How much of Indian territory does China claim and why Indian Army holds a military edge vis-a-vis PLA?

Image Source : PTI

An Indian army soldier stands guard at Zojila Pass situated at a height of 11,516 feet on the way to frontier region of Ladakh (representational image)

The 3,488-kilometre-long Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de-facto border between China and India, has a difference of perception of its actual alignment at nearly 14 different points stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. These have, since India’s Independence, emerged as points of friction between the forces of two countries. The latest flare-up in eastern Ladakh, which began earlier last month in the Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso Lake areas, took place in what is known as the Western Sector of the Sino-India border. Almost 1,600 km long western sector extends from Ladakh to the junction of Himachal and Uttarakhand, at a point called Gaya Peak. 

China claims approximately 37,555 square kilometres of Indian territory in the western sector, most of it falling under the Union Territory of Ladakh, which primarily includes the 37,244 sq km of Aksai Chin, already under Chinese control. 

The central sector, which mostly covers the state of Uttarakhand, has a 545 km-long boundary with China, where Beijing claims nearly 2,450 square km in different pockets.  

Finally, on the eastern side, the border with China covers the state of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Here, China claims nearly 70,000 square kilometres of Indian territory, mostly in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing considers as part of Tibet. 

The revealing figures have been put together by Lieutenant General Abhay Krishna, the former General Officer-Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of India’s Eastern Command during the Doklam standoff at the India, Bhutan and China trijunction in 2017. In his four-decade-long military career, Lieutenant General Abhay Krishna has also headed the South Western Command and the Central Command, before he retired from the military in 2019.

But, is an assertive China under President Xi Jinping, perhaps its most hawkish leader in decades, in a position to take the territory it calls disputed?

“Even they know they are not in a position to take all this territory back. But which leader in China will want to openly compromise on such a large territorial claim. So, we keep seeing these provocations at the border from time to time,” says Lieutenant General Abhay Krishna, who has also led several military delegations to Beijing after successfully negotiating the Doklam standoff.

In fact, a closer look at how the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is structured reveals the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) deep-seated vulnerabilities along their western border with India, which falls under PLA’S Western Theatre Command.

“We have four army commands and three air force commands along the China border. In comparison, they just have a single theatre command,” highlights Lieutenant General Abhay Krishna. “The single Chinese command has to take care of the unrest in Xinjiang and Tibet, both of which have much more pressing problems than what has transpired at their border with India,” the military veteran says.

“One should also not forget that the terrain along the border, which is mostly hilly and barren, favours the defender,” he adds.

Lt General Krishna goes on to highlight the weaknesses of the PLA, which he says don’t go in Beijing’s advantage at all in case they pick a war with India.

The poor educational standards of the Chinese troops translate into clumsiness when learning to use sophisticated military equipment, says ex-Indian Army Commander. The General asserts that the PLA conspicuously lacks in combat experience. “China hasn’t fought a major conflict in 40 years, even though PLA has an increasingly impressive high-tech arsenal but its ability to use these weapons and equipment remains doubtful.”

In contrast to the Indian Army, the PLA’s training is very book-based, he reasons. “Our forces focus more on the situational awareness while training our troops,” the army veteran contrasts.

Lack of ‘combat experience’ is another overlooked factor that puts Beijing at a comparative disadvantage vis-a-vis India. “The PLA hasn’t been part of any active war since 1979, compared to Indian forces, which have seen regular action against Pakistan, Chinese troops, unlike the Indians, are not battle-hardened,” says Lt General Krishna.

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