India-China Relations: Any Way Forward?
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Issue Vol. 31.4 Oct-Dec 2016 | Date : 04 Feb , 2017

It has been said that engaging China is like trying to wake someone pretending to be asleep. Certainly it involves trying to be neighbourly with a country that does not desire friendship. But friendship is not impossible. Developing conditions for harmony takes time and patience – to take advantage of opportunities which present themselves or are created, the latter more likely when one is strong. Of course, much caution is required – to ensure larger conflicts are avoided. But India has to prove to itself just as it has to prove to China and others that it is capable of taking tough decisions and strong action when required. The costs of not doing so are too high to comprehend.

China scuttled India’s membership application to the Nuclear Suppliers Group…

Three recent incidents reflect China’s aggressive intent. There was a planned crossing of 250 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Arunachal Pradesh in June. Earlier this year, China blocked India’s attempt to have Masood Azhar, the mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, to be put on the UN’s sanctions list. More recently, China scuttled India’s membership application to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Similar behaviour is evident with other neighbours, for example, in its declaration of unilateral sovereignty covering 90 per cent of the South China Sea, through its ‘Nine Dash Line’; its dealings with Japan over the Senkaku islands and, more recently, over its defiance of the international arbitration of its occupation of the Scarsborough Shoal in the South China Sea, in favour of the Philippines.

China uses the disputed border to ‘put pressure on India as well as limit our role as a regional power’ (Kanwal Sibal), ensuring diversion of resources vital for development. There are two geographical aspects. First, it claims large areas of territory in both Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, calling the latter, ‘South Tibet’ having invested heavily in dual use infrastructure, military installations, air strips and missile bases in Tibet and other border areas. Second, it occupies Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir through which passes the Karakorum highway from Xinjiang to Hasan Abdal and which is part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) going down to Baluchistan and the Arabian Sea.

This territory is situated near water-resource rich Siachen which it hopes to detach from India for the benefit of Pakistan that is hell bent on in its obsessive quest for revenge after its humiliating defeat of 1971 and an ever willing ally to contain and constrain India. Their relationship described as ‘higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans…’ benefits from massive infrastructure investments in the CPEC, making it for Pakistan a ‘game and fate changer’. This activity goes hand-in-hand with the supply of both conventional and nuclear military hardware as well as technology. A subordinate Pakistan, which now cannot accept or take initiatives vis-à-vis India without China’s tacit approval, is key to the latter’s strategy to encircle India by land and sea.

China uses the disputed border to ‘put pressure on India as well as limit our role as a regional power’…

Naval and military complexes similar to Gwadar are being built in Myanmar and Sri Lanka together with a powerful presence in the Indian Ocean. All this is backed by military expenditure which for decades has been a consistent five per cent of its impressive GDP, soon to match US levels, giving it both a deterrence capability and coercive power.

Under these circumstances, India’s position is unenviable. Will economic inter-relationships with our major Asian trading partner preclude a deeply antagonistic relationship? Trade figures show that, apart from a current account deficit of approximately $50 billion in China’s favour, there is nothing strategic in our imports or exports that could lead to the kind of relationship to prevent war/aggressive action at the border. Similar tensions exist with some of China’s other neighbours in spite of trade volumes being higher and strategically more significant!

Could the two countries then actually go to war? Trotsky warned, years ago, “You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you.” The requirement of the Chinese Communist Party to maintain its pre-eminent position at a time of rising unemployment, combined with a lingering fear of a Soviet-type break-up, has pushed towards chauvinism. Chinese President Xi Jinping has modernised and reformed the military, rationalising the command structure – ‘Ladakh’ and ‘Arunachal’, for example, now brought under the single unified command base at Chengdu. This combined with the perception that India ‘softly’ backs down after initial protests, has encouraged the PLA to brazenly send troops regularly across the border implying also that the LAC is not sacrosanct.

Praveen Swamy has argued that the major Daulat Beg Oldi incursion (Jammu and Kashmir in 2013) was to discourage any further border build up. The logical inference is that China feels it can and will try and take territory by force. The shift in bargaining stance is an indication of its intentions. According to Pravin Sawhney, “In 1980, Deng Xiaoping had suggested that the Western sector could go to China and the Eastern sector to India except for the Tawang tract. Today China lays claims to both sectors having unilaterally shrunk the disputed border by half to a mere 2,000 km! Not long ago, Xi Jinping asked PLA commanders to sharpen their ability ‘to win a regional war’.

Today China lays claims to both sectors having unilaterally shrunk the disputed border by half to a mere 2,000 km!

What is the way forward? It was Clausewitz who said, “To secure peace is to prepare for war”, ‘A will to (fully) prepare’ (Jumo Ikangaa) being eminently useful! Only then can necessary strength be conveyed to ensure restraint. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making a heroic effort to strengthen the economy aiming to increase the manufacturing base from 17 per cent to 25 per cent of the GDP by 2020. His initiatives include overhauling the entire tax structure commencing with the game-changing GST, a national transportation policy and fast track military projects.

The order books of public sector shipyards – Mazgaon Docks, Garden Reach and Goa Shipyard, for example, are over flowing, with the Indian Navy aiming for 200 war and allied ships by 2020. The ‘Strategic Partnership’ model’, 100 per cent FDI in the Defence and the now finalised ‘Defence Procurement Procedure’ enables easier and profitable access for the private sector into the defence industry.

Prime Minister Modi has fashioned an energetic, pragmatic and focused foreign policy. Through a charm offensive using India’s soft power and fast growing economy, he has encouraged direct investment in infrastructure and manufacturing particularly in defence industry with his ‘Make in India’ initiative. His relationship with the diaspora, thrilled at someone who might finally ensure India’s rightful place in the world, has accelerated the flow of funds into India. He decoupled India’s relationship with Israel from Palestine to our advantage and has strengthened our position in the neighborhood by settling border issues with Bangladesh. He has changed the ‘Look East’ to an ‘Act East’ policy further transforming our relationships with nations such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, with whom we have a commonality of interests concerning China. More spectacularly, he has achieved closer ties with the US, now on the road to become an ally. There is an increase in bilateral trade and investments and strengthened defence co-operation. India is now a major buyer of US defence equipment; recent approvals include Chinook heavy lift helicopters, Apache combat helicopters, M-777 Ultra Light Howitzers and maritime spy planes all of which will add to India’s strength quotient.

With the resetting of relations with the US, Prime Minister Modi has created more space for manoeuvre in dealing with China…

As Ambassador JN Misra has argued, “With the resetting of relations with the US, Prime Minister Modi has created more space for manoeuvre in dealing with China.” However, in spite of this strategic relationship, it is unlikely that either ‘world opinion’ or an over-extended US, in an adversarial relationship with both Russia and China, would be able and willing to give unconditional, effective help either in a war or a situation of coercive diplomacy. Further, economic considerations apart, any conflict could well be timed to take place when the US is distracted elsewhere resulting in a likely cautious “Wait and See” policy!

Clearly, out-of-the-box solutions are required. ‘Fifth Generation’ weapons and technology transfer from the US, following from our elevation to ‘defence partner’, to be made one of our main foreign policy goals, would protect our sovereignty. Another initiative – to persuade the US to abrogate its anti-Russia stand, part of the Cold War baggage, which subsequent to hurtful sanctions, has pushed Russia into an unusual closeness with China and so neutralised a dependable, proven and useful ally. Whilst military strategy is the concern of the armed forces alone, our short term objectives of blunting any Chinese attack on the ground, can indeed be achieved with the military resources at hand. In such a scenario, the Indian army, perhaps fighting in territory of its choosing, may well use reliable and incredibly accurate IT-based, precision strike ‘smart’ weapons, to halt an invasion. These anti-tank (and anti-gunship) Stinger missiles for example, are now cost effective – even used successfully by ISIS!

Click to Buy: IDR Oct-Dec 2016

Nuclear tipped conventional missiles for limited targets is another area for further development. Suggestions of ‘Rapid Reaction’, ‘Air Assault’ facilities and assets for ‘information’ warfare have already been made. For these together with maritime considerations, an increase in the defence budget from three per cent (actually 1.8 per cent) to a consistent five per cent of GDP over the next 20 years would be helpful! Perhaps we could use the savings from the reduction of flab in the Ministry of Defence, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Directorate of Project Development (DOPD). Companies in the defence field would profit from embracing the concept, developed by Professor Rajan Suri of ‘Quick Response Manufacturing’ for greater operational ability, which has benefited the US military and industry generally.

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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

Sumant Dhamija

Sumant Dhamija is the author of ‘Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718-1783)- Forgotten hero of Punjab’

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3 thoughts on “India-China Relations: Any Way Forward?

  1. China is talking of peace with India and also maintain calm at the border. Doing good business with India.

    But, China’s strategic relation with Pakistan is a major concern for our national security.

    West is looking for India to counter China.
    However we have to stand on our own toes and should not depend on others.

    Still I think we have to engage China with bilateral talks and peace at the border to be maintained despite of all odds.

    At the same time we have to build CREDIBLE deterrent to counter any offensive across the border.

    While building credible deterrence, we must keep in mind that today’s China is not like 1962. They have Military Space Program and may have monitoring our installations across the long border with China. With precision missile system and stealth fifth generation aircraft our defense at border will be vulnerable to their missile strike.

    To counter the threat we have to involve our engineering and scientific resources and plan accordingly. Integration of Army and AF is necessary. We also need Military Space Program for surveillance and combat purpose. Technology for detecting stealth aircraft, missile defense, satellite based surveillance system need to be implemented.
    As suggested by the author Nuclear tipped conventional missiles for limited targets may also be developed.

  2. Your day isn’t far when China free from its imbroglio within the South China Ocean uses pressure arrive at funds from the border problem with India. Today China’s military continues to be a Eco-friendly Horn Military that isnt enmeshed using its latest acquired hi tech weaponry. Its untested as well as an unsure military. When they’re confidant they’ll produce a conflict situation with India to reach your final solution with India.

  3. The day is not far when China free of its imbroglio in the South China Sea will use force to come to a settlement of the border issue with India. Today China’s military is still a Green Horn Military that isnt enmeshed with its latest acquired hi tech weaponry. Its untested and an unsure military. When they are confidant they will create a conflict situation with India to try and get to a final solution with India. In relations with India they are playing a stalling game while in India the North and the South block sleeps while the bitches and whores of politics play and rule the roost. The Babudom earns its salary and the nation be damned.

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