China has officially kneeled before India for the first time, ever since the ongoing military standoff started in Eastern Ladakh, more than five months ago. As per the latest Times Now report, China has made a new proposal regarding ‘de-escalation’ along the Line of Actual Control (LAC)- the de facto India-Tibet (China controlled) border. China is ready to move back to Finger 8 in Northern Pangong Tso- its pre-standoff position. But China also wants India to withdraw its troops from Finger 4 and move them to Finger 2.
China’s proposal seems like a desperate bid to save its face, even as the paper Dragon finds it hard to continue with the ongoing military standoff. Till now, China was looking to enforce its own perception of the LAC in Northern Pangong Tso region. According to China, the LAC is coterminous with Finger 2, whereas India believes that the LAC passes through Finger 8. But now China is looking for an arrangement wherein both sides move backwards. However, India is unlikely to accept this unusual proposal.
China is desperately seeking a middle path with its new proposal. Before the ongoing standoff, India used to physically control area up to Finger 4, and patrols were undertaken up to Finger 8 in accordance with New Delhi’s perception of the LAC. But during the ongoing standoff, Chinese troops have been sitting atop Finger 4 ridgeline. However, India has been putting more and more pressure on the ground, while making it clear on the diplomatic table that it won’t settle for anything less than status quo ante.
The Indian Army and other security forces have been able to strike panic in Chinese strategic circles. India has occupied several key heights on the Southern bank of Pangong Tso which puts the Indian Army in a commanding position over the Chinese PLA. As per India Today, an official said, “Dominating the Spangur gap from heights is very crucial. We have also occupied some heights near Finger 4.”
Indian control of commanding heights in Southern Pangong Tso is crucial for several reasons, but, our focus here is limited to the pressure that Indian occupation is putting on Chinese positions in the Finger area. By occupying key heights on the Southern bank of the Pangong Tso lake, India enjoys a vantage point to keep an eye on Finger 4. India can use its dominating position in Southern Pangong Tso to monitor Chinese manoeuvres and even push an offensive against China in case things escalate further.
At the same time, China is also facing increasing pressure from the United States. Recently, the US went as far suggesting to India that efforts to defuse military tensions with China are fruitless. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien have resorted to an alarmist tone about the Chinese PLA build-up at the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. And this has sent warning bells ringing for Beijing.
The Chinese PLA is already facing a tough time in Eastern Ladakh with approaching winters. Chinese PLA soldiers are way too unacclimatised to meet the harsh winter season at high altitudes in Eastern Ladakh. On the other hand, the Indian Army is the best mountain force in the world.
As such, an upcoming winter stand-off in Eastern Ladakh with the Indian Army occupying strategic heights in Southern Pangong Tso makes the Chinese PLA very vulnerable. And now the US is also looking to further embolden India. Any imminent escalation from here on will result in a major embarrassment for the Chinese PLA, and therefore Beijing is seeking a premature end to the ongoing military standoff.
China has to exit the Eastern Ladakh standoff in its own interest. And yet, China wants a graceful exit. Beijing has suffered a lot because of its Himalayan misadventures. It lost far too many PLA soldiers who were hacked to death by the Indian Army during a violent Galwan Valley face-off. And then, India’s economic offensive against China has also hurt the paper Dragon significantly. China doesn’t want to return to status quo ante after suffering such heavy losses and, therefore, it wants both sides to pull back troops.
China’s proposal should not really come as a surprise, as Eastern Ladakh is now more of a prestige matter for the paper Dragon. But New Delhi doesn’t care for China’s sensitivities any longer and is very clear in its approach- the Indian armed forces will settle for nothing less than status quo ante.