Monday, August 15th, 2022 21:53:13

Can China Afford An External Conflict?

Updated: February 25, 2012 10:11 am

James Clapper, the Director of the US National Intelligence recently told a Senate Committee on intelligence that the Indian Army was strengthening itself for a ‘limited conflict’ with China: “Despite public statements intended to downplay tensions between India and China, we judge that India is increasingly concerned about China’s posture along their disputed border and Beijing’s perceived aggressive posture in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region.”

He however added: “The Indian Army believes a major Sino-Indian conflict is not imminent.”

Is this announcement part of a US plan to rope in India in a larger containment plan? Probably!

A Report Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense recently released by President Obama, speaks of the “maintenance of peace, stability, the free flow of commerce, and of US influence in this dynamic region will depend in part on an underlying balance of military capability and presence. Over the long term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the US economy and our security in a variety of ways.”

Washington needs Delhi on board to counter Beijing and continue its business as usual.

When Clapper warns: “Beijing may take actions contrary to that goal [of peaceful rise] if it perceives that China’s sovereignty or national security is being seriously challenged,” he clearly sends Delhi a message that India will have to be in the front line.

But a ‘limited conflict’ means nothing! What is a ‘limited’ conflict? Who is deciding on the ‘limitations’? First, it is doubtful whether President Hu Jintao and the outgoing leadership in Beijing would have the determination to embark on any type of conflict with India during the last months of their tenure, and more importantly a 1962-type conflict would have little chances to remain limited. Just to give an example, the Air Force was not used in 1962; it would extensively be used in a war today.

It is, however, true that Beijing has, in recent months, shown a renewed aggressiveness in its dealing with Delhi.

The 15th Round of talks, which was scheduled on November 28-29, 2011, was cancelled by the Chinese who were unhappy with the Dalai Lama’s participation in the Global Buddhist Congregation happening in Delhi at the same time. Beijing even insisted on the cancellation of the Conference. This was obviously not acceptable to South Block.

In the meantime, the intrusions into Indian territory continued unabated. Quoting from a classified document, the weekly magazine India Today affirmed: “During the month [November 2011], there were 20 incidents of LAC violations by the Chinese. During the current year, 323 transgressions were reported: western sector 194, middle sector-9 and eastern sector-120. In the corresponding period of 2010 there were 324 intrusions: 224 in the western sector, 111 in the middle and 90 in the eastern sector in Arunachal.”

It was finally decided to hold the 15th Round on January 16 and 17, 2012.


Primary key to India’s emergence as a successful global power lies in the ability to acquire and imbibe superior defence technologies in the knowledge-based society of the 21st century.

Selection by India of the French Rafale is a wise step to finally begin the shift of Air Force from the ‘bullock cart’ technology to the ‘Mercedes Benz’ expertise! To secure the borders from the Chinese onslaught requires induction of massive dose of cutting-edge defence technologies, which only the West can provide. Today there exists, fortunately, a synergy of purpose between the Western democracies and India, which we need to intelligently leverage.

Pakistan desires to carve out three Pakistans out of the Union of India while China wants to unhook the entire Northeast.

In fact India’s geographical location is a major irritant to the Islamic fundamentalists as it disallows them to create an Islamic Emirate running from Central Asia to West and East Asia without discontinuity.

Couple this with the fact that India is entirely dependent on import of energy and multitude of other products through the seaborne trade. Therefore, as the second fastest rising economy in Asia, New Delhi will require a modern military with deep offensive capabilities to act as a formidable deterrence.

It is strange that we expect our police and para-military forces to fight with lathis or outdated rifles, while the Maoists and the external actors who support them attack with the latest automatic weapons and are equipped with satellite phones.

To successfully maintain the unity of India, as well as defend the growing strategic interests within the region and beyond, rapid modernisation of the armed force is a necessity.

In the short term, import of the latest weapon platforms is vital. In the long term, by acquiring the sunrise defence technologies and setting up profitable joint ventures with the Western partners is the promising route. This will create a win-win situation—military can be equipped with modern weaponry, India can grow as a defence-manufacturing hub, it will create millions of new jobs, impart skills in the hands of the young population, facilitate expansion of strategic footprint, and earn huge foreign exchange subsequently, through export of state-of-the-art weapon platforms.

In the 1980s, a useless debate by various vested interests was conveniently thrown up for allocation of funds between the defence of the country vis-à-vis the development. The argument given was since we are a poor country, we cannot afford to allocate sufficient funds for modernisation of the armed forces. The debate hinged on the falsehood of ‘defence’ or ‘development’.

Of course, rulers neither developed nor defended the nation! As India finally shifts gears to acquire the Western defence technologies once again, the old debate between defence of the country versus development to halt the modernisation of the armed forces is being thrown up by various lobbies.

In the last two years we have witnessed that actually there is no paucity of funds. The amount plundered in CWG or 2G scam is large enough to buy many modern weapon platforms which the defence services are in dire need. A house of IAS officer in Madhya Pradesh has coughed up Rs 300 crore worth of black money. In this country, they don’t steal a few thousands or few lacs any more, but rob merrily the government exchequer in crores. Rs 20 crore worth of black-money was recovered on raiding the lowest rung of the government hierarchy, i.e. an ordinary peon’s house. The loot of the government treasury in the recent past shows that this country is extraordinarily rich!

Therefore, to argue that India does not have sufficient funds for either defence of the country or development is misleading. Both activities can move simultaneously without hindrance, provided we can put an end to the huge siphoning of the funds.

The gullible overlook a simple fact that if the Union of India is not defended, there will be nothing left to develop. Therefore, to equip the armed force with latest defence technologies and weapon platforms is as important as economic development and urbanisation of India at the same time.

 By Bharat Verma

(The author is Editor, Indian Defence Review)

Before his arrival in India, Dai Bingguo, China’s Special Representative, affirmed that the relations between the two countries had embarked on a ‘golden era’; during the meeting however, Dai told Shivshankar Menon, his Indian counterpart, that India had to first discuss the Eastern Sector of the boundary and he further asked Menon how much territory New Delhi would be ready to part with in the Tawang region.

Beijing may insist that Tawang district is part of the People’s Republic of China, but it is clearly an after-thought.

I recently came across a series of rare old photos of the Dalai Lama fleeing Tibet. The Dalai Lama entered India on March 31, 1959 crossing the Indian border at Khenzimane at the bottom of the famous Thagla ridge in the West Kameng Frontier Division of the North-East Frontier Agency (today, Tawang District).

Jawaharlal Nehru sent PN Menon, a senior officer of the Ministry of External Affairs, (and incidentally, the father of the present National Security Adviser) to receive the Tibetan leader. Menon delivered to the Tibetan leader a message from the Prime Minister: “My colleagues and I welcome you and send greetings on your safe arrival in India. We shall be happy to afford the necessary facilities to you, your family and entourage to reside in India. The people of India, who hold you in great veneration, will no doubt accord their traditional respect to your personage.”

Since then, the Dalai Lama has been an ‘honoured guest’ in India.

In his autobiography, Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama remembered crossing the border on a dzomo (hybrid of a yak and domestic cattle): “…We must have been a pitiful sight to the handful of Indian guards that met us at the border—eighty travellers, physically exhausted and mentally wretched from our ordeal. I was delighted however, that an official I knew from my visit two years earlier was there to rendez-vous with us.”

At that time, Beijing did not say that the Dalai Lama and his entourage were in ‘Southern Tibet’ (the term used today by Beijing to define Tawang). They knew perfectly well that the Tibetan leader had taken refuge on Indian territory.

If they had really believed that the area was a part of Chinese territory, why did the Chinese not follow and arrest the Dalai Lama when he passed through in 1959?

The answer is clear, it was not Chinese territory and Mao knew it.

So, why claim the area 53 years later?

The demand of Dai Bingguo is all the more ironic as it comes at a time when China is using ferocious repressive policies against the Tibetans on the other side of the McMahon Line. Remember that under the 2005 Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, it was agreed by Delhi and Beijing: “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.”

Last week, it was reported that China “has effectively sealed off a vast Tibetan area of Sichuan province, sending in troops and cutting off communications to towns where protesters have been killed by security forces in the past week.”

The situation has never been so bad in Tibet. Hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims, returning to Tibet after attending the Kalachakra initiation conducted by the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya, were arrested by Chinese authorities and forcibly taken to undisclosed locations.

Sources based in the Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s headquarters say: “At around 10 am local time on January 31, Chinese security forces surrounded those Tibetans at the railway station in Tibet’s capital Lhasa and then put them in a train bound for China.”

The same source affirms that the Chinese security forces have set up 12 checkpoints between Dram, the post at the Nepal-Tibet border and Lhasa. The checkpoints, manned by the Public Security Bureau, are used to stop all the Tibetan pilgrims who visited Bodh Gaya.

Presuming that the new Chinese stand on the border would have had a historical justification (though it does not), would the local Monpa population desire to become Chinese nationals, lose their democratic rights and be treated in such way. The answer is an emphatic ‘NO!’

But the Chinese continue to blow hot and cold, at least with India if not with the Tibetans. Dai’s tough posture was compensated by an “Agreement on the Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs” signed during the visit. But on the ground, the situation will probably not change much as long as the Chinese land-grabbing mindset remains.

 By Claude Arpi






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