LARGE sections of Indian strategic community believe that India and China are destined by geography to be rivals – neighbours with large populations, ancient civilisations, and rich and venerable cultures aspiring to emerge as economic powers and global players. The two countries are nevertheless far apart civilisationally and their makeup. Beijing has an imperialist mindset and has an authoritarian establishment that is in sharp contrast to India’s democratic structure and the “live and let live” mindset.
Even as China’s economic muscle expands, its growing assertiveness in dealing with disputes on land and sea is most disconcerting. Also worrisome is Beijing activities in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). Troops of People’s Liberation Army are present in strength in occupied Kashmir causing deep concern to our security establishment. Recently, Beijing sparked a row with India and its other neighbours by printing on passports maps showing Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin and disputed islands and waters in South China Sea as parts of its territory. Vietnam responded sharply by issuing stapled visas to Chinese applicants saying stamping their passports carrying wrong maps would amount to ratifying Beijing’s territorial claims. Philippines lodged a strong diplomatic protest. New Delhi’s response to stamp Chinese passports with a map showing
Indian Territory impressed no one. It is a timid response to Beijing’s virtual rebuttal of a written understanding in the year 2005 that settled populations will not be disturbed while negotiating boundary disputes.
Half a century after China launched a massive attack to teach India a “lesson” for its refusal to negotiate dispute over borders, the festering dispute remains unsettled. After a long and tense stand-off, talks were initiated at a fairly high level to find ways to resolve the dispute. There is hardly any progress in the 15 rounds of talks special representatives of the two countries had had. The only “progress” is hardening of Chinese stand. A Chinese commentator recently wrote in a newspaper with ties to the Communist Party of China that Beijing wouldn’t accept Line of Actual Control (LAC) as a solution to the border dispute. While ruling out a status quo agreement between the two countries, he saw no possibility in the foreseeable future of a solution to the long standing dispute. This is a departure from China’s stance in early 1980s when it had signaled that it might accept status quo settlement with India. Its stance has toughened and it is now persistently voicing its claim on Arunachal Pradesh, particularly Tawang, and calls the state “South Tibet”.
A section of Indian strategic thinkers discount the possibility of China launching another war against India on the premise that Beijing ill-affords even a limited border clash because its leadership is focused on emerging as an economic super power. Other factors in support of their assumption are innumerable internal problems, including growing unrest in Tibet and corruption in high places, its dispute with Japan over Diaoyu group of islands and South China Sea and unrest in different parts of the country. In support of their contention, these experts quote a recent commentary in Global Times that said that 1962 war was detrimental not only to India but also to China. Although the war forced India to come to the negotiation table, the commentator observed, China failed to recover “its lost territory” and the war created a new rival in the region – India began treating China as its biggest threat and took recourse to militaristic stance.
The commentator recalled that Chinese leadership has repeatedly emphasised that China and India would never be at war again and argued that since the border problem couldn’t be resolved; it should be temporarily put aside. China’s policy of talking peace and provoking war shouldn’t blind us to the stark reality that China needles India on a regular basis even in Ladakh where its troops regularly transgress into Indian Territory. It issued stapled visas to Indians belonging to Arunachal Pradesh and later to Indians belonging to J&K on the pleas that J&K was a disputed area. Isn’t it a fact that China is persisting with its subversive activities against India by arming and training Indian separatists and providing them sanctuaries?
China has strategically built and upgraded its infrastructure on the Tibetan plateau along Indian borders, including a network of air bases, missile launching pads, all weather roads and railway. We lacked statecraft 50 years ago and are no better in this respect. Of course, we have during the last five decades invested heavily to modernise our armed forces and have a 1.13 million army. India is raising a new mountain strike corps with two specialised division for high altitude warfare. Plans to build all weather strategic roads in border areas were launched. However, a recent official study brought out the frightening truth that most of the strategic roads are languishing because of official apathy and inefficiency. New Delhi needs to wake up to the serious threat China poses to our security. India must take notice of Chinese efforts to build advantageous power relationships on India’s periphery and beyond needs. It must counter China’s “string of pearls” by investing more on engaging with South Korea, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar. India needs to push forcefully the centrality and unity of ASEAN’s which is under threat from Beijing’s disruptive moves in this part of the world.
China’s rapid military modernisation is a challenge. With China moving aggressively into West Asia and elsewhere, competition for new energy sources have intensified. Former Security Adviser to the Prime Minister, K N Narayanan says conflict with China exists. India needs to give up peruvian mindset and prepare itself militarily to deal with the challenge posed by Sino-Pak military nexus. A former Navy Chief Sushil Kumar recently wrote in a national daily that “Indian establishment’s inferiority complex doesn’t lie only across the McMahan Lines but extends to India’s maritime dimensions”. Cautioning the Government not to be on the back foot, Admiral Kumar said unlike the land border with China where India was tactically disadvantaged, the situation at sea is entirely in India’s favour where it has immense geographical advantage. Gunboat diplomacy, he says, has great possibilities and avers that Indian navy that has blue water capabilities is the only one in the Indian Ocean region that has the capability to operate aircraft carrier battle groups and nuclear submarines.
Indian air force and army are now battle-ready to deal with any military challenge. However, India must ensure that its missile development and nuclear capability are sufficient to act as deterrent against China. This does not require matching China in either missiles or nuclear weapons. It requires merely sufficient capability to inflict such damage to China that the cost of defeating India militarily becomes too heavy.