Tawang Clash-Prelude to Conflict?

The clash happened during a regular border patrol when Chinese troops were intercepted by their Indian counterparts

December 14, 2022 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Illustration(s): By SP Guide Pubns Photo(s): By proshillong/Twitter
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

The media is blistering with reports of the clash between the our troops and the PLA in Yangtse area of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. This has created considerable ruckus in the Parliament also. China, as usual has blamed India for triggering the clash. The clash happened on December 9, 2022 but for some inexplicable reasons was reported in the Indian media three days later on December 12. There have been injuries on both side some fractures as well. The issue was reportedly resolved after a flag meeting by the local commanders. How amicable the discussion was and whether it would effectively stop recurrence of such incidents is debatable considering China's aggressive stance.

Long Shaohua, spokesperson for China's Western Theatre Command said that the clash happened during a regular border patrol when Chinese troops were intercepted by their Indian counterparts who "illegally crossing the border", and that our troops' response is professional, firm and standard, which helped to stabilise the situation. Hu Xijin of Global Times tweeted "China won't back down on the border issue. India should fully understand China's stand and will after several clashes, and give up illusions." China is willing to escalate the situation, so China has released the information later than India again this time.

This is the first reported clash between the two sides since the Galwan clash in Ladakh during June 2020

This is the first reported clash between the two sides since the Galwan clash in Ladakh during June 2020. Prior to the Galwan clash, videos in media showed troops from both sides jostling each other like at Doklam and Sikkim, or using sticks and hurling stones at each other like in Pangong Tso area. But Galwan onwards recording and releasing of videos was banned. This was because despite earlier clashes, the Ministry of External Affairs did nothing to change the orders for our patrols to be armed. China took advantage by a surprise attack on Colonel Suresh Babu's patrol butchering them in cold blood. Only one soldier could run back and inform his unit. Replying to questions later, the External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had publicly stated that Colonel Babu's patrol was "armed".

The video being shown in our media purportedly covering the Twang clash of December 9, 2022 is an "old" one, meant to draw political mileage. Patrols don't carry concertina coils as seen on the video and at 14,000 feet that area should be under snow. Besides, if Colonel Babu's patrol was armed as claimed by Jaishankar, why is our patrol in the video carrying sticks? According to one source, this video is part of a full video released by China in 2021 covering a previous incident. Face offs in Yangtse areas have happened on many occasions in the past.

Chinese President Xi Jinping brazenly distributed maps showing Ladakh and Arunachal part of China and J&K part of Pakistan at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Uzbekistan

The above video, however, does bring out that the short-tenure PLA troops (Chinese version of 'Agniveers') are no match for regular IA troops. Woefully, our government has made 'Agnipath' a prestige issue and refuses to rethink the concept; to draw political mileage from claiming that thousands after four-month recruit training and four-year in military would become "skilled" citizens, which amounts to self-illusion.

(FILE PHOTO) DISENGAGEMENT PROCESS BETWEEN INDIAN ARMY & PLA TROOPS IN EASTERN LADAKH

It has already been covered in these columns earlier that Chinese President Xi Jinping brazenly distributed maps showing Ladakh and Arunachal part of China and J&K part of Pakistan at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Uzbekistan on September 15-16, 2022, which was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This should make it very clear what intentions Xi has. It was also covered in these columns that China has announced the constructing of a second highway (G695 national expressway) through Aksai Chin by 2035, which according to foreign media will be running close to Galwan, Hot Springs and Pangong Tso. This is a second major indication of Xi's intentions as he would plan to secure sufficient depth for this highway much before it is completed.

The fact that we have lost control over 1,000 sq km of our territory to China in Eastern Ladakh and China has successfully altered the status quo by shifting the LAC Westwards

The fact that we have lost control over 1,000 sq km of our territory to China in Eastern Ladakh in addition to vacating Kailash Range (due to Beijing's politico-diplomatic bullying) and China has successfully altered the status quo by shifting the LAC Westwards has also been covered in these columns earlier. Yet, we continue to fool the public by denying all this, call even deep intrusions (like 20-km in Depsang) "friction points" and keep saying we have not lost even one inch of territory.

Why has the fear of China attacking led us to follow a policy of "appeasement" towards Beijing. Among the many examples of overtures is the $100 billion annual trade balance in China's favour compared to India's defence budget at $70 billion. Are we helping China to modernise the PLA even faster? Why would China not consider us a soft state because of such overtures?

Finally, the clash at Tawang was perhaps the PLA probe to assess the Indian Army's reaction and our capabilities to reinforce locations. Let there be no illusions that China will likely escalate conflict in the near future.