Out of my mind: The Chinese gamble

On that long border on the roof of the Earth, the Chinese army is stronger and better resourced than the Indian Army.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published:November 2, 2014 12:05 am
The Chinese approach to borders was well described by Henry Kissinger in his massive book on China. The Chinese approach to borders was well described by Henry Kissinger in his massive book on China.

S K Patil, a towering Maharashtra politician of his generation, once said, “When in Rome, behave like a Rumanian.” There is humour and wisdom in his malapropism. Narendra Modi seems to have decided that when dealing with the Chinese, it is not a bad idea to do what the Chinese least expect: be like the Japanese.

The Chinese approach to borders was well described by Henry Kissinger in his massive book on China. They advance and thrust inside the other nation’s territory which they dispute. Then they unilaterally withdraw. It is as if the incursion has been erased. But a point has been made that they could, if they wanted to, occupy the disputed territory. They just choose not to do so.

This is what happened during the two bruising encounters in 1962. The Indian side thought it could “throw the Chinese out”, as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru declared. The outcome was an overwhelming show of strength with the Chinese humiliating India (as I well remember) and then adding insult to injury by unilaterally withdrawing. This pattern of thrust and retreat has been going on at the China-India border again lately. It is not the Indian approach, say, at the LoC in Kashmir, though it may be worth trying. India could take the Chinese approach to the border dispute with Pakistan and I am sure earn dividends. It is a way of being aggressive without really saying so.

When he was fighting the general election, Modi was very mild, indeed emollient about his Pakistan policy. But he made belligerent noises about the Himalayan border. Since his decisive victory, he has been moderate on the policy at the LoC, though the rhetoric is aggressive. As far as the India-Pakistan border dispute is concerned, the new policy is much like the old. It is China which is testing Modi’s resolve. Even as President Xi Jinping was enjoying the khaman dhokla and garba raas in Ahmedabad, Chinese troops made repeated incursions into the Indian side. This showed that either Xi was hypocritical in his declaration of friendship, or that the People’s Army was beyond his control.

On that long border on the roof of the Earth, the Chinese army is stronger and better resourced than the Indian Army. In a serious confrontation, it would be difficult for Indian soldiers to stand their ground.

The government has made a declaration of better preparation and more resources. But that will take time. As of now, India knows it cannot win an open war at that altitude and across that expanse of space.

This may explain why India has suddenly done something unprecedented in its foreign and defence policy thus far.

Cooperating with Vietnam in exploring offshore oil and offering some naval assistance to police the oil wells are as open a show of sticking a tongue out at China. The dispute between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea has been ongoing for a long time. Other nations in the area, such as the Philippines, have challenged China’s interpretation of its sovereignty as granted by the Law of the Sea. This is a hot topic.

India has been helping Vietnam, and China has objected. But this deliberate move to renew assistance to Vietnam cannot have been made in a fit of absentmindedness. This has to be a strategic move to tell China that it has more than one border where its tail can be tweaked. Indeed, I would conjecture that this is India’s new way of adopting China’s tactics against China itself. India well knows that China has a quarrel with Japan in the northern reaches of the same waters. This has galvanised Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into moving Japan out of its pacifist constitution as much as he can without actually amending it. Modi gets on with Abe.

Of course, it will be officially denied that the move to help Vietnam has any strategic significance.

But the timing of the move is also interesting. Modi has been to the US and talked with Barack Obama, who has declared a Pacific tilt to American policy. So here is a guess — it is Abe plus Obama, both friends of Modi, who are happy with his Vietnam policy.

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  1. S
    Sairam Kannaian
    Nov 2, 2014 at 8:43 am
    It is all about strength of one's economy. It may be bit cruel to say in today's environment especially in India but it is very well practiced with out utterance in other parts of the world. The more slaves you have the better the condition of the state or individual. unfortunately we can't do that in India but we can starve our potion in the name of democracy by denying them a job in the name of labor law. Look at NOKIA in Chennai. Unless we get out of this mind set that either you pay as per law or none at all, the country will stand to suffer much worst. We need to set aside all these first world decease for a period of time and come as a nation to let individual make decision on their given capacity and let the state just provide basic service of just human dignity for the neediest and rest to the market forces, I don't think as a nation we are going to progress in this century.
    Reply
  2. S
    Sairam Kannaian
    Nov 2, 2014 at 8:43 am
    It is all about strength of one's economy. It may be bit cruel to say in today's environment especially in India but it is very well practiced with out utterance in other parts of the world. The more slaves you have the better the condition of the state or individual. unfortunately we can't do that in India but we can starve our potion in the name of democracy by denying them a job in the name of labor law. Look at NOKIA in Chennai. Unless we get out of this mind set that either you pay as per law or none at all, the country will stand to suffer much worst. We need to set aside all these first world decease for a period of time and come as a nation to let individual make decision on their given capacity and let the state just provide basic service of just human dignity for the neediest and rest to the market forces, I don't think as a nation we are going to progress in this century.
    Reply
  3. S
    Shri
    Nov 2, 2014 at 7:39 am
    The author is right. India knows its strength as well as weakness. It is this situation in mind that the new Govt is trying to improve. And, also, it is the Chinese intention not to allow India to improve this situation. We may only hope, India can honorably pull time till it makes up for its weakness.
    Reply
  4. A
    Ashish Jain
    Nov 2, 2014 at 7:29 pm
    Chinese have been working on developing their technologies for a very long time.THey have a culture towards it while India is suffering significantly in it, because Indianbanias don't like to spend. They don't mind getting killed but they will not pay for their securitydia needs to invest by buying equipment in large numbers and co development with foreign countries.
    Reply
  5. A
    Ashish Jain
    Nov 2, 2014 at 7:29 pm
    Chinese have been working on developing their technologies for a very long time.THey have a culture towards it while India is suffering significantly in it, because Indianbanias don't like to spend. They don't mind getting killed but they will not pay for their securitydia needs to invest by buying equipment in large numbers and co development with foreign countries.
    Reply
  6. W
    Wounded
    Nov 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm
    better equipped. ...when? in 1962?...no shoes, no cold weather clothing, lousy leadership. ..against a a country that had given the USA and UN forces in Korea much more than a bloody nose...Re. Vietnam, it was a small encounter with a foe who knew nothing but war...wrong comparisons my friend
    Reply
  7. W
    Wounded
    Nov 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm
    better equipped. ...when? in 1962?...no shoes, no cold weather clothing, lousy leadership. ..against a a country that had given the USA and UN forces in Korea much more than a bloody nose...Re. Vietnam, it was a small encounter with a foe who knew nothing but war...wrong comparisons my friend
    Reply
  8. B
    Brijkhanna
    Nov 2, 2014 at 2:12 pm
    Though it is for the experts to interpret India policy towards China. I as a layman can suggest followings.1. Improve our infrastructures with borders with China which successive Governments have ignored out of CHINESE PHOBIA.2. DO not adopt Nehruian Era " THROW THEM OUT" but be consistent and realistic and be open to negotiations for final settlement.3. Generate strategic, Economic and Cultural relationship with Countries like Myanmar,, Philippine, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and an. This shall hit China more effectively in an indirect way.4. Be firm with Sri Lanka without Big Brother arrogance.5. Improve our strategic relationship with Nepal, Bhutan.6. Have aggressive policy towards stan and force them to believe that we could create an environment much more troublesome and complicated for them in WAZIRISTAN BELT.7. Enter into pact with IRAN to develop Char Bahar Port and help Iran to develop all weather Road connecting Afghanistan with Iran. 8. Give AFGHANISTAN the weapons they require but under guarantee for its not falling in the hands of Taliban. Partite and ist in creating better infrastructures to fight Talibans and to maintain their territorial integrity.These are my views as a layman.
    Reply
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