India-China stand-off: Sun Tzu in action
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 30 Apr , 2013

Merely by sending a platoon of their troops to camp 19 km (upgraded after 10 days from 10 km reported earlier) inside our territory on February 15 near Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Aksai Chin region the Chinese have made the Indian government look weak and helpless in the eyes of its billion plus people.We are seeing the classic SunTzu (Sun Tzi to the purist) ploy “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” in Chinese action.

Whether this act is tactical and limited to a remote icy waste, it is a strategic victory for Chinese policy because it is the Indian authorities – not the Chinese – who have been compelled to explain why the Chinese intruded.

…as a nation we are not prepared for prolonged war both mentally and physically with a major power like China.

Over the years, India and China have stepped up functional cooperation in all areas. In the words of Indian Embassy, Beijing: “The two foreign ministries have instituted dialogue mechanisms on issues relating to counter-terrorism, policy planning and security, besides strategic dialogue and regular consultations. There are also close cooperation in areas as diverse as water resources, judiciary, science and technology, audit, personnel, finance, labour etc.” for the last five years, an Annual Defence Dialogue (ADD) had been taking place. The latest one was held in Beijing on January 14, 2013 at which both sides discussed bilateral and international security issues of common interest including those of the India-China border issues.

In spite of such a growing climate of friendship, the Chinese have chosen to embarrass the Indian government by creating a minor crisis for their own reasons. For the average Indian it is difficult to take it in the stride, like politicians do. Despite this unseemly action, except for hawks, most of the people in India do not want a war with China, but all of them want India to be treated as a nation with dignity. This is a minimum China cannot ignore in its Machiavellian calculations regarding India.

And to face facts, as a nation we are not prepared for prolonged war both mentally and physically with a major power like China. Among the people, China does not generate the fratricidal genes Pakistan kindles.

Probably, China also does not want a shooting war for a very different reason. They remember the Sun Tzu’s quote “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

…the government expects the issue to be resolved when the Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid visits Beijing on May 9. In other words, already we have accepted the Chinese status quo rather than the Chinese listening to our call.

So it does not make sense for the Chinese to go to war when they can achieve what they want without firing a shot. Why should they? After all by the simple act of moving a platoon of troops into the disputed area, they have managed to divide the nation, confuse the government, frustrate the armed forces and get away with what they want to do.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh took 12 days to come out with a comment on the issue that had been dominating national media.  Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a defence investiture ceremony he said India does not want to “accentuate” the situation and is working on a plan. “We do believe that it is possible to resolve this problem. It is a localized problem. I think the talks are going on,” he added.

But can we ignore foreign troops intruding into our territorial claims and camping in tents for 12 days in an icy waste at over 16,000 ft altitude where maximum temperature is -4 degrees C as a local problem?

Even if the national leadership chooses to do so, no military force can be lulled into such complacency. It has to be studied in the overall doctrine of PLA and its activities in Xinjiang and Tibet and along the Indian border with China and in the series of PLA violations on ground, and air and in the waters of Pangong Tse in the past.

Actually, the government expects the issue to be resolved when the Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid visits Beijing on May 9. In other words, already we have accepted the Chinese status quo rather than the Chinese listening to our call. This is not surprising because no responsible person has asked the Chinese the simple questions: why are they intruding? Why don’t the Chinese troops to go back to Depsang Valley – where they came from?  Semantics, on which diplomacy depends so heavily, are not only indicators of the mind and but also our lack of clarity.

Of course the Prime Minister’s explanation is in line with what he said in the Lok Sabha last December 201: “There are sometimes intrusions according to us. But the Chinese perception of the LAC sometimes differs. Therefore, I think, some confusion is created. These matters are sorted out between the area commanders on both the sides” as a mechanism for handling such incidents was already in place and it was working.  But the problem this time, which cannot have escaped the notice of the Prime Minister is the commanders on the two sides have not been able to sort out the issue. And that is the nub of the standoff.

Unfortunately, the government’s biggest weakness is the loss of credibility due to lack of transparency in its action and lack of timely communication of its actions to the people.

When India and China decided to bury the hatchet and in the interest of fostering better relations signed an agreement on November 29, 1996 at New Delhi on a series of confidence building measures (CBM) recognizing the problem of un-demarcated border and accepting an LAC of uncertainty. The present Chinese standoff goes in the face of Article I and II of the CBM.

Article I stipulates: Neither side shall use its military capability against the other side. No armed forces deployed by either side in the border areas along the line of actual control as part of their respective military strength shall be used to attack the other side, or engage in military activities that threaten the other side or undermine peace, tranquillity and stability in the India-China border areas.”  In military perception if a subunit of a foreign force supported by helicopters intrudes well inside our LAC and establishes a camp it would be reasonable to construe it as a military preparation to deployment.

Article II makes it even clearer:  “Pending an ultimate solution to the boundary question, the two sides reaffirm their commitment to strictly respect and observe the line-of actual control in the India-China border areas. No activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control.” So every time such an intrusion is perceived by one side as overstepping the LAC they have the right to invoke this article. So a reasonable ground exists for India to object every time a perceived violation of LAC takes place.

In order to make the process of managing the contentious border easier, both India and China have agreed upon a Joint Mechanism on Border Affairs. It continues to be in place even now; so taking immediate military action to “throw out the Chinese” is not possible, unless we abrogate the 1996 Agreement.

But that does not forbid us from asking the Chinese troops to pull back to where they came from in unambiguous terms as it violates the terms of the Agreement. The public need to be informed whether we have we done this at least in private. This can be done without revealing either military manoevures or political and diplomatic moves the government is making. However, such explanations carry weight only when the government statements enjoy credibility.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col R Hariharan

Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. Courtesy: Hariharan’s Intelligence Blog.

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6 thoughts on “India-China stand-off: Sun Tzu in action

  1. Re. “And to face facts, as a nation we are not prepared for prolonged war both mentally and physically with a major power like China. Among the people, China does not generate the fratricidal genes Pakistan kindles.”

    Do you constitute a Nation?

  2. China-India border had never been properly drawn or agreed upon bilaterally. During British Raj days, McMahon casually drew a border on the map and called it official without even appropriately seeking Beijing’s consensus. The actual border remains blur and in dispute. (vzc1943, mtd1943)

  3. There is no need to wring one’s hands in despair. Dialogue such as this well one day have listeners in the right place. Till we have a responsible Government (coalition or otherwise), things are unlikely to change. At present, the focus is on remaining in power (or the helm of affairs0 with the constant fears that an ally could pull the rug off at any moment. It is only a secure Government that can address strategic issues. There is also a pressing need to involve the military in strategic decision-making.The military is not simply a dog on a leash that obeys the commands of the master. The fear of military rule is an irrational one. Since independence, the three Services have always supported the Government and never aspired to rule. it will be a sad day indeed if that happens. But since the military has to execute a Government’s decisions, it is only fair that it must be involved in decision making as a co-partner and not a subservient entity. if the Chinese cn intrude, so can we – if nothing more than to launch some white doves in the face of the Chinese, or set up giant screens (made n China) and screen Bollywood movies (pirated in China). the Chinese love Bollywood.

  4. Unfortunately, GOI has handed over the control of the frontiers in this area to the IRBP. They report to Shinde MHA and are NOT under Army’s op control. Similar is the case with BSF who all report through MHA channels. So Shinde & Khurshid are mangaing the borders and this incident. No wonder PM insists that ‘the have plan’ but only ‘thinks’ that talks are going on. Naturally the Chinese have a ready-made disastrous situation too exploit. We will end up losing all territory East of the Karakorm Range and Demchok/ Fukche areas to the Chinese. then they will turn their attention to reclaiming ArPr.
    One cann only wring one’s hands in despair.

  5. Col Hariharan’s article brings together salient elements of the last five decades in the context of India China relationship. What really boils down to is given the past performance of the government, can Indians sleep easy based on “all is OK for now” utterrances of the government. To maintain peace between China and India, it is a shear nonsence to think that China will give up on its claims based on diplomatic moves and meetings. While Indians don’t care about starting a war with China, it is imperative that we don’t loose one before it starts. There is no other option or basis for peace unless India can assert its military strength where it counts and that is LOC. China will consider India seriously in any future negotiations if India convices Chinese leaders of the high cost of starting a war with India now.

  6. While attending the NDC, a fellow participant asked the visiting Chinese ambassador whether China accepted J&K as part of India. Smiling (the Chinese always smile), he replied that Indians need to make up their minds about the status of J&K, and not look for endorsements from outsiders – the rest will follow. I do feel that the debacle of 1962 has left deep scars at political, military, cultural and social levels. Somehow the public (and perhaps the Government and its organs) feels that ‘we are not up to China’. During WWII the Germans had penetrated deep into the USSR – some spearheads were within sight of the Kremlin. However with sheer determination, grit and unbelievable sacrifice, the Germans were pushed all the way back to Berlin. This is not Soviet propaganda that I am parroting out – it can be corroborated from Western (read ‘correct’) sources as well. To quote from Vivekananda the need is to “stand up, be bold, be strong, take the whole responsibility on your own shoulders – and know that you are the creator of your own Destiny”. However, as a nation if we are content to have our Destiny shaped by others, then we must accept the shape it takes. This is not to suggest that we stupidly bumble into a war without inadequate preparation like in 1962. What it does mean is that we have to build up our economic, military and psychological strength at national level, and forge our own Destiny. The going will be hard and there will be much hardships to endure – by the military and public as well (everyone is a combatant). But then we would hand over a much better India to succeeding generations. We need to look beyond our (finite) lives into the distant future and work for our Nation for a change. Individuals die – but the Nation lives on forever, and individuals live forever through the Nation. The easy option is to become irrelevant to the world order – hardly a status to aspire for an entity that has a very fine history, civilization and hard-working population.

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