The situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China remains stable based on near-balanced deployment, where campaign-style operations involving the capture of large tracts of territory are nearly impossible unless temporary local superiority is established through surprise and deception. But smaller scenarios can have a greater impact than campaign-like efforts. The incident occurred on December 9, 2022, in Yangtse, Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang region.
What is known so far is that a battalion strength, about 300 troops, of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attempted to encircle an Indian Army station at around 17000 feet in the Yangtse sub-sector of Tawang and expel the 50-odd personnel, roughly a company less than a platoon. It was a purposeful action at 3 a.m., not a contingency resulting from verbal or other quarrels on the ground. Strangely, there was also a circumstance in which no shots were fired, but there was much jostling, physical abuse, and the use of improvised weapons such as clubs and machetes, which has become the new normal at the LAC. The Indian forces were well-prepared and appeared to have the necessary intelligence about the PLA’s intentions. There appears to have been some pre-planned response that allowed them to collect enough power to repel the PLA’s ‘assault’ using the same techniques.
This incident raises numerous observations. First, are the sixteen rounds of Corps Commander talks in Ladakh limited to the local environment rather than towards building trust and understanding to avoid future Galwan-like events, which presumably arose as a result of a contingency involving heated arguments over the non-implementation of an agreement reached just a few days before. Second, this was not a patrol clash, and attempting to evict a well-established Indian station on the LAC in such a bold manner while trying to gain surprise is unprecedented. Third, the rules of engagement still need to be made clearer.
An attempted eviction of Indian troops from territory legitimately claimed by us, despite the fact that the PLA has ever handed over no maps of counter claims despite repeated requests, should be treated as a tactical operation, and the use of firearms must be permitted regardless of the level of escalation involved. Fourth, does all of this serve as a prelude to an inevitable conflict between the war’s two most populous countries, each of which possesses an enormous economy and a considerable military force capable of using nuclear weapons?
As a result of these observations, we are led to believe that the beginning of ‘walk-in’ operations by the PLA in 2005 was a ploy and strategy to raise the ante gradually, carry out ‘salami slicing,’ and achieve moral dominance of the LAC zone through the denial of patrolling, frequently changing claim lines, and attempts to secure tactically important grounds from which observation could be carried out. All of this contributes to China’s wolf warrior strategy, which is also built on the thrust of the grey zone, which prevents clarity and leads to an adversary’s confused and aimless reaction. This is what China hoped India would respond with, so it was important that all of this was taken into account.
At the height of the pandemic’s first wave in April-May 2020, the PLA rushed into Ladakh with no intention of securing or capturing territory, as more than 60,000 troops were needed for the task. India replied with 60,000 troops and increased the deployment of armoured vehicles to ten regiments, a costly but essential step. With this operation, China sought to erode India’s strategic confidence at the height of the pandemic.
There is no getting around the fact that China’s great plan against India involves entangling India with land-based threats in order to maintain the spotlight on where China’s weakness lies, which is the maritime zone. This is the plan that China has devised, and it cannot be stopped. This is not to dismiss air violations, which were being enforced to attract attention to a larger threat. Air operations with no accompanying ground resources are always perceived as scary and little more.
To accomplish any military victory against an experienced Indian Army in the high Himalayas, China will need to redeploy a significant number of its resources.