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OPINION: Chinese Whispers

November 26, 2008

Officially, China only expressed ' deep regret' at Pranab
Mukherejee's remarks on Arunachal Pradesh. But its experts are
talking about India's alleged military reinforcements in the border
and are not ruling out the eruption of a 'partial border war'. How
should India read such signals? ...
D.S. Rajan
Outlook (India)
November 25, 2008

Especially since the visit to Arunachal Pradesh in early November by
the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, views
are being expressed at regular intervals by a section of the
strategic community close to the authorities in the People's Republic
of China (PRC) that a fresh Sino-Indian border conflict may be
possible. While the official Chinese response to what was stated
during the visit by Mr Mukherjee, has mainly remained confined to
reiteration of Beijing's territorial position and expression
of  'deep regret', the studies of the PRC's experts are in the nature
of looking at the boundary issue in a strategic dimension, especially
in the context of their perceptions about India's alleged military
reinforcements in the border and counter-measures required for China.
What is important is that they are not ruling out the eruption of a
'partial border war' between the two nations. At this juncture when
Sino-Indian relations are being described officially by China as
marking the 'best period' in history, it becomes imperative for New
Delhi to understand the real meaning of such views, which are being
conveyed through Chinese language publications meant for the domestic audience.

First deserving attention is the comment (in Chinese language, China
Institute of International Strategic Studies, 20 November 2008) of
"Zhan Lue", believed to be a high level cadre. He visualises 'two
crises' for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the immediate sense:

* Situation in North Korea if Kim Jong Il succumbs to his reported illness and

* India's border provocation to divert attention from its economic
crisis resulting from the global financial meltdown, began in October 2008.

Regarding the former, the strategist feels that the PLA cannot afford
to remain a silent spectator if the US and South Korea intervene in
North Korea once Kim is dead. On India's provocation, he points out
that in recent years, the economic development factor has been
responsible for promoting that country's military and nuclear weapon
development programme; this may encourage New Delhi to incite
Beijing. Already, since June 2008, he says, India has been intruding
into China's territory in the border many times in an attempt to
create incidents. In the opinion of the analyst, New Delhi would like
to shift attention from the emerging contradictions in India's
economic structure following the global meltdown, to provoking China,
even launching a 'partial war' against China.

Zhan Lue also refers to another source of challenge that can
contribute to a ' new large-scale Sino-Indian military clash'--
India's opposition to China's proposal to carry out projects aimed at
diverting Brahmaputra river waters to its Northeastern parts.
Expected to be protracted, such a clash may result in setback for
China – damage to Tibet highways and railways. The analyst adds that
the PRC should be prepared for India's projection of its military
strength vis-à-vis China in the border including the Western sector,
and also in the Indian Ocean; Beijing should also take into account
the possible 'restriction' at the same time of China by the US and
Russia, respectively in Taiwan Straits and Ussuri river border.

It may be worth referring to what another article said two days
earlier (zhong hua.net, military section, Chinese language, 18
November 2008). It observed that the border issue is only a symbol of
Sino-Indian friction; the basic point concerns New Delhi's thinking
that Beijing is the 'greatest obstacle' to India's rise.
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