1. Indian diplomats to boycott Beijing games
Selection of PLA’s Galwan soldier as torchbearer sparks row
Terming China’s decision to field a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier involved in the June 2020 Galwan clashes as the torchbearer for the Winter Olympics Games in Beijing “regrettable”, India announced a diplomatic boycott of the games just ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday.
State broadcaster Doordarshan also announced it will not telecast the opening and closing ceremonies live, where India has one athlete, skier Arif Khan, participating. The decision came after Chinese media reports identified Qi Fabao, a PLA regiment commander who received military honours for the Galwan clashes, where he was injured, as one of about 1,200 runners bearing the torch at a relay in Beijing.
China’s decision to field him and New Delhi’s announcement of its first ever diplomatic boycott of Olympic Games, are likely to increase India-China tensions that have risen since PLA aggressions along the Line of Actual Control in April 2020.
India had earlier expressed support for the Beijing Olympics, even as more than a dozen countries, led by the U.S. had announced a boycott of the games.
“It is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicise an event like Olympic,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, referring to the media reports. “The Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of India in Beijing will not be attending the opening or closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics,” he added.
The Indian Ambassador to China, Pradeep Kumar Rawat, is expected to take charge in the next few weeks, and hence the Charge d’Affaires Acquino Vimal is the top diplomat in Beijing at present. Mr. Vimal and other officials were expected to attend the ceremonial functions at the games.
About winter Olympic
The Winter Olympic Games is a major international multi-sport event held once every four years for sports practised on snow and ice.
The first Winter Olympic Games was held in 1924 in Chamonix, France.
The IOC is the governing body and the Olympic Charter defines its structure and authority.
Uighurs, are a minority Turkic ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia.
The Uyghurs are recognized as native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.
China rejects the idea of them being an indigenous group
Since 2016, it is estimated that over a million Uyghurs have been detained in Xinjiang re-education camps
2. A border move that will only bolster China
The attempt to delink the strategically important area of Depsang from the ongoing Ladakh border crisis is worrying
After the 1962 Sino-India War was over, the Indian Army was confronted with the problem of bodies of around 190 Indian soldiers lying in areas around 8 kilometres to 16 kilometres inside the Chinese 1960 claim line in Ladakh. Collecting the bodies of the fallen soldiers after the war through mutual consent is an established military practice, and the Indian Red Cross wrote to its Chinese counterpart in April 1963. The Chinese turned down the request, stating that the bodies had been properly buried, and there was no need to send any Indian parties into disputed areas. As most Indian soldiers were to be cremated, not buried, the issue was again taken up with the Chinese. In August, the Chinese agreed to carry out the cremation and hand over the ashes to the Indian Red Cross.
When the Indian Red Cross requested that Indian representatives be present during the ceremony, the Chinese cancelled the arrangements altogether. In its memo on September 16, 1963, the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the Indian government of trying to lay claim to these territories through this device.
While cancelling these arrangements, the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that the Indians who died at their posts in Ladakh were ‘invaders’ and not defending their ‘motherland’. Earlier, after overcoming the stiff Indian resistance at Rezang La, memorialised in the Hindi film, Haqeeqat, and at Gurung Hill, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had buried the bodies of five Indian soldiers — wooden posts with the inscriptions in Chinese and English, ‘The Corpses of Indian Invaders’. The purpose of the elaborate exercise was to deny any legitimate Indian presence and claim over these areas in future negotiations. If Indian soldiers had died defending their motherland, then it was an area in Indian possession and control — that would belie the Chinese claim over the territories in Ladakh. Its efforts to create facts on the ground to bolster its ‘historical’ claim underline the extent of Chinese enterprise in asserting its territorial claims.
It thus comes as a surprise that in a recent television interview, the Indian Army Chief, General M.M. Naravane, argued that “out of the five or six friction points (in Ladakh), five have been solved”. ‘Friction point’ is an Indian euphemism for points of Chinese ingress into hitherto India-controlled territory in Ladakh, where this control is exercised by the Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) through regular patrols to the claimed areas. These ‘friction points’ are Depsang, Galwan, Hot Springs, Gogra, North bank of Pangong Tso, Kailash Range and Demchok. By asserting that only one of the friction points is remaining to be resolved — he was referring to Hot Springs or PP15, the only one discussed in the last round of talks with the Chinese — he implicitly ruled out Depsang as an area to be resolved. This attempt to delink the strategically important area of Depsang from the ongoing Ladakh border crisis is worrying. It may suit the domestic political agenda of the Narendra Modi government of proclaiming an early end to the crisis, but it has long-term strategic consequences for India.
Depsang is an enclave of flat terrain located in an area the Army classifies as Sub-Sector North (SSN), which provides land access to Central Asia through the Karakoram Pass. A few kilometres south-east from the important airstrip of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), the Chinese army has blocked Indian patrols since early 2020 at a place called Y-junction or Bottleneck, denying it access to five PPs: PP10, PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13. A joint patrol of the ITBP and Army would patrol these five PPs approximately once a month. Y-junction is around 18 km on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control, even though the Chinese claim line lies another five kilometres further west, to the east of Burtse town. Satellite imagery from November 2021 confirms Chinese deployments at the Y-junction: two PLA Ground Force camps with six infantry fighting vehicles split between two positions while a small Indian Army forward camp is stationed 1.2 km west of the Y-junction.
Stand-off in 2013 and patrols
The Indian forward camp is the new patrol base, with a permanent patrol deployed there, that was created after a 22-day long stand-off at Y-junction in April 2013. Since then, it has observed and stopped Chinese patrols from moving further to the Indian side, but a PLA patrol had still managed to get up to around 1.5 km short of Burtse in September 2015. Essentially, till the current blockade, the Indian side was able to access the five patrolling points, asserting Indian control, while the PLA had been denied access to its claim line since the late 2000s. That status quo has been disturbed since early 2020.
Since the Ladakh border crisis came to light in May 2020, a section of the security establishment has tried to bury any conversation about Depsang. Media reports attributable to ‘sources’ have labelled it a ‘legacy issue,’ suggesting that the crisis has continued since April 2013. The 2013 stand-off was resolved diplomatically after negotiations led to reversal of an Indian ingress and bunker construction on the Chinese side in Chumar, while the PLA stepped away from the Y-junction. Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik (retd.), the then Northern Army Commander, has confirmed “resort(ing) to a quid pro quo, as we did during the Depsang intrusion in 2013. Early response creates leverage.”
Former Ladakh Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma (retd.) was categorical in asserting that “patrolling had continued, as planned, since [the] April/May 2013 stand-off” and “to now state that we were not able to reach our LOP since 2013 as [the] PLA was blocking our movement, is pure heresy”. The fact that specific major general-level talks for Depsang were held with the Chinese on August 8, 2020 proves that it is part of the ongoing crisis. A 22-day stand-off in 2013 generated much public and media outrage but a 22-month long blockade of patrolling rights in the same area now has been greeted with silence.
The Army has always identified Depsang plains as where it finds itself most vulnerable in Ladakh, devising plans to tackle the major Chinese challenge. SSN’s flat terrain of Depsang, Trig Heights and DBO — which provides direct access to Aksai Chin — is suited for mechanised warfare but is located at the end of only one very long and tenuous communication axis for India. China, in turn, has multiple roads that provide easy access to the area. This leaves SSN highly vulnerable to capture by the PLA, with a few thousands of square kilometres from the Karakoram Pass to Burtse, likely to be lost. Nowhere else in Ladakh is the PLA likely to gain so much territory in a single swoop.
SSN lies to the east of Siachen, located between the Saltoro ridge on the Pakistani border and the Saser ridge close to the Chinese border. On paper, it is the only place where a physical military collusion can take place between Pakistan and China — and the challenge of a two-front war can become real in the worst-case scenario. If India loses this area, it will be nearly impossible to launch a military operation to wrest back Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan.
Theoretically, Depsang is also seen as a viable launchpad for a mechanised force-based military offensive launched by India inside Aksai Chin, if the Army has to fulfil Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s parliamentary vow of getting back Aksai Chin from China.
Danger of delinking
The biggest danger of delinking Depsang from the current border crisis in Ladakh, however, is of corroborating the Chinese argument, which invalidates the rightful Indian claim over a large swathe of territory. In sparsely populated areas like Ladakh, with limited forward deployment of troops, the only assertion of territorial claims is by regular patrolling. By arguing that the blockade at Y-junction predates the current stand-off — a ‘legacy issue’ that goes back years — the Chinese side can affirm that Indian patrols never had access to this area and thus India has no valid claim on the territory. Already living with the disadvantage of being a lesser power vis-à-vis China, this argument further weakens India’s hand during negotiations in Ladakh.
This will be akin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement during the all-party meeting in June 2020 that no one had entered Indian territory, which ended up bolstering Chinese position during the talks. India cannot afford to repeat that blunder again and lose its land. As was demonstrated by China in the aftermath of the 1962 War, there should be no holding back in painstakingly asserting one’s claims when it comes to safeguarding the territory. Denial of truth for domestic political gains, in this case, will certainly be to the detriment of India’s strategic interests.
- Depsang Plains are located at the Line of Actual Control that separates the Indian and Chinese controlled regions.
- The Chinese Army occupied most of the plains in 1962.
- India controls the western portion of the plains as part of Ladakh, whereas the eastern portion is part of the Aksai Chin region, which is controlled by China and claimed by India.
- Depsang is also close to the Karakoram Pass, overlooking the very strategic Saltoro Ridge and Siachen glacier.
- Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) is a historic campsite and current military base located in Ladakh, on an ancient trade route connecting Ladakh to the Tarim Basin.
3. WHO site shows India without J&K, says MP
‘Arunachal also marked separately’
Trinamool Congress MP Santanu Sen on Thursday said in the Rajya Sabha that the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 website showed a map of India without Jammu and Kashmir, prompting Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu to tell Union External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to “take note of it”.
Speaking during Zero Hour, Dr. Sen said: “As a COVID warrior, I often search the international data through the WHO site. On January 30, while searching… I saw that the map of India showed blue colour and surprisingly, Jammu and Kashmir was coloured separately. When I clicked on the blue part, it showed the data of India. Surprisingly, when I clicked the yellow part it showed the data of Pakistan.”
Dr. Sen was referring to covid19.who.int, the WHO’s dashboard for COVID-19 case data.
He added that one part of Jammu and Kashmir was in a different colour and showed data pertaining to China when clicked.
He said Arunachal Pradesh was also demarcated separately.