Washington, DC – Yudh Abhyas, the annual bilateral exercise between the United States and India scheduled from October 14 to 31, has got the Chinese really worked up. And the reason for that is the proximity to the line of actual control (LAC). It is just 100 kilometers from the Sino-Indian border in Auli in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.
The upcoming Yudh Abhyas exercise has unnerved the Chinese to the extent that they have written an oblique, castigating piece about it in Global Times, alleging that “They have chosen areas close to the China-India border, directly targeting China at the tactical level. New Delhi is no longer shy about its intention to use the US to suppress China.”
Responding to a query from Global Strat View on China’s allegations, Major Jonathon M. Lewis from US Army Pacific Public Affairs said, “The exercise is about partners working together on areas of mutual interest and not related to a specific country. The location chosen for the training offers the right combination of altitude and climate for the objectives of the exercise. Yudh Abhyas 2022 will bring together the tough, realistic training needed to ensure readiness, the partnership, and shared experience necessary for interoperability that enhances relations between nations. Yudh Abhyas 2022 will further develop the bilateral planning and mission command of operations that the two armies have built since the first iteration of the exercise in 2004.”
The Chinese have expressed their concern under the garb of warning Nepal that the US and India are participating in military exercises close to its territory, so it should be worried. This is typical Chinese being Chinese, and it’s clear that India has gotten under their skin.
Training in those altitudes has a very special significance of its own, and it’s not something the US forces often get a chance to do. “The plan for Yudh Abhyas 2022 focuses on cold weather operations, and at high altitude, an environment that offers distinct challenges,” said Major Lewis. “The exercise will consist of a command post exercise and a field training exercise which will involve training on critical skills and combat tasks, leading up to a validation exercise. Bilateral exercises like Yudh Abhyas form the backbone of Operation Pathways and support regional security, a critical element of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Historically, over the sixties and early seventies, the Chinese were concerned about activities that the US was up to, clandestine activities in that belt, and the entire Tibet reorganization activities of the Mustang region was in response to those covert activities that the Chinese suspected. Any high-altitude maneuvers in that particular part of the world will always have sensitivities, including with historical reasons for the Chinese. So this Global Times editorial was part of their strategy. In a separate column for the Global Times, Liu Zongyi commented that it is in India’s interest to see a fight between the US and Chinese, and “India wishes to sit on top of the mountain to watch the tigers fight.”
India’s approach to this has been a progressive increase in its defense relations with the US, from very negligible imports around 10-15 years ago to very, very significant amounts of imports of late. When it comes to defense equipment, the US labels India as a major non-NATO ally or partner. There are other foundational agreements that have all been inked and operationalized between the two nations. It is an aspect of this bilateral relationship that has takers on both sides. When India was engaging in Galwan and all the negotiations after that, the Apaches that were taken from the US were very significant in terms of force projection. While it is to the benefit of India to engage the US, it is also in the interests of the US to have India on its side. Although India is in a tough spot when it comes to Russia, for China, the argument is very clear. If it were not for India’s utility vis-a-vis China, the actions it could have faced after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have been far more severe. The utility of India to the US is unquestioned, and it helps bring the two to a place where these joint military exercises can be significant. In the context of China’s ongoing tensions with Taiwan, the current location of these exercises has a very important message.