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The Indo-China Scenario -- Will They Ever Defuse Hostilities

October 26, 2009

SOROOR AHMED takes us down the road of history to
analyse some border disputes and resulting wars,
and cautions us about some world powers which may
encourage hostilities between India and China.
Radiance Weekly (India)
October 25, 2009

No two countries have such fortified natural
boundary dividing each other than China and
India. The great snow-capped 2,400-km long and
240-320 km wide Himalayan range works as the
impregnable wall, yet these two countries with
the largest populations on the globe have one of
the oldest border disputes in the modern world.

Exactly 47 years ago the Chinese made several big
holes in this wall and occupied a large part of
Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir and
North-East. While the Aksai Chin, a part of Jammu
and Kashmir, is still under its occupation, it
voluntarily withdrew its forces from North
Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), the earlier name
of Arunachal Pradesh, sometimes after the war was over.

In October-November 1962 battle the Indian army
suffered humiliating defeat. Not only the Chinese
occupied modern day Arunachal and Aksai Chin, it
also entered some parts of Assam. The Chinese
invasion took the Indians completely off-guard
notwithstanding the fact that Indians were well
aware of their activities on the border.

The defeat shocked the Indian establishment,
mostly its then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru,
who till then was strongly espousing the cause of
independent Tibet. That the Peoples Liberation
Army could inflict such a devastating blow just
13 years after the October 1, 1949 Communist
Revolution came as a surprise. Only a decade
earlier the Chinese were locked in a grim bloody
battle with the American and allied forces in Korea (1950-53).

In 1960s China did not have a good relationship
with the then Soviet Union too. Though like the
Soviet Union it was a Communist country yet it
was trying to assert independently and by late
1960s it had several border clashes with the
Russian army. So globally isolated China went on
to invade India to, as it said, teach a lesson.
The Chinese were, in particular, peeved at the
support to Dalai Lama extended by Nehru. The
latter fled to India in 1959 and India openly welcomed and supported him.

During 1960s China was not a big economic power.
It was devastated by a series of famines, which
led to the death of a large number of people.
India, a fledgling democracy, was laying the
foundation stones of its development.

While the revolutionary zeal was still fresh in
Chairman Mao-Tse-tung’s Communist China,
neighbouring India, a democratic country, was a
slow starter. Yet Nehru as a champion of
Non-Aligned Movement and Third World countries
wanted to emerge as a global leader. The Chinese
invasion shattered his dream and 18 months later he died as a broken man.

Today Chinese economy is booming and after the
United States it has the most advanced army in
the world. China tested atom bomb in 1964 and
hydrogen bomb in 1967. It has all sorts of latest weapons in its arsenal.

But India too has consolidated itself
economically, politically and militarily. And the
Chinese know this fact very well. Unlike in 1962
their army will not get an easy walk-over in
India. There are indications that there is
serious tension on the border between the two countries.

Border tension -- be it anywhere in the world --
is a relatively new phenomenon of history. And
Chinese do have a sense of history. They know
that the McMohan line is more an imaginary
division than the reality. The emergence of the
concept of nation-state and the use of modern
weapons in warfare in the 19th century led to the
creation of the borders all over the world. The
one between China and India could never be
demarcated clearly in the past as almost the
entire region was colonised by the European imperialist powers.

Another problem with the border between these two
Asian giants is that two of China’s huge
provinces -- Tibet and Xinjiang (Sinkiang or
Eastern Turkestan) -- which are situated just
north to India, were not always the parts of that
country. Just as India got independence in 1947,
the concept of the modern China with Tibet and
Xinjiang emerged only after the revolution of October 1949.

Initially India did not recognise the Chinese
claim over Tibet, and there is no dearth of
politicians in India who still question the
Nehruvian policy. In fact the Communist Party of
India got split on this issue in 1964 and the CPI
(Marxist), which is a major ruling partner in
West Bengal, holds Nehru -- and not China --
responsible for the aggression in 1962.

Five decades after the expulsion of Dalai Lama
and six decades after the Communist Revolution,
China is once again flexing its muscle. What will
then China do? Will it attack India even when it
has now a workable business relationship with it?
China has made massive investment and thousands
of Chinese citizens are working in India. In fact
one telecom major has over 500 Chinese employees working all over India.

Chinese consumer items, electronic goods and toys
have flooded the Indian market. China has opened
up economically and politically and is no more
living in isolation as was the case in 1962.
Since the businessmen never want war for fear of
their economic doom, it is argued that the
Chinese multi-nationals would never want
political tussle to turn into war. After all
tension on border is certainly causing hurdle for
Chinese and Indian businessmen travelling to each other’s country.

The presence of so many Chinese and Indians in
each other’s country may certainly work as a
check in the way of full-fledged war between the
two countries. But history has many different
examples too. When Japan attacked the United
States on December 6-7, 1941, there were
thousands of Japanese living in that country. In
fact about 20,000 of them were jailed in the US
on the ground of suspicion of being
collaborators. European countries have fought
many battles in the past notwithstanding the
presence of their nationals in each other’s
countries. So the presence of Chinese investment
and entrepreneurs may not necessarily be a guarantee to peace.

Still it can be said with a fair amount of surety
that China is not going to make the border
dispute into a full-fledged war. Yet it will
certainly resort to arm-twisting tactic. And it
is through India that China will test the United
States. With the Soviet Union’s dismemberment and
the United States growing economically weak,
especially after the recession, this would be the
best time for China to flex its muscle. And there
is no other region where China has so much
interest as in the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.

It has already availed the facilities of
Pakistani and Burmese ports for its trade. Rivers
like Indus, Brahmaputra and Sutlej originate from
that country. It has used the water of these
rivers to wreak havoc in India. The Karakoram
Highway passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir
down to Karachi is a sort of lifeline to Chinese
economy. The Kathmandu-Lhasa Highway has brought
the Chinese too close to India. With Maoists
still a powerful force in Nepal nothing can be ruled out.

History is replete with wars in which the enemies
have taken a detour to reach the objective. The
German invasion of France in 1940 is one such
example. They did not attack the French army on
the international border but came via Belgium and
Holland where it met little resistance. Keeping
this view, we should close eye on our presence on
India-Nepal border in Bihar and UP to check their intrusion.

These are remote possibilities, but the ground
reality is that China is, of late, creating
problems for India. The problem with India is
that it has to man extended borders with Pakistan
in the west and Bangladesh and Myanmar in the
east. Though the LTTE phenomenon is over yet our
navy is exposed to all sorts of pressures. China
now does not need to be apprehensive about Russia
or Central Asian countries or Mongolia. Further,
its coastlines are relatively free of trouble.

The American presence in South Korea, Japan or
even for that matter in Taiwan is no big threat
to the Chinese. The bourgeoning Chinese interest
in Africa and the Middle East cannot be possible
without the huge naval presence of that country
in the region. In contrast we have no naval
presence in South China Sea or anywhere near the Chinese coast.

The Chinese know that India is a reality and will
remain so, but they want to achieve many
objectives by war of words. For example
de-stability in Pakistan is not in their long
term interest as huge amount of business is done
through the ports of that country. China would
never like the US influence to grow in the
region. In contrast the US wants to foment
trouble in Tibet and in Xinjiang, which is
essentially a Muslim dominated province almost
one-sixth of the size of China. If western China
is embroiled in trouble, the US will get an
excuse to tell it that the threat of Islamic terrorism is a global reality.

True, the Obama administration recently dissuaded
Dalai Lama from undertaking a visit to the United
States but it would be in its interest that
Xinjiang is thrown in turmoil. The Chinese are
keeping a close watch on all these developments.

The truth is that China is not just interested in
a patch of mountainous land in India but is
taking every step very carefully and
calculatedly. The strategists in North and South
Blocs may hopefully be understanding the larger
game plan. The United States may be the biggest
beneficiary of the break-up of the concept of Chindia.
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