|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Don’t underestimate the enemy is an old saying which is synonymous to give the devil his due. But if the mask that President Xi Jinping hides his emotions, his shock at what has happened in Eastern Ladakh is apparent, notwithstanding the devil inside him and the ruthlessness he displays. Xi had been rehearsing the PLA for this aggression since 2014 within China on a life-sized land model of Ladakh. The three-week long PLA intrusion in Depsang plains of Eastern Ladakh in 2013 was to familiarise Chinese soldiers with the terrain in the region. PLA soldiers were being periodically trained to operate in high altitude in Tibet with well publicised live exercises for psychological effects. Pakistani army instructors were engaged in training the PLA in China, as also PLA had been and continues to train at winter warfare facilities in Pakistan and Canada.
The Chinese invasion in Ladakh was planned and approved at the highest level; meaning Xi Jinping himself, not merely by China’s Western Theatre Command. In its report released on December 1, 2020, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission concluded that Chinese government had planned the clash with Indian troops in the Galwan Valley in June. The report says, “Some evidence suggested the Chinese government had planned the incident, potentially including the possibility for fatalities. For instance, several weeks prior to the clash, Defence Minister Wei (Fenghe) made his statement encouraging Beijing to ‘use fighting to promote stability’.” The report further noted that just “over two weeks before the incident, in another potential indication of Chinese leaders signaling their intent to escalate tensions, an editorial in China’s state-owned tabloid Global Times warned that India would suffer a ‘devastating blow’ to its trade and economic ties with China if it got ‘involved in the US-China rivalry’”.
Announcements of new Chinese inventions whether drones, hypersonic platforms, pathogens or anything else are routine even though most of these inventions-cum-developments may not be as lethal as they are projected. Few years back, leader of an Indian delegation to Beijing asked a Chinese Ministry of Defence that since India has open tender system for defence imports, why China doesn’t make a bid for them? He responded by saying that India will then know weakness of Chinese defence products. Little wonder then that 40 per cent of Chinese-origin JF-17 fighter jets in two Pakistan air force bases were reportedly grounded in November 2020 due to problems in the fuselage with cracks detected.
There is no doubt that the recent Chinese aggression in Ladakh completely fooled our intelligence agencies and policy makers; not just with PLA exercising in Aksai Chin but despite China building a new road four kilometers short of Galwan. The surprise attack on Indian troops on the night of June 15-16 was planned at the highest level. It would not be surprising if Xi Jinping along with Commander of PLA’s Western Theatre Command even witnessed a dress rehearsal. The attacking Chinese were specially flown in from Beijing with swords, spears, clubs with iron spikes, machetes wrapped with barbed wire and the like. Whether they were made to live amongst the products of China’s wet markets as part of training is not known but the ferocity with which Indian troops responded would have dumbfounded them.
To-date the Chinese government has not dared to admit how many Chinese casualties occurred in the Galwan Valley clash that night. Most of the dead were probably buried locally and the hapless parents-relatives told they died of COVID-19. The second shock to the Chinese government came on night of August 29-30 when Indian troops beat PLA in the race to occupy heights south of Pangong Lake in area of Chushul and the Kailash Range, also defeating every PLA attempt to dislodge them. China made the initial intrusions because additional troops from the Indian side could not be mobilised because of the lockdown due to the pandemic and restricted rail movement. But once the Army mobilised, Xi Jinping’s dreams of an easy walkover were brought to naught.
Recent reports in US media have cited the Director of National Intelligence in confirming that China has conducted "human testing" on members of the PLA in the hope of developing soldiers with "biologically enhanced capabilities." Chinese researchers have used the gene-editing tool ‘clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’ (CRISPR) used to treat genetic diseases and modify plants, but in conducting human testing “there are no ethical boundaries to Beijing's pursuit of power." Western scientists consider it unethical to seek to manipulate genes to boost the performance of healthy people. In recent years, Chinese scientists, physicists and strategists have been emphasising that biotechnology could become a new strategic tool in conflict. In 2019, two American scholars had written a paper examining China's ambitions to apply biotechnology to the battlefield, and spoke of signs that China was interested in using gene-editing technology to enhance the performance of humans and soldiers.
PLA has been blaring across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh using loudspeakers how comfortable PLA troops are, how hot food is being delivered to them through drones etc. Beijing has been indulging in fake propaganda how Chinese microwave weapons incinerated Indian troops on two hilltops in Ladakh. But China has not been able to hide the waves of casualty evacuation helicopter sorties the night after the Galwan Valley clash, scores of PLA soldiers continuing to be pulled out on account of high altitude sickness, visuals of young PLA soldiers crying and screaming inside a bus en route to Ladakh, and news reports that every Chinese soldier deployed above 10,000 feet has been equipped with a personal oxygen cylinder – chocolate-cream softies! This is not merely lack of battle experience.
Call it fallout of the single-child rule or the easy life Chinese youth are used to but Xi Jinping should realise that simply forced ideology doesn’t produce good soldiers. No doubt future battle-space will be shaped by new technologies and AI but to think this revolutionary change will witness humans being replaced by robots is misplaced – it is the humans that will ultimately deliver victory. In his address to the Central Military Commission on November 25, 2020, President Xi Jinping told his armed forces “not to fear death”. No Indian head of state said this to Indian Armed Forces and never will need to.