Millennium Post

Sino-Indian conflict is unlikely despite buildups and mistrust

Will China provoke a conflict with India or vice versa?

I don’t think so. Both countries are now well settled on the actual positions held. In Ladakh, China is pretty much close to what it desired pre-1962, which is along the old Ardagh Line, which British India hastily abandoned after being spooked by reports of Soviet Russian presence in Xinjiang.

This line, long favoured by Whitehall, was dispensed with. In 1942 British India reverted back to the more forward Johnson Line that encompassed the Aksai Chin as Indian territory.

In the eastern sector, India pretty much holds on to the alignment along the McMahon Line. Thrice in the past the Chinese offered to settle this vexatious issue on this as-is-where-is basis, but India baulked because the dynamics of its domestic politics did not allow it, as they still do.

In his last conversation on this with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Chairman Deng suggested freezing the border and leaving it to history to resolve. Good and sagacious advice, if the dynamics between the two countries did not change.

In the mid-1980s, China’s and India’s GDP’s were about the same. Since then China’s GDP has grown to become more than three times as big as India’s. Its rapid economic ascent has now more or less conferred on it the role of the world’s other superpower. China today is also a technology powerhouse and has built a modern military industrial complex. India’s ascent is a more recent story and there are still some decades to go before it can aspire to be again on a par with China.

China’s rise has seen the manifestation of a visible and more strident nationalism. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, it is China’s growing assertiveness that is causing concern. We see newer manifestations of this in its conduct with Japan over the Senkaku Island chain and its claims in the South China Sea.

In doing so China has stirred up concerns among all the littoral ASEAN states, and even in India which has had oil assets there since the early 1990s. The international community with interests in the region says that China’s bullying is unacceptable. Yet China persists with its tone and forward postures.

While India has made its position clear [South China Sea an international passageway], and that it will not be deterred from oil exploration in Vietnamese waters, there are concerns that still find resonance in New Delhi’s dovecotes.

In recent years China has built as many as 18 forward air bases in Xinjiang, Tibet and Yunnan that put most northern and eastern Indian cities, industrial centres and military targets within striking range of its new generation fighter-bombers. By contrast most Chinese cities and industrial centres are deep within and not easily reached by Indian aircraft.

It is somewhat ironical that Tibet, which throughout history was seen as a buffer protecting India from China, has become a buffer the other way around. The Chinese military buildup has been unprecedented and unnecessary also. Yet China has built a huge military infrastructure and of a kind that would be quite redundant against threats the freedom-loving Tibetans may pose to its control over Tibet. India has taken note of this and has sought to suitably counter it. But buildups lead to more buildups and mistrust. But of one thing we can be sure. If there is a conflict, it will not be a limited war a la 1962.

The use of airpower is implicit. China threatened it in 1967 when it got bloodied at Nathu La. Both the countries maintain large and powerful air forces, and it would seem that they would come into play quite early in the conflict. There is also every possibility that it could extend into the Indian Ocean region, effectively internationalising the conflict. [IANS]
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