Lt Gen (Retd) Philip Campose discusses ways to prevent Chinese incursions

The unannounced Chinese incursions over the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh in April-May 2020 were a bold attempt at ‘salami slicing’ to seize disputed land. It has exacerbated the deterioration of India-China relations, which is reminiscent of the era following the 1962 war. The progress made in ties over the four decades since foreign minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ground-breaking visit to Beijing in 1979 looks to have been erased in one fell swoop.

Two years have passed since the several invasions and battles that ensued a month later in the Galwan river valley. Despite this, troops from both sides continue to deploy ‘eyeball to eyeball’ along the LAC, where tensions are high. Satellite images from early May revealed that a bridge spanning the Pangong Tso lake, which the Chinese built between December 2021 and April 2022, is now being improved to carry armoured vehicles. Although several publications refer to it as a second bridge, there is really only one bridge because the ‘new’ bridge is being built in the same location.

Clearly, China is attempting to strengthen its control over Aksai Chin, the disputed region between India and China. According to one recent piece, the bridge is yet another “sovereignty symbol,” similar to the model villages that the Chinese have built near the LAC in recent years to proclaim China’s sovereignty over the region. As a result, now is the moment to take a critical look back at the events of the last two years, especially since diplomatic and economic measures do not appear to have generated significant benefits thus far.

What needs to be done by India? First, it must be acknowledged that the 2020 incursions were the result of a Chinese political decision—at the highest level—rather than a choice by some rogue military commander. To that extent, the issue must largely be addressed through political means. Similarly, it is important to recognise that, while diplomatic and military operations may have some impact and should be continued, their impact will be limited.

Even economic remedies, as evidenced by the results over the last two years, would be ineffective in reversing the intrusions. Second, it is a well-known axiom that the Chinese value “strong” above all else. If they believe India is weak, there will be many more invasions across the LAC, as well as the construction of new bridges and model communities in disputed areas in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh.

As a result, the only way China will respond effectively is if India confronts it from a position of strength, using a range of diplomatic, military, and informational measures. Building economic strength and resilience, modernising our military, cooperating with the US on intelligence sharing, committing more vigourously to the QUAD grouping, and strengthening partnerships with traditional friends like the US, the UK, Russia, countries from the European Union, ASEAN, South Asia, and the Gulf are all important goals that must be met.

At the same time, we must continue to reinforce and emphasise our dedication to democratic, freedom, pluralism, and human rights values, which clearly distinguish us from China, which is perceived as authoritarian, hegemonistic, and aggressive in its attitudes and behaviours.

Last but not least, we must improve our military capability as well as our intelligence collection and sharing channels in order to counter China. Throughout the year, an adequate number of military formations and reserves, all adequately trained, motivated, and acclimatised, must be available along the LAC.

This would mean ensuring that the Army’s current equipment—infantry, armour, mechanised infantry, artillery, air defence, aircraft, engineers, and signals—are available in sufficient numbers and are well suited to the high altitude and rough terrain along the LAC. It’s critical to have accurate, real-time intelligence and constant combat awareness.

It would also be necessary to provide the rapid availability of sophisticated combat aircraft and armed drones in sufficient numbers, backed up by automated sensor-shooter systems. Anti-tank and anti-drone equipment must be available in sufficient numbers, and cyber capabilities must be improved in both offensive and defensive modes.

The construction of infrastructure must continue unabated. Most importantly, a new chief of defence staff must be selected as soon as possible, and he or she must improve military jointness to maximum levels, preferably through theatrisation.

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