On balance, the prospects of Sino-Indian conflict remain. What appears certain is that China’s aggressive stance and the initiation of conflict will be aimed at undermining India’s status as a regional power. If India fails to respond adequately, she will be projected as a ‘Soft State’ susceptible to coercion. Simultaneously, the Chinese aim would be to keep India embroiled in fighting internal/regional conflicts. In doing so, China may be expected to virtually abrogate any agreements such as Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement and Confidence Building Measures and BDCA leading to incremental build up and conflict.
Lack of development of border infrastructure on the Indian side is the main reason why the Chinese could intrude freely…
A decade ago the US Department of Defense (DoD) and the global strategic community had warned that China would begin flexing muscles 2010 onwards and that India should settle the border disputes with China before this; but little was done to even plug gaps in our defences. Improvement of border infrastructure has not really taken off despite colossal Chinese military upgrades in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) including nuclear missile deployments and massive exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Chinese Airborne Corps in proximity to the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Chinese aggression has been on the rise, nibbling away at Indian territory consistently. The gap between the capabilities of the PLA and the Indian military has been widening. There is a need to take stock and rapidly institute a tiered border defence against China to safeguard our territorial integrity and meet the challenges of the mounting threat.
Current Scenario: Border Defence
With unity of command having been compromised, our border defence has been woefully inadequate. Reportedly, some 400 sq.km. of territory has been lost in Ladakh over and above the Aksai Chin. Responsibility of border defence is divided between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), with the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) deployed in sensitive areas without placing them under the command of the Army. This facilitates smuggling of narcotics, fake currency, goods and even illegal immigration with indicators that some of these activities are institutionalised. Chinese goods are being smuggled into India also through the India-Myanmar border. Not only is the ULFA hierarchy located at Ruli on Chinese soil but China is also pumping in weapons and communication equipment through the Kachen rebels in Myanmar to the PLA in Manipur and onwards to the Maoists in India. Deployment of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in sensitive areas of Ladakh without placing them under the command of the local Army formation is a folly that has been capitalised by the Chinese who have made deep intrusions without qualms.
Despite the Border Road Organisation (BRO) being directly under the MoD, border infrastructure has been severely neglected. In February 2014, NDTV reported that out of the 26 border roads sanctioned in recent years, only one has been completed. China, on the other hand, has developed excellent infrastructure that permits quick mobilisation and vehicular movement. This includes construction of a ten-kilometre road in Pangong Tso area. In 1970, at Nathu La, the Chinese could ply a five-tonne vehicle vis-à-vis a one-tonne vehicle of ours. Today, over four decades later, the status remains the same. Lack of development of border infrastructure on the Indian side is the main reason why the Chinese could intrude freely and our security forces are unable to react effectively and in time.
China’s focus in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) remains a cause for concern…
Similar is the story with our poor response to Chinese intrusions. Criticism and shame had to be faced in wake of deep intrusions such as the one at Raki Nala in Depsang during April 2013 when even the MEA admitted that the intrusion was five to seven kilometres beyond the line of Chinese claim. It is a wonder how a 1.2 million strong army could permit 20 Chinese soldiers to sit 19 km deep inside Indian territory for 25 days. Ironically, Chinese troops had reportedly intruded into the same area on earlier occasions albeit this time the media got wise.
Such intrusions have been occurring at many places along the LAC despite the 1993 India-China Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, 2005 Protocol on Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in India-China Border Areas, and the 2012 Agreement on Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs.
Now, even after signing the China-drafted Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) in 2013, the Chinese intruded into Depsang and Chumar on December 19 and 20. Then, in the first week of January 2014, intrusions took place in the Takdip area where incursions had been spotted in December 2013 as well. Now, China has proposed a Code of Conduct to be introduced along the border. Obviously China wants to play at signing agreement after agreement without changing her aggressive stance. Chinese occupation of the Depsang plains in conjunction with her presence in Gilgit-Baltisatn would threaten India’s deployments in Siachen and sever the approach to Karakoram Pass. India has also lost substantial territory in the India-China-Myanmar tri-juncture area; China is also staking claims to the Tatu Bowl, loss of which would enable the Chinese to easily roll down the plains. POK is already a strategic objective of China that provides her access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, to Afghanistan and the CARs.
The simple fact is that China will not hesitate to take physical action against India…
Prospects of Conflict
Much has been talked of about the possibilities of future Sino-Indian conflict from the Chinese gameplan to place India in the vice-like grip of a python to gobble up what the former wants, active defence to short swift offensive even using tactical nuclear weapons to force India to surrender territory, acupuncture warfare and the like. China’s ‘active defence’ doctrine is a transformation from Mao’s large scale people’s land-centric war to high intensity, short duration localised war under informationised conditions. In this context, the chances of conflict remain.
Despite the progressing economic relations, China’s focus in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) remains a cause for concern. China has been making every possible effort to find her way to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar and Pakistan along the land routes. Her strategic interests clash with the US and her allies in the Asia-Pacific; China desperately needs another oceanic front and a strong India is hardly to her liking. Besides, for Chinese Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) to operate effectively in the IOR, China needs land-based air and missile support. This is one reason why China is deploying missiles in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan and developing or planning to develop ports in countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Seychelles in the IOR.
Not only has China colluded with Pakistan on a conventional and nuclear front but also in the sub-conventional field by waging a collusive asymmetric war against India including through irregular forces and proxies. With China’s aggression on the rise, the collusive China-Pakistan threat has multiplied exponentially with both countries following a policy of ambiguity, denial and deceit, what with repeated Chinese intrusions, claim to entire Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet” and now demanding a Code of Conduct for forward troops, indicating the futility of the recently signed Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA).
In the prevailing environment of global conflict, the first tier of defence must necessarily be deep inside enemy backyard…
On balance, the prospects of Sino-Indian conflict remain. What appears certain is that China’s aggressive stance and the initiation of conflict will be aimed at undermining India’s status as a regional power. If India fails to respond adequately, she will be projected as a ‘Soft State’ susceptible to coercion. Simultaneously, the Chinese aim would be to keep India embroiled in fighting internal/regional conflicts. In doing so, China maybe expected to virtually abrogate any agreements such as Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement and Confidence Building Measures and BDCA leading to incremental build up and conflict.
Should the US get more involved in the Middle East or in new and likely hotspots such as Ukraine and the CAR, Chinese adventurism in India can be expected to escalate. The US may have announced the Asia Pivot in recent months but China already has in place a globally deployable military force with nuclear/non-nuclear allies/proxies in North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria as a countermeasure even if one discounts China not resorting to the employment of large scale nuclear force.