China and India Are Facing Each Other on the Northerner Border: is War Looming?
The world is watching the unfolding of a great drama on the frontiers of northern India with China. The armies of both nations are eyeball to eyeball and have massed nearly 50,000 troops including tanks, field guns, and rockets on the frontier which is known as the line of actual control(LAC). The Chinese Army has negated all the border agreements signed with India since 1993 and intruded many miles into areas that have been traditionally patrolled by the Indian Army. The Chinese were the 1st to bring in the military hardware and troops with an idea to overawe India. The aim was to change the LAC to the advantage of the Chinese army. It was also an attempt to assert its supremacy in Asia and show to the local people at home and the world at large that China was the biggest power in Asia.
Such incidents have been continuing since 1962 and the Indian government would always buckle in and agree to the Chinese terms with an idea to keep the peace. Things began to change in 2014 with the advent of Narendra Modi a hardline Hindu leader as the prime minister of India. The Indians stood up to China for the first time since 1947 and the Chinese are perturbed. In a border clash on 15th June, more than a hundred Chinese soldiers were killed to 20 Indian soldiers and this was not a firefight but a fight with primitive weapons like clubs and swords. Why? Because India and China had signed a protocol that no guns or personal weapons would be used on the border to maintain the peace.
The Chinese have been calling for disengagement and the withdrawal of Indian troops. At the same time, they are also ready to withdraw but they would be withdrawing only from the territory which they have occupied while India will lose territory. This is not agreeable to India and India is insisting that the Chinese withdraw and restore the situation as it was on the LAC before they ventured into Indian territory. The Chinese have been surprised at the Indian belligerence used to the docility of the Indian government in earlier incidents.
The Indian government under Modi first tried to accommodate China for the last six years. But the Chinese still infiltrated into Indian territory. The area on which the Chinese are sitting is entirely Indian territory. It is the incompetence of the Indian leadership after 1947 to have allowed China to occupy 37,000 mi.² of Indian territory in the Aksai Chin. How the Chinese came to occupy such a vast area is not the scope of this article. Suffice it to say it was because of the faulty approach of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the first Indian prime minister who had no notion of power politics or military power. He explicitly trusted the Chinese and championed their cause in the UN and world affairs and paid a heavy price for it.
In 2014, Narendra Modi came to power. Unfortunately, Modi also was under the impression that he could accommodate China through diplomacy and trade. He thought China would be grateful to India for trade. The result was that China built up a trade deficit of $60 billion with India and at the same time they continued their incursions on the border. Modi like Nehru was in a dilemma and he met the Chinese President 19 times over the last five years. He began to talk of the "Wuhan spirit" after meeting with President Xi but he also like Nehru had not understood the Chinese mind. It took him six years to realize that China could not be trusted and in the process, he wasted a lot of time.
There was one significant difference from Nehru, Modi realized the importance of the Northern bowlers and had set up a program to build roads and infrastructure as well as position troops on the border. This was something China never expected as the earlier Indian governments were always docile. After the bloody clash with China, Modi realized that the only language the Chinese understand is a force but at the same time, he is handicapped. The ills of the last seven decades of the Congress government hang around his neck. The Army is being built up at great speed but at the same time, he assumed China would not create any problem on the northern border and he is guilty of having reduced the defence budget as a percentage of the GDP to its lowest since 1962. He did this on the assumption that he had a personal equation with the Chinese President having met him so many times.
The recent Chinese offensive on the northern border and earlier in the eastern border has come as a rude shock to him. To his credit, he has picked up the threads unlike Nehru and Sardar Manmohan Singh, and has decided to confront China. He has built up a strategic partnership with the United States as well as formed a Quad along with Australia, Japan, and the USA to confront China. He has also sent a warship into the South China Sea to assert the independence of India. This has immensely irritated the Chinese who see the South China Sea as a lake in their backyard.
A rude awakening
Modi has now realized despite meeting President Xi 19 times that China has its agenda. Unfortunately, Modi played into the hands of the Chinese also and his home minister Amit Shah made a statement in Parliament that" come what may we will free Aksai Chin even with our blood". Such a statement was sure to antagonize the Chinese when India never had the wherewithal to take back Aksai Chin militarily. One is reminded of a similar statement made by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at the airport while proceeding to Sri Lanka on a visit. He had grandly announced to the press that he has asked the army to "throw the Chinese out".Maxwell's book," India's China war"gives a vivid account of the 1962 war.
Modi is also guilty of having made a statement in Parliament to the Indian people that "no territory of India has been occupied by China" and the Chinese have seized this statement as proof that they have done nothing. Modi had made this statement for domestic consumption as he was under pressure from the opposition but he has now realized that this was not the proper statement to make.
The Chinese Achilles heel
The situation is now complex and India has frantically been buying arms from the USA and Russia. To the credit of the Russians, they have been arming the Indian Air Force and Army with the latest weaponry, and the S 400 missile system and latest SU 30 aircraft are on their way to India much to the chagrin of the Chinese. Such a policy shows a refreshing change of approach from the earlier leadership.
However, the portents for a limited clash in the Ladakh sector are on and the Chinese have realized that in case this happens it will not be a walkover like in 1962. The first sign the Chinese had a taste of Indian belligerence was in 2017 when the Indian Army confronted the Chinese incursion at Doklam in Bhutan and the troops were eyeball to eyeball for almost 2 months before the Chinese withdrew.
This time the stakes are higher and the Chinese have brought in helicopters, tanks, and field guns as well as almost 3 divisions. The Chinese perhaps expected to overawe India but the Indian Army given a carte blanche by Modi has met the Chinese in their buildup. The Indian Army has the advantage as it has occupied the heights in Ladakh and the Tibetans who reside in India are members of the Suraksha Seema Bal. These Tibetan soldiers were instrumental in capturing the heights recently in eastern Ladakh and surprised the Chinese. The Chinese are also worried at the support of the Tibetan people for India and the unsavory fact that many have joined the Indian armed forces.
Another factor in favor of India is that the Indian Army has been fighting in the mountains against the insurgents for the last three decades while the Chinese have no experience in similar circumstances. The Chinese Army has not fought a war since 1979 when they had a clash with Vietnam and could not effectively beat them.
Another factor is population and is going against the Chinese in their demographic composition. The one-child norm means that younger men are not available and the Chinese Army is an entirely conscripted army, where: conscripts serve for4 years and then go back. Most soldiers being the only sons with no brothers and sisters in their family are not interested to die in the mountains. Their parents also are greatly concerned at their only offspring dying for nothing in the mountains. In contrast, the Indian Army is a volunteer force where soldiers follow the profession until they retire.
While India is gearing up for a conflict China does not want a conflict with India given what I have stated above. This is within the knowledge of the supreme military leadership. They would like to fight India on their terms without an actual army to army clash. They would like to fight to their strength like electronic and drone warfare. But as the famous British General Field Marshal Montgomery stated "the infantry soldier is needed to hold the ground." This is the Achilles heel of the Chinese and we will wait and see what happens on the northern border which is the highest battleground in the world.