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China: Rising Pitch for a War with India to recover Arunachal Pradesh

It may be recalled that some influential strategists in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) visualised a ‘partial war’ with India to recover ‘Southern Tibet’ (The PRC’s name for India’s Arunachal Pradesh) (Reference C3S Paper No. 230 dated 24 November 2008, Quite a few comments supporting such views have since appeared and been carried in authoritative strategic portals.

The latest to join the camp of protagonists of a war with India to recover Southern Tibet, is an analyst, who appears to be a high level cadre dealing with the subject, perhaps with a military background. The writer’s article, though hawkish in content, is in-depth, spread over four parts; official blessings to it look obvious as a prominent strategic think tank in the country has chosen the same for publication (Online edition of the Well-connected China International Institute for Strategic Studies, Chinese language, 11 January 2009, under the column ‘China Strategy’,

The article, described as a follow-up to a question raised recently by some experts in China as to whether or not China should show its determination to recover Southern Tibet, declares that the return of Indian troops into ‘Southern Tibet’ after two years of Chinese withdrawal to the north of ‘illegal’ McMahon line in 1962 and India’s settlement of a large migrant population in that territory for the purpose of rationalising its occupation, seriously damaged China’s interests, flagrantly creating ‘greatest obstacle’ to building trust between the two nations.

The write-up then lays stress on the following four points:

  1. Looking from the viewpoints of history, law, national sentiment and custom and tradition, Southern Tibet (Zang Nan in Chinese) is a region, which is inhabited in a concentrated way by China’s Tibetan nationality people. Border tensions like what was seen in 1987-89 and India’s stepping up of its war preparedness as in recent period, cannot lead to any wavering on China’s part in its resolve to recover that region. The PRC has no reason to abandon its claim on Southern Tibet.

  2. Though China has had a long period of development resulting in increase in Comprehensive National Power, the attitudes of the Western world towards issues concerning Tibet and Southern Tibet can still affect it. India is courting the West and Russia and the strategic demand of all of them is to restrict and balance China. Japan’s ‘Arc of Freedom and Democracy ’ concept, is nothing but one aimed at containing China, joined by the West and India. The West including France and Germany intend to seize the last opportunity to exploit ‘Dalai’ and they ‘shamelessly’ supported the March 2008 Tibet unrest. Overall, judging from Western attitudes, it is clear that once a war happens, the West will once again come to the support of India forcefully. This pressure needs to be paid attention by China if it wants to fight against India.

  3. For reasons of nationality and India’s stubbornness, it would be difficult for China to avoid a war with India on the Southern Tibet issue. What can be said in certain is that China has completed its military preparations to solve that issue. Its economic strength, technological expertise, military power and logistics support capability, will help the country in completing a military attack on Southern Tibet. Also, as a point of certain significance, China has attained ability to deal with a possible nuclear conflict with India. The best for China would be its ‘direct dismemberment’ of India and make the latter to ‘spit what it has swallowed’ – making Sikkim independent, rejuvenating Pakistan and restoring freedom of choice to Bhutan and Nepal.

  4. In principle, if vital interests of countries clash, there is no scope for a compromise among them and war is the only remedy. Russia’s action against Georgia in August 2008 is an example; Moscow could utilise that opportunity to stop the US-led NATO expansion in Europe. China must attend to the Southern Tibet issue in the same way. It should be done considering the overall strategic situation in Central Asia, the target for US infiltration and in the South Asian Sub-Continent. While, in this regard, Pakistan and Iran are specifically important for China, Myanmar also needs the PRC’s attention as, if a war with India erupts, Indian troops may try to enter and attack China’s Yunnan province. 14th Army of Chengdu MR should be stationed in Kunming, Yunnan’s capital. The position that 80% of China’s strategic bomber force is in Lanzhou MR, may not be ideal. India cannot win a war with China in view of latter’s military preparedness and especially the superiority in armoured and rocket forces. It is estimated that once a war on the Southern Tibet issue starts, 80 percent of India’s deployed troops in northern part can become targets for the Chinese army. Beijing should grasp opportunities for attacking and hitting India to recover Southern Tibet. If India is clever, it should stop depending on the US support and sit for sincere talks with China.

The article is the worst instance seen so far of a Chinese war mongering vis-à-vis India. This hardest line on Arunachal Pradesh issue, being adopted at least by a section of Chinese strategists, ostensibly under an indirect government nod, contrasts with Beijing’s present official position that China and India are no threat to each other and that the boundary issue can be solved on the basis of ‘mutual understanding and mutual accommodation’ and dialogue on ‘equal terms’. Special Representatives of China and India have held a series of talks to reach a framework agreement on the border based the bilateral agreement on political parameters and guiding principles. The two sides have also in the meanwhile agreed that bilateral relations should not be held as a hostage to the border problem, which is complex and requires time, to solve. As other positive factors, bilateral trade is picking up, both sides have a signed a Vision document and a strategic partnership relation has been established between them. The article on the other hand creates a hostile atmosphere to Sino-Indian relations, giving rise to a key question- is China deliberately blowing hot and cold on the border issue?

A probable explanation could be that there can be internal differences in China on the Arunachal Pradesh issue- strategic and national security establishments, which give priority to national sovereignty on one side and the diplomatic machinery which accords primacy to ‘harmonious world’ and ‘peaceful periphery’ concepts to suit to China’s modernisation requirements, on the other. The top PRC leadership presumably is yet to reconcile the two different approaches. Admittedly, there is no convincing proof for this prognosis, but it would be in India’s interests to watch carefully for signs of such differences, with a scrutiny on how they will play out in future if they are found to exist. Another possibility is that pronouncements like what have been made in the article could be meant a Chinese pressure tactic against India for the purpose of extracting territorial concessions during future border negotiations, for e.g on the status of Tawang.

In any case, it would be strongly advisable for New Delhi to keep itself alive to the likelihood of China carrying out any military misadventure in the border, however illogical that may appear at this juncture. Considering the present India-Pakistan tensions, such alert on the part of India becomes all the more necessary.

(The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, )

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