Twitter is right now being bombarded with Chinese propaganda material that includes showing pictures of alleged surrender by Indian troops in the clash with the PLA at the Galwan Valley in May 2020. Closer scrutiny shows several soldiers holding their ears sporting long hair, which is prohibited in the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force.
This coincides with the new Chinese law on land borders, passed on 23 October coming into effect on 1 January. This has happened at a time when the border standoff in eastern Ladakh remains unresolved, when China has renamed several places in Arunachal Pradesh as part of its claim on the Indian state, and when the Chinese Embassy in Delhi has written to Indian MPs, including a minister, who had attended a dinner reception hosted by the Tibetan parliament-in-exile.
The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress passed the law for the “protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas”. Under the law, “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of… China are sacred and inviolable”, and the state needs to “take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines [these]”, reported CCP mouthpiece, the Xinhua news agency.
The law mandates the state to take measures “to strengthen border defence, support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas, improve public services and infrastructure in such areas, encourage and support people’s life and work there, and promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas”. This means that it is encouraging the development of villages for civilians in the border areas.
The Chinese have also renamed 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh in Mandarin as part of its psychological warfare strategy, designed to trouble the Narendra Modi government in domestic politics of India where the oposition is expected to seek clarifications on its response to Xi Jinping’s belligerence and declare a new normal of Beijing’s strategy on boundary resolution.
The uninitiated may note that playing mind games with the adversary is an old Chinese tactic since Sun Tzu days, where deception, treachery and propaganda are considered legitimate tools of the Communist Party of China (CCP).
China is playing similar mind games with Taiwan and its western backers, with its PLA warplanes breaching the Taipei’s southwestern air identification zone or ADIZ virtually on a daily basis throughout 2021. The last big Chinese breach took place on 28 November 2021 when 27 fighters, bombers and aerial reconnaissance planes bullied Taiwan into a new normal with regional and global powers on perpetual tenterhooks.
Since the beginning of 2022, Chinese reconnaissance planes breached Taiwan ADIZ on 1 and 2 January as if the Chinese Communist Party under its all-powerful leader Xi Jinping is marking their new territory.
While India dismissed the Chinese renaming of some places in Arunachal Pradesh, the national security planners understand Beijing’s mind games and will respond to this at the right place and right time. Sources said Modi government was in no mood to be reactive to Chinese psy-ops but will not allow any free lunches to Beijing.
Analysts in the government say the Chinese move is a reaction to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s act of calling upon the Dalai Lama on 21 December at McLeodganj. The RSS chief not only exchanged notes with the 14th Dalai Lama but also met the leaders of Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamshala.
It was quite evident from the Chinese embassy reaction to Indian MPs attending a reception hosted by the Tibetan Government in Exile that the Tibet issue was as much as a red rag to CCP as Taiwan if not more.
Breaching diplomatic etiquette, the Chinese embassy almost threatened the six MPs attending the reception in December 2021 and asked them to refrain from supporting the Tibetan cause. Even in the past, junior level diplomats of Chinese embassy and consulate in Mumbai have breached diplomatic etiquettes by openly questioning Indian ministers in the previous UPA regime including Pranab Mukherjee, who later became President, on 1962 war. Besides, Beijing has a habit of issuing a statement every time an Indian VVIP visits Arunachal Pradesh.
Impact of Chinese law on India
Meanwhile, though the new Chinese law is not meant specifically for India, it is bound to have some impact. China and India share a disputed 3,488-km boundary, the third longest among China’s 22,457-km land boundaries with 14 countries, after the borders with Mongolia and Russia. Besides India, Bhutan (477 km) is the only other country with which China has a disputed land border.
There is a growing suspicion that China may have been stalling further negotiations on the standoff in eastern Ladakh for this new law to come into force. The Corps Commanders last met in October. India had hoped that China would agree to disengage from Patrolling Point 15 in Hot Springs, which it did not. The meeting did not even result in a joint statement, as had been happening for most earlier meetings. The date for the round meeting is still awaited, amid concerns that the Chinese delegation can use the new law to try to bolster their existing positions.
Besides PP15, China is blocking Indian troops from accessing its traditional patrolling limits — PP10, PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13 — in Depsang Plains. Also, certain “so-called civilians” have pitched tents on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control in Demchok and are refusing to vacate it.
Another sticking point could be that the new law prohibits construction of permanent infrastructure close to the border without China’s permission. Both, India and China have been building new roads, bridges and other facilities faster since the standoff began; in fact, China had objected to India’s workers even before.
China has been building “well-off” border defence villages across the LoAC in all sectors, which the new law encourages. President Xi visited a village in Tibet near the border with Arunachal Pradesh last July.
In October, even before the law was announced, Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Manoj Pande, who is responsible for the 1,346-km LAC from Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh, had said: “According to their own policy or strategy, model villages have come up near the border… for us, it is a matter of concern, how they can make dual civil and military use of these facilities and villages.”
Former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen DS Hooda had said earlier, “If you [China] start having settled population on the other side, creeping across what we [India] feel is our border, at some stage later, whenever, when you start discussing the border between the two sides, they will say we [China] have settled population in this area.”