by Pathikrit Payne

Draped in both the Indian tricolour and the Tibetan flag, the coffin carrying the mortal remains of Nyima Tenzin from India’s elite Special Frontier Force reflected not just the valour of Indian Armed Forces and their defiant courage against the unethical and unprincipled Chinese aggressions in Ladakh region, but also reminded the world about the relationship of brotherhood and solidarity that exists between Indians and Tibetans.

Four Critical Factors That Shaped The Turn of The Tide: First, The Economic Move

Between the last week of August and subsequent weeks of September, news of few notable incidents were put in the public domain. On the economic front, on September 2, information emerged that India, after banning 59 Chinese applications earlier, including TikTok, had additionally banned 118 more Chinese mobile applications. This new list included WeChat of Tencent and mobile payment application Alipay from Alibaba Group.

The significance of this emanates from the fact that India is making it clear that it would not be ‘business as usual’ with China so long as Chinese aggressions continue along the LAC. India’s banning of TikTok alone had an impact of $6 billion on ByteDance and triggered a chain reaction that resulted in banning of TikTok in the US while discussions for similar actions are going on in many other countries.

This was followed by China’s entire internet-based services industry getting hammered across the world. With global trust on Chinese technology companies reaching nadir, one of the shining armours of the Chinese economy, i.e. its telecom and IT-based hardware and service industry may be staring at a bleak future with major countries of the world not just refusing Chinese end-products and services, but also refusing to supply China with key components and sub-systems needed for making telecom and computer hardware.

Second: India’s Silent Deployments In South China Sea And Ladakh

During the same period, news also emerged that India has silently deployed some of its frontline warships in the South China Sea theatre on a two-and-a-half-month operational deployment. While the stated objective is that the Indian Navy ships would take part in several bilateral exercises in that region, the unstated message was loud and clear that the Chinese intransigence in the Ladakh region or any other area of LAC would not only be thwarted locally but would also perhaps be countered with India’s own moves in the South China Sea and especially in the Malacca Strait, which is China’s well known ‘chokepoint’. In other words, the Indian establishment this time is not shy of taking the face-off right at the doorsteps of China’s key bastions.

The Indian deployment in the South China Sea was perhaps a logical conclusion after a major Indo-US naval exercise that took place in Andaman & Nicobar theatre, which witnessed participation of nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. Already, as per open-source information, India has also deployed Jaguar aircraft, armed with anti-ship Harpoon missiles, in the Andaman & Nicobar theatre even as India’s P8I Poseidon's continue to keep a hawk-eye watch in the Indian Ocean Region and especially Malacca Strait. One also has to take into account the deployment of Su-30MKIs by IAF in South India last year that are armed with Brahmos Missile and can considerably take care of Indian Ocean Region during a conflict kind of scenario.

Reports also emerged of how India matched PLA’s deployments in Xinjiang and Tibet regions, with its own deployment of subsonic cruise missile Nirbhay and supersonic cruise missile Brahmos in strategic positions along the LAC to potentially keep within striking range Chinese assets deep inside Tibet and Xinjiang province. In addition, deployment of quick reaction Surface to Air Missile System Akash along the LAC and menacing patrolling by the newly inducted Dassault Rafales do act as major force multipliers for the already deployed other platforms of IAF and Indian Army.

India’s Series of Tactical Missile Tests

Meanwhile, this was followed by a series of missile tests that India’s DRDO conducted which included the likes of a newly developed Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV), nuclear-capable hypersonic ballistic missile Shaurya with a range of 1000 km (and its subsequent induction), a newly developed laser-guided anti-tank missile, a new generation of Brahmos missiles with an extended range of up to 450 km, up from 299 km, test of SMART Torpedo or Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo that can give a massive boost to anti-submarine warfare capabilities of Indian Navy and testing of Pinaka rockets with advanced Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) Systems.

What would also ring bells in the Chinese minds would be that of Anti-Satellite Missile (A-SAT) and K-5 SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Test) both conducted by India in not so distant past. All these tests, apart from the usual validation of platforms and warheads, do also have a critical role in the realm of psychological warfare or Psy-Ops.

Third: The Indian Blitzkrieg To Dominate Heights Along With Pangong-Tso Chushul Region

The third and the most important event that happened was a blitzkrieg type operation executed by Indian Army, on 29th August, in a precision manner to reinforce its dominance on thirty high altitude points along the entire stretch of Pangong-Tso Chushul region, which has completely put the Chinese PLA on the backfoot. Incidentally, this operation itself was preceded by cutting-edge planning and fortification of the entire LAC to make sure that any fresh Chinese misadventures anywhere in that theatre can be pre-empted. Later, Indian Forces took control of six new major heights in the Easter Ladakh theatre.

It was during the operation on the night of 29th August that Nyima Tenzin, of SFF, made the supreme sacrifice that not only brought to the fore the valour of India’s elusive yet elite Special Frontier Force but also reignited the tales of Tibetan struggle and their quest for a homeland. Visuals of Tibetans in India cheering for the passing Indian Army convoys or the Tibetans in Ladakh pledging to carry water and other essentials to Indian Army personnel on the heights vindicate how much the Tibetans remain committed in their quest for redeeming their motherland.

Fourth, The Tibetan Factor: Why The News of Martyrdom of Nyima Tenzin May Have Rattled China

At a time when the world knows China for its alleged involvement in the global spread of COVID pandemic, brutal subjugation of people of Hong Kong, atrocities on Uighur Muslim minorities of Xinjiang province and constant threats of invasion to Taiwan, the supreme sacrifice of Nyima Tenzin of India’s Special Frontier Force, has once again awakened the world to the reality of the struggle of Tibetans, which somehow had almost become a forgotten story but was now getting freshly added to the long list of saga of torments by China. His sacrifice might also act as a catalyst to trigger a new wave of protests by Tibetans across the world and one should also not be surprised if the Tibetans and the Uighurs in exile, join hands in peaceful protests across the world to expose the Chinese atrocities since both have a common tale to narrate.

Incidentally, barely a few days back, London witnessed a protest march organised in solidarity with victims of Chinese atrocities in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong region. Similar protests were recently also witnessed outside the Chinese consulate in Toronto, Canada. Recent reports that emerged of how China has created labour camps and forced 5 lakh able-bodied Tibetans to work in factories both inside and outside Tibet, is also a vindication of the discomfort that China still has about the possibility of Tibetan uprisings even as it continues to subjugate and traumatise the Uighurs of Xinjiang province. One wonders if the Chinese plan to create labour camps for half a million Tibetans, from earlier this year, was in sync with their plot to create disturbances along LAC while attempting to make sure that any escalation of conflict with India along LAC does not lead to any disturbance or uprising in Tibet region.

Have These Events Altered The Threshold of India’s Response Mechanism Towards China?

In the first place, from the time of the Galwan clash in the middle of June to the reinforcing of dominance in the heights along Pangong-Tso Chushul region on the 29th of August, one critical thing that India has successfully accomplished is to completely nullify the ‘element of surprise’ that China initially had gained by deceit, wherein in the name of a military exercise, Chinese PLA had gathered troops in Tibet and then moved those deployments towards LAC in Ladakh region. Today, however, given the level of mirror deployment and fortification that

India has done along the entire stretch of LAC, it is well-nigh impossible for China to spring any surprise anymore.

Even though contentious issues in Pangong Tso area and Depsang Valley do exist, China has for sure been taken aback by the type of determined response that India has initiated, which since the Doklam crisis has been a hallmark of India’s assertive approach and a distinctive contrast to the pacifist approach of the past.

Is China Ready For The Long Haul In The Gruelling Winters of Ladakh?

With the winters drawing near and the window of operation closing fast for the Chinese, one wonders how the Chinese would respond next and if at all they are prepared for the long haul in the harsh winter of that terrain where the Indians are better placed in terms of acclimatisation. If the Chinese had planned to unilaterally alter the status quo and force India to negotiate on its terms on various issues, before the winters would set in, then certainly it has not happened that way.

The resolve showed by India’s political establishment, the cutting-edge logistical operations executed by the Indian Armed Forces to make sure that the Indian soldiers on the ground, or high altitudes, are assured of all supplies through the whole phase of ensuing harsh winter, has not only taken the Chinese aback but has also made them apparently desperate. PM Modi’s assertive statement ‘Age of Expansionism is over’ that he made in Ladakh is a clear indication that India has fundamentally changed in its approach and would not concede to Chinese belligerence anymore.

Breaking The Myth of Indispensability of Chinese Supplies For India’s Economic Growth

The banning of the 118 mobile applications also vindicates that India’s initial banning of 59 Chinese applications was not a one-time action but a continuous process. Along with onslaught on China’s apps, India also banned the use of Chinese equipment in the power sector and debarred Chinese companies from bidding in highway projects. This apart, the scrapping of railway tenders, and 4G tender of BSNL that had the presence of Chinese bidders are proof enough of how India is determined to squeeze the Chinese presence in big-ticket Indian projects.

Incidentally, India was also among the first countries which started a concerted effort towards a decoupling of its economy and supply chain, from Chinese involvement not just in the realm of finished products but components as well. While the Chinese information warfare machinery has often tried to push the narrative that China is indispensable for the smooth functioning of Indian economy, the reality, on the contrary, has been quite different. In the last few months, as India systematically started a process of decoupling of its economy, it has not only opened more avenues of opportunities for Indian companies to perform better but is also helping India to become more resilient in the realm of creating a seamless domestic supply chain in addition to giving a renewed push for indigenization.

The Global Decoupling Effect On Chinese Economy

Incidentally, Beijing’s new strategy of ‘dual circulation’ wherein it plans to give equal importance to the domestic economy is indicative enough that the decoupling efforts of major economies to immune themselves from Chinese economy are now a reality and that it is going to hurt China’s export-driven economy dearly. Along with banning and blacklisting of Chinese technology companies happening in major economies of the world, one can also witness the beeline that companies are making to shift their manufacturing base from China to elsewhere. While major Taiwanese and Korean companies have already started shifting, with some making major investments in India, Japan has included India and Bangladesh among the destinations where Japanese companies would be eligible for subsidy in case they shift their production base to, from China.

Amidst the shrinking landscape of its global economic landscape, it would be interesting to see for how long China can continue with its hegemonic approach using the economy as a weapon. Incidentally, one must not forget that just like banning of Chinese mobile applications, it was India which pioneered the decoupling process much before others initiated it.

Why India Is More Than A Match For China Now

For all the propaganda carried out by Chinese media, on a daily basis, to portray the so-called invincibility (sic) of Chinese Armed Forces, in reality China’s blow-hot-blow-cold approach in Ladakh, and India’s defiant, nuanced and yet assertive counter-measures for the long haul game, proved that China is finally meeting its match in Asia. Elsewhere, in today’s era, China could simply steamroll over any dispute with another country through transgressions, followed by playing of the ‘victim game’ (in spite of being the aggressor) and upping the ante on the psychological operations to unleash a fear psychosis on the adversary and then coercing it to agree to Chinese terms and conditions for negotiations. For years, it worked for China including its refusal to accept the verdict of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) on the South China Sea. But in case of India, be it in Doklam or be it in case of Ladakh, China has been put on the backfoot by India on more than one occasion.

While China’s military strength certainly should not be underestimated, it is one thing to have giant showpiece of an army but quite another to have a battle-hardened one which knows how to protect its turf and improvise as per the situation. Devoid of hype, Indian Armed Forces and its specialised wings have slowly cast the net far and wide. With the ominous Himalayan winters setting in, one still wonders what Chinese wanted to accomplish and what they would attempt next given the limited options in front of them.

Is China, Instead of India, Staring At A Two-Front War?

While the possibility of a major flare-up can still not be ruled out, the Chinese know it all too well that the Indians have an advantage of being defenders in those harsh terrains and in such adverse weather conditions. Of course one has to add to it the battle-hardened minds and bodies of Indian soldiers vis-à-vis the China Army which did not fight a war in the last 40 years and still find it difficult to shake off the memories of huge casualties they suffered in the hands of Vietnam back in 1979.

While China might also be conniving with Pakistan to make it a possible two frontal assault on India, one wonders if China has taken into account what India’s deployment in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean region, in tandem with US deployments, as well as the maritime collaborations of QUAD members essentially means. If China opens a front in the Ladakh region, can the South China Sea remain tranquil? That is for China to ponder as to whether its misadventures in Ladakh may end up with its forces facing a two-frontal conflict, one in Ladakh and the other in the South China Sea in addition to a blockade of Malacca Strait through which 80% of Chinese oil imports pass. Can China afford that? Did China plan for it? For far too long China bulldozed countries individually in silos, one at a time, while keeping the rest entangled in the economic web. But no more perhaps. From Taiwan to Japan, from US to Australia, from India to EU, the world after a long time is speaking and acting in unison