India has poked holes in China’s salami-slicing tactics- an overhyped strategy to dominate adversary territory bit-by-bit with actions too small to result into a war. While Chinese salami-slicing tactics invariably get denoted with Chinese expansionism in the Himalayas and the South China Sea, New Delhi has ensured that the Himalayas don’t get reduced into another South China Sea.
For decades, China went around bullying other nations like Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea. It took control of the entire region bit-by-bit without firing a single shot. But China has been given a bloody nose while trying to do the same against India in Eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC)- the de facto India-Tibet (China-controlled) border.
Riding high on its South China Sea manoeuvres, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started a military stand-off in Eastern Ladakh this summer. But the Indian Army proved too hot to handle for the inexperienced PLA. India made it a point not to back-off and let China dominate Indian territory. India’s mirror mobilisations shocked China and soon the two Asian giants got locked into an unprecedented stand-off that is still not showing any signs of abatement.
By the month of June, things started escalating further and on June 15, there was a violent face-off at the Galwan Valley area of Eastern Ladakh. The hand-to-hand combat caused a major bloodbath resulting in 20 casualties on the Indian side, while a disproportionate number of PLA troops were hacked to death by the Indian Army. Till date, China hesitates in releasing its casualty figures.
Nevertheless, India has kept up the pressure on the People’s Liberation Army. By August end, China’s biggest nightmare of a Tibet Liberation movement started coming true, as New Delhi unapologetically pressed the Special Frontier Force (SFF) into action. The SFF is a clandestine force that recruits heavily from ethnic Tibetan refugees living in India. China’s claims over Tibet are thus being challenged by India and Tibetans are being given an opportunity to hit back at the Dragon.
Before China could recover from the Tibet jolt, India occupied tactical heights in Eastern Ladakh and shooed away the PLA troops on more than one occasion. Now, with winters around the corner, India has a huge advantage over the unacclimatised PLA soldiers in the harsh terrain and extremely cold climate of Eastern Ladakh.
The Indian Army troops have really broken the myth of the Chinese military might, so much so, that the PLA’s crying “little emperors” have become an international internet meme. The Chinese PLA troops have been taken by surprise which is why they fear facing off the assertive Indian soldier in Eastern Ladakh.
India is becoming the destroyer-in chief of Chinese military power. And India’s powerplay against China is also emboldening China’s enemies in the Western Pacific. Earlier, it was only the United States that was after China’s life. But now that India’s domination of China has breathed life into the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) group as well, even countries like Indonesia are openly issuing threats to China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was infested with the Middle Kingdom syndrome when he thought he could weigh down India in the Himalayas. But now that the Indian Army has given his PLA a bloody nose, Xi can either back down and lose the famed Chinese military might tag or still push ahead and get his soldiers buried in the Himalayan snow.
As such Xi is desperate to wear India down, but it is not going to happen. India has its logistics in place and enjoys much better connectivity to the remote stand-off location in Eastern Ladakh with new road and infrastructure projects in the region getting unveiled. In any case, India enjoys an upper hand in the rough and high-altitude terrain ahead of the frosty winters that are about to hit Eastern Ladakh.
All in all, India is not going to yield or back down. In fact, New Delhi is in a much better position as against Beijing. India can wait it out in the mighty Himalayas or even go for the kill. Xi’s salami-slicing model from the South China Sea is a major flop in India’s Ladakh. For all we know, it is going to backfire for China, even as India prepares to make China pay for its misadventures.