NEW DELHI—One hundred soldiers and 55 horses of the Chinese regime’s People’s Liberation Army crossed three miles into Indian territory, in the Barahoti region of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, and destroyed infrastructure including a bridge, according to defense insiders who spoke with Indian media.
The incident on Aug. 30 at the Tun Jun La Pass mountain crossing went unnoticed initially by the Indian military and didn’t lead to a military confrontation, the Mumbai-based The Economic Times reported, citing Indian government officials.
Locals reported the incident to the Indian army, which sent a patrol to verify. By then, the Chinese forces had left, after spending about three hours in Indian territory.
Experts said the timing of the incident is significant given the history of Indian–Chinese relations. They also think it may have been driven by the new leader of the PLA’s western command, who specializes in patrolling and reconnaissance missions in mountainous terrain and who may have planned the incursion to please Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“What adds an element of concern to this complex situation is the timing of it. Since the intrusion was large … it means that the Chinese side wishes to underline the seriousness of its intent,” Rajiv Dogra, a former senior Indian diplomat, told The Epoch Times by email.
“As [the recent incident in Barahoti] happened in late August, it is quite possible that it was equally a message for the Quad, which seems to have become a bee in the Chinese bonnet,” Dogra said. On Sept. 24, the Quad nations—Australia, India, Japan, and the United States—held their first in-person leadership summit.
Frank Lehberger, a sinologist and senior research fellow with the India-based Usanas Foundation, told The Epoch Times that he suspects that the recent incursion is an attempt by the Chinese to check Indian reaction time in the event of a larger PLA “lightning operation.”
“There is a bit of psychological warfare involved, keeping Indian troops guarding the border on edge and annoying politicians and diplomats in New Delhi,” he said.
New PLA Leadership
The intrusion incidentally happened in Indian territory on the border with China’s huge Western Theatre Command (WTC), which covers both Xinjiang and Tibet. Lehberger noted that changes to the WTC leadership took place just before the Barahoti incursion.
“PLA General Wang Haijiang is currently in charge of the huge western theatre command … bordering India. Haijiang is only in charge since the beginning of August 2021, and he has recently been promoted by Xi Jinping from Major-General [2-star] to full general [3-star] on Sept. 6, 2021, in Beijing,” he said, adding that Haijiang is an expert in patrolling and reconnaissance missions in mountainous terrain.
Haijiang has also published several papers on the physical and tactical aspects of training in mountainous regions and on the importance of defense structures in the Tibet Military District (TMD), a sub-branch of the WTC.
Haijiang’s two immediate predecessors were sacked by Xi without any explanation, “and there must be a particular, but so far undisclosed, reason why,” Lehberger said. “Maybe they … managed to arouse Xi’s anger, fear, or paranoia of attempting to betray him or being involved in some coup.”
Haijiang’s direct predecessor, WTC commander Xu Qiling, disappeared completely in late July after just two months on the job, according to Lehberger, who said the Chinese regime has provided no explanation.
“It must be underlined here that similar unexplained and rapid-fire demotions plus disappearances of top PLA leaders have never occurred in the entire history of the PRC and PLA from 1949 till now,” he said.
“They are so significant because they remain unprecedented in communist Chinese military history.”
Lehberger added that it remains to be seen how long Haijiang, who was previously stationed on the contested Chinese border with India and Bhutan at Doklam until 2019, will last in his new role.
Doklam, or Donglang in Chinese, was the site of a military standoff between PLA and Indian troops for two months in 2017.
“In April 2019, Haijiang was publicly commended for his successful coordination of construction of roads and of those notorious militarized Tibetan border settlements at high altitudes [13,000 feet], during the harsh winter months of 2017 in Doklam,” Lehberger said, adding that the general’s efforts led to the first encampments in the inhospitable winters of Doklam, and that led to his promotion to lieutenant general in 2019.
“All this expertise and professionalism of Haijiang can become dangerous to the army of India, as Xi is certainly trying somehow to avenge the humiliation he suffered personally at Galwan last year. So India must remain vigilant.”
On June 15, 2020, in a mountainous region in the Galwan Valley, Chinese and Indian troops engaged in hand-to-hand combat, resulting in a reported 20 Indian and 43 Chinese deaths.
Lehberger pointed out that the Aug. 30 intrusion came shortly after a large Chinese war game, Mission Snow-Land 2021, which was organized and overseen by Haijiang in his new capacity as WTC commander around Aug. 25.
“I guess this incursion … was the opus of Haijiang, or of one of his ‘disciples’ who is now in charge of TMD, copying Haijiang,” Lehberger said.
The Barahoti incursion also could be Haijiang’s “personal welcome gift to please Xi,” he said.
“This could also explain Xi’s hasty and out-of-schedule promotion of Haijiang. Military promotions in China are only done tightly around PLA-day on August 1, never months before or after.”