Monthly Archives: July 2020

China uses border issue as tool to build pressure on India


As India and China are engaged in a stand-off in the Galwan Valley,
Maj Gen GG Dwivedi (retd) shares his insight into the current situation. He has commanded 16 JAT in Siachen (Durbuk Pangong Tso area), a brigade in the Kashmir Valley and Mountain Division in the North East and also served as India’s defence attaché in China and North Korea from 1997 to 99. He is currently a professor of strategic and global affairs.

China considers it opportune to push its agenda regarding disputed areas as the world is battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, President Xi Jinping is under pressure due to slowing down of the Chinese economy. Also, China does not want India to develop infrastructure in Ladakh. —Maj Gen GG Dwivedi (retd)

Can you explain the difference between the LoC and the LAC?

A: There is a tendency to compare the Line of Control (LoC) and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) but these are two distinct terms. We have International Border and LOC with Pakistan and LAC with China in Jammu and Kashmir. LoC is like a de facto border and manned by troops deployed on the either side. In contrast, LAC is neither delineated nor demarcated. It is based roughly on the positions held by both sides towards the end of 1962 war. As a result, both sides have their own interpretation. In the Ladakh region, it generally corresponds with the Chinese claim line as China captured most of the Aksai Chin area in the 1962 war. However, there are a number of contested points where the two sides have a varying perception. In the middle sector and eastern sector (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh), the LAC is by and large aligned with the McMahon Line.

Can you give a brief overview of the border issue between India and China?

Though no official boundary has been negotiated between India and China, the Indian Government considers a line similar to the Johnson Line of 1865 as the boundary, according to which Aksai Chin is a part of India. The Chinese Government, however, considers a line similar to the McCartney-MacDonald Line of 1899 as the boundary which is well to the west of Johnson Line. The 1913-14 Shimla Convention between Great Britain, China and Tibet defined the boundary between Tibet and British India, which later came to be known as McMahon Line. But China declined to sign it. After China annexed Tibet in 1951, the two countries started sharing boundary. China initially did not raise the border issue as surreptitiously it was constructing a highway from Kashgarh in Xinjiang to Lhasa in Tibet in the 1950s which passed through Aksai Chin. When India learnt of this in 1959, it raised the matter with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This is how the border problem started, ultimately leading to the 1962 Indo-China war. Incidentally, the opening shots of the war were fired from the Galwan Valley.

Why do you think that the LAC has not been defined as yet?

Chinese has kept dragging their feet on the issue as it is not in their interest to resolve the boundary imbroglio. The PRC has often used the border issue as a tool to build pressure on India.

Why has China created the trouble amid the pandemic?

China is known for creating problems when it is confronted with internal and external issues. At present, China considers it opportune to push its agenda regarding disputed areas with Taiwan, South China Sea and the LAC, as the world is battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, President Xi Jinping is under pressure due to slowing down of the Chinese economy and a global outcry holding China responsible for the pandemic. Also, China does not want India to develop infrastructure in Ladakh as presently they have a definite edge over us. The Galwan Valley is important because from there, China can dominate Durbuk- Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) road that India constructed recently. China also has high stakes in the Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (POK), too, as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor traverses through the region. It has also invested in various projects in the POK, including the proposed $9 billion Daimer-Bhasha Dam.

What are the options before India in present situation?

Our aim is to restore the status quo ante that existed in April which implies that the PLA has to pull back. To ensure this, adequate pressure has to be built on China through various means, including military, political, diplomatic and economic

Why has not the Chinese media reported on casualties suffered by their troops?

China has an authoritarian rule and a state-controlled media. The communist leadership employs media as an instrument to spread its propaganda and fight an information war.

An Expert Explains: Deciphering the dynamics of de-escalation in eastern Ladakh

Written by Maj Gen (retd) Prof G G Dwivedi , Edited by Explained Desk

The process of de-escalation has been underway for several days in eastern Ladakh, where Chinese forces made large scale incursions in the areas of Pangong Tso, Galwan and Depsang in May. Prompt counter-deployment by the Indian Army to check the Chinese intrusions resulted in a serious standoff, marked by violent clashes on June 15.

There is lack of clarity in the environment about de-escalation per se; as terms like disengagement, pulling back, and withdrawal are being used concurrently, in the same breath.


De-escalation is a complex and time consuming exercise, as it entails navigating an uncharted course in a graduated manner. To decipher the dynamics of the ongoing de-escalation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), it is essential to comprehend the genesis of the Sino-Indian border dispute, and the typical ‘conflict cycle’.

While the main reason for the Sino-Indian conflict is apparently the unsettled border issue, there are other factors too – including divergent geopolitical interests and ideological dimensions.

In Ladakh, India considered the border to be along the Johnson Line of 1865, which included Aksai Chin. The Chinese on the other hand, initially agreed to the Macartney-MacDonald (M-M) line of 1899, which was west of the Johnson Line.

Towards 1959, the Chinese began to establish a series of posts west of the M-M Line, usurping large parts of Aksai Chin, as they had constructed the Western Highway from Kashgar to Lhasa through it, and wanted to consolidate the hold on Tibet. In response, India adopted a forward policy by setting up posts opposite the Chinese to check the latter’s expansion.

In 1960, the Chinese came out with a map laying claim to almost the whole of Aksai Chin. The main reason why Mao went for war in 1962 was to capture the claimed territories in eastern Ladakh, as also to teach India a lesson.

During the 1962 war too, DBO, Galwan, and the Pangong Tso-Chushul areas were scenes of major action. By the time the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire, the PLA had almost secured the areas up to the 1960 claim line. At the end of the war, the two sides as per mutual understanding withdrew 20 km from the positions last held by the opposing forces.

Subsequently, the Line of Actual Control came to denote the line up to which the troops on the two sides actually exercised control. However, the LAC was neither delineated on the map nor demarcated on the ground. Hence, both India and China have different perceptions on the alignment of LAC.

However, over a period of time, Patrolling Points (PPs) were identified on the ground, setting the limits up to which the two sides could patrol. These PPs became reference points, although these are not bang on the LAC but at some distance on the home side. Hence, it is through patrolling boundaries that the Indian and Chinese troops assert their territorial claims. There were 23 areas which were contested by both sides.

Also read | Ladakh through a bifocal lens: a short zoom-in, zoom-out history

Given the potential for clashes, five major agreements were signed between India and China to ensure peace on the border.

* The first one on ‘Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the LAC’ was signed in 1993, which formed the basis for the subsequent agreements.

* In 1996, a follow-up agreement on ‘Confidence Building Measures’ along the LAC was inked, denouncing use of force or engaging in hostile activities.

* In the 2005 Agreement, ‘standard operating procedures’ were laid down to obviate patrol clashes.

* The Agreement of 2012 set out a process for consultation and cooperation.

* The ‘Border Defence Cooperation Agreement’ was signed in 2013 as a sequel to the Depsang intrusion by the PLA. Its emphasis was on enhancing border cooperation and exercising maximum restraint in case of ‘face-to-face’ situations. Wherever there was a difference of perceptions in disputed areas termed as ‘grey zones’, both sides could patrol up to the perceived line, but were not to undertake any build-up.

The dynamics of de-escalation

In the Chinese strategic culture, the use of force is considered perfectly legitimate. Since 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has repeatedly resorted to force against neighbouring countries in the pursuit of its expansionist design.

It was in Chinese interest to not define the LAC or resolve the border dispute, so as to use it as leverage against India. The Chinese policy was to keep consolidating its position by building infrastructure, alongside the pursuit of the policy of ‘nibbling and negotiating’ to make tactical gains, employing unconventional means such as using graziers and border militias.

Given the scope and scale, the PLA aggression was well planned, and definitely cleared by the Central Military Commission (CMC), the highest defence body in the Chinese system. In the process, the Chinese violated all of the above agreements, and once again betrayed India’s trust.

Beijing’s strategic aim apparently was to convey a strong message to New Delhi to kowtow to its interests, and to desist from building border infrastructure so as to maintain status quo, which is at present in China’s favour.

In tactical terms, it was to make limited gains through large scale intrusions, undertake a build-up in the grey zones, and seek to shift the alignment of the LAC further westward.

The PLA’s probable objectives in the Pangong Tso area was to dominate the Chushul Bowl; in Galwan to dominate the Durbuk-DBO road; and in DBO, to posture towards the Depsang plateau to pose a threat to Siachen from the east and ensure the security of the Western Highway.

Given India’s strong resolve both at the political and military levels alongside favourable world opinion, the Chinese decided to de-escalate, having achieved their initial aim and to obviate further upsurge.

Decoding LAC Conflict

The process of de-escalation

Every conflict has a cycle – it begins with escalation, and is followed by contact, stalemate, de-escalation, resolution, peace-building and reconciliation.

The de-escalation process entails talks at multiple levels, and ground action in various stages. As in this case, there have been three rounds of talks at the Corps Commander level, simultaneous talks between Joint Secretaries, and at the level of Special Representatives.

On the ground, the first step in the de-escalation process is of disengagement – i.e., to break the ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ contact between the opposing troops on the forward line by pulling back to create a buffer zone. This is currently in progress – the forward troops on both sides are reported to have pulled back by about 1.5 km in the area of PP 14 in Galwan, PP 15 southeast of Galwan Valley, and PP 17A in the Gogra-Hot Spring areas. Similar action will be required to be taken in the Pangong Tso fingers area, where the PLA has reportedly intruded up to Finger 4, as also in the PP 10-11 areas in Depsang-DBO.

The next step is the pulling back of the troops in the immediate depth, followed by reserve formations in the rear.

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In the present case, the PLA created a number of intermediate positions, besides staging forward 4 Motorised and 6 Mechanized Divisions. Even fighter aircraft have been positioned at the forward air bases like Ngari and Hotan. India too, has undertaken the requisite build-up. Withdrawal of all these elements will require many more rounds of talks at various levels.

Given the serious trust deficit — as the PLA is known to backtrack — each move will need to be confirmed and verified on the ground, and complemented by other surveillance means. Even the distance of pulling back cannot be sacrosanct, as the PLA is in a better position to build up, given the terrain advantage and better infrastructure.

India’s bottom line at the negotiation table is to restore the April 20 status quo ante. The Chinese are masters at engaging in marathon talks. Maj Gen Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region (SXMR), who is currently representing the PLA in the Corps Commander-level talks, has been in the area as Division Commander and Deputy of SXMR. He took over the SXMR last year, and will be around for a couple of years, given the PLA’s long command tenures.


Soldiers keep guard as an Indian Army convoy moves on the Srinagar-Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, north-east of Srinagar. (AP Photo)

Well aware of the ground situation, Liu can be expected to indulge in hard bargaining. Therefore, the de-escalation process is set to be in for a long haul, marked by the ‘going back and forth’ phenomenon. India must have its options in place, should the process of de-escalation get stalled.


Maj Gen (Dr) G G Dwivedi: ‘Right now, Chinese have an edge, we must neutralise it’


Maj Gen (Dr) G G Dwivedi, who commanded a Jat battalion in this sector in 1992, and was subsequently the defence attaché to China in 1997, told The Indian Express over the phone that he is not surprised by the recent Chinese belligerence.

The peaks around the Galwan valley last saw bloodshed in 1962, when Chinese soldiers opened fire on a company of 5 Jat on October 22, killing 36 soldiers and capturing company commander Major S S Hasabnis. It marked the start of the 1962 war.


“It is part of China’s ‘nibble and negotiate policy’. Their grand aim is to ensure that India does not build infrastructure along the LAC, change the status of Ladakh, cosy up to the US and join the anti-China chorus caused by Covid-19. It is their way of attaining a political goal with military might, while gaining more territory in the process.’’

Dwivedi recounted the time he commanded 16 Jat in Pangong Tso and Hot Springs area in 1992. There was no tension between the two countries at that point. “We used to patrol up till Hot Springs and so did they. The Ladakh Scouts controlled the Galwan valley and did not encounter any problems either. We would learn of Chinese patrols from the red Hong Mei cigarette packets they left behind and graffiti on the rocks that read ‘Chung ko (This is China)’.” Dwivedi said the Indian troops would retaliate by scribbling ‘This is India’ on the rocks.

Things have changed, and Beijing is worried about India’s recent actions of reorganising Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and improving infrastructure in the region, Dwivedi said. “It has high stakes in PoK as the $60-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) traverses through it, and it is also the site of the proposed $9 billion Diamer Bhasha Dam, a joint project of China and Pakistan.’’

He said that China’s current aggressive behaviour also coincides with pressure on President Xi Jinping, who is the chairperson of the Central Military Commission, due to opposition around the globe due to Covid-19 and the economic slowdown at home.

The PLA’s aim, said Dwivedi, is to dominate Durbuk-DBO road, strengthen its position in the Fingers area, halt the construction of link roads in Galwan-Pangong Tso and negotiate de-escalation on its terms.

“They have quietly and steadily built a lot of infrastructure along the LAC, and now they want to dominate the hilltops. Any military man will tell you that this matters because if you don’t occupy the hilltops, you are like a sitting partridge.’’

Decoding LAC Conflict

On the way forward, Dwivedi said India must be firm on restoration of status quo as on April 30. “We must be firm on that, they should go back. We started to disengage but the Chinese did not, they want to consolidate their gains and make us accept the new LAC alignment.”

Negotiations depend on how strong you are on the ground. “Right now, the Chinese have an edge, we must neutralise it. We must either push them back or occupy some other place that affects them.”

Military action, said Dwivedi, should be accompanied by political, diplomatic and economic action. “We must isolate China in the geo-political arena and ensure a consensus in our favour. Last but not the least, let us present a united front as a nation and win the propaganda war as well.”