When the Indian Army carries out war games, India is always referred to as ‘Blueland’ and the enemy is referred to as ‘Redland’. However, when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) carries out war games, their enemy is referred to as ‘Blueland’. Therefore, in the accompanying photo of men with blue overalls walking over a terrain model during a physical terrain model war game, it is not rocket science to deduce that those are supposed to be ‘enemy participants’ physically moving models and counters as required. This photo and the location of the terrain model were discovered way back in July 2006 by a man living in Germany who used the online nom de plume of KenGrok. The latter announced his discovery of a plot of land 900 metres by 700 metres located in the town of Huangyangtan, about 35 kilometres from Yinchuan, the capital of the autonomous region of Ningxia, in northern China, that had been modelled for military purposes. This discovery was announced by KenGrok on the Google Earth Community Forum.
Huangyangtan is an arid area west of the northern part of the Yellow River. The plot in question was contoured as a mountainous area with glaciers, peaks, valleys and lakes. Next to the terrain model was a properly enclosed military compound with barracks, trucks, lookout posts and a massive communications tower. Curiosity provoked KenGrok to do more research and he soon made the astounding discovery that the plot was a scale model in the ratio of 500:1 of 157,500 sq kms of territory in Aksai Chin and eastern Ladakh. Please refer to Fig 1, which is a satellite photo of Aksai Chin; Fig 2 is a satellite photo of the terrain model’s replication of the contours of Aksai Chin; Fig 3 is what Ningxia looked like in 2005 and Fig 8 is what Ningxia looked like in 2014. You can compare the growth in the area.
What was the need to painstakingly construct such a terrain model when it would have been much easier to make do with computer simulation? The following months of August and September 2006 were marked with a very lively online debate between conspiracy theorists, bloggers, modelling enthusiasts and news websites. None of this vast array of contributors ever pondered to ascertain how long it took to construct this meticulous terrain model?
Let me put forth a hypothesis. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China in 2003 and signed a memorandum of understanding with China unequivocally recognising China’s sovereignty over Tibet. After he left China, what did the Chinese do? They embarked upon plans to push for the start of the process to physically enforce any and all of Tibet’s aspirational claims on Ladakh and its river waters. Let me argue that the Politburo of the CPC signed off on commencing the construction of the Huangyangtan complex in 2003 itself and it became operational in 2005 when it was recorded by Google Earth’s satellites.
So effectively, China has been preparing for the post-1962 ‘second invasion of Ladakh’ at least from after the departure of Vajpayee from China in June 2003. Can one then propose that the significant incursions in Depsang in 2013, Chumar in 2014 and the latest Chinese incursions in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang are all specifically designed to assess the reaction of the Indian state to such a challenge? Furthermore, they have factored in the political reaction in the form of the responses of both the BJP and the Congress when they were in power. The Chinese have also entwined themselves in the intervening years into India’s economic structure like a poisonous creeper from which it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself.
How have the Indian state and its strategic and tactical intelligence apparatus faced up to this formidable challenge? It appears that no one bothered to either join the dots or even to follow up for curiosity’s sake on the developments narrated in this article. What is the nature of the existential challenge faced from China by the Indian state today? Should it be expressing its over-eagerness to disengage and de-escalate from the current faceoffs with the PLA in Ladakh?
To answer this question, we have to in turn assess the existential crisis currently facing China. The Chinese government has a $1.3 trillion programme called ‘The New Infrastructure Initiative’ to seize the lead from the US in 5G-based technologies. At the core of this programme is the company Huawei and its ultra-secret division called HiSilicon, created 16 years ago to drive cutting-edge research. The survival of both Huawei and HiSilicon is at stake because the Trump administration is hellbent on conclusively destroying this company and, with it, China’s dreams of technological supremacy over the world. The Trump administration has invoked the Foreign Produced Direct Product Rule or DPR, which is cutting out Huawei and HiSilicon from key products, processes, software, technologies and licensed manufacturing opportunities worldwide as all of these are dependent on US patents.
The first casualty this year will be Beijing’s 5G rollout. Further, the US has guaranteed the sovereign security of both Taiwan and its most important asset, the 13 foundries of Taiwan Semiconductor Company (TSMC) that make microchips. Most importantly, as of May 2020, both Huawei and HiSilicon cannot get TSMC to manufacture their chips because of the DPR. TSMC is the only company in the world that can make microchips using 7 nanometre or smaller nodes vital for high performance. In fact, Huawei’s inventory of high-end chips is only sufficient for 12 months. At stake are Huawei’s 90-plus contracts to build networks for local operators like China Mobile Ltd and other carriers across the world. Despite Huawei’s employees currently working 18-hour shifts, the emerging catastrophe facing Huawei, HiSilicon and the PRC is unprecedented. This is trade war at its most punitive.
In anticipation, China is going ahead with the funding and construction on a war footing of the Bunji and Diamer Bhasha Dams on the Indus River at Skardu and Gilgit in PoK, respectively. These dams with their massive water storage will provide the water to the top-secret Chinese foundry in PoK that is probably being constructed in a secure bomb-proof underground mountainous location close to the water storage reservoirs of these two dams.
What are the options for China? The first option is to back down and make peace with the US. However, the terms of that peace most certainly will be dishonourable and involve the permanent closure of Huawei. The second option is for China to pursue a scorched earth policy and use precision guided missiles to destroy all of TSMC’s foundries in Taiwan so that they are unavailable to the US as well. This will set off a US-supported Taiwanese strike against key Chinese factories.
The US currently has three carrier strike groups in the South China Sea in anticipation of a Chinese first strike against Taiwan’s industry. Analysts argue that China is currently evaluating the risk of moving its rapidly declining fortunes from the brink of disaster. Its momentum so far in confronting Japan, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and the US has been in non-kinetic amorphous warfare. But now Xi is being forced by the US DPR, a declining economy, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the tremendous negative publicity for China, to consider taking kinetic military action.
Global Times, the CPC-controlled news organ, has advocated the use of electromagnetic pulse weapons to cripple the US Navy currently deployed in the South China Sea. Similarly, the same non-kinetic weapons in the PLA’s unique Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) could be deployed against India to disrupt communications, command and control, satellites, position navigation and timing for missiles and all drones. All of this without firing a single shot. In both of these cases, the US and India would probably have to respond with kinetic force and that would then trigger a similar response from China.
The river waters of Ladakh and their current annual ‘surge’ become vital cogs in the effort of any Chinese programme to become self-reliant in high-end microchips. Therefore, there is no possibility of China stepping back from the LAC and seriously disengaging and de-escalating. Every such apparent surface move will be laced with treachery. Time appears to be running out very fast as the PLA’s naval exercises off the island of Hainan next month could be the cover under which kinetic hostilities first erupt in the South China Sea and then spread to the Himalayas and Karakoram.
Indian strategic elites have long propagated the concept of strategic autonomy in consonance with their own complacency, inertia and greed of doing business with China. Today, India faces an existential crisis and for its defence against China, needs to elevate its status to that of a US ally. This will give India access to funds and materials from the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. India needs to buy militarised drones, helicopters, ammunition and aircraft at a reduced price. The US could then also come to terms with India’s largely Russian arsenal and develop interoperability workarounds to create dilemmas for China.
There is much, much more. But suffice to say, time is running out for the drums of war are beating.