Indian officers served Mao’s favourite liquor at official banquets, ceremonial events

Army officers deployed along India’s farthest frontiers in the east are trying to cultivate a taste for one of China’s best-known luxury liquors with a fiery and revolting flavour that does not quite suit their palate.

Not everyone can do Moutai, a grain-based Baijiu that has a high alcohol content of 53% (compared to Black Label’s 40%) and costs around Rs 15,000 for a half litre bottle, said two army officers posted in Arunachal Pradesh’s Kibithu sector where more than 4,000 Chinese soldiers were killed in the Battle of Walong – one of the few glorious chapters for India in the 1962 India-China war.

But swigging down a few shots helps strike a rapport with the Chinese commanders, said the first officer. Moutai is the staple drink served by the Chinese at all official banquets and ceremonial functions such as the border personnel meetings (BPMs) that were held along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at three locations in Arunachal Pradesh and one in Ladakh on China’s 70th National Day on October 1.

One such BPM was held at Damai on the Chinese side of the LAC facing the Indian Army’s Wacha outpost.

At Damai, Indian and Chinese army officers talked about the positive outcome of the first informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April 2018 and also proposed a toast to the upcoming second edition of the meeting (to be held later this month), said the second officer.

Mao Zedong and other top communist leaders toasted with Moutai when the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. It was Chairman Mao’s favourite tipple.

“The delegations, consisting of eight officers each, talked about the Wuhan spirit and the second informal summit. There has been no incident along the LAC in this sector during the last one-and-a-half years,” Indian delegation leader Brigadier Sajeev Katarya told Hindustan Times.

While Katarya is a teetotaller, other delegation members and guests had Moutai shots with their Chinese hosts.

Katarya, who is the commander of the Tezu-based 82 Mountain Brigade, said the border situation was likely to improve further after the second summit as everything was “top-driven” in the India-China bilateral relationship.

“We are sanguine that border guarding troops of both countries will fulfil the shared responsibility of peace and tranquillity as per the strategic guidance given by the top leadership of both countries,” he said.

There may have been no friction with the Chinese in the Kibithu sector that covers almost half of Arunachal Pradesh, but isolated incidents keep taking place every now and then --- such as the face-off between Indian and Chinese troops near the northern bank of the Pangong lake in Ladakh in September. Also, border tensions peaked when the two neighbours were locked in a long standoff in the disputed Doklam plateau near Sikkim two years ago.

While talks between India and China on the boundary issue under the framework of the Special Representatives (SR) mechanism have been delayed, experts said the border situation could witness further improvement after the second informal summit.

Lieutenant General SL Narasimhan (Retd), a China expert and currently a member of the National Security Advisory Board, said notwithstanding the face-off that took place in Pangong Tso area, the LAC has been more stable since the Wuhan Summit and things were likely to get even better after the second informal Modi-Xi meet.

“While India has to remain alert in the wake of China’s reactions to the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A {relating to Jammu and Kashmir}, China may not create any unpleasant situation on the LAC, particularly with the second informal summit between the two leaders expected soon,” he said.

He said reforms in the People’s Liberation Army were going on at a fast pace and India needed to take note of it and ensure that its defensive capability was adequate.

India and China have held more than 20 rounds of talks under the SR mechanism to settle the dispute over the 3,488-km LAC. Equally, concerted efforts by soldiers to develop a taste for the heady Moutai are also a work in progress.

“The best thing about Moutai is that it doesn’t give you a hangover. It also helps you bond better with the Chinese,” said Narasimhan.