By Dr Subhash Kapila
China-India military confrontation in the High Himalayas as a consequence of China’s military occupation of Tibet in 1950 and the unprovoked Chinese invasion of India in end 1962 has in 2015 graduated from a boundary dispute to an intense geopolitical tussle in Asia’s geopolitical rivalries. This was the main thrust of my Book last year entitled “China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives” that stands greatly reinforced in 2017.
Geopolitical compulsions seem to be the driving force of China indulging in confrontation with Indian Troops in the Dokalam Plateau after militarily coercing the Royal Bhutan Army border patrols there. China’s military standoff here is aimed at questioning India’s geopolitical and geostrategic Special Relationship with Bhutan. China also is testing India’s political will to militarily sustain this Special Relationship.
Geopolitics seem to be in full play by China relative to the Dokalam Plateau standoff where China has implicitly threatened that China could generate disturbances for India in Sikkim, Bhutan and the Kashmir Valley. Only yesterday, the J&K Chief Minister openly declared in New Delhi that China was involved in the Kashmir Valley unrest. This was foreseen in relation to the CEC alignment. China has therefore now added new dimensions to the China-India military confrontation which so far stood confined to the India-China Occupied borders.
Geopolitical compulsions seem to have forced China’s hands in terms of the location and timing of the Dokalam Plateau military stand-off evolving into a full-fledged military confrontation. This comes contextually in the backdrop of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s geopolitically significant gains during his recent visits to the United States and Israel, which potentially are likely to play a weighty role in the buildup and modernisation of India’s military power in the coming decades and which is likely to tip Asia’s balance of power India lining up with the United States, Japan, Vietnam and Israel, as reflected in my last Paper, is greatly disconcerting for China
Closer home in South Asia where China is an entrenched Major Power courtesy Pakistan, and China actively engaged in promoting a China-Pakistan Russia Trilateral, the situation geopolitically is worrisome for China. Pakistan’s future is uncertain and Chia’s flagship in Pakistan –the much publicised CPEC has come in for public criticism within Pakistan. No less than the current Pakistan Army Chief has recently called for a more open debate within Pakistan on the CPEC.
Geopolitically, if the CPEC flounders under pressure from Pakistani public opinion, a potential that strongly exists, China’s geopolitical standing in South Asia and its ambitions to militarily outflank India and have a direct access to the North Arabian Sea gets seriously jeopardised.
The above coupled with India’s serious objections to CPEC passing through disputed territory and India’s marked reluctance to join China’s One Belt One Road is perceptionaly a serious Indian geopolitical affront to China and its political and military arrogance.
So where does the above contextual geopolitical environment hovering over the China-India geopolitical equations and the balance of power in Asia lead to? The major take here is that China long used to salience and a primacy in Asian affairs conceded in earlier decades by USA and the West face the prospects of India getting more preferential geopolitical and strategic in the global strategic calculus.
China’s options in response to such an evolving geopolitical process portend dangerous political and military implications for India. China flush with its exponential military power at its disposal is likely to resort to war threats against India, indulge in severe military brinkmanship, and generate geopolitical provocations.
All these are aimed at eroding India’s increasing credibility in Asian affairs, denting its stature as an evolving counterweight to China—an endowment by the global community in response to China’s threatening military brinkmanship all over Indo Pacific Asia stretching from the India-China Occupied Tibet birders in the High Himalayas to the seas of the Western Pacific.
China’s war threats to India, military brinkmanship in the Dokalam Plateau for over a month now, China recalling how it humiliated India in the 1962 Sino-Indian War implying that the same humiliation awaits India in 2017 in case it does not back-off from the Dokalam Plateau. Statements synchronised and articulated through China’s official and semi-official organs as available in the media are downright insulting to India’s ‘National Honour’.
India’s Defence Minister Arun Jaitley was right in pointing out to China that the India of 2017 is not the India of 1962. I would like to add further and put China on notice that “India of 2017 is hypersensitive to protect Indi’s sovereignty and India’s National Honour than it was in 1962”, irrespective of the costs. China should remember that the Indian Republic is no longer a captive of the China-appeasement policies characteristic of the Nehru era and even of the previous government in New Delhi.
In relation to the ongoing Dokalam Plateau military standoff a number of pertinent questions are surfacing which are plaguing both Indian and international observers. These are (1) Is a diplomatic resolution possible? (2) Who would blink first in this confrontation? (3) Could this military confrontation escalate iinto a full-fledged China-India War?
Diplomatic solutions do not offer any scope for resolution going by China’s past records. China in the past has not observed I spirit or letter the various Boundary Agreements which past Indian Governments had mistakenly signed, including the one imposed on the previous Government of the Boundary Disputes Cooperation Agreement.
In any case in the Dokalam Plateau standoff, China maintains that Indian troops have aggressed into Chinese Territory and that too behalf of Bhutan. Implicitly, China would like to project that Indian troops withdraw from Dkalam Plateau and that the matter could be decided with Bhutan. In other words India should abandon Bhutan as by continued pressure in the instant case China could drive a wedge between Bhutan and India.
In terms of who will blink first in the China-India military confrontation, it seem that both sides will not blink as this time the question is not one of perceptional boundary alignments but more of high geopolitical stakes. India has to be prepared to have the ‘Political Will’ for a long-haul military standoff.
The most defying speculation is as to whether the Dokalam Plateau China-India Military Confrontation could escalate into a full-fledged war? This seems unlikely going by the global geopolitical environment being heavily stacked against China and its persistent military brinkmanship in the pursuit of its geopolitical ambitions.
In this regard, little seems to be known that in the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, both the United Saes and Russia without active intervention supplied arms and equipment to Vietnam. In 2017, where India figures high in the global strategic calculus and the global community perceives that China is bent on changing the established order, China may be in for active isolation. At least in terms of the Indian Ocean where China plans to open another front against India in tandem with the Himalayan Borders in the event of war, China could face active intervention by the United States, Japan, Australia and West Europe of converting the Indian Ocean into a war zone.
That leaves the possibilities of China resorting to swift ‘limited wars’ not only confined to the Dokalam Plateau but also to divide India’s military attention and military effort by limited war conflicts in Ladakh, Northern Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Accompanying these would be a more than proactive China-Inspired intensified disturbances and unrest in Kashmir Valley, Darjeeling and North Bengal, Sikkim and the North East sates.
In conclusion it needs to be stressed that to combat China’s geopolitical and military threats to India, the Indian Republic has now to be prepared to ‘walk the talk’ in terms of proving to China that the India of 2017 is not the India of 1962. Further, more than India’s strong military capabilities, what will count against China as a bigger deterrence is in 2017 India’s stiffened ‘Political Will’.