobilisation of battle-hardened mountain divisions, high-altitude training and special operation forces that took over crucial mountain-tops dominating the Kailash ranges shocked the Chinese.

Thirdly, China’s commentators have suggested that India’s abrogation of Article 370 from its Constitution and reorganisation of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh Union Territories is a reason for the Chinese activism in the area. However, despite Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s assurances that there would be no implications for the cartography, China had upped the ante. China also raised the dormant issue of Kashmir in the United Nations Security Council four times in the last year in vain. China raising issues over the removal of domestic Article 370 as a justification for its land grab in Ladakh defies logic as in 2017 despite Bhutan or Sikkim not changing any domestic legislation and despite China’s 2002 assurances of not changing the status quo, Beijing had sent troops to Doklam. 

Fourthly, China’s media and think-tanks have been suggesting that China’s forays in Ladakh are in response to the improvement in relations between India and the USA. After developing highly productive relations with the United States in the last four decades since Kissinger’s visit to China in 1971, Beijing sees a threat in stronger Indo-US ties. 

Despite Beijing having acquired arms and technologies from the US since the early 1980s (embargoed following the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989), China is not only accusing India of abandoning the non-alignment movement (as Yan Xuetong stated recently in a webinar) but also of coming too close to the US. This has raised fears in Beijing as in the past Washington collaborated closely with the PRC during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, at the United Nations Security Council on resolution 1172 against Indian nuclear tests in 1998 and recently during the Obama-Hu 2009 proposals for a G-2. 

Given India’s considerable strategic depth, growing middle class and rising economic and technological prowess, the prospect of the US supporting its southern neighbour is a nightmare for China in the Himalayas, South China Sea, Indian Ocean and in the larger Indo-Pacific region.

Fifthly, China’s media and think-tanks project an alarming picture of Tibetans living in India and on India’s policies. Even though India recognised Tibet as a part of China in 1954, China’s paranoia about losing Tibet is enormous. This concern is expected to increase as China prepares to sinicize Tibetan Buddhism and assimilate Tibet into socialism with the kind of surveillance systems and control used in Xinjiang. 

Given India’s considerable strategic depth, growing middle class and rising economic and technological prowess, the prospect of the US supporting its southern neighbour is a nightmare for China in the Himalayas, South China Sea, Indian Ocean and in the larger Indo-Pacific region.

The growing Tibetan activism, the role of Special Frontier Force in regaining control over mountain tops on the southern banks of Pangong Tso and other developments are unnerving for China which wanted to raise acclimatised Tibetans or Gorkhas into the PLA. To make up for loss of legitimacy in Tibet, some Chinese scholars have gone to the extent of advocating institution and support to any governments in exile for Kashmir and Sikkim.

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Srikanth Kondapalli

Dr Srikanth Kondapalli is Professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

View all posts