'Neither will China -- at least for now -- because its troops are deployed in equal strength.'
'We are negotiating at equal terms right now and it's a game of patience.'
"China is looking at two things: One, a favourable setting for a face-saving exit, and secondly, it is buying time, till April-May to look at the geo-political space, especially with the new Biden administration,' says Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd) PVSM, AVSM, SM.
General Bhatia served as director general of military operations and commanded a corps at the Line of Actual Control in Sikkim.
General Bhatia spoke to Rediff.com's Archana Masih about the recent clash between soldiers of the Indian Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army in Naku La in Sikkim, the significance of the ongoing military talks and why India-China are in for the long haul at the LAC.
What are your thoughts about this clash between Indian and Chinese troops in Naku La in north Sikkim on January 20 and what do you make of it?
I have served as the corps commander in Sikkim and I think there are two ways of looking at the incident.
One, the incident could be at the local level as both the Indian Army and the Global Times have said in their cautious statements.
In the winter months, both troops patrol their sides of the Line of Actual Control and there is a possibility that this face-off took place. Such face-offs do happen between the troops during patrolling and it is not the first time.
On the other hand, we should look at it in the background of the commander level talks and the situation in Eastern Ladakh which indicates that China is not going to give up easily.
Our occupation of strategic heights south of Pangong Tso threaten the Chinese garrison at Maldo and has given us an equal hand AT the negotiating table.
China did not expect such a resolute response from the Indian side and it is looking for a face-saving exit.
It is also looking at buying time.
It is a stalemate and both sides are in for a long haul.
China is looking at two things: One, a favourable setting for a face-saving exit, and secondly, it is buying time, till April-May to look at the geo-political space, especially with the new Biden administration.
China wants to see what policies the US is going to adopt vis a vis China and India and what changes are going to come about.
So presently, both countries will continue their talks, but we should not expect any resolution to this nine-month stand-off. The fact that we have been holding talks and that there is no brinkmanship from both sides is a positive.
India is not going to blink. Neither will China -- at least for now -- because its troops are deployed in equal strength.
We are negotiating at equal terms right now and it's a game of patience.
The last round of talks was a marathon session.
These talks of disengagement have been going on for months and yet clashes took place at Naku La.
Does this not indicate that these talks have not been able to achieve what they set out to?
I do not see it that way. Talks and negotiations take time. This dialogue is taking place at the military, diplomatic and political levels also.
The problem would occur if both the countries were not talking and engaging with each other. It is a good thing that both sides are willing to talk to find an equally acceptable solution based on equitable and mutual security.
As long as we are talking, I feel that there's hope. It took 7-8 years to resolve Sumdorong Chu [the stand-off between India-China in Arunachal Pradesh in 1986].
India is there for the long haul and has the requisite experience, expertise and battle-hardeness.
But we should not underestimate China. It may have the problem of conscription, but has certain advantages in infrastructure and technology. It has growing ISR [intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance] capability in its military space programme. It has multimodal infrastructure which can ensure rapid deployment of troops, while our lines of transportation are very long.
If we have to de-induct and then redeploy our troops, it may not be as easy for us as it would be for China.
We have to look at the overall situation and not look at piecemeal solutions. India's stance is very clear. It wants a status quo ante as of April of 2020.
China is basically looking at certain strategic military concessions. The problem is not only confined to the LAC, but is also impacting India-China economic and diplomatic relations.
The Quad security cooperation between the US, Australia, Japan and India has also added another strategic dimension, so we have to look at the overall situation.
China has also extended itself in the South China Sea and we have to see how Indian interests are best protected and projected.
With the recent clash in Sikkim which is thousands of kilometres away from Ladakh, is China wanting to open up another front?
The Chinese game plan flows from its intent. The Chinese intent is military coercion as shown by its actions against Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia. It wants other countries to endorse its actions.
India is a big nation and they have taken on India on the LAC.
We have seen the trade backlash from China towards Australia when the latter asked for an investigation of China's role in COVID-19.
China does not want to be questioned.
It also has a tense relationship with the US. Additionally, it wants a way out of the bad press it has received about the pandemic.
In March-April, India was also extending help to other countries in the fight against the coronavirus, while China took the opportunity to alter the status quo in Eastern Ladakh. It also blamed India as the aggressor.
All this is part of China's three-warfare strategy, which is a combination of public opinion, psychological operations and legal warfare.
China has been very arrogant and belligerent and India will have to look at China in a holistic manner, not only in the military domain, but also in the economic, diplomatic and information domains.
We also have to look at the 600 border defence villages that China intends to build near the 3,488 long Indian border. Each village will approximately be at every 5 kms and be populated not by Tibetans, but Han Chinese.
China has changed the demography of Lhasa and is now attempting the same along the LAC.
China is playing a game for the long run and we have to be mindful of its game plan. In the immediate terms we should look at a resolution in Eastern Ladakh, but also strengthen our military capacity/infrastructure and look after people living on the border areas.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com