India should be prepared for war with China – Utpal Kumar

Xi Jinping and the PLA

Utpal KumarXi is today more dangerous than Mao at his lunatic peak. The latter … had Zhou En-lai to sober him and his hawkish international diplomacy. … Xi has none. He is an emperor without any adviser. … The best way India can push China to go in for peace on its borders is by preparing full throttle for war. – Utpal Kumar

Common sense says China would not make the mistake of attacking India, a rising power with a military that is among the best in the world. It also has an army that’s been tested time and again across different frontiers, whether along the Line of Control with Pakistan or while dealing with insurgencies in the North East.

The People’s Liberation Army, in sharp contrast, has not left the barracks for decades. The last time it left, it came back with a bloody nose from Vietnam in 1979. And the last time India and China exchanged fire, it was the PLA that suffered military reverses. In 1967, four years after the humiliating defeat at the hands of Mao’s troops, India turned the table to win decisively against China in the heights of Cho La and Nathu La at the Sikkim border. (Do read Firstpost columnist Probal DasGupta’s book, Watershed: India’s Forgotten History Over China.)

On Monday, as reports of Indian and Chinese troops clashing near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh on 9 December 2022, became public, the tension between the two nuclear neighbours scales new, dangerous heights. As per sources quoted by ANI, the Chinese had come with around 300 soldiers but didn’t expect the Indian side to be prepared too.

The fact, however, is that the situation along the LAC has never been normalised since the June 2020 Galwan clashes that led to the death of at least 20 Indian soldiers; the Chinese side too suffered “proportionate casualties” but refused to provide exact numbers. Since then the armies of the two countries remain in a standoff mode at the LAC, despite more than a dozen rounds of talks between them. In fact, if one looks closely at the infrastructural development pursued by China in the last decade, and especially since 2020, it becomes obvious that Xi Jinping has a bigger and more ambitious Himalayan agenda: He wants to go one step above Mao Zedong and teach India the ultimate lesson. Is the PLA, besides improving military infrastructure near the LAC, conditioning its troops for high-altitude warfare?

Former ambassador Rajiv Dogra, in his just released and extremely pertinent book, War Time: The World in Danger, explains why India should be wary of Xi Jinping’s imperialistic designs. “Both (India and China) aspire for the peak position on a mountain called Asia, but China is in no mood to share that space with India,” he writes.

India’s China policy, if there is one, has traditionally been ostrich-like. China has used this Indian vacillation to further strengthen its position. But now under Narendra Modi, as Delhi regains some sort of defence and diplomatic mojo, Beijing thinks it’s now or never. And then of course, there’s an internal Chinese dynamic at play. “It may be reasonable to say that China has reached its economic plateau. The favourable demographics that allowed it to become the world’s factory are declining. Since China’s economy is slowing and heavily in debt, its leaders might see now as the best time to use a victory in war as a diversion and, thereby, displace America’s power in the region. If they calculate that war with the US carries unacceptable risks, then they might opt for a winnable confrontation with India.”

Dogra has a point when he states that India faces greater Chinese threats than Taiwan. For, any Chinese action on Taiwan, howsoever tempting it may appear, shall invite swift and immediate action not just from the US but also its allies in the region, such as Japan and Australia. “Therefore, however much Xi is urged by the PLA to sort out the Taiwan problem, he knows that an invasion would immediately trigger an all-out Taiwanese response. More than half of any Chinese invasion fleet could be sunk by concentrations of shore-based Harpoon cruise missiles supported by a host of Taiwanese air- and sea-launched land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles. … Clearly then, the forcible seizure of Taiwan would impede, not advance China’s goal of regional hegemony.”

In contrast, Xi might be tempted to believe that India could take longer in getting help. First and foremost, the very presence of Joe Biden in the White House can be reassuring to the Mandarins. Biden, after all, “is more likely to mull over the issue till it is late”. Xi knows that he won’t get a better person occupying the White House. Then of course, there are logistic issues: Any attempt to move American troops and equipment to the Himalayas and acclimatising the troops to those heights, won’t be an easy, swift affair.

To add to it all is the perception that India is currently “the lonely gun”, especially after the Ukraine war, where the Modi government chose to walk the fine diplomatic line rather than blindly following the US-led West. So, the West will have its own grudges with India, even as Russia may refuse to side with a “friend” (India) against its “brother” (China), and Pakistan is raring to open the second front against India! In the given scenario, Xi may be tempted to believe that a military action in the Himalayas would be a safer, more productive bet.

Finally, it’s the nature of the Xi Jinping dispensation that should worry India. Xi is today more dangerous than Mao at his lunatic peak. The latter, for instance, had Zhou En-lai to sober him and his hawkish international diplomacy, so had others after him. Xi has none. He is an emperor without any adviser. As Jude Blanchette and Evan S. Medeiros write in The Washington Quarterly, former Presidents “Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao had strong partnerships with their respective premiers (Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao), thus giving the State Council significant authority over setting economic policy. Xi, on the other hand, has sidelined premier Li Keqiang and positioned himself at the centre of nearly all key policy discussions.”

With Mao as Xi’s role model, it’s hardly a surprise to see a Galwan or a Tawang happening these days. In fact, since 2012, China has indulged four-times in salami-slicing along the largely un-demarcated India-China border. Post-Galwan, the threat perception has increased multifold. And, as last week’s incident in Arunachal Pradesh suggests, such incidents, standoffs and face-offs are not going to go away anytime soon. One hopes they don’t lead to fulltime warfare, though the best way India can push China to go in for peace on its borders is by preparing full throttle for war. But then with Xi around, one never knows. China and its ‘emperor’ should, however, know that new India won’t be a pushover. Mao, in that case, was luckier. – Firstpost, 13 Decemeber 2022

Utpal Kumar is Opinion Editor, Firstpost and News18. 

Map showing Aksai Chin in Chinese territory and Arunachal Pradesh.

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