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The Dragon blinks

Author: Sadhana Kala
Publication: The Times of India
Date:  July 14, 2020
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/the-dragon-blinks/

“Take up arms, newly Arisen. For my kind do not heed the toothless.”

– Dragon’s Dogma


Third of the six wars that China is sure to fight in the next fifty years will be with India in 2035-40 – said a 08 July 2013 article in Wen Wei Po, a pro-Beijing Chinese-language newspaper based in Hong Kong.  The article may be fanciful. But it underlines China’s desire to correct the wrongs of history, as it perceives them. Hence its border disputes with all the fourteen countries with which it shares the border. Hence its transgressions and intrusions into the land of its neighbors, including India. And once it does that, it seldom withdraws.

Why then did the Dragon blink in Ladakh? And pull back 1.5-2 km to the rear on its side from Line of Actual Control (LAC), thus restoring the 3-4 km wide buffer zone that contains the LAC, and thus reverting to the status quo ante as it existed before the 15 June 2020 clash at Galwan valley

Reasons for Dragon’s Blink

The Dragon blinked because of India’s resolve to challenge its expansionism not only at India-China border but also elsewhere, because of US’ show of military strength in South China Sea and its implied support for India’s stand, and because of rising clamour to free Tibet from China’s illegal occupation.

The compulsions for China to act against India are India’s building up of infrastructure at LAC that will enable it to deploy forces matching those of China, India’s emergence as a great power and a rival to China, and China’s fear that as India gets stronger, it will act to repossess its land illegally occupied by China. 

Modi Lands at Nimo

The main reason for China’s withdrawal was India’s resolute response that it will not let China’s expansionism in Ladakh and elsewhere – for example in South China Sea – go unchallenged. The response was best stated by India PM landing at Nimo, only fifteen-minutes flight from PP 14 Galwan Valley – the site of India-China army skirmish of 15 June that led to the stand-off – and labelling China as expansionist. India’s intense diplomacy that secured it the support of several countries also helped.

US Carrier Strike Force in South China Sea

Also of help was the sailing into South China Sea of the US’ Nimitz Carrier Strike Force of two Nimitz class aircraft carriers. The first time in six years, and only the second time in nineteen years, that two US carriers operated at the same time in that region. And a B 52 strategic bomber flying in from mainland US demonstrated US’s ability to deploy air-strike forces in the region. The Carriers and the B 52 affirmed US commitment to the Quad – an informal grouping of US, Japan, Australia and India – and to keep the seas open according to the international laws. The Quad is a counter to China’s use of military to impose its claim over many islands and outcrops and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea as its territory, despite rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries, as well as from Taiwan.

The strike force was a show of intent to act against expansionism; and also a show of moral support to India’s stand. A support that was explicitly spelled out on 06 July 2020, when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, “Our military might stands strong and will continue to stand strong, … in relationship to a conflict between India and China …”


A Union Minister, BJP CM of Arunachal Pradesh, Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, and a General secretary of BJP, wished Dalai Lama on his 85th birthday on 06 July. US Ambassador Ken Juster, was the chief guest at the main celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and former US president George Bush also wished the Dalai Lama. India’s President and the PM did not wish the Dalai Lama this year, though PM had wished him last year.  The subtle, and not so subtle, messages these conveyed would have jarred China. Especially so because of the growing call by many, particularly the US, to recognise Tibet’s autonomy.

China’s claim over Tibet is as tenuous as would be Mongolia’s claim over China. Tibet was under China’s administrative control for less than 200 years out of 2500 years of its existence. Tibet empire of 800 CE was the 28th largest empire in history. It even ruled part of China. Mongols ruled entire China for over a hundred years. Ruins of Kublai Khan’s capital at Xanadu are testimony to that. But much before Kublai, for sixty years, since the time of Genghis Khan, Mongols had ruled huge chunks of China. Mongols thus ruled china for over 150 years. That is, for nearly as long as China had administrative control over Tibet. Should not Mongolia claim China?

China occupied Tibet in 1950-54 without a legitimate claim over it. China brutally suppressed the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, killing 430,000 during the Uprising and the fifteen years of guerrilla warfare that followed. “Tibetans inside Tibet and in exile have never wavered in our struggle against the colonial occupation of our homeland” – says US-based Executive Director of the Students for Free Tibet (SFT), Dorjee Tseten. Tibetan government-in-exile, also called The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), and its President Lobsang Sangay, are also determined to restore freedom of Tibet. Once Tibet is free, they say, elections will be held and a popular government installed.

Tibet is the Achilles heel for China. And India is crucial in Tibet’s struggle to throw off the China yoke. Tibet’s freedom may be a far-off dream at the moment. But history unfolds in strange ways. We can only speculate on what might happen in one hundred or five hundred years. China for sure is aware of its illegal occupation of Tibet.

India’s Infrastructure Build Up at LAC

At present, India’s infrastructure in the LAC region is about 30% that of China’s. But India is building up infrastructure, and in a few years, it will match the infrastructure of China. India will then be able to match China’s force levels at the LAC.

India is about to complete the 255 km Darbuk-Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) all weather road. The road will reduce the travel time from Leh to DBO from two days to six hours. IAF landed C 130 J and An 32 aircraft at DBO thus confirming the feasibility of sustained air-transport operations form DBO. The road and DBO air-transport operations enhance India’s ability to maintain greater troop strengths in the region. And that irks China.

IAF has operated Su 30, Mig 29, Mirage 200, and Jaguar fighters, C 17, IL 76, C 130 J, An 32 transport aircraft, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from Leh. Apache has also done night operations in that area. India has demonstrated its ability to use air power at LAC.

China realizes that time is running out for its sly transgressions and intrusions to go unchallenged, as they did from 1950s to 2013.

Indian Land Occupied by China

In 1950s, China occupied 38,000 sq. km of India’s land in Aksai Chin and built a highway in it. In March 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of Indian territory in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to China. Thus China is in illegal occupation of 43,180 sq km of India’s land in Ladakh. In 2013, China came up with a new Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, and occupied 640 sq km of Indian territory.

 China claims 90,000 sq. km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh. According to unconfirmed reports, China has intruded into Indian territory in Subansiri district in Arunchal Pradesh bit by bit since 1980 and has moved about 50-60 kms inside Indian territory.

Territorial disputes will remain a flash point in India-China relations.

Future Imperfect

China’s illegal occupation of India’s land, and its claim in Arunachal Pradesh, will remain a flash point in India China relations.

By 2050 the superpowers in the world will be China, India and the US in that order. China and India rivalry will continue to grow. And China will do everything possible to derail India’s growth. That could include border skirmishes and battles. But China will go much beyond that.

On 07 July 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray, described what China is doing to the US:

“China … is a threat to our economic security – and by extension, to our national security … from cyber intrusions to corrupting trusted insiders … methods include bribery, blackmail, and covert deals … doesn’t hesitate to use smoke, mirrors, and misdirection to influence …”

China is already doing to India what it is doing to the US. Its covert and overt actions against India will become more intense as India grows.

India-China border skirmishes and limited battles are of concern. But of even greater concern are China’s actions to subvert India from within.

The Dragon often eats nations from within.


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