Chinese President Xi Jinping has exposed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers to great personal harm. Over the past year, the Chinese PLA has been facing a spate of casualties at the hands of the Indian Army and the extreme climate of Eastern Ladakh where India and China are locked in a fierce military standoff. At the root of the entire issue is a big miscalculation on China’s part regarding the capabilities of the Indian Army.
How China miscalculated India’s military might
The Indian Army is a professional military service whereas the Chinese PLA is just a gang of armed men that operates as the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Therefore, while the Indian military establishment made a proper assessment of the threat posed by China, the PLA remained somewhat oblivious to the capabilities of the Indian Army.
Since 2018, the PLA’s online media has released several videos and articles about India. Strangely, none of them discusses India’s military might. They have been concerned only with India’s arms purchases from countries like the US. Even during the Ladakh military standoff, the PLA media avoided making an in-depth discussion about India’s military might.
China lives in anachronism
“Science of Military Strategy,” a book released by the PLA Academy of Military Science in 2013 serves as the most detailed coverage of India amongst all recent PLA studies.
The “Science of Military Strategy” was translated into English by the US-based China Aerospace Studies Institute in 2021. The 2013 study argued that India’s post-Cold War strategy has been all about maintaining military superiority and hegemony in the South Asia region, keeping China and other big powers out of its league.
The 2013 publication was written in a totally different environment when there was a three-week-long standoff between India and China. The Chinese PLA troops had infiltrated and set up positions 19 kilometres inside Indian territory. The sneed reports which followed the incident made the chilling revelation that India had lost 640 sq km of land due to “area denial” set by PLA patrolling. The then Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh faced questions that he could not answer and was easy prey for Xi Jinping who was testing the waters with belligerent tactics at the border.
Beijing probably thought that India wasn’t looking to match China’s military strength in view of the Depsang stand-off in 2013. However, China remains anachronistic to date. It doesn’t understand that a lot has changed over the last eight years. India elected a new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who is a tough leader with a nationalist agenda, and national security came first for him as he took over. Since then India has developed a firm outlook against Chinese belligerence and has been building up its military strength with the acquisition of lethal weapons and the construction of world-classic infrastructure including an extensive road network along the effective Sino-India border called the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
China remains unaware of the strength of the Indo-US alliance
Experts on PLA TV program “Defense Review” opine that recent Indian arms purchases from the US do not actually give India any significant advantage. The “Defense Review” experts allege that the acquisitions are mostly aimed at “buying American support” as well as for domestic media consumption.
The Chinese military experts believe that the Indo-US relationship is held back due to close ties between New Delhi and Moscow. The Chinese military also believes that India is also guided by non-alignment in its foreign policy which doesn’t allow it to form a close alliance with the US.
Again, what the Chinese military experts and strategic circles don’t realise is that we live in a multi-polar world, and good relations with one country do not always lead to fractured ties with another, if the nation in question has diplomatic heft.
China proved wrong
An arrogant China has consistently argued that India’s show of military might is often meant only for domestic consumption and has no strategic significance as such.
Chinese experts also claimed that India’s surprise attack drills near the Sino-Indian border in 2021 were inconsequential. The Chinese military experts argued that launching such attacks with unfavourable conditions on the Sino-India border would be a foolish move.
Yet, when the Indian Army and PLA troops exchanged blows at the Galwan Valley last year, several Chinese troops were hacked to death by the battle-hardened Indian Army soldiers. Similarly, India had also taken control of strategic heights near the LAC in a surprise retaliatory move that had caught China napping. While India reported and honoured the ultimate sacrifice made by 20 Indian soldiers, the Chinese side hid the number of casualties. The estimates made by Indian establishment pegged Chinese casualties at over 40, whereas a US intelligence report pegged the number at 35. Russian state-owned news agency TASS claimed that 45 PLA soldiers had been killed in the clashes. China, on the other hand, denied memorials to its dead soldiers, and to top it all, Chinese officials contradicted each other several times as they attempted to mention the number of dead Chinese soldiers. China has publically accepted only four deaths so far.
Such humiliation was a result of China being rather naive and dismissing India’s strategic moves as an attempt to mobilise domestic opinion or to divert public attention. China actually faces a tough Indian Army and its miscalculation has led to several PLA troops getting slaughtered.