Monday, May 07, 2007

India and China: A Perspective.


In response to an email from a reader, I composed the following essay on India-China relations and the situation on the LAC. I am now making the reply public.

The local tactical situation along the Arunachal LAC (Line of Actual Control) has been slowly sliding into China's favor for the better part of his decade. The slide began in the late 60s, but now over the past 40 years things have begun the Chinese have built up Tibet to the point where they can have a barrel over us if they choose to... at least for a month or so before they run out of gas.. quite literally.

What I anticipate is a local flare up where the Chinese may attempt to leverage their local superiority to precipitate a confrontation (you know like the Pakistanis did in Kargil).

Ofcourse as with all things Chinese, this action will be symbolic, more about putting us Indians in our place in Asia. The Chinese will have to be seen to prevail in such a conflict otherwise the pecking order in Asia will change and the matter will escalate to a level where the Chinese might really experience some discomfort. The Chinese for their part are keen to test out their rapid deployment and land-air battle concepts in a relatively controlled battlefield environment with all manner of escalation controls built in. An apparent easy victory against India could get them immense psychological leverage in Taiwan and Burma and even perhaps in Vietnam.

The Americans for their part are really keen to see India and China have a go at each other. The Indian Army of today has forgotten what happened in 1962 and the extent to which US activities at Kalimpong provoked the Chinese. All the Army seems to remember is that China won in 1962. Some people want to avenge that. This makes the views on this matter in India -- seem rather predictable. Ofcourse to face China off in a bigger fight India will have to procure more advanced weapons. Weapons which can only come from the Americans, that creates all sorts of enthusiasm to go to war among the weapons traders and bribe takers. A war where India "loses" will be perfect in some sense because then even more justifications can be made for buying American garbage like C-130s and F-16s.

A war - even a stalemate with China would create negative perceptions of China in India. This would impact the India-China trade which is growing quite steadily and is threatening to overtake India's trade with the west. It should come as no surprise if western powers feel the need to curb this trade in some way.

So a great many forces are pushing us towards a conflict with China, we have to pick our battles carefully and leverage our strengths appropriately.

In such an environment, I feel the key is not be influenced by news items appearing in the media which is vulnerable to foreign influence. Also I feel we need to eschew negative feelings towards the Chinese and shun any idiotic notions of "payback for 1962". There is no point in wasting the lives of Indian soldiers fighting a meaningless showpiece battle over a godforsaken rock. Given the all too delicate Chinese ego, one must also avoid making unnecessarily confrontationist statements about China and about altering the pecking order in Asia, this will force their hand in a conflict.

Unfortunately this message is not reaching those young-at-heart (yes... you know who you are...) in India. The Young-at-Heart think that they need to encourage young people to talk big and aspire for positive things even ones they cannot achieve. That is all fine as long as they also teach the young to talk with a sense of responsibility. Teaching the young to rant uncontrollably is inviting the same sort of menace that Pakistan currently faces.

Despite the compulsive bellyaching of the chatterati, we are in a fine position in all our external conflicts. We have prevailed in the Op. Meghdoot, Vijay and Rakshak theatres. Other places like Rhino, Hifazat, Orchid and All-Clear have shown meaningful gains, and 3 Div has held the line! A few reverses in the Op Falcon theatre should not cause people to lose their heads.

Great care must be taken so as not to squander the gains we have made elsewhere.


At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that China should be handled delicately.As of today their state of mind is similar to that of the Kao guy who gunned down 33 ppl in Virginia tech. Extremely pissed off with the world for what they call their 'century of humiliation' and such pissed off's should be dealt with carefully.

What we need to do is keep ourselves fully prepared. that conflict is going to come one way or the other.And will definitely come if the Chinese perceive us to be weak and vacillating at some point in the near or mid term future.until then they will be content running strings of pearls around India.

that is the lesson of 1962.We should be fully prepared and vigilant. The Chinese attacked back then because we were not militarily prepared and not assertive enough about our own national interests.

hope we never make that mistake again.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger maverick said...


Vigiliance is always necessary, but the young-at-heart must eschew notions of righteous vengeance when it comes to 1962.

The "causes" of 1962 are quite complicated. There is no 10 word summary that one can give on the topic. So young people should not become influenced by reports written and publicised by foreign authors. Just because it is in English doesn't mean that it is an accurate description of what really happened in 1962.

There is no sense in developing a "highlights of hamlet" approach this conflict. It doesn't work here to do that.

It is important to bear in mind that it is *we* who failed to anticipate how the chinese would react to US support for the Tibetans and it *we* who failed to prepare ourselves for that.

The Chinese response in 1962 was carefully identify a local weakspot in our defence lines along the LAC.

This kind of opportunity always exists and will always exist regardless of what technologies are created in the future.

Today China is warily watching as India becomes close to the US. China has very close ties to the US due to the reliance of the US manufacturing sector on cheap imports from China. The US getting close to India is likely to inspire jealousy in China. Chinese anxieties over their place in Asia (and the world) are known. We must anticipate the fact that they will react negatively to a change in the pecking order in Asia and must avoid getting into a situation where their peculiar nature forces them to pick a fight with us.

Military preparedness do deal with tactical upsets along the LAC has nothing to do with this. What I am advocating is at a national level. The national culture should be one that rejects unnecessary conflicts in Asia.

The LAC is a difficult region to patrol and police. Any LAC will naturally be fuzzy and it will periodically shift and waver. It is important not to get too worked up over that.

Remember, we can always allow news coverage of Chinese intrusions and hide behind our facade of incompetence. The Chinese however cannot permit news coverage of India's intrusions for fear of appearing incompetent before their own people. Democracy brings with it a natural strength, we must play to our strengths in this conflict.

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You've articulated this very well. I think our public pundits are especially weak when it comes to China. No nuances at's either "bhai bhai" or the "give us back Aksai Chin NOW"

At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi m,
1)it is important that we do not get provoked.It will be playing into there hands.
2)Your comment about west liking India-China having a go at each other is well said.As our PM said recently "West must accept the rise of India-China"
3)Our endeavour must be to establish peace at our borders for the rise of India. A strong India will never be attacked.

4) I am concerned as to how such tactical flare-up need to be dealt with.
5)From now on Chinese belligerency will bound to rise. Do you think it is apt to allow of American brigades to permanently station in AP. That will mean loss of national soverignty. It will be better of in playing America with china that we getting involved with the chinese.

At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maverick, I think your allusion to the 'young at heart' is rather vague.Who are these ppl anyway? do u mean old timers still nursing a grudge or do u mean today's youth who in your opinion wants to avenge 1962? I'am hard pressed to find any such youth around even though i have been discussing the Chinese issue with a lot of ppl for sometime now.I have hardly seen anyone seeking to attack China till date.

Again, conflict with China is inevitable only if we let down our guard.Until then the Chinese will be happy with their string of pearls strategy. If we are seen as capable and willing of giving them a bloody nose they will not make any direct moves.Because of what u yourself said. It will make China look weak and India look on a equal footing with the Chinese, throwing all their well laid plans into disarray.

Hope u have read sun-tzu. Attack only when assured of victory.that is what the Chinese did in 1962.

And come on its not so complicated too.The Chinese illegally occupied Tibet and then disputed its agreed upon borders with India. Just like for example i taking over my neighbour's property and then disputing his property's fence with yours.

what's so complicated about it all anyway?

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boss, you have truly lost it. Tactical losses in the eastern sector mean nothing? If your contention is that we should meekly accept the Chinese salami slicing merely because not accepting it will anger the Chinese, then I state it is better you were still at Yale.

At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi all,
are we prepared for a two front war?
for 20 kms intrusion into our territory, if we occupy 20 of there then? will it escalate?
1)In 1962 USA was in major escalation with USSR. china saw it fit to take use of this oppurtunity. Now the same thing is repeating
2)We must learn mistakes from 1962.
3)Why is china bent on provoking now? What is there gameplace

At 7:43 AM, Blogger maverick said...


The "Young-at-Heart" know who they are. If you don't think it applies to you, then you needn't worry about it.

Chinese strategy cannot be compressed into some aphorism. They are clearly upset about the growing alignment between India and the US and will seek to explore what this relationship truly means. The Chinese may seek an exploratory escalation just to see if India indeed intends to challenge the prevailing order in Asia.

We need to be vigilant at the tactical level to avoid any serious losses there but we also need to be vigilant at the level of public debate to avoid enticing the Chinese into unwise ventures. All this talk of challenging the prevailing order in Asia needs to stop - regardless of what the security forces do along the LAC.


I am trying to build that very middle ground. I imagine it will be slow work.


It is one thing to respond with the necessary level of force to a local escalation along the LAC and it is something completely different to make a public racket about it.

The trend along the border has always been to do whatever is necessary to stabilise and to avoid making a public fuss about things.

Infrastructure in Arunachal has always been a costly and time consuming affair so don't hold your breath on these things.

No Americans in Arunachal. It is simply too provocative.

Slice what you have to, but make no public song and dance about it.

Hi us,

We are better prepared now for a two front war then we were in 1965.

There will be a few tactical upsets here and there but one should not lose sight of the overall picture.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger doubtinggaurav said...


I can understand your point about need to tone down the rhetoric, but unfortunately rhetoric is unavoidable in a democracy, more so in case of india, where progressives of various hues seek to undermine national interest through dissumulation and obfuscation.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Gaurav,

You are right that when people are allowed free speech they will talk in ways that are not always sensible but then periodically a more responsible thought process has to emerge otherwise the rhetoric dictates the course of events.

Making overaggressive and vacuous statements about changing the pecking order in Asia are only likely to inflame Chinese passions and make them more likely to pick a fight.

There is no way to immediately redress some of the tactical adversities along the LAC so there is no point in talking about "confronting China" etc... that kind of talk is bs and it simply invites harassment.

People should avoid getting to excited about this especially the Young-at-Heart because they are prone to making irresponsible statements.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Apollo,

The accounts of the 1962 war are all presented from two perspectives, the political perspective (as told by people like Maxwell... who have shown themselves to be less than neutral) and the military perspective (as told by people quite naturally have a limited view of things).

The reality of the "failure" lies at the intersection of these two pictures and that reality is very hard to construct unless one sits down and attempts to reconcile what is not being said in both accounts.

This is not an exercise that should be conducted in the public eye because of the sensitivity of the issues involved.

All too often people read one account and think they understand why things went "wrong" in 1962. They read the military account and conclude that the Army was underequipped and ill prepared. They think the airforce could have been used but wasn't due to some inexplicable reason. People who read the Maxwell account and conclude that Nehru and Menon put too much trust in Zhou En Lai and that Nehru was a fool not to listen to Gen. Thimayya.

Barring a handful of people no one puts two and two together. It is always one or the other. The complicated aspects of it never become obvious to most.


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