China reportedly purchased a weapon named Combined Mace, in February 2023, which is an improved version of the crude medieval weapons used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) during its second aggression in Eastern Ladakh in May-June 2020. On 14-15 June 2020, in Galwan, twenty Indian soldiers including a Colonel were killed by the PLA using these crude weapons because Indian Army has been following an agreement, which China pressed for very hard for after the skirmishes at Nathu La -Cho La, Sikkim in 1967, that both Indian and Chinese forces would not use firearms against each other.
The combined mace is a metal rod, 1.8 meters long, with pointed metal thorns attached to it. Reports about China purchasing around 2600 maces in February can only mean that it has plans of using these again against Indian troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
PLA’s shock of confronting the Indian Army in skirmishes at Nathu La and Cho La, in Sikkim, in 1967 ending with the loss of almost 400 of its soldiers, a convoy of vehicles and many bunkers destroyed resulted in the PLA pressing very hard for a no-firing at each other agreement. In October1975, when PLA ambushed an Assam Rifles patrol at Tulung La, Arunachal Pradesh, it killed four riflemen not by bullets, but by torture.
In fact, after the skirmishes mentioned, Chinese troops continued intrusions across the LAC on a regular/almost daily basis, but very smartly included the clause of not using firearms in the 2nd and 3rd Agreements on “Peace and Tranquility” along the disputed LAC out of the five Agreements, which were signed in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2014.
For over 53 years after 1967, PLA continued its attempts to claim and/or occupy Indian territory by ‘bulletless’ means amounting to pushing/pulling/grappling and at worst, fisticuffs till May-June 2020, when for the first time and during the Covid pandemic, it resorted to using medieval barbaric weapons, killing twenty Indian Army personnel on 15-16 June 2020 and injuring many earlier in May 2020. In June 2020, PLA did not expect an immediate backlash of fierce revenge by Indian Army troops which killed many more than the 43 PLA troops, as initially reported by the media, and without using firearms. One young Indian soldier killed at least 14 Chinese soldiers, bare handed, by throwing them into the freezing water of the Galwan river and sacrificing his life in the process.
Since after the 1967 skirmishes, PLA steadily continued intrusions/transgressions/incursions, but resorted mainly to “bullet-less border management.” This off and on involved grappling/wrestling/pushing, but always ended in resolution by dialogue at the border itself or also through diplomatic discussion between New Delhi and Beijing.
Bullet-less border management may be a good option but it is not easy to implement for prolonged periods, particularly, when an adversary like China constantly crosses the disputed border or objects to Indian troops entering an area perceived by China as its own. This method requires much restraint, which the Indian Army has maintained for 56 years so far. How much longer can this or should this last?
The resolution of the Doklam stand-off in September 2017 after much grappling/wrestling, was eventually resolved by dialogue, but which was later reneged upon by PLA. While Indian Army’s 1967 response may have been etched in PLA’s collective memory, but the hegemonic tendency of Communist Party of China (CPC)/PLA has always compelled it to constantly crawl and clutch at whatever territory wherever, whenever and how so ever it can across the long perception-based LAC without using firearms.
The LAC remains unresolved so far only because CPC-PLA have been playing their typical game of lies and deceit. This cannot be resolved without China declaring its claim lines, which it does not seem to be interested in doing. Till 2014 it had managed to carry on with its ‘bullying which worked with pliant Congress governments. Keeping in view the economic aims and interests of both India and China, it makes a lot of sense for resolving the LAC soon rather than letting this process take a few more decades. But China, which has never been interested in peace, in 2020 was besotted with its plan to militarily consolidate its aims. This plan is not new, but China thought it was ideal to implement during the pandemic. It involved grabbing many tracts of territory including commanding heights and tri-junctions on the Indian side of the LAC. And then there is also a focused aim of control over India’s sweet water rivers, for making microprocessors.
While Indian Army’s actions on June 15-16, 2020 and August 29-30, 2020 of occupying the Kailash Range, frustrated and inhibited PLA to implement its ambitious plans during the covid pandemic and later along the LAC, it has to be watched hawk-like and dealt with appropriately. On December 9, 2022, two and a half years after PLA’s May-June 2020 second aggression and misadventure, over 300 of its troops attempting to seize an Indian Army post at Yangtse, in Arunachal Pradesh, were effectively thrashed and chased back by our soldiers.
While in May-June 2020, PLA broke all agreements on peace and tranquillity made till then, its purchase of maces in 2023 only further reinforces the fact that sixteen rounds of talks held since 2020 are also meaningless exercises.
New Delhi must note that the CPC-PLA combo’s history of chronic hegemony, lies, deceit etc and ‘salami-slicing cannot be overcome by rhetoric with weak/conciliatory politico-diplomatic responses, which have included withdrawal from/vacation of Kailash Range and no action on PLA grabbing at least 1000 sq kms of Indian territory during 2020.
The CPC-PLA combo’s very smart use of bullet-less border management agreements, incursions/transgressions and building villages along the LAC is continuing because Indian Army is following bullet-less methods initiated by the Chinese even after losing 20 soldiers including a Colonel by PLA’s brutal and barbaric attack in June 2020. And all this is because -as exposed in Sikkim in 1967- PLA is firearms-phobic, bullet-shy and allergic to body bags.
It must also be borne in mind that Indian Army’s meticulously planned precision attacks named as surgical strikes in 2016, the Indian Air Force’s deadly accurate Balakot air-attack in 2019 or the Indian Army’s occupation of Kailash Range in 2020 must not be treated merely as technology/capability demonstrators. What can be more detrimental to a country’s security than to have the military capability and yet not use it when it should be used?
The author, who has written China Bloodies Bulletless Borders, can be contacted at email@example.com