Warmongers in China, India miss the mark


Tihar Jail
Jun 16, 2009
Aug 29, 2009

Warmongers in China, India miss the mark
By Bhartendu Kumar Singh

NEW DELHI - China and India had only just concluded their 13th round of special representatives' border talks this month when a Chinese strategist suggested the "Balkanization" of India into several parts to prevent any possible challenge to Chinese supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region.

Officials from both countries dismissed the hypothesis, but such reports are on the rise on both sides of the border. On June 11, the Chinese state-run Global Times published an editorial on "India's unwise military moves" in reference to the announcement earlier that month by the governor of Arunachal Pradesh that some 60,000 Indian troops would be deployed along the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control in that Indian state.

The Global Times article was certainly not in good taste, factually or logically, but there is no dearth of similar war cries in India. For example, an article by an editor of a leading defense magazine predicted a Chinese attack on India before 2012. Another article in a Delhi-based newspaper a few months back claimed that China would attack India in 2017.

No officials or experts from the two countries have taken such talk seriously. Yet, the media in the two countries have publicized these theories, and there are reasons for this.

Firstly, the border talks at the special representatives' level over the unresolved demarcation of the 3,500-kilometer border between China and India have been preceded by several others, but none have yielded any significant results.

Both countries are also consolidating their positions in the world's great power club, so competition for power and influence is spilling over into other areas. The latest example was a spat at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), where in May China objected to a loan program from the ADB that included a proposed flood-control project in Arunachal Pradesh, much of which China claims as "southern Tibet".

China lays claim to about 90,000 square kilometers of territory in India's northeast, roughly approximating the state of Arunachal Pradesh. During a 1962 border war, China advanced into and briefly occupied territory there before announcing a unilateral ceasefire and pulling back to the McMahon Line that India recognizes as its border with China. In 1987, there were serious skirmishes at Sumdorong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh.

Above all, it is mutual ignorance, misperceptions and mistrust that create space for speculation of war. Two decades of political, economic and military relations since former premier Rajiv Gandhi's epic China visit in 1988 notwithstanding, the two countries are yet to institutionalize and expand relations. This mutual apathy has prevented genuine research into each other.

While war can never be ruled out in an anarchical international system, more so since China and India fought in 1962, there are genuine reasons that make another war between the two countries highly unlikely.

First, China and India have come a long way towards building a cobweb of relations, criss-crossing many areas, and both have made genuine investments in reaching out to one another.

Second, the growing complexity in international relations and a mutual interdependence have escalated the costs of war. China and India are part of this process. There are fewer wars between great powers, and India is relatively better prepared and may deny another victory to China.

Thirdly, the unresolved border that could lead the two countries to another war has been subject to special negotiations. If the talks have not succeeded, neither have they failed. Perhaps, the results will be incremental.

If some Chinese scholars fantasize over a Chinese attack on India and its disintegration into smaller states, it only reflects their desire to carve out China's own area of influence, where no amount of power games by India or the United States will undermine China's leadership.

China's sustained investment in military modernization and recent attempts to expand its area of operation into distant waters, such as the Gulf of Aden, unfortunately add weight to such apprehensions. China's military modernization is clearly no longer targeted solely at Taiwan; but aimed at playing a larger role in the Asia-Pacific region. Here, a rising India could claim its own sphere of influence, if not compete with China, and this annoys Beijing.

For Indians, the only thing that unites them is the rising importance of China in Indian foreign policy. However, policy suggestions are often quite opposite, with some proponents still dreaming of "Chindia", not having learnt the bitter lessons from the bhai-bhai (Hindi for "India and China are brothers") fiasco.

Others see relations with China as being full of conflict, with some creating the ghost of a looming attack from China sooner rather than later. Such a militant attitude, from Chinese or Indians, will only derail the painfully constructed relations between the countries.

China could be a threat, but the best way out is to enhance India's capacity to manage relations with China. While numerous hypothetical factors could lead the two countries to war, much depends on the ongoing border talks and the communication channels between the respective political leaderships.

As rising powers, China and India will compete for power, influence and resources, but perhaps the neighbors can live with a fair amount of healthy competition.

Dr Bhartendu Kumar Singh is in the Indian Defense Accounts Service. The views expressed are personal.

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