The recent border skirmishes between India and China have been widely reported across the globe with assumptions, analysis and implications of various hues. These range from word of cautions by mature sections of the media to exaggerated assumptions of Chinese dominance by state-controlled Chinese media. Although the Galwan valley incident has many historic under-currents and may result in long-term strategic implications, one aspect which has been largely ignored is the manner in which the assault was conducted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
India termed the incident at the Galwan Valley as “premeditated”, one that was orchestrated by Beijing to project India as the aggressor who had breached the agreement and interfered in peaceful disengagement. The CCP is however still hiding the exact details of its casualties, while the Prime Minister of India has already visited his soldiers in Ladakh. No honourable army fails to recognize the sacrifice of its soldiers. But the People’s Liberation Army or PLA has to worry about the impact of the casualties it has suffered on the political future of the CCP.
It is dishonourable to carry out a premeditated ambush after an agreement to disengage has been reached. The disengagement consensus was agreed on 6th June, at the first India China military talks.
And it looks like such tactics have however become CCP’s standard procedure for its expansionist agenda. CCP has also been increasingly using similar modus operandi in the South China Sea to assert its misplaced maritime boundary claims. CCP obviously assumes that provocative tactics based on its convenient and one-sided interpretation of history and fuelled by its focussed propaganda would enable it to achieve its expansionist aims. However, the CCP and its Army miscalculated this time around by provoking the professional and battle-hardened Indian Armed Forces.
Despite Indian forces being outnumbered, Chinese forces suffered casualty for the first time in decades. 20 Indian soldiers were martyred, something New Delhi will never forget. For minor gains, China looks to have lost India forever, and ties have gone back decades.
By normal standards of recognised attributes of professional armed forces of a modern Westphalian nation-state, CCP’s PLA doesn’t fit the bill for “professional army” term. In fact, the epithets of ‘People’, ‘Liberation’ and ‘Army’ do not suit the PLA but are rather oxymoronic.
PLA seems to represent the will of CCP and not the Chinese people. PLA has also never been involved in any “liberation” but has on the contrary been employed for the ethnic cleansing of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and Tibetans in their own homeland, according to reports from dissenters and many locals who fled the area.
PLA’s conduct in conflict over the years, including the recent Galwan valley incident, also does not befit a modern army. Rather, at best, PLA can be described as a uniformed cabal which serves the interests of the ruling CCP.
PLA relies heavily on sneakiness, propaganda, deniability, and provocation for achieving the expansionist plans of the CCP. Despite propagandistic media coverage, recent conflicts over the land as well as the sea have exposed PLA’s unprofessional attitude, character, and tactical flaws.
PLA’s lack of professionalism was on display in a widely reported incident in South Sudan in 2016. PLA soldiers guarding a United Nations camp fled, leaving behind even their weapons and equipment when armed militias and soldiers of the South Sudan army attacked them. As a result, many female aid workers were molested and civilians were also killed. The incident tarnished the image of UN peacekeeping forces.
PLA barely managed to save face during conflicts in the Korean peninsula or with Russia and Vietnam. Lacking operational and strategic-level maturity that comes from combat experience, PLA is hawkish even at the tactical level. It is precisely this lack of military experience that makes it dangerous to its neighbours. To make up for its lack of professionalism and experience, PLA invests heavily in unconventional and asymmetric warfare and weapons such as those seen during the Galwan valley incident. PLA is also heavily dependent on propaganda through likes of WeChat and Global Times, to create a false narrative of being one of the most professional armed forces in the world.
There is also substantial political interference in the PLA. The Chairman of the Military Commission is also the leader of CCP. All important decisions in the PLA are made by Communist Party committees that are dominated by politically aligned officers rather than merit-based military officers. Since CCP is unopposed in the political landscape, it enjoys control over the PLA unlike in a mature democracy such as India, where the armed forces are free from political interference. All career officers in the PLA are also members of the CCP and even a local commissar holds a much stronger position than the military commander. Such an arrangement ensures that interests of the CCP leaders and military officers are merged, for mutual benefit.
A Chinese soldier being enrolled into the PLA swears allegiance to the CCP and not to the PRC’s constitution. A recent article published in the PLA Daily by the General Political Department of PLA states that the “army” would step up vigilance whilst deciding on promotions and placement of personnel.
The General Political Department, which is responsible for disciplinary affairs and human resources, added that the officers would be evaluated based on their “Implementation of Xi Jinping’s directives”, “stances on major issues of principles” and “attitude towards wealth and fame”.
It is sufficiently evident that PLA is not a professional fighting force. Rather, it would be more appropriate to define PLA as the armed wing of the CCP. There is substantial historical lineage associated with PLA to earn that title and its conduct in recent years have only reaffirmed this epithet.
This recognition and understanding of the nature of PLA would enable its aggrieved neighbours to evolve successful strategies to counter CCP’s aggression on land and in the maritime domain. The PLA or Party Leaning Accomplices, therefore, need to renamed to reflect their true nature as ‘CCP’s Army’, ‘CCP’s Navy’, and ‘CCP’s Air Force’.