CPEC and Sino-Indian Military Escalation in Galwan Valley

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Professor Dr Muhammad Khan

The Sino-Indian military escalation in East Ladakh has wider strategic, military and political implications for South Asia and the surrounding. The area of escalation is situated closer to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India has clearly opposed CPEC ever since it was conceived in 2013. It has illegally occupied a vast portion of Jammu And Kashmir State in 1947 and illegally converted its occupied part into union territories in 2019. Daulat Beg Oldie (OBO) was strategically identified as the significant outpost by Indian strategic planners after China won a war against India in 1962. Since then Indian military commanders have been investing on the development of this area. It has significant importance for India against China and Pakistan. In the event of any military confrontation, this Indian airstrip can be used for fast deployment of Indian military and IAF. The airstrip has the potential to directly threaten the Chinese military in Aksai Chin, the Karakorum Pass and the Karakoram Highway, now being renovated as the CPEC. In the recent past, India has been threatening Pakistan to attack AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan, after it illegally annexed the India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK) into Indian Union. The main target of India is the Karakorum Highway, the CPEC and key locations in this strategic area. The Karakoram Pass 18,176 feet high mountain pass is linked with Kashmir dispute along LAC between India and China in the wider Karakoram Range. It is the highest pass on the ancient caravan route between Leh in Ladakh and Yarkand in the Tarim Basin.

The Daulat Beg Oldie is situated closer to Line of Actual Control (LAC) while strategically overlooking the military activities and developments in Chinese-held areas of Aksai Chin. In a way, this became a check point for Indian military to monitor the activities of Chinese Army. After taking over the power in 2012, President Xi Jinping and his team had a strategic reappraisal of all Chinese borders. After a detail assessment of Indian military activities and infrastructural developments in DBO area, Chinese leadership reached the conclusion that India must be constrained to take further developments.

Indian military authorities were contacted to stop the activities, failure to which in April 2013, Chinese troops intruded deep into Indian Territory in the Depsang Valley. In some of the areas, the Chinese military intrusion was up to 19 kilometres. Indian Foreign Minister went running to Beijing since there was a high level visit of Chinese Premier to New Delhi planned in May 2013. After tense three weeks of military standoff on 5 May 2013 the issue was resolved and Chinese troops withdrew to their original position.

After the episode of April-May 2013, India could have restrained from military advancements in the area. Nevertheless, it continued covert military activities and development of communication infrastructure. In April 2020, there have been many complaints from Beijing to New Delhi about the secret military advances, but the latter did not take a note. Finally, there was a response from PLA on 6 May 2020 which pushed back Indian troops. The current military escalation has taken place after India started construction of roads and air strips in the area. India is in the process of construction of dozens of roads along the Sino-Indian borders in the region and beyond for rapid mobilization of its military and to facilitate the peace-time administration. The key road is linking the Galwan Valley with Daulat Beg Oldi air base.

As per Chinese Foreign Ministry, China is seriously threatened by India after it had unlawfully ended the special status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and imposed Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act-2019, relegating the state into union territory. Indeed, the unilateral Indian declaration of Jammu and Kashmir State as its union territories is against the UN Charter, UN resolutions on the disputed status of the state and above all violation of 4th Geneva Convention. China is seriously peeved over the key road in the finger area of Pangong Tso Lake region, besides another road connecting the Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie road in Galwan Valley.

This is a strategically envisioned road, running parallel to the Line of Actual Control between China and India while overlooking Chinese border posts besides linking major Indian supply bases at various points. Apart from this strategically planned road, the construction of airstrip in the disputed area is a clear manifestation of power politics. The road and airstrip is an offensive military posture which will enable India to make best use of its air power and armour formations against China in a situation like 1962.

Indian military raid on a Chinese post resulted into killing of over 20 troops which include the Commanding Officer of 16 Bihar Regiment (Infantry Battalion). Apart from these killings, there are dozens of soldiers captured by PLA. This all happened despite the military commanders from both sides agreed for a peaceful resolution of border issues along LAC, a week earlier. Even there has been symbolic pulling out of the Chinese troops to the pre-escalation positions. Indian Army however did not wait for the next phase of talks between local military commanders and tried to achieve the surprise over its Chinese counterpart, but got surprized themselves, repulsed and suffered heavy casualties.

There is a larger and strategic context of Sino-Indian military escalation in Galwan Valley. Through its increased military activities and development of roads and infrastructural deployment, India threatened the Chinese military deployment in Aksai Chin. Besides, it is directly threatening the CPEC; the strategic linkage between Pakistan and China. China has taken a very firm stance and repulsed Indian military misadventures. The situation is still tense in the region. Since Indian military cannot compete the highly professional PLA, therefore, the ambitious Indian leadership must accept the ground realities and de-escalate tension through negotiations. Since CPEC provides wider regional connectivity, therefore, India must benefit from this unique opportunity.