Did the PLA attempt the Tawang incursion to test the Indian Army’s alertness?

Did the PLA attempt the Tawang incursion to test the Indian Army’s alertness?

Indian military observers believe the willful bid could not have been made without the nod of a high-level decision-making body in China, such as the Central Military Commission or the Western Theater Command

Pradip R Sagar

New Delhi,UPDATED: December 14, 2022 8:22 PM IST

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh; (Photo: ANI)

The failed land grab by the Chinese military along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh has raised renewed concerns about Beijing’s rising belligerence amid tensions with India in eastern Ladakh. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said in a brief statement in parliament on Dec. 13 that soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tried to unilaterally change the status quo of the Yangtze River border in the Tawang sector on Dec. 9 and were met with harsh reprisals Indian Army. No Indian soldier died or was seriously injured, he said. The attempted break-in was fought “firmly and resolutely” and accepted through diplomatic channels by the Chinese side.

The PLA transgression comes less than a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands and spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Bali. Military planners in India believe that such a premeditated PLA incursion attempt could not have taken place without the approval of a top decision-making body in China, such as the Central Military Commission or the Western Theater Command.

The Indian Army had intelligence on the night of December 8-9 about a possible PLA incursion into the Tawang sector. “It was a common PLA ‘salami cut’ tactic, but vigilant Indian troops foiled it. The Chinese soldiers may have retreated; However, it could have been a PLA strategy to test Indian military response in the region. We must remain on high alert,” said a key Indian military official, who asked not to be named.

China’s “salami-cutting” tactics include attempts to acquire new territories at the expense of its neighbors. According to the Indian government, China has illegally occupied about 38,000 square kilometers of land in Ladakh over the past six decades.

The Yangtze River is one of the eight major foci between India and China in the eastern sector of LAC. The others are Namkha Chu, Sumdorong Chu, Asaphila, Longju, Dichu, Lamang and Fish Tail-1 and 2 in Dibang Valley. Yangtze River has 108 waterfalls, which are considered sacred in Tibetan culture and common to the beliefs of people on both sides. India and China have 27 “points of contention” in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal. It includes the Pangong Tso and the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, where a deadlock erupted in the summer of 2020.

China has built massive infrastructure on its borders with India, but an alarmed New Delhi has been trying to catch up. The Sela Tunnel under construction, along with other infrastructure developments, promises all-weather access to Tawang. The tunnel is due to be completed in January and will give the Indian military a major boost.

Indian military observers believe the frequent confrontations in sensitive areas of eastern Ladakh in recent years have been linked to improved Indian infrastructure and road connectivity, which has helped patrol forces detect and counter Chinese activity. Without exception, Chinese incursions were reactions to the construction of Indian infrastructure in the LAC. For example, the provocation for the May 2020 Chinese incursion in East Ladakh was the re-construction of India in Daulat Beg Oldi and in the Pangong Lake area.

Military observers believe clashes between the two sides have erupted since 2014 over multiple measures taken by Narendra Modi’s government to create infrastructure along the LAC. While only one tunnel was built between 2008 and 2014, six were built under the Modi government between 2014 and 2020. A bridge length of 7,270 meters was created from 2008 to 2014, while it was 14,450 meters in 2014-20. While 3,610 km of border roads were built between 2008 and 2014, 4,764 km of roads were built between 2014 and 2020.

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