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China- India border conflict: Five fingers or agreement?


Published with the kind permission of the author   

The Indo-Chinese border conflict at Ladhak has different explanations: China makes India responsible for a new assertiveness, infrastructure building in this region in order to fix new borders, the Trump-Modi meeting, the new Indian Hindu nationalism which by the Jammu/ Kashmir abrogation law also influences the Line of Control, etc. India on the other side claims that there is a new Chinese assertiveness, that it ist the first time that China claims that the Galwan valley as part of China and also points to other aggressive actions of China like in the South China Sea which was the model for Chinese encroachment step by step. Chinese and Indian hawks on both sides are proposing military action and voice alarmist warnings. As frontrunners ist the Tibetan exile community in India, which sees Mao Zedong´s five finger strategy at work:   

„Ladakh is the First Finger, China is Coming After All Five: Tibet Chief’s Warning to India

Lobsang Sangay said Beijing’s recent actions on the Line of Actual Control with India can be seen as following the ‘Five Fingers of Tibet strategy’ as was laid down by Mao Zedong.  

China’s claim of sovereignty over the entire Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, a claim that it had not made directly for decades, has prompted the leader of the Tibetan-government-in-exile to issue a dire warning to India: “learn from what happened to Tibet”.

Speaking exclusively to CNN-News18, Lobsang Sangay, President of the Central Tibet Administration, explained that Beijing’s recent actions on the Line of Actual Control with India can be seen as following the ‘Five Fingers of Tibet strategy’ as was laid down by People’s Republic of China’s founding father Mao Zedong.

“When Tibet was occupied, Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders said, ‘Tibet is the palm which we must occupy, then we will go after the five fingers’. The first finger is Ladakh. The other four are Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh,” he said. 

The statement came after India’s ministry of external affairs had at 1am on Thursday said that China is making “exaggerated and untenable claims.”

India had in a statement on June 16, and in a read-out of the phone conversation between foreign minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Chinese Wang Yi on June 17, categorically mentioned that the Chinese side had “sought to erect a structure in the Galwan Valley on our side of the LAC”.

This, the statements said, became a source of dispute, leading to the violent face-off on the night of June 15. Twenty Indian soldiers, including a Commanding Officer, had died in the clash.

Sangay said that India needs to remain very wary of the Chinese leadership. “Unless you know what happened in Tibet you will not fully understand the Chinese leadership mindset, their strategy. So they have the palm, now they are coming after the five fingers.”

He expressed deep concern over the violence on the border and said that in most cases, the intrusions in border areas are coming from the Chinese side.

„Dialogue is the only way forward. Having said that, India has the right to defend its territory and sovereignty. Chinese strategy has been carrot and stick. India should have the same strategy but never be the first one to take action or intrude,“ he said.

When asked why the Dalai Lama was silent on the issue, he said, “His holiness the Dalai Lama has been speaking for India for 60 years. Since 2011 he has devolved his political authority to the elected position which happens to be my office.” 

“He has separated church and the state, hence it is my responsibility to speak about Tibet and political and administrative matters, hence I am here condemning the violence and warning India and neighbouring countries that what happened to Tibet can happen to you,” he added.“

However other countries and former allies of India remain silent and also attribute the new crisis to Modi:

„Modi finds neighbours silent as India-China tensions simmer

Mr Modi’s ‚Neighbourhood First‘ policy, which helped settle border disputes with Bangladesh and smoothed ties with Sri Lanka and Bhutan in his first term, has frayed in his second term. His government’s focus on driving a hardline Hindu nationalist agenda has alienated some traditional standbys and has made long-time trade and security partners uncomfortable.

While Mr Modi has been in touch with leaders in the neighbourhood since the latest border crisis with China began on May 5, the only expressions of condolences and concern so far have come from the US, the UK and the European Union. The United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has urged both the countries to exercise maximum restraint.

Closer ties with Washington may have precipitated differences with Beijing, which has been increasingly assertive across the region – from the South China Sea to Taiwan and Hong Kong. But the current crisis has brought New Delhi’s absence of friendly neighbours into focus.

Military officials on both sides are in talks to dial down the temperature and the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers will both be part of a virtual summit that Russia is hosting on June 23.

The Prime Minister’s Office didn’t respond to an email seeking comment for this story. 


The seeds of the current border crisis and the unravelling of some regional partnerships were likely sown last November, when India released a new map, months after changing the constitutional status of its portion of Kashmir and carving the Himalayan Ladakh area – a region of strategic importance nestled between western Tibet and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir – as a separate federally administered region.

The map had angered Beijing and elicited protests from Pakistan and Nepal.

In May, as the stand-off with Chinese troops simmered, ties with Nepal took a turn for the worse over India’s construction of a border road. The relationship was already under some strain after an economic blockade in 2015 blamed on the Modi administration pushed Kathmandu’s communist government under Prime Minister K.P. Oli closer to China.

Since then Nepal’s legislature has approved a new map demarcating a mountain pass and areas it says India claimed when it built the road despite repeated objections. 

„New Delhi’s ongoing refusal to hold substantive talks on the disputed border has not helped either,“ said Professor Ian Hall, international relations expert at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and author of ‚Modi and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy.‘

„There is no doubt that Beijing has worked hard to build a closer party-to-party relationship between Oli’s government and the Chinese Communist Party, in parallel to conventional diplomatic links.“

Mr Modi also has Bangladesh offside. A scheduled visit by Mr A.K. Abdul Momen, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, was postponed late last year amid nationwide unrest following implementation of a new religion-based law that fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.“

China hawks in India already propose much more new Indian assertive actions and criticize Modi for not posturing resolute enough and let China step by step make ist gradual encroachment of Indian territory. Therefore even the threat of an Indian-Chinese border war was an idea as Indian geostrategist Bharat Karnad proposes: 

„India’s squeamish attitude towards China is a liability, the army should implement more violent rules of engagement and prepare for limited war“

A contribution by Indian strategist Samir Tata also proposed an US- Indo alliance not only in the Indopacific but also in the Himalaya with US boots on the ground and the scenario that Indian and US forces attacked Tibet and cut off China in Tibet and Xinjiang from its New Silkroad, gas and oil pipelines and water resources. In the US Army War College Vol.48, No.1 2018 Samir Tata published a programmatic article „US Landpower and an Indo-American Alliance“ ( page 95 ff.). Samir Tata is a foreign policy analyst. He previously served as an intelligence analyst with the National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency, a staff assistant to Senator Dianne Feinstein and a researcher with Middle East Institute, Atlantic Council and National Defense University. Samir Tata questions former Secretary of Defense Gate´s programmatic assumption, that in future US wars boots on the ground were not essential and that Navy and Airforce were the main contributors for such a war. Accordingly, the US Army should get prepared to fight Himalaya and land wars against China together with India. The question is if the author means his article serious or if it it is just a desperate move of the US Army to find a new place and role within the US military branches which are enlarged by a Cybercommand and maybe a new Spaceforce. However the article addresses the problem that China is getting more independent from sea routes by its New Silkroad initiative, that Offshore Control and Airseabattle might not work anymore and that the USA has to find a solution to cut off China from its silkroads in the event of a war. But precision guided missiles on pipelines and trucks might substitute boots on the ground in the Himalaya

Of course these are China hawks on the US and Indian side, but China also wants to show that it is prepared tot hat sort of scenarios and wants to deter it:

Intensive, multidimensional drills show PLA capability in border region

By Liu Xuanzun Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/18 17:02:10

A group of Type 96A main battle tanks (MBT) attached to a combined arms brigade under the PLA 72nd Group Army rumble through narrow mountain road during maneuver training in early June.Photo:China Military

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been conducting intensive military exercises of multiple dimensions, including high altitude tank and anti-tank drills in Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, large-scale, long-distance maneuver of an army brigade to Northwest China, and nighttime group parachute infiltration, following the fatal clash between China and India in the border region. 

These PLA drills not only showed that its forces stationed in border regions have high combat capability, but that troops from across China will also come to their aid, and the PLA can crush any aggression with land-air integrated joint operations, Chinese military experts said on Thursday.

Multiple types of new weapons and equipment including Type 15 lightweight tanks and HJ-10 anti-tank missile systems attached to the PLA Tibet Military Command recently joined a comprehensive live-fire drill in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at an elevation of more than 4,700 meters, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Wednesday.

During the exercises, the tanks launched a fire strike on targets several kilometers away. After encountering hostile armored units, anti-tank troops switched to the front and destroyed enemy tanks and armored vehicles. Artillery units were also on the move and conducted precision strikes on enemy targets.

The drills also simulated damage to a friendly tank, which was quickly repaired by a support vehicle. 

The main threat China faces on its border with India comes from Indian tanks and armored vehicles, but the Type 15 tanks and HJ-10 anti-tank missiles are very strong counters, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Thursday.

A brigade under the PLA 81st Group Army of the PLA Central Theater Command also conducted a large-scale, long-distance maneuver to an undisclosed location in Northwest China thousands of kilometers away, after which its multiple rocket launcher systems, howitzers and anti-aircraft systems participated in real combat-oriented drills in unfamiliar terrains, CCTV reported.

Another airborne brigade recently held a daytime and nighttime group parachute infiltration drill featuring a thousand paratroopers, as main combatants were mixed with scouts and artillerymen for maximum combat efficiency, according to CCTV.

Separately, aviation troops of the PLA 77th Group Army tested their helicopter pilots in high-elevation regions, with attack helicopters and transport helicopters participating, said a statement the PLA Western Theater Command released on Thursday.

Previous reports showed that many other forces, including the 75th Group Army of PLA Southern Theater Command and thousands of paratroopers from Central China, have also mobilized to western China.

Song said that while the Western Theater Command is responsible for the defense of the border between China and India, forces from other theater commands can also support it. 

While the fatal clash between China and India in the Galwan Valley region is unlikely to escalate into a large-scale military conflict, as such an escalation is against the interests of both sides, the PLA showed they are prepared, analysts said.

There are also voices in India that want to deescalate the conflict, as they see that this makes an Asian Century of harmony, inclusiveness and trade instead of conflict and wars like described in Parag Khanna´s Panasian book „The Future is Asian“ an illusion. Modi said that India is prepared for further Chinese encroachment and didn´t want to accept it, He rejects the attacks by the Congress Party that the soldiers were not armed, but declares that they were armed and that India wasn´t losing any territory and won´t make any concessions. However, he also proposes military dialogue which might be followed by a political dialogue between him and Xi and in the framework oft he SCO and BRICs, maybe even with Russia as mediator. Another high-ranking military also tries to deescalate by his opinion that the Indo-Chinese border conflict was not a new Kargil crisis..

„Intrusion can’t be compared to Kargil, unless it escalates’: General VP Malik 

Former chief of army staff General Ved Prakash Malik says Xi want to retake territories China believes it had controlled earlier. „

However, while in China the population doesn´t care too much about these Himalaya territories China wants to occupy by ist encroachment, in India it is a big issue: There are now als „Boycott Chinese products“, stop Chinese 5G, decouple from China, be the new gloabl factory instead of China and other anti- Chinese movements in the Indian population. General Astahna already said that hiese border conflicts are due tot he fact that China never accepted the old British treaties and if there is no agreement of delinezation, demarctaionizing and demilitarizing, these conflicst will continue tio exist. But with China´s new assertivness also due ist expansion by the Chinese- Pakistan Ecxonomic Corridoe (CPEC )and the New Silkroad it remains to be seen if here will be any compromise.

Source: Global Review