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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China and India: War of Giants

August 31, 2010

Eric Margolis
The Huffington Post
August 30, 2010

The highly respected British magazine "The
Economist" featured a front-page article in their
21 August issue about the possibility of a major war between China and India.

I've been thinking about this scenario for over a
decade, and authored a book, "War at the Top of
the World," that warned of the dangers of a future Sino-Indian conflict.

Just thinking about this topic staggers the
imagination. China and India account for 2.3
billion people, a third of the world's total population.

My book was directly inspired by meeting the
Dalai Lama in the mid-1990's. I heard him give a
long, very interesting speech on the
Indian-Chinese border conflict, which I had
studied in depth as a result of my deep interest in the Himalayan region.

The audience that came to hear His Holiness
expected to hear a warm, fuzzy talk about the
meaning of life. Instead, they were totally
bemused by the Dalai Lama's discussion of South
Asian grand strategy and the Tibetan-Indian
border that had been drawn by Imperial Britain
with no regard to China. People often forget the
Dalai Lama is the temporal leader of Tibet as well as its spiritual guide.

I was the only person in the audience who
understand the subject or who asked questions
about the talk. After, His Holiness took me aside
and we conversed at length about the contested
border, from Ladakh and Kashmir in the West to
India's Assam and Northeast Frontier Agency
(today Arunachal Pradesh), and Tibet's future.

We also talked for a long time about cats, but
that's another story that will be in my next book.

So from my encounter with the Dalai Lama came my
first book, "War at the Top of the World" (now in
its fourth, revised edition), which also covered
then little-known Afghanistan and the endless
conflict over Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

In "War," I predicted that the first major crisis
of the 21st Century would occur in Afghanistan

9/11 happened soon after 'War" came out. I was
swamped by calls from the media to talk about
Afghanistan and a certain Osama bin Laden.

"How did you know?" everyone asked me in amazement.

"Because I was watching that part of the world
when few others were doing so," came my reply.

In 1962, India moved troops into remote valleys
high on the eastern Himalayas claimed by China.
Beijing proclaimed it would "teach India a lesson."

It certainly did. Marching over the high
mountains, Chinese troops quickly outflanked
static Indian forces - as they did with American
troops in Korea in 1950. The Indians were routed.
The People's Liberation Army took much of
Arunachal Pradesh, and stood before tea-producing
Assam, only a relatively short distance to Calcutta.

Satisfied by his "lesson," Chairman Mao ordered his troops to withdraw.

Proud India was humiliated and deeply shocked.
Since then, India has built up its forces in the
region to over three army corps of 100,000
mountain troops, backed by high-altitude air
bases and a network of new roads and supply depots.

The long, poorly demarcated border has been tense
ever since. India claims two large chunks of
territory in the west held by China: Aksai Chin
and a slice of Kashmir given by Pakistan to China
to allow a military road connecting Tibet with
Chinese Xinjiang. I have explored both frozen
wastelands, both over 15,000 vertiginous feet.

China claims most of Indian-held Arunachal
Pradesh on the eastern end of the Himalayan border, known as the McMahon line,

India has only grudgingly accepted China's 1950
takeover of Tibet and has harbored anti- Chinese
groups dedicated to liberating the mountain
kingdom. At the same time, India quietly asserted
control of two other Himalayan mountain kingdoms, Bhutan and Sikkim.

India sees the growing array of Chinese bases in
Tibet as an extreme danger. China's air, missile
and intelligence bases in Tibet look down on the vast plains of India.

India's leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, once complained
of this danger to China's Premier Chou Enlai.
Chou laughed and retorted, "If I wanted to
destroy India, I would march 100 million Chinese
to the edge of the Tibetan plateau and order them
to piss downhill. We would wash you into the Indian Ocean."

Tibet controls most of the headwaters of India's
great rivers. Delhi has long feared that China
may one day dam and divert their waters to China's dry western provinces.

Other serious potential flashpoints exist.
India's old foe, Pakistan, with whom it has
fought four wars, is China's closet ally. Beijing
arms Pakistan and has built up its nuclear arms
program. An Indian-Pakistan war over divided
Kashmir, or an Indian intervention in a
fragmenting Pakistan or Afghanistan, could draw
China into the fray. A new port in western
Pakistan at Gwadar will give China port rights on the Arabian Sea.

Burma (today Myanmar), on India's troubled
eastern flank, which is rent by tribal uprisings,
deeply worries Delhi. Strategic Burma is rapidly
becoming an important forward Chinese base. A new
road links China with Burma, and provides China's
navy a badly needed port on the Andaman Sea, and
thus access to the Indian Ocean.

India believes China is trying to strategically
encircle it. To the west, Pakistan; to the north,
Tibet; to the east, Burma. To the south, China is busy cultivating Sri Lanka.

In spite of million man armed forces and nuclear
weapons, India feels increasingly threatened by
China's rise. The Indians know full well that
China expects obedience from its neighbors. Even
a small border clash between these two assertive
giants could light the fuse of a broad and very
frightening conflict. The scramble for oil and
gas offers ample causes of yet more conflict in
Central Asia and even the Gulf, where today America's rules supreme.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2010
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