Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is China "Signaling" India via such intrusions.

In his article, Col. Ajai Shukla points to the suggestion the DBO venture was merely a "political signal" from the Chinese government to the GoI prior to Prime Minister Keqiang's visit.

This in an interesting premise that I feel can afford greater public scrutiny.

It is true this is a very complicated signalling mechanism, one wonders why such a mechanism would be needed as there are so many fora on which the PRC can convey its intentions towards peaceful resolution of the disputes and a military adventure seems way more expensive than any of those.

The only circumstance (apart from lack of coordination between the PLA and the Chinese PM's office) where this kind of "signaling" would become necessary is if the PRC was negotiating from a position of weakness. That is, what the Chinese wanted to achieve through bargaining was far is excess of what they were capable of achieving by other means. 

It is definitely in PRC's interests to get an agreement in place which slows down the pace of India's infrastructure development in the region until the PLA has resources in place to maintain its present defensive posture. As things stand maintaining the Chinese claims in the region is reliant on lines of communication which are quite exposed to interdiction by air. While the Chinese can drive up to the border, an IAF fighter from AFS Koel can be over the area in far less time than it takes to lug a tank from some place on the G219 to the Depsang plain. This capability lag in the PLAAF to go toe-to-toe with the IAF in the region is a source of immense weakness that the Chinese have to strategise around.

It would possible for the Chinese to deploy air defence assets in the region. There is little India can do to prevent it. Given the terrain, it is difficult to say how effective these would be and if Chinese SAM systems have the reliability needed at these high altitudes and low temperatures.


  1. No two countries in the world have ever fought a mechanized war on a plain above 5000 meters. That is why I am so curious about what kind of imagery of war that people have in mind when they speak of the ability of the Chinese to bring in mechanized coplumns and armor. Mind you I am not saying they cannot do it - it is obvious that they can, but its the little details I am after.

    Altitude sickness is areal problem over 5000 meters so let me put that out of the way by simply deeming that China will have acclimatized its soldiers beforehand. But that precludes rapid expansion of forces beyond a point if push comes to shove. But still it cannot be dismissed that easily. Let alone fighting, even living at those heights leads to regular attrition from altitude sickness. That means that there have to be fixed medical installations and helipads for a return to lower altitudes. How far away is "low altitude" from Aksai Chin.

    The other thing that has always intrigued me and I have no answers yet is fuel consumption of vehicles at 5000 meters. I am not speaking of aircraft - they are different. I am sure diesel vehicles will be superchaarged - but ids teh cost of running a diesel vehicle at 5000 meters the same? What would the fuel requirements of a significantly large armoured column be at 5000 meters. Maintenance crews would need to set up camp and they would need acclimatization too.

    When we speak of war in Aksai Chin and a Chinese ability to move in machines we need to ask these questions and I have never seen/heard anyone do anything more than dismiss the questions as irrelevant.

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  3. Dear Bennedose,

    The fuel question is interesting.

    I don't know if anyone has a clear answer to that question. The person running the PLA logistics may face this same question. There will some test data from vehicles, but when coming up with the supply-chain for a PLA action in the region, the planner will have to make allowances.

    I think one could simply take the fuel consumption of the vehicle at sea level and then divide it by two for high altitude. That would give us a sense of how much fuel they might consume under combat conditions.

    In addition to the fuel needed for vehicles, there is the fuel needed for keeping soldiers warm. So I guess one would need more fuel for that too.

    The really hard supply chain problem, imo would be warehousing such a large quantity of fuel in a fashion that is accessible to the offensive arm. There is so little cover anywhere in that plain that it will a good amount of work to keep it camouflaged/secure from enemy air assault and keep is accessible enough that you can send a supply truck/column to the FEBA.

    This is a non-trivial problem in an area where there are few lines of communication. With imagery as crappy as GE, you could pull out the location of their fuel dumps, with a little effort one could even estimate how much kerosene they have available.

    Again I feel as long as the IAF can out do the PLAAF - it will be difficult for the PLA to maintain the supply chain to the FEBA.

  4. Hello Devendra,

    That sounds fine in theory, my only counter-point here is that this kind of thing is a very risky framework to actually practice.

    Essentially before any peaceful visits by a major Chinese leader to India, China will have to pull some warlike stunt. The hope here - as you put it - is to put India on the back foot - make it bargain for something useless to Chinese interests while giving something to China that is highly useful in return.

    The biggest risk here is that the militaristic gesture will fall flat. With a failed military venture, the Chinese leader will visit India with his/her head hanging in shame. S/he will have nothing to bargain with and will be at the mercy of India's negotiators.

    If the militaristic option is successful, it will inform India of China's hostile intentions, so this kind of thing can only done once - or perhaps twice if India's leadership displays no institutional memory or treats the issue with ambivalence. After that even the most ambivalent GoI will be forced to take a more dissuasive posture in the region.

    If China is reduced this level of complexity in dealing with India - it must be desperately weak.

    The obvious alternative to this is that the visit by Premier Keqiang was the victim of a conspiracy laid by elements of a power inimical to positive India-China ties. It not impossible to imagine that this foreign power infiltrated the PLA and sought to use the PLA's Aksai Chin garrison to further their hostile aims.

    By allowing Premier Keqiang's visit (and Min. Salman Khurshid's visit) to proceed with properly - one would effectively place a "chinese wall" between the events at DBO and the other overbearing economic issues between India and China.

    1. I guess you can look at it from that perspective.
      But if I was China, I would do 3 tactical things and 7 useless counter-productive things just to confuse the enemy and let them think that leadership is not much in control.

      This leads to multiple advantages, I will quote with examples. China is surrounded by economic and military powers of decent stature namely Russia, India, Japan, Korea and Some South-East Asian countries. If I, as China, pinprick these countries directly, I may be asked to behave by these countries directly or by Uncle SAM. On the other hand, if it looks like there are many factions visible in China, I can say "It wasn't me".

      Benefits of strategy:
      a) Clear escape route.The risk is low and say it wasn't their intent.
      b) Regular pinpricks to the opposing parties to make them numb to small adventures such that when a real big attack happens, they are caught unaware.
      c) Confusing the enemy in thinking that the possible course of action by China can be as many as the number of factions.
      d) Multiple factions means China can have multiple faces for the world, One can be used for friendship, one for alliance, one for coercion, one for attack etc etc.
      e) Dealing with multiple faces means the energy of the enemy is divided and not concentrated on planning for real danger.

      For past 5 decades, China has been clearly successful in implementing this strategy:
      1) Gave nuclear know-how to North Korea and Pakistan and still got away.
      2) Fought with Russia and still is an arms importer from them. (Ironically many of its nukes are pointed towards Russia).
      3) Love - hate relationship with US and Japan.
      4) Same with India.

      And as far as, the shame in retreating just before the Premier came to India, What is the shame if you enter other's territory, rest and yawn for weeks and go back after considerable pleading.
      Remember, it was India who pleaded and not China.

  5. FWIW - the biggest threat from China right now is the manner in which they are dumping stuff on the Indian market.

    This is creating problems in terms of the balance of trade.

  6. LOL Maverick you are absolutely right. The ability of the Chinese to provide useful and dead cheap products should frighten anyone. I was searching for a mount for an air rifle telescope. Initially I looked for a precision workshop in India to do that and I was told that the availability of cheap Chinese products puts uch workshops out of business. And sure enough I found a Chinese product online, With free shipping to India for guess how much? 9 US$! Nine.Similar stuf in India retail shops are priced around Rs 6000. Where's the comparison?

  7. Hello,

    Sri. B. R. Deepak has weighed in on the issue.

  8. one little thing with big significance is that the new PRC prez started off from day 1 as chairman CMC, something which his predecessor didn't. it signals the strong support he has from the PLA which would normally imply he would reciprocate.