The “minor” face-off in Naku La area on January 20 will have a spill-over effect on disengagement and de-escalation in east Ladakh

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aggression in Naku La area of north Sikkim on January 20 and the intrusion of 13 Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s southwest air defence identification zone, mere three days after the swearing-in of Joe Biden as US President, are a grim reminder that Beijing is on a warpath and has no interest in compromising with what it unilaterally defines as its core interests.

While the Indian Army official statement to Naku La said that it was a minor face-off, reports from the ground indicate that the PLA is in an aggressive mode on the border with India in Sikkim as well as Bhutan. This is a repeat of a skirmish between two armies on May 10, 2020, after the PLA aggression on the north banks of Pangong Tso. The Sikkim brawl virtually coincides with the violation of Taiwan airspace by the PLA Air Force (PLAAF).

While the US navy responded simultaneously by sending in Nimitz class Theodore Roosevelt carrier group into the South China Sea, the Indian Army troopers have also responded to the PLA aggression by inflicting injuries on the intruding adversary. However, the Chinese moves are indicative of a dangerous trend that could destabilise the entire region.

The latest actions indicate the following:

1. The new PLA western theatre commander Zhang Xudong is as aggressive towards India as was the previous commander Zhao Zongqi. This means that instructions to put pressure on India and Bhutan are coming from the Central Military Commission (CMC), which is headed by paramount leader Xi Jinping.

2. While the situation is stable in north Sikkim, the latest face-off will have a spill-over effect on the disengagement and de-escalation dialogue with the PLA in east Ladakh. To top it all, there is pressure building up in the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh with the PLA rapidly strengthening its border infrastructure.

3. Just like China absorbed Hong Kong with new security law, its military aggression against Taiwan is designed to expand and consolidate what it claims as its own territory. This is a test of Joe Biden’s Indo-Pacific policy as the so-called Asia pivot of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama never fructified.

4. In spite of the previous Trump administration passing a law on naming the successor to the 14th Dalai Lama, Beijing will continue towards its Fortress Tibet policy and will not allow any outside interference in the Sinchisation of Tibet.

5. The PLA will try to portray disengagement and disengagement from east Ladakh in such a way that its sanctity of its 1959 Green Line is not violated to its domestic audience.

Although the Indian Army has classified the Naku La incident as a minor face-off, the PLA will continue to project dominance in 2021—the 100th year of Chinese Communist Party rule.