The contours of India’s relationship with China have been tumultuous over the last six decades. From periods of great bonhomie in the mid fifties – the ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ years to hitting rock bottom in 1962 when both nations went to war over the boundary dispute, the relationship has seen great turbulence marked by venomous animosity over the ongoing boundary dispute. Besides the boundary dispute, India’s concerns are related to China’s role in supporting insurgent groups in India’s Northeast, and in its active support to Pakistan, particularly in the nuclear field. Chinese concerns are related to the activities of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC).
China also appears to be concerned over the reported presence, of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), in Indian territory a US non government organisation but funded by the US Government. From time to time the US Congress has provided special appropriations to the Endowment to carry out specific democratic initiatives in countries of special interest, and China blames the NED for part of their troubles in Xinjiang and Tibet. The positives in the relationship have been increasing trade flows, cooperation in the WTO, commonality of interests over contentious world issues such as the recent ‘UN Climate Change Conference 2009′ held at Copenhagen, and a relatively peaceful border since the Wangdung incident in 1986.
China has already started conditioning the international political and military environment in its favour with respect to the border dispute. Chinese claims over the whole of Arunachal Pradesh are a pointer in this direction.
But we are living in dangerous times. With 24 hour news channels all eager to ‘break news’, a relatively minor incident has the potential of being hyped into one demanding a response for the sake of national honour. Recent reports of Chinese incursions in parts of Indian territory led to public opinion being inflamed in India and a dangerous hysteria being created with both countries accusing each other of intruding into their territory. While the two governments exercised restraint, such incidents have the potential of leading to conflagration.
In the instant case, the bilateral agreement on maintaining peace and tranquility on the border till a final solution to the border dispute is reached between the two countries stood the test and the situation was diffused. However, the issues which bedevil the two countries remain a source of concern and have the potential to lead the two countries to war.
While the possibility of armed conflict erupting as of now appears remote, our ability to repulse an attack on our eastern and northern borders with China needs to be analysed and understood in context. Paradoxically, the greater our ability to protect our frontiers, the less will be the likelihood of hostilities breaking out. The question to be asked is are we prepared and what more needs to be done?
One of China’s significant aspects is the continuity of its civilisation which has endured without interruption over several millenniums. The Chinese are remarkably conscious of their uniqueness and have expressed this in the name they give to their country – Zhongguo (Middle Kingdom) and Zhonghua (Central Civilisation). In Chinese conception, every phenomenon whether natural or social has two opposite, complimentary aspects – the Yin and the Yang. The dialectic of Yin and Yang gives rise to the concept of ‘wu wei’ – a process of refraining from distorting the natural course of events by clumsy or premature intervention. Allied with this is the ‘Sûn ZÐ Bîng FÎ’ (The Art of War), a Chinese military treatise written by Sun Tzu in the 6th century BC.
According to Sun Tzu, a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. This idea of shaping the battlefield to achieve success finds continuance resonance in the Treatise – ‘Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win’, and gives rise to the concept of winning without fighting – ‘For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill’.
In the current context, while a great deal more needs to be done in improving defence preparedness, the Indian Armed Forces are totally capable and competent to repulse any Chinese misadventure across the high Himalayas.
China’s strategic traditions and domestic influences will thus have a great bearing on their military thinking and policy towards India. The practical manifestation of that policy would devolve around the following:
- Avoid a protracted conflict.
- Use and manipulate information and retain information dominance to shape the battlefield.
- Constrain the adversary.
- Inflict surprise.
- Control and manage escalation.
China has already started conditioning the international political and military environment in its favour with respect to the border dispute. Chinese claims over the whole of Arunachal Pradesh are a pointer in this direction. Google, which earlier used to show the state as part of Indian territory in its maps now gives out both Indian and Chinese claim lines. The intent of the Chinese is clear. In case of an India-China conflict, Beijing would like to mould international opinion in its favour and minimise support for India, by convincing the world that China has acted in ’self-defence’ and that India is the ‘aggressor’, in illegal occupation of Chinese territory.