One of the things political scientists learn over the decades is that very few things in the realm of politics are impossible. Seemingly incompatible states ally, while ideological comrades confront one another. Seemingly solid states and empires collapse with remarkable speed, while weak ones become great powers with nearly equal celerity. Consensuses that war is outdated and anachronistic have been repeatedly proved wrong, as have predictions of victory in war by superior powers. Could another war between China and India happen? Of course, it’s not impossible.
Let’s assume an India-China war would very probably result from a Chinese initiative. China is the superior power and has deeper, more focused grievances toward India than vice-versa. It has fought wars with the US and the USSR, with India and (in the 1930s) with Japan. India’s wars (aside from the Sri Lankan intervention) have all been with Pakistan. So the question can be reformulated this way: when and why might China’s leaders decide war is necessary to punish India?
There are a number of reasons why Beijing would not decide for war against India. It would frighten China’s other neighbours, and might drive them together and/or into alignment with the United States, or with India. A war would also disrupt China’s remarkably successful development drive. China’s post-1978 strategy has entailed a deliberate break with Mao’s ‘line’ of war and revolution, and fostering of a peaceful international environment to accelerate development. India itself is a major economic partner of China’s. A war with India could also be difficult to conclude. Beijing’s strategy would certainly aim at a quick war. But things often go wrong. If China found itself in a long war with India, its current advantageous situation of watching from the mountaintop as the US and Iranian tigers confront each other in the Persian Gulf would dissipate. China’s grand strategy is to maintain peace and rush forward with development while US hegemonism exhausts its will and treasure in the Persian Gulf. War with India would be a dangerous diversion from that fruitful approach.
Photograph by Jitender Gupta
Situations involving Pakistan seem the most probable route to a Chinese decision for war with India. China sees a strong Pakistan as vital to maintaining a balance of power that constrains India, thereby keeping India sober and respectful of China’s interests in Tibet and elsewhere. A strong Pakistan combined with the Sino-Pakistan entente cordiale confronts India with the real prospect of a two-front war. A strong Pakistan gives substance to that prospect. This constrains India in moves toward both Pakistan and China. The unresolved Sino-Indian territorial dispute offers a plausible casus belli, justifying whatever move Beijing decides on. States often go to war to maintain balances of power they view as advantageous, and this, it seems to me, is the situation Beijing confronts in the Pakistan-India equation. I would go so far as to assert that in a ‘fifth round’ (counting the Kargil mini-war as an integer) between India and Pakistan in which India was about to decisively subordinate Pakistan, Chinese entry to support Pakistan would be rather likely. This prospect is, perhaps, a key rationale of India’s decision to develop a nuclear weapon capability.
What about other prospects? Chronic rivalry in Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, or the Indian Ocean could intensify the security dilemma between India and China, with India seeking to counter Chinese advances, and China viewing these counters as offences against it. That rivalry might lead to increased tensions between China and India, and it is easy to imagine one or both countries using military power to bolster their moves. It is difficult, however, to imagine Beijing deciding for war with India because, say, the Border Roads Organisation was building a road from Imphal to Mandalay or modernising the Sittwe harbour.
Unlike in 1962, Tibet is unlikely to precipitate a Sino-Indian war, primarily because China’s control over Tibet is tight and steadily getting tighter. Rail and modern highways, combined with steady in-migration of the Han, along with a strong PLA presence and tight internal security measures, pretty much seal Tibet’s fate. That fate is a cruel one, but also a story that has been told many times in history, including in the histories of both India and the US. Given these hard realities, it’s difficult to imagine any Indian move, short perhaps of a drive by an expeditionary force of three Indian divisions on Lhasa, that would endanger China’s control over Tibet sufficiently to warrant a decision for war.
A punishment for New Delhi for its overly close alignment with the US is a possibility. Hanoi’s decision to ally with the USSR was a key factor in Beijing’s decision for war in 1979. From Beijing’s perspective, it desires friendship with all its neighbours, but expects a quid pro quo from those neighbours. For them to join in what Beijing deems “anti-China combinations” and/or connive in anti-China activities cooked up by other powers merits Chinese punishment. The normalisation of Sino-Russian relations, circa 1992, for example, required the mutual pledging that neither would join a combination against the other or allow its territories to be used for activities injuring the interests of the other. Beijing watches closely India’s growing ties with the US, Japan, Australia and other countries, and could conceivably decide on India as the weak link of a chain of encirclement that was becoming tight. In fact, loose talk of “another 1962” that erupted in Chinese media in the late 2000s was probably intended to warn New Delhi of the dangers of such a course.
But Indian strategists understand this logic and are not likely to overplay their American card. Punishing New Delhi militarily for a too-close alignment with the US or Japan could also easily backfire. Even if China’s ‘lesson’ to New Delhi went according to Beijing’s script, the consequence could be that India draws even nearer to other powers apprehensive over China’s growing power.
(The author is professor, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology)
I refer to 1962, Once More? by John Garver. In an otherwise clear analysis, the author overemphasises the Pakistan-China “all-weather” relationship. It’s simplistic to see that relationship as a threat and miss the grey. All Chinese projects in Pakistan are provided with heavy security—for China prefers its own personnel, and several Chinese were killed in the recent past. Not much publicity is given to this. It also pulled out of a $19 billion investment in Pakistan because of fears of safety. Like other nations, China too is worried over the support extended by extremist Islamists to its restive population in Xinjiang. It too is starting to have its doubts.
The plain matter is, if either India or China instigate misunderstanding, then either will be perceived to be a threat to peace. This is both a tragedy and a blessing, because this is a reflection, in many ways, of the reality of society, and politics, nationally and internationally. It seems, people and nations are interdependent, keeping the ideals of independence in mind.
I like the idea, 'Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai' because it is perfectly acceptable, that the soldier on the border is friendly with his counterpart. Obviously, that is not why the soldier is at the border. Who likes the idea of soldiers being unhappy, not in war?
The biggest threat to India is not from Pakistan, not from China, not from terrorists, but from our corrupt politicians. A couple of hundred people died in the horrific terroritsts attacks on Mumbai, several years ago. However, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Indian's die of malaria, diaorrahea, jaundice and other treatable diseases - because of lack of proper sanitation and drinking water. Hundreds of thousands of girls are raped or killed each year. The Delhi police commissioners response to the unsafe environment for women in the capital was " Don't venuture out after 8:00 pm..." The politicans have meddled in every sphere and now even the army is getting corrupted in scams and irregularities. Politicans are the new maharajas of India - they believe it to be their right to take from the people and after them their sons or daughters will take over the throne. This is now becoming more and more entrenched. The recent remarks by the Union Law minister against Kerjwal are a case in point - where he publicly used shocking language and velied threats about blood and death - this from the country's foremost lawmaker. Where is the prime minster? Even if he was the greates financial genius in the history of the world (which he is not...), the fact that he is silent when his team is busy running amock, cheating and stealing and threatening the very people they are supposed to guard - this is corruption by association. The average age of the leaders is above 60 and the average age of age of the people they are supposed to protect is 25 - a real disconnect, made worse by chronic narcissim and corruption. Meanwhile in Mumbai, a trumped up middle ranking cop is running amock, declaring war on the middle class who dare to frequent pubs and bars or god forbid, engage in making choclate liqueir choclates without a liquior permit (as per a law dating back to more than 125 years!). So my friends, the threats real or perceived from across the border are very minute compared to what is happening within .......
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