China Overplayed its Hand in Chumur

As the first signs of de-escalation appear in Chumur, it is now clear that China overplayed its hand by sending a disproportionate number of troops to intrude into India.

On Wednesday, the Peoples Liberation Army or PLA began sending a battalion-strong (1000 men) force to a location called 30 R in the Chumur sector, even as a flag meeting was on to try and resolve the original issue of transgression earlier this week at a point about two km away.

By intruding four to five km inside Indian territory with such a large force, the PLA perhaps hoped to intimidate the Indian Army. But the local commanders under 14 Corps based at Leh and the Northern Command swiftly deployed almost 1,500 troops to counter the Chinese intrusion, taking the PLA totally by surprise.

The eye ball to eye ball standoff soon made headlines, putting visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping under pressure during his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When PM Modi broached the subject at an informal dinner he was hosting for Mr Xi in Ahmedabad, the Chinese side realised that a local operation had suddenly become a bigger headache than they anticipated.

Preliminary assessment by India’s national security managers suggests the PLA commanders did not anticipate India’s swift counter build-up and firm stand during the two marathon flag meetings on Monday and Wednesday.

This was a change from previous occasions when the Indian side often appeared unsure of how to deal with intrusions and transgressions, as was evident during the three-week-long Depsang face off in April last year.

When the current crisis began in early September, the ChineseĀ  were taken aback by India’s strong objection to a road it wanted to build in Chumur.

When the presence of a small force failed to deter local Indian commanders, China tried intimidation by sending a battalion-strong force.

But even that didn’t work forcing President Xi Jinping to admit obliquely that incidents on the border happen because it is undemarcated; the trick he said was in preventing such incidents from having a large impact.