India & China are engaged in a tense standoff in Eastern Ladakh for almost a month following May 2020 altercation on Sikkim border. The standoff has been going on for over a month with both sides doing intense fortifications across various sectors in Ladakh from Pangong Tso Lake to Hot Springs & Goghra to Galwan Valley overlooking the Daulat Beg Oldi road which India has been constructing at a fast pace connecting eastern Ladakh right up to Daulat Beg Oldi sector next to Siachen glacier. The Chinese have been irked by India’s rapid construction of infrastructure from Arunachal in Eastern Himalayan sector to Uttarakhand & Ladakh in Western Himalayan sector. To understand what the standoff is all about let us have a brief understanding of the cause of standoff in Ladakh this time around.
Ladakh standoff in various Sectors
Pangong Tso Lake
The first sector in Eastern Ladakh where Indian & Chinese forces are lodged in a tense standoff is at the Pangong Tso Lake. The 1962 Indo-China war was fought on Finger 8. Finger 8 is till where India claims to be Line Of Actual Control (LAC) while China claims the LAC to be till Finger 2. It must, however, be stated China has a base camp on Finger 8 and built a road to Finger 4 in 1999 when India was engaged in the Kargil War with Pakistan. The same road was blacktopped in 2004 by PLA making it easier for them to patrol the area. On the other hand, India has ITBP base on Finger 3 from where it usually sends out the patrol between Finger 4 and Finger 8, which is treacherous terrain. There is no motorable road between Finger 3 & Finger 4. So while both sides claimed LAC to be Finger 8 (India) & Finger 2(China), Finger 4 usually served as Defacto LAC between two sides with both patrolling the area between Finger 4 & 8 occasionally as is depicted in below image though it marks Chinese claim till Finger 4 which should be read as finger 2.
The recent standoff at Pangong Tso Lake is when Chinese came up to Finger 4 right at the defacto LAC blocking Indian patrols beyond Finger 4 which lead to the current standoff. Chinese have also erected semi-structure on Finger 4 and reinforced it with troops, heavy earth builders and armoured vehicles. The Pangong Standoff is yet to be resolved and the stalemate continues between two sides.
Hotsprings & Goghra Sector
The other sector in Eastern Ladakh where India and China are engaged in a tense standoff is Hotsprings & Goghra sector where China has built up a forward base on its side of LAC which is 15 Kms NE of the Indian base at Goghra there has been significant forward movement and fortifications by the Chinese PLA but so sign of any occupation/invasion of Indian territory as is being claimed by a section of intellectuals in India. They have adduced no evidence like satellite imagery to substantiate their claim. What we have heard is mere source-based information that lacks credibility. The image below shows various sectors where the standoff is involved.
Galwan Valley Standoff
The biggest escalation in the current standoff in Ladakh happened on 15th June 2020 night in Galwan Valley when PLA forces came up to LAC (2.5 Kms ahead of its original positions) overlooking the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) Road which connects India’s eastern sector from Pangong lake right up to Siachen Glacier providing important access for military supply lines in the area having world’s highest airstrip in Daulat Beg Oldi sector. China has been irked by India’s fast speed construction of the DBO Road, which has lead to the current standoff. The military of two commanders in a series of meeting agree to disengagement in Galwan sector where it was agreed that both Chinese PLA & Indian Army would retreat 2.5 Kms to its original positions behind the LAC. But apparently, PLA’s Western Command riled away from the understanding reached acting treacherously on the night of 15th June 2020.
The above image is representative of the positions on Galwan Valley on the LAC. Chinese in an aggressive bid to change the status quo come right up to the LAC threatening to bock India’s lifeline in DBO Sector of Eastern Ladakh. There has been significant build-up by both sides, reinforcing troops with some claims of 10,000 PLA brigade again unsubstantiated source-based information that is not reliable on face value.
Galwan Valley Clash & its Impact
On the night of 15th June 2020, the 16 Bihar regiment was waiting to ensure compliance of the agreement at patrolling point 14. The PLA troops were to fall back to Post 1, 5 km to the east according to disengagement plans. At the dusk time, suddenly a group of PLA soldiers turned back and attacked the commanding officer who was right in front. The Chinese troops attacked the Commanding officer and two soldiers with iron rods and stones. All three fell and were grievously injured. Rest of Indian troops retaliated immediately and a physical fight broke out that turned free for all. The clashes went on well past midnight. Information trickling in shows India lost 20 men in clashes including a Commanding Officer while the PLA has reportedly lost 43 men and many grievously injured as scores fell in ravine leading to evacuation by Chinese choppers and ambulances at the base taking injured men back.
The Chinese aggression in Galwan valley was fiercely retaliated by Indian Army leading to more than 45 fatalities. Even American intelligence had information of at least 35 PLA soldiers getting killed including Commanding Officer of the Chinese unit involved in the faceoff with Indian troops in Galwan Valley. Global Times a CCP propaganda outlet has admitted to China loosing men but not putting out nos to avoid an international embarrassment and humiliation of losing its troops. Apparently Major General level talks are on to diffuse Galwan situation while no India soldiers were either kidnapped or made unaccounted for. The below images were taken by Reuters and Planet Lab at 13:29 Hrs IST on 16th June 2020 after the 15th June midnight clash between the two forces. These images clearly show that the Chinese PLA forces are 1 km behind the Line of Actual Control in Galwan Valley. This completely demolishes the claims made by many journalists, defense analysts that the PLA forces have occupied/invaded the Indian territories altering the status quo at LAC. Rather these images reinforce the claims made by Indian Ministry of External Affairs that the PLA forces tried to alter the status quo of LAC in Galwan Valley on 15 June night which was effectively retaliated and repulse by the Indian army.
The clash in Galwan Valley between Indian & Chinese troops is the first since October 1975 when 4 Assam rifles jawans were ambushed by Chinese PLA in Arunachal Pradesh and eight days later their bodies were found. The biggest faceoff however after 1962 war was Nathu La area of Sikkim border where Chinese PLA gunned down 88 Indian Soldiers in response to which Major General Sagat Singh lead retaliation killed over 300 PLA soldiers. In June 1986-August 1987, General Sundarji airlifted an entire brigade into Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh in response to aggressive Chinese moves on the border. This was followed by another standoff in 2013 in Ladakh in DBO sector and recently in Doklam in 2017; however, Galwan clashes are the first since 1975 incident.
The Glawan valley clash comes at a time when India is in midst dealing with the pandemic of Wuhan Coronavirus, while China itself is suffering from Virus outbreak in Beijing which has lead to closures of its markets, neighborhood schools and even air operations with hundreds of new cases and thousands in quarantine. The virus has apparently spread from Beijing to three provinces of Liaoning, Hebei & Sichuan province. The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic has already isolated China being under fire from countries across the world for not handling the coronavirus outbreak well and suppressing the information with the aid of WHO. India who is currently Chairman of the World Health Assembly has approved a resolution of 60 countries to investigate the origins of Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and the protocols followed by WHO.
China is already in a Cold War 2.0 with the USA, which has been blasting China for causing mayhem across the world for account of handling Virus outbreak. From sanctions on Huawei chips business to banning Chinese flights into the US, Trump Administration has been taking a stern stand on China to the tune of imposing sanctions on CCP & Hong Kong officials for imposing NSA on Hong Kong virtually diluting the autonomy of Hong Kong under Sino British Declaration enshrining One nation Two Systems principles. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already notified US Congress of withdrawing the trading privileges to Hong Kong as a free trading port which is akin to killing the golden goose which funded the CCP’s rise with CCP elites having massive investments in Hong Kong. America has been openly backing Taiwan entry into WHO and sent its three Aircraft carriers USS Nimitz, USS Roosevelt & USS Ronald Reagan to straits of Taiwan with its nuclear bombers making regular flypasts over Taiwan and South China in a show of strength.
China has been recently bullying around threatening countries like Australia, imposing sanctions on it while firing on Vietnamese boats in the South China Sea, swamping Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan on annexation apart of economic blackmail with Europe. Countries like the US, India, Japan & Australia i.e. QUAD+ have formed a group for strategic consultation in Indo-Pacific with a view on Chinese hegemonic tendencies. India has already put Chinese investments (FDI) under scrutiny via approval route making the Chinese firms squirm on the said decisions. There has been numerous round of consultations among QUAD countries from Foreign Secretary level to the head of states for a co-ordinated response in view of Coronavirus pandemic. Amidst all this wrangling on the border with China, India just signed military logistics pact with Australia and is scheduled to sign a similar agreement with Japan.
There is a co-ordinated synchronized approach between India, US, UK, Japan, Australia to revive the global economy and diversify the supply chains reducing the dependence of it on China in the aftermath of the pandemic. The UK has already agreed to review Huawei role in its 5G network, which brought a threatening response from China. China being internationally isolated over the pandemic and its moves on Hong Kong, Taiwan has further put itself into the corner by poking India in Ladakh where it has got a befitting reply from India that will potentially pivot it to an enhanced stature and role regionally as well as globally in standing up to Chinese threats. Ladakh clashes are a perfect nightmare for an insecure and isolated China as India engages with America, France, Australia, Japan & the world to play a global role. The Galwan valley clashes thus is a seminal point in geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific where PLA’s misadventures will push India firmly with the QUAD group and look for alternatives to China. Galwan Valley clashes in Ladakh are sure to bring diplomatic and economic measures and these clashes will redefine India & China relationship probably burying the Wuhan Spirit and Mahabalipuram spirit deep into the Indian Ocean.