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COVID-19 & the Chinese Theater: The Beginning of the End to China's Empire as we know it - Part 2

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

A Picture in the prominent Taiwanese Daily, Taiwan News depicting the Hindu God Ram fighting the dragon, as a reflection of the 15 June 2020, Galwan Valley clash between India and China

China's Humiliation and its Fiasco with India

The renowned Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote - "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

President Xi Jinping believes he has an accurate profile of his adversaries, or at least the ones that pose the most challenge to China's lust for global dominance. Unfortunately, his generals in the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) harbor similar delusions of grandeur. Ironically, such hard headed military chauvinism is precisely what Sun Tzu would have cautioned the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the generals of the PLA, not to fall a victim to.


Miscalculation on such a grand scale led to the first military humiliation China has had to face in decades, at the hands of a nation that China does not even consider its military equal - India.


"Teach India a Lesson"

The morning of 10 June, 2020, as General Zhao Zongqi prepared for an emergency briefing by video conference to the CCP, he was seething with rage. The cause of his consternation was the consistent stonewalling his men had faced from the Indian soldiers manning the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at the Indo-China border near the Galwan valley. For the past few weeks, every attempt from the PLA to intrude into territory that India considers as its own, had been thwarted by the Indian army. As the general paced the hallway on the north side of China's Western Command Theater located in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, it became clear to him that the time had come to "teach India a lesson".

File picture of Chinese General Zhao Zongqi

As the Commanding Officer of the PLA's Western Theater Command, General Zhao Zongqi has had a meticulously well planned career and a rather enviable rise up the ranks of the PLA. Western Theater Command looks after China’s borders with India and is the largest amongst the five Theater Commands within the PLA, which places Zhao in a pivotal position within the PLA leadership.

General Zhao is also a member of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and has been one of the lucky few in the PLA top brass to have escaped Xi Jinping's purge of the military old order. President Xi has ensured that the PLA leadership key positions are manned by his hand-picked minions. That goes to show General Zhao finds favor with President Xi. Both Zhao and Xi are children of CCP revolutionary heroes from the Shaanxi province. This common heritage between creates a closeness and a special bond between the two.


In the general's bitter experience, the Indians had shown the same resoluteness during the 2017 confrontation at the Line of Actual Control near Dhoklam, when the PLA and the Indian army stared at each other over a period of 72 days, till the Chinese blinked first and decided to move back to earlier positions. It now seemed clear to the general that for the countries of the region, a message needed to be sent on how China could humiliate an adversary blocking the path of the PLA. This time the general would make an example out of India.


The plan General Zhao Zongqi hatched was made known to only a select group of CCP members who were considered close to President Xi Jinping. As a young officer, Zhao had perfected the art of mass ambushes during the Sino-Vietnam war of 1979. That is exactly the toolkit he wanted to reuse against the Indian military patrols along the Indo-China Line of Actual Control (LAC).

In the first week of June, 2020, Lieutenant General Xu Qiling was appointed as the new Army General to oversee the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Ground Forces on the India border, in light of the rising tensions between the 2 Asian giants. He reports to General Zhao Zongqi.

General Zhao asked his newly appointed Lieutenant to instruct his men of the Tibet Military District at the Galwan valley along the international border to carry out the murderous plan.

"Stone Age Savagery" of the Peoples Liberation Army

In 1996, India and China had signed a "No Gun" treaty which stipulated that neither side should use guns or explosives within 2 km of Line of Actual Control. General Zhao's men wiggled their way around that treaty by using weaponry from the Stone Age.

What started on the night of 15 June 2020, at the Indo-China border was a premeditated, cold-blooded ambush by the PLA soldiers armed with iron rods and nail encrusted wooden rods and clubs on a patrol of 2 Indian soldiers led by the commanding officer of the region. The Indian officer did not survive the savagery and nor did his two men, but news of their death was quick to reach the rest of the Indian regiment a little distance away.

The weapons used by the Chinese soldiers, as displayed by the Indian army to the BBC.

General Zhao Zongqi had anticipated the Indian army retreating in trepidation when faced with such a brutal, unanticipated and savage assault. But fate had preordained otherwise. The compulsion to avenge their commander's death became such an obsession with the 16th Battalion of the Indian army's Bihar Regiment that the men descended on the PLA with an intent to finish what had been started.


As the night stretched on, the hand-to-hand combat became unimaginably gruesome and bloodier as soldiers fought each other with the most primitive of weapons, while some fell off the steep terrain to their deaths.


When it was all over 20 soldiers had died on the Indian side. While China maintained a silence on its casualty figures, US Intelligence put the number of dead on the PLA side at 35.

Damage Control by China

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) went into full damage control mode. For the first time in over half a century, the Peoples Liberation Army had lost soldiers in real combat with the enemy. But, the incident was "blacked out" from all official Chinese media outlets.


As a source close to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed on conditions of anonymity, there was a sense of smug satisfaction in Washington DC political circles that "China finally got it’s a** kicked in a long time, and the Communist Party was scrambling to convince the world and its own citizens that none of this ever happened".


Meanwhile, Taiwan News remarked - "This face-off has demonstrated that Ladakh (in India) isn't the South China Sea where the Chinese would be able to unilaterally change the status quo".

A Twitter handle from Hong Kong posted a picture of the Hindu God Ram, slaying a dragon. The post went viral the same day, thanks to delighted audiences in Hong Kong and Taiwan - two regions that have regularly borne the brunt of China's hegemony.


But, ordinary citizens in mainland China began questioning their government's silence on the Weibo app. Videos and pictures of India paying its respects to the departed Indian soldiers started floating into the social media landscape in China. Finally, the Chinese government had to grudgingly admit that the PLA had casualties as well. But, confirming a number would be the equivalent of admitting just how badly General Zhao's ploy had backfired. US Intelligence confirmed 35 to be a conservative estimate of the dead on the Chinese side. Intelligence sources in Taiwan with links to the PLA estimated the number to be close to 43.

A Tactical and Personal Loss for General Zhao Zongqi

General Zhao Zongqi appeared at an official ceremony to pay his respects to the men he lost. The failure of his plan and the resulting PLA casualties were blamed on the operational tactics adopted by his ground level commanders in the Tibet Military District of the PLA.

But, personally the general had lost much more than the men he commanded. His ambition of getting admitted to the Central Military Commission (CMC), the Chinese Communist Party’s highest military decision making body… would have to wait for now. He had hoped to use the "near-certain subjugation and humiliation of India" as his ticket to the CMC. It just turned out to be a really bad time for picking a fight with an adversary whose resolve the general had grossly underestimated.

A Strategic Loss for China

A direct fallout of the Galwan clash was the Indian Government asking its state run telecom provider (BSNL) to bring a complete halt to the purchase of Chinese equipment for the nation's telecom infrastructure. Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which has offices in India had been eying the country as its largest overseas market for the 4G and 5G technologies. That opportunity was just taken off the table. A ban in India would represent a huge blow to Huawei and ZTE, which together account for a fourth of the Indian telecom equipment market.

Indian Railways, which is the fourth largest Rail network in the world, was in the process of drafting and proposing a number of deals with state run Chinese firms (among others), to develop a bullet train infrastructure in the country. All of those deals have now been put on hold and are under review.

Chinese manufacturing and supply chain has penetrated so deep into the world market that a sudden withdrawal is not feasible for any single nation. India houses one-sixth of the global population and is one of China's largest markets. Yet, after the Galwan incident, there is a sense of clarity in India that China needs to be hit where it hurts most - the economy.

The COVID-19 crisis has already hit China's economy harder than the CCP had imagined. A gradual but certain withdrawal of patronage by a large market such as India will only weaken it further. Also, after the loss of lives any rapprochement with India is also no longer feasible, as China has pushed its relationship with India into a "point of no return" zone.

India had so far resisted invitations to join the US led coalition against China, though it has played host to the US led coalition in the Pacific involving Japan and Australia. That had infuriated China thus motivating the Chinese leadership to contemplate "teaching India a lesson". By alienating India, China just shot itself in the foot.


On its part, India now has a more accurate understanding of China through lessons learned the hard way. If imperial dominance is what motivates China's Communist Party, then the PLA will launch a second assault on India and probably a third... on different fronts along the 2,520 mile international border, not now but in the near future. Once again the Indo-China border will become a potential flash point for World War III. In the minds of the Chinese political and military leadership, proving its unrivaled dominance in Asia is a prerequisite to China replacing the US as the sole global superpower.


However, treating the fifth largest economy in the world, a powerful neighbor and a potential economic ally as an adversary that "needs to be shown its place" has been what will prove to be a strategic political blunder and a economic/financial loss for China as it wallows in nationalistic hubris and continues on its journey of self destruction.


About the Author

As an American, lived in South Asia and love South Asia as one of the most politically and culturally active sections of the globe. My dad's tenure in New Delhi as a journalist from the Washington Post, has provided me the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the Indian subcontinent and get to know its people and the nations it is made up of.

Unlike most American kids of my generation, I did not spend my teenage years in the US. Instead I backpacked with my journalist dad travelling the length and breadth of the South Asian subcontinent, as he covered the region for his daily and weekly dispatches to the Washington Post.

As a result, I came to know this melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and people like few in my generation back home can even dream to acquaint themselves of even if they joined the most prestigious of the think tanks in Washington DC.

What do I do for a living? Having worked with the Big 5 corporations, I currently do free lance technology consulting for corporations struggling to transform their technology of today into where they need it to be tomorrow.

I can be reached at

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1 Comment

uttam pandey
uttam pandey
Jun 25, 2020

It is said that India lacks strategic culture which was quite apparent from the Galwan incident as Chinese figured the way out of guns but Indian soldiers were simply following the agreement which of course been instructed by the South Block. While the Modi govt tried to overcome this dogma but the remnants still haunts.

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