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Pentagon Report and Chinese Politico Military Strategy on LAC

[Image cut out of PLA Western Theatre Command Deployment from DOD Report]

The Annual Report to U.S. Congress on the “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” [Report] in the Year 2020 , has extensively covered the Chinese People’s Liberation Army strategy on the Line of Actual Control [LAC].

While the focus of the Report is United States-China engagement and cooperation on security issues in 2020, as India China standoff on the LAC was a unique development, this has been naturally elaborated in some amount of detail as it also impacts, “United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future.”

A detailed review of the Report outlines some of the underlying strategic concepts such as Active Defence, Non war military activities, Escalation Management and possible future trajectory based on roles and mission of the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] and recently promulgated Border Law.

Some of these as facets culled from the Report are as outlined per succeeding paragraphs.

Active Defense

Active Defense – the LAC action will fall within the parameters of Active Defence strategy of the PLA which includes the “principles of strategic defense in combination with offensive action at the operational and tactical levels,” and is not limited to “territorial defense”.

Even though the LAC action falls outside the ambit of, “avoiding initiating armed conflict.”

Active defense also includes, “preemptively striking an adversary that the PRC judges is preparing to attack.”

Though there were no signs of the Indian Army challenging the PLA on the LAC, but the Chinese sources government as well as state media have from time to time indicated that Indian action of repealing Article 370 on August 05 2019, in the erstwhile Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir which also included Ladakh [now both are separate Union Territories] is a change in status quo on the India China border.

Apparently the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is not averse to using such factors in promoting interest and undertaking aggressive military response.

Non War Military Activities

Non-war military activities (NWMA) could also be seen as falling within the ambit of the Active Defense Strategy.

The Report defines NWMA as “an expansive and diverse set of military operations ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) to suppressing domestic unrest to maritime rights protection,” which serve, “a variety of political purposes, occurring at varying intensities and durations, and may include the threat of violence or the use of violence from low levels to levels approaching war”.

NWMA also includes, “operations in which the PLA uses coercive threats and/or violence below the level of armed conflict against states and other actors to safeguard the PRC’s sovereignty and national interests”.

Escalation Management

Escalation Management is another concept that has been highlighted in the Report.

Escalation management is the ability to control a conflict that goes beyond the stated objective which has been identified by the higher leadership – the Central Military Commission (CMC).

The PRC has attempted to “prevent the standoff from worsening into a wider military conflict,” and has also attempted to signal the need for return to normal bilateral ties with India.

However in both cases Indian military and diplomatic moves have rebuffed the Chinese objective of escalation management.

The standoff in Eastern Ladakh has thus gone beyond the envisaged escalation management concept of the PLA which is evident from the June 2020 clash in Galwan at the operational level and the inability of preventing horizontal escalation in the political and diplomatic dimension with the United States and other allies coming to the aid of India.

Strengthening of QUAD from a forum for meeting of officials in 2017 to two leadership summits in 2021 – one virtual and the other in person is an indicator that the PRC escalation management has in the diplomatic field has completely failed.

While there is unlikely to be active intervention by QUAD members in military terms to come to the aid of India, the dissuasive posturing that has taken place including aggressive holding of Ex Malabar by the navies of the grouping - India, U.S., Japan and Australia may not have happened without the LAC turning “hot” in 2020.

Future Trajectory

The incremental and tactical steps of continued claims on the LAC and other areas of the India China border is in line with “ PLA’s missions and tasks of “safeguarding China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” thus there is unlikely to be any relent by the PLA.

The challenge for the PLA in the context of the LAC will also be as the Report states, “dialectical unity of restraining war and winning war”. When to enlarge the conflict and when to restrain particularly when the military forces of the two sides are in a virtual eyeball to eyeball confrontation is always difficult to control from the political seat in Beijing or the military seat in Chengdu – HQ of the Western Theatre Command.

Hopefully this recognition may lead to greater restraint by the PRC leadership or it may not, India will have to be prepared for the latter.

On the continued relevance of People’s War – the recent promulgation of Border laws is expected to, “harness the capacity of China’s populace as a source of political legitimacy and mobilization to generate military power”.



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