The Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China are slated to hold high-level military talks on Saturday amidst the ongoing stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Lt. General rank officers from both sides will meet each other at the Chinese side of the disputed Chushul-Moldo border point.
The stakes are high as it is for the first time that the two sides have gone beyond established protocols to deploy such high-level officers. And China is already on the back foot, as it has replaced the Army commander for its Western Theatre Command ground forces responsible for handling the Sino-India border. Lieutenant General Xu Qiling has been appointed as the new Commander.
Why should China sack the man who oversaw Chinese aggression in the eastern Ladakh region, and that too ahead of the all-important Corps Commander level meeting? Reasons can be many and all of them show that Xi Jinping, the Chinese President and the functional Commander of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has blinked ahead of the Saturday meeting.
The Sino-India tensions are today heightened because of Chinese actions, and it was the PLA that initiated scuffles and face-offs in Sikkim and Ladakh. It was again the PLA that flew helicopters and fighter jets near the LAC, apart from amassing troops and weaponry– artillery guns and combat infantry vehicles along the LAC. India however kept matching Chinese aggression.
It is well known that PLA is firmly in Xi Jinping’s grip and therefore aggressive posturing of the level that was witnessed last month couldn’t be a fallout of local tussles due to differing perceptions of the LAC. PLA’s posturing was definitely organised and implemented at higher levels.
For all we know, the relentless Chinese aggression has not been able to achieve its goals. At a local level, Beijing wants to hamper stall the construction of the winding 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road. This road will allow the Indian Army to easily access its last military post South of the Karakoram Pass.
China was opposing the construction of this road, because once completed, this road will allow India to put retaliatory pressure on the Dragon at the Karakoram Pass, Chip Chap river area, Trig Heights, Hot Springs, Galwan and Depsang Plains.
China wants to make the Daulat Beg Oldie sector inaccessible for India, in order to achieve its ambitions of connecting Tibet with Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. But India didn’t relent, and the political, as well as the military establishment, made it clear that there will be no hiatus in road building along the Sino-India border.
It is very much possible that the Chinese Commander has been sacked because India matched up to Chinese build up and kept developing its infrastructure despite PLA’s attempts to block it.
Another reason why Xi Jinping replaced the ground forces Commander could be that he is simply scapegoating the PLA Commander. Beijing has been given a bloody nose and why would the Chinese side want to admit that it was the Chinese President who got their nose bloody? It is far more convenient to pin the blame on the sacked Lt. General.
Xi Jinping also knows that this meeting figures on the international agenda. China has already drawn a lot of flak for showing aggression in eastern Ladakh, as the tussle has been through the prism of the Chinese belligerence in the South China sea, attempt to deflect attention from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing’s irresponsible conduct during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
If PLA messes up at the Corps Commander meeting, then it will be China which will have to face even greater global backlash. Thus, Jinping would want a man who can ensure that China sails through with a practical solution at the high-level meeting.
He is playing his cards very carefully because he knows that any Commander who is incapable of representing the PLA at this meeting could put China in still greater trouble.
Beijing also fears the prospect of a situation in the LAC going out of control. Ever since the 1962 Sino-India war, China has followed the policy of threatening and bullying India to have its way. But this time Beijing met with an increasingly assertive New Delhi. Jinping doesn’t want a hot-headed Commander failing to defuse the situation.
India is far more capable on the LAC than it was a decades ago, and in the event of a swift, limited theatre skirmish, eastern Ladakh could become another Nathu La for the PLA. Jinping doesn’t want this embarrassment especially when he has already become a subject of ridicule around the world.
Either way, it is Beijing which is on the back foot ahead of the crucial meetings. Going into the Corps Commander-level meeting between India and China, it is advantage New Delhi.