China is the aggressor in Ladakh: The truth must be told!

Let us call a spade, a spade. China is the aggressor in Ladakh and if it wants friendly bilateral relations, it must behave on the border.

The Chinese narrative on the agreement on disengagement on the Pangong Tso in Eastern Ladakh arrived at after the 9th Round of talks between the military on both sides (10 February 2021) is essentially to claim that the aggression was started by India and fuelled by Indian nationalism.

That both sides agreed to simultaneously disengage is a function of the relative strengths and positions of each side on Pangong Tso and the Indian willingness to showcase that peace is a possibility, if there is some give and take.

That is the larger point to be made in this analysis which is that China is the aggressor in Ladakh and needs to unilaterally withdraw from all the positions it has captured since April-May 2020. 

It would be recalled that Global Times (10 February 2021) had stated that “Chinese experts hailed the move as a key breakthrough that will ease border tensions and hopefully lead to peace and stability”.

The Chinese version of the consensus reached at the 9th Round of military level talks, is that “both sides struck more and more consensus and atmosphere became more constructive, disengagement became a natural step.”

This appears to mean that at the military level talks China had suggested disengagement with India to make the first move. However, the simultaneous nature of the withdrawal indicates that India has firmly held its ground on a Chinese withdrawal first or at least a simultaneous one, ensuring that its forces will not move back. 

It is interesting that Global Times pinpoints the Pangong Tso disengagement as being a area of ‘focus’ and a ‘core issue’ bilaterally.

This suggests that China was keen to obtain a withdrawal from the Indian side first, because military operations in this region last August gave India a geographic advantage.

That is precisely why China calls this move “a breakthrough”.

Pertinently, China does not mention the fact that it was they who initiated the aggression in May 2020 in several locations on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and their occupation of Indian territory in several sectors continues to be a reality.

The Indian demand for a complete restoration of the situation as it existed prior to April 2020 is something the Chinese are unwilling to adhere to. 

Recently, Admiral Philip S. Davidson, commanding the US Indo-Pacific Command stated that China still hasn’t withdrawn from “several forward positions” it seized during clashes with Indian forces along the LAC. Davidson, told a Congressional hearing in prepared remarks (9 March 2021): “The PLA has not yet withdrawn from several forward positions it seized following the initial clash, and the consequent escalation of tensions between the PRC and India has resulted in casualties on both sides.”

Notably, the 21st Meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (12 March 2021) held “in-depth discussions on the remaining issues along the LAC in the Western Sector”, meaning precisely that what Admiral Davidson has stated needs to be done by the Chinese! 

Pangong Tso has been the site of quiet creep by the Chinese for quite some years now and it took a single operation by the Indian Army to make the Chinese realise that India could respond at the time and place of its choosing, if so required.

That is why the “situation in the northern bank of the Pangong Tso had long been in deadlock”, according to the Chinese. The very fact of the Chinese admission accusing India of attempting “to force China” to make compromises on Pangong Tso, by initiating “provocations on the southern bank in August 2020”, makes it clear that it was China which initiated the aggression. So, the bottom line in the current situation is that China took the first step, so logically it should retreat first too. 

To therefore, suggest that India should meet China “half-way” as Global Times recently did is a distortion of the ground picture and calls for some introspection by China.

The Global Times is a mouthpiece of the Chinese state and Communist Party and thus is forced to speak as though China is morally superior to India in the Ladakh stand-off.

That is why its conclusions (22 February 2021) made after the 10th Round of military level talks continue to take the line that “India has realized that its provocations against China on the border have not brought India its desired results.”  The disengagement process according to China is sending a positive signal that bilateral ties are moving towards détente. However, that the real target of China’s ire is Prime Minister Narendra Modi becomes clear when the Global Times writes that “New Delhi has fuelled nationalism to serve its political purpose.

However, to improve its ties with China, it has to curb such sentiment among the public. Nationalism poses a challenge to the Modi administration and the repair of bilateral ties”. 

The challenge to bilateral ties is not so much that India does not want friendly relations, but that China refuses to engage in normal state-to-state behaviour. China brazenly occupies Indian territory and expects India to accept the status quo.

This is not acceptable to India anymore and the events of August 2020 make it clear that India will in future match China’s moves. For China to claim, that its speedy withdrawal was possible because of its superior mobility and is capable of redeploying with equal speed to its positions in Ladakh, is an empty threat that does not take into account India’s increased vigilance on the border and evolution of rapid deployment capabilities. 

Let us call a spade, a spade. China is the aggressor in Ladakh and if it wants friendly bilateral relations, it must behave on the border.

One can do no better than to quote Admiral Davidson at the end to prove this point.

He has held China responsible for starting the border clashes and says, “The standoff was predicated by clashes over construction activities near the disputed border. PLA ground manoeuvre and support elements subsequently forward-deployed roughly 50,000 soldiers along the LAC, leading to a counter-deployment by the Indian Army”. 

The Chinese have a strange disconnect in their minds that by creating tensions on the border and seeking improvement in bilateral ties they can browbeat India. It is time this changed.