Indian Army (IA) and Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are spending another harsh winter in the high altitude ranges of Eastern Ladakh with no breakthrough in disengagement despite a number of Senior Commanders and Working Level meets in the year gone by.
China has set the tone in 2022 by continuing with what is known as Wolf Warrior Diplomacy by publishing a map with Chinese names of Arunachal Pradesh and targeting Indian MPs who had an interaction during a Taiwanese reception.
The Ministry of External Affairs Official Spokesperson confirmed that India has taken notice of China renaming some places in Arunachal Pradesh in its own language.
In response to a media query on reports that China has renamed some places in Arunachal Pradesh in its own language, the Official Spokesperson Shri Arindam Bagchi said on December 30th, “We have seen such reports. This is not the first time China has attempted such a renaming of places in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. China had also sought to assign such names in April 2017. Arunachal Pradesh has always been, and will always be an integral part of India. Assigning invented names to places in Arunachal Pradesh does not alter this fact."
Despite ongoing face to face contacts between the two sides, multiple media sources reported that Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army exchanged greetings on the New Year indicating a degree of confidence building and bonhomie which was not evident in the past year and eight months since May 2020.
Interestingly the Indian Army released ten specific locations at which there were exchange of greetings.
These include the Karakoram Pass, Daulat Beg Oldi, Bottleneck in Depsang Plains, Kongka La, Chushul-Moldo, Hot Springs in Demchok in eastern Ladakh and at Nathu La, Kongra La, Bum La and Wacha Damai in the eastern sector.
The points of contact include Karakoram Pass and Daulat Beg Oldi which China sees as highly sensitive and could be seen as trigger points for physical projections made by the PLA in May 2020 to dominate the Indian lines of communication in Eastern Ladakh.
Bottleneck in Depsang Plains is sensitive for India as this is the location where PLA has prevented Indian troops to patrol beyond this point—PP10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13.
By holding exchange at these points and publicly specifying the same the two sides seem to be demonstrating overall contours of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and vulnerability of each side emerging from 20 months of confrontation in Eastern Ladakh.
The signalling however does not end here.
China Military Online indicated that “on the eve of New Year's Day, a reporter from the China Central Television (CCTV) traveled more than 5,000 kilometers from Beijing to the Karakoram Plateau, taking a special national flag to a frontier defense company where Xiao Siyuan, one of the four martyrs who sacrificed their lives to safeguard China's national sovereignty and territory in June 2020, was assigned to”.
The “national flag was raised at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing on August 1, 2021, the 94th anniversary of the founding of the PLA”.
The report also highlighted that “Standing below the eight Chinese characters "da hao he shan, cun tu bu rang" ("Not a single inch of China's beautiful land to be ceded"), the frontier defense troops received the national flag and held a flag-raising ceremony”.
“Singing national anthem, they vowed to safeguard China's national sovereignty and territory with their lives,” as per China Military Online.
The location on the Karakoram Plateau referred to in the release has been identified by the Indian media as the Galwan Valley location of the standoff in June 2020.
India Today reported that a day after this event by the PLA, Indian Army also unfurled the flag at Galwan.
China’s naming of features in Arunachal Pradesh in Mandarin could be seen as an attempt to assert claims on the same in a more forceful manner. China claims 90,000 sq km in Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet. China issued Mandarin names for six places in Arunachal Pradesh in 2017. The latest list of names was issued ahead of a new border security law coming into effect from January 1. Among the 15 locations renamed by China are eight residential areas, four mountains, two rivers and a mountain pass. Will this imply assertion of claims through use of force or is just a normal exercise of renaming and a part of the Wolf Warrior diplomacy of Beijing remains to be seen?
Clearly the two sides are not willing to give the information advantage to the other and commit themselves to assert sovereignty through claims on the LAC or in Arunachal Pradesh in 2022.