Indian might met with Chinese threats
A series of steps taken by India in recent months to build up its defenses along its disputed frontier with China has prompted an angry response from the latter.
In June, General J J Singh, governor of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and former chief of army staff, announced that India would be deploying two army divisions of around 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers each along its boundary with China in Arunachal. A few days later, four Sukhoi Su-30MIK combat aircraft landed at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Tezpur. The IAF announced plans to increase this to a squadron strength of 18 aircraft.
The recent moves along the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control at Arunachal "have no aggressive intent" but are simply aimed at "putting in place credible active deterrence against a vastly better-armed giant neighbor", a Defense Ministry official told Asia Times
Online. It was intended to meet "future security challenges" posed by China, Singh said.
Although relations between India and China have improved in recent years - China is now India’s largest trading partner - the dispute over their 4,057-kilometer-long boundary remains unresolved. In 1962, the two countries fought a short border war, which India lost.
In that war, China occupied 38,000 square kilometers of territory in Aksai Chin in the northeastern corner of Jammu and Kashmir. This territory remains under its control. Besides, Beijing is also holding 5,180 square kilometers of land in Kashmir ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963.
In the 1962 war, Chinese troops also advanced into territory in India’s northeast but retreated subsequently. Beijing continues to lay claim to around 90,000 square kilometers of territory here, roughly approximating Arunachal Pradesh or what it refers to as "Southern Tibet".
China has repeatedly indicated that the boundary along Arunachal is not a closed chapter and that Arunachal is disputed territory. Any Indian move to assert control over Arunachal has raised hackles in China. When India conferred statehood on Arunachal in 1986, for instance, a serious skirmish broke out at Sumdurong Chu.
The response from China to the recent augmentation of forces at Arunachal was swift. An editorial in Global Times, a tabloid of the People’s Daily group, a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, said that India seemed to believe that China would "defer to it on territorial disputes". Dismissing this as "wishful thinking", it stressed that “China won’t make any compromises in its border disputes with India”.
The editorial went on to warn that India’s "dispatch of 60,000 troops" to its border with China would lead to "a rivalry between the two countries" and asked the Indian government to consider "whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China".
That threat was followed up with a reminder that India could not match China’s might. "China is seen in India as both a potential threat and a competitor to surpass. But India can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale. India apparently has not yet realized this."
Indian military experts have argued that Arunachal’s importance to China lies in its geography. Control over Arunachal will enable the Chinese to militarily overrun the Brahmaputra Valley and the rest of northeastern India.
Others have claimed that China seeks control over Arunachal, and specifically Tawang, to consolidate its hold over Tibet. Tawang is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama and the monastery there is Tibetan Buddhism’s second largest after the Potola Palace in Lhasa. The Tawang Monastery is "a virtual treasure trove of Tibetan Buddhist religion and culture" and is seen by Tibetans as the repository of perhaps the last remnants of a Tibet submerged by Han Chinese culture.
Chinese scholars have argued that control over Tawang is essential for China "to win the hearts of the Tibetans".
China’s assertion of its claims over Arunachal has grown in recent years. Indian diplomats say that the Chinese are intransigent on Tawang. In November 2006, Beijing’s ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi told an Indian television station "the whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory". A few months later, China refused to issue an Indian civil servant from Arunachal a visa on the grounds that he was from Chinese territory and hence didn't require a visa. Visits by Indian political leaders to Arunachal have ruffled feathers in Beijing.
Recently, China sought to block an Indian application for a US$2.9 billion loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which included funding for a $60 million water management project in Arunachal. China’s objection to the loan was that it was for projects in "disputed territory". When the ADB subsequently approved the loan to India, the Chinese foreign office expressed its "strong dissatisfaction to the move".
Indian officials say that there has been a four-fold increase in Chinese intrusions into Indian territory over the past year, most of them along the border in Arunachal.
A year ago, India acted to improve its defenses in the western sector of the Sino-Indian border. It reopened airfields in Daulat Beg Oldi and Fukche in Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, a stone's throw from Aksai Chin. Phunchok Stobdan, senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi
had described the reopening of the airfields near Aksai Chin as a response to the "dozens of provocations from China". India "is preparing for contingency", he told Asia Times Online.
The enhanced military deployment in the eastern sector is part of that preparation.
Besides the deployment of more troops and combat aircraft near at the border in Arunachal, India is developing the IAF base at Tezpur, which is just 150 kilometers from the border, into a major hub for Sukhoi aircraft. The IAF also proposes to station more Sukhois in the nearby Chabua air force base. And plans are afoot to upgrade infrastructure at five air force bases in the eastern part of the country including Tezpur, Chabua and Jorhat in Assam, Panagarh in West Bengal and Purnea in Bihar.
China’s plans to extend the Golmud-Lhasa rail up to Yatung, a trading center near Nathu La, a mountain pass that connects Tibet with Sikkim, and to Nyingchi, a trading town north of Arunachal at the tri-junction with Myanmar. Indian analysts warn that in a few years China will be able to deploy troops by the trainload right up to the Indian border at Sikkim and Arunachal - two Indian states into which Chinese intrusions are frequent.
India’s road and rail building activity in these areas has been sluggish.
Consider this. Sikkim has only one road linking its capital Gangtok to Nathu La and one landslide-prone road, just five meters wide, joining the state with the rest of India. Sikkim's road density is 28.45 kilometers per 100 square kilometers against the national average of 84 kilometers. Arunachal Pradesh is even worse off, with a road density of just 18.65 kilometers per 100 square kilometers. No trains run to the border-states of Sikkim, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. While Chinese military personnel can drive down to the Sino-Indian border and will be able to take trains too in a few years, Indian soldiers often trek 10-15kms to get there.
This paucity of roads in border areas is being addressed now. In 2006, the government gave the green signal for a host of road and other infrastructure projects in border areas. It recently announced an investment of US$3 billion in road construction in border areas.
According to reports, upgrading advance landing grounds and airfields and construction of border roads, which was hitherto undertaken solely by engineers attached to the IAF or the Border Roads Organization, a unit of the armed forces, is now being opened up to the private sector as well. The aim is to speed up implementation of various infrastructure projects along a sensitive border.
For decades, India, badly bruised from its defeat at the hands of China, opted to back down in the face of Chinese intimidation. That is now changing. It is this newly assertive Indian posture that is bothering China.
Indian analysts believe that neither of the two countries wants to go to war. But they are not ruling out the possibility of China carrying out a limited military operation in the eastern sector of Arunachal, one that will deal a short and stunning blow, depriving India of Tawang and leaving it with a bloody nose.
It is to be prepared now that India is building its military muscle in Arunachal.