The standoff and China’s India policy dilemma
For China, which has long been preoccupied with its relentless pursuit to approach the centre of the world and in managing a turbulent relationship with the United States, the June 15 incident of a violent face-off between Chinese and Indian troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), causing casualties on both sides, came as a big jolt.
A new normal in India-China relations –
- With opportunities for cooperation at the global level diminishing, regional competition intensifying and the earlier system of effective management of bilateral differences crumbling beyond control, periodic violent conflicts are the “new normal” in China-India ties.
- Liberals – Many strategic thinkers argue that China should reconsider its prevalent strategic thinking that India is not its main strategic challenge and, therefore, peace needs to be maintained in its direction as much as possible.
- Hardliners – Only by daring to fight, by showing strong determination, the will and the ability on the western frontier can China effectively deter its adversaries on the eastern coast. This is also, what they called, the right way to resolve China’s primary contradiction, that is the China-U.S. problem, by first breaking “its arms and legs”.
Hardliners view –
- To deal with a resurgent India, Chinese hardliners suggest a policy of “three nos”: “no weakness, no concession and no defensive defence”.
- In other words, China should take all opportunities to crack down on India, take the initiative to hit it hard whenever possible. This, it is argued, will not damage China-India relations; on the contrary, it will make it more stable. Didn’t the 1962 China-India war help China to maintain peace and stability on the western front for a long time and directly eliminate American and Soviet ambitions to use India to contain China?
- In this backdrop there is renewed interest among certain sections of the Chinese strategic community to: keep India under control by destabilising the entire border region, creating tension across the board, from the McMahon Line in the east to the Aksai Chin area in the west; take the initiative to attack and seize territories under India’s control from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, and weaken India internally, by supporting the cause of Maoists, Naga separatists and Kashmiris.
Liberal view –
- However, on the other side of the debate are Chinese political thinkers who in their analysis of the Galwan Valley incident, have been somewhat critical about China’s policies towards India, which they say remain mostly tactical, of a “reactive nature” and are characterised by a “tit-for-tat” approach without any clear strategic intent.
- This, according to them, stokes extreme nationalism in India and unites the otherwise divided nation against China, which not only harms China’s interests but might eventually draw China into an untimely military conflict.
- They criticise those vying to “teaching India a lesson” as being “short-sighted” and not “psychologically prepared for the rise of India”. China, they argue, lacks understanding of the fact that India, as a rising power, is very important to China and will be increasingly crucial in the future, with China-India relations evolving as the most important pair of relations after China-U.S. links.
- If China-India ties are damaged beyond repair, they warn, India alone or in association with other countries will cause “endless trouble for China”. For instance, an openly hostile India will use every possible means to prevent China from reaching the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, the decoupling of China-India relations will further strengthen the “anti-China alliance” between the U.S., Japan, Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries.
Realistic view –
- Strategically too, they say, it is “unwise” for China to take the initiative to get into a comprehensive military conflict with India — “a big country with comparable military strength”— at this point in time.
- The general view among these military analysts is that if China has an advantage in terms of psychology, equipment, and logistics mobilisation, India too has advantage on various fronts such as deployment, supply line, practical war experience, topography, and climate among others. If India’s disadvantage remains in the fact that its capital lies well within the bombing range of China, China’s key disadvantage is its particularly long supply lines. Therefore, if the conflict ends in a short period of time, it will benefit China. But if it is prolonged, China will be disadvantaged.
- If a war starts, they argue, India will make all efforts to prolong it as long as possible, and the U.S. is likely to help India to attain this objective. Even if the two sides ended in a tie, in India it will be counted a victory and the national morale will rise sharply; on the contrary, in China, the morale will decline if it cannot beat India decisively. Therefore, in its effort to “teach India a lesson”, they fear, China might lose more than it would gain.
- In the words of another Chinese strategist, Yin Guoming, rather than winning a war, China should aim at attaining a comprehensive and overwhelming advantage in geopolitics vis-à-vis India, which cannot be altered by war.
To sum up, despite all the jingoism and rhetoric propagated through its official media, China is actually in a serious dilemma over its India policy. As we, in India, seek to reset ties with Beijing in the post-Galwan era, we should take note of the ongoing Chinese debate on India, factor in its many internal contradictions and perceived vulnerabilities vis-à-vis India, and leverage the same to our benefit.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – Much has been said about India’s China policy but little has been discussed about China’s policy options towards India in a larger perspective. Discuss options of China vis-a-vis India.