Monday, September 14, 2009

Communication, rather than alarmism: China - India coexistence requires astute management

Given the increase in political temperature following a number of reports in the Indian media, about the various Chinese inclursions in to India, across the line of actual control, Nitin Pai and Sushant K Singh write in the Mint, "Interpreting China’s attitude" (14 Sept 2009), suggests that viewing Beijing as a political monolith is erroneous. Indian attitudes require realism in dealing with China. The authors offer that "nuclear deterrence imposes limits on how much a conventional military conflict can escalate", and secondly, any military conflict "would have the inevitable consequence of pushing India unequivocally into an alliance with the US".

While eschewing paranoia, alarmism and irresponsible rhetoric, a state of armed coexistence requires astute management. First, Indian and Chinese officials—civilian and military—must communicate across all levels. The establishment of a hotline between the heads of government must be followed up with communication links and better contacts between military commanders at operational levels...

Second, India must continue to invest in conventional defences to ensure that the military balance across the Himalayan frontier remains stable in the face of the PLA’s rapid modernization. This calls for careful planning as to the type of military assets used and the areas where they are deployed, to minimize the risk of miscalculation by either side. Also, as Admiral Sureesh Mehta said in an important speech a few days before he stepped down as navy chief, “On the military front, our strategy to deal with China must include reducing the military gap and countering the growing Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean Region. The traditional or ‘attritionist’ approach of matching ‘Division for Division’ must give way to harnessing modern technology for developing high situational awareness and creating a reliable stand-off deterrent.”

Third, India must avoid creating needless suspicions in Beijing over its Tibet policy. John Garver, a noted scholar of India-China relations, determines that Mao’s profound misreading of Nehru’s strategic intentions over Tibet was one of the main drivers of China’s decision to go to war with India in 1962. New Delhi must not allow the Tibetans’ struggle to unduly determine how it is perceived by the Chinese leadership.

Finally, not everything about the India-China border issue lies in the domain of foreign policy. It’s not only about the “development” of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh. It is about making them part of the political, economic and social mainstream.

Ironically, while China has consciously attempted to integrate Tibet in to Chinese mainstream, India has as part of its strategic doctrine sought to keep the border regions such as Arunachal or Ladakh or Sikkim, relatively isolated, believing that their remoteness would somehow help secure secure the border against possible external aggression. In modern times, it is futile to believe that natural obstacles such as the mighty Himalayas would continue to prove insurmountable as it had throughout much of history. Secondly, there is a greater need among military and strategic scholars to recognise the critical role of economic development in sustaining a greater military strength.


  1. Very interesting observations.

    Here are my two cents -
    I agree with the need to integrate parts of North East India into the Indian mainstream. That is something we can learn from China.

    However, on the question of Tibet, I beg to differ. Whether we like it or not, we remain one of the "truest" democracies in the world.

    We should not brush China's occupation of Tibet under the carpet. That would be extremely selfish and counterproductive.

    There is tremendous scope to increase people-to-people contact between the two countries. We need to strengthen these linkages and create a more symbiotic relationship. At present we are either competing for first world markets or crying over spilt milk.

    The present (media manufactured) Chinese threat has a silver lining. We should look at bringing sustainable development to North East India.

    On a lighter note - after failing miserably to light a fire under our chairs with Pakistan and China where will the media turn to next? Maldives?

    Anand Bala

  2. Hi Anand,
    Integration does not mean subjugation. After 60 years, we in India can really say that our social and ethnic diversities have contributed to sustaining our democracy. This is something the Chinese and Tibetans need to appreciate and adopt.
    I agree with your sentiments on Tibet. But I am not as optimistic about Tibet, with or without China. Apart from the ethnicity, the Tibetans seem to have hardly any political underpinnings, and neither the economic capacity to develop and defend their positions. So I am afraid, the future of Tibet is much more dependent on the path China takes.