Wednesday 1 February 2023
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India is busy provisioning and war-gaming towards the probability of China's defeat that seems more or less inevitable, given the present realities


Gautam Mukherjee
Gautam Mukherjee
Commentator on political and economic affairs

The barbaric clash at the Galwan Valley has put paid to the myth of “peace and tranquillity” on the Indian borders with China. It was a myth because while neither side was shooting; China was encroaching on Indian territory in strength. Though not quite itching for war, it was coming up behind innocuous but probing foot patrols, and creating infrastructure every summer. India was too intimidated to do anything about it for decades, and the governments of the day covered it up.

There is also a fifth column operative in India that favours the Chinese point of view. It is still active, but far less influential than it used to be. China has taken the trouble to put considerable monetary resources to create an ecosystem that cheers its positions, spies for it, spreads misinformation, hacks into secrets, and subverts officials and politicians. This is not just in India and the US, but in various parts of Western Europe as well.

Negotiations are on presently to restore order and a seemly disengagement from eastern Ladakh. This might happen in some measure, but there is a perception that the Chinese will not actually leave unless they are forced out of Indian territory. The perception is bolstered by the fact that satellite pictures show a considerable and growing build up of fighting men, armaments, heavy construction equipment and materials on the Chinese side of the LaC, behind the various flash points, including the Galwan River Valley.

To build Indian clarity of purpose on the LoAC, all treaties and agreements since 1962, and indeed the Panchsheel Declaration in the fifties, have to be mentally consigned to the dustbin. India must take a page out of the Red Chinese playbook, wherein it never lets its strategic interest suffer because of a signature on a piece of paper.

India clearly thinks it is a strategic necessity to take back what China has stolen over the years or surrender to Chinese hegemony. Thanks to a foolhardy Gen Shu Keling, imported from the Xinjiang theatre just days before the night of 15 June.

China has overplayed its salami-slicing hand. Thereby, it has provided the perfect opportunity for India to set things right. This, despite Chinese vainglory about claiming territory that is not, and never did, belong to it. And outright lies about who started the fight that left it humiliated.

There were clashes before this also, over the month of May, and always featured sticks, stones, clubs. For the first time, these have been brought to the match as a subversion of the intent behind not using firearms. There were no such “non-weapons” in Doklam.

In addition, alongside the US, there are new Indian moves to call for an independent Tibet. A service, the Tibetan World Service, has been launched from under the All India Radio (AIR) umbrella.

India is also declaring the daily weather report in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan and include the territories prominently on our maps.

The Tibetan president-in-exile is now a regular feature on Indian, and occasionally, international TV channels. He lives in India, with his government, in addition to the popular Dalai Lama and many Tibetan refugees.

The next clash with China, wherever it comes, will probably spark a limited border war, unless China decides to meekly take its licks without an attempt to retaliate. It may not be very sure anymore of winning the battle. Nor of being able to sell their side of the story internationally. The list of countries China is presently confronting on various issues is quite long. They may be too tired to rise to the challenge.

And if they lose, men, equipment and territory, it will mean an upheaval in Xi Jinping’s fortunes, and the credibility of the People’s Liberation Ar4my (PLA), as well as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

India is busy provisioning and war-gaming towards this probability that seems more or less inevitable. The choice is between retaliation and possible war, or loss of territory. India has declared it is not willing to give up territory. An all-party meeting has been called for the 19th of June to build political consensus on this position.

China has revealed its weakness in a real fight, taking 60 casualties, as per an American think-tank, to India’s 20 at Galwan. This, despite the superior numbers it brought to the premeditated clash. The PLA is not an that has dealt with people who can fight back. The Indians were expected to run away after their CO was killed.

Galwan was fought thug fashion, hand-to-hand. The Chinese came to it with billy clubs, iron rods wrapped in barbed wire, stones. The Indians seem to have snatched away some of their weapons and ended up beating or hurling 60 Chinese to their deaths down the cliffs.

Battle-hardened Indian troops around the country, mirror the public anger at this Chinese treachery. Soldiers in the forward areas are determined to avenge their fallen brethren at the first opportunity.

India has overnight started cutting trade ties, cancelling infrastructure contracts, barring Chinese access to the Indian market, disallowing and rolling back all Chinese investments, putting stiff tariffs on imports from China. All this will decimate China’s $ 75 billion trade surplus with India.

There will be no more hand- holding summits of the leadership in the foreseeable future.

The strategic thinking in India has changed overnight. The moment is fast approaching to push back hard, not only in Ladakh and along the nearly 4,000 Km border with China. This is a matter of survival. But to make it stick India must also take back PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan and hold it. This will post a decisive blow to the two-front challenge from China and Pakistan. A more opportune time may not come again.

International support for India is growing. It has just been inducted into the UNSC with an overwhelming number of positive votes, for a two-year term, during which it will helm the UNSC in August 2021.

The support this time is not just in terms of statements from India’s Western allies, particularly the US, calling out China’s latest border intrusions in Ladakh.

The US and others have their own bone to pick with China as well. They are moving like a wall to put China under considerable pressure economically and militarily. Everyone has had enough of China’s duplicity and expansionism, except for some of its highly beholden satellites. And of course, the paid for Indian fifth column.

America has recently transferred three of its nuclear powered aircraft carrier groups to the Pacific and off the Red Chinese coast.

It has issued military warning with regard to the South China Sea, and Taiwan. It has decided to impose sanctions on the Chinese treatment of Uighurs. It has frowned on the Chinese intent to curb democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and warned of consequences.

China however seems to be pressing on regardless in Hong Kong, and with its menacing of Taiwan. It has deployed its own much smaller aircraft carrier to intimidate Taiwan. Those keeping count, say that Red Chinese fighters have flown into Taiwan’s air space, or very close to it, over a half a dozen times lately.

Japan, Australia and India have deployed their navies in support of the US effort. Choke points such as the Malacca Straits are under observation.

 The trade war has intensified between China and the US. The latter has threatened the cutting off of all trade ties with China. There have been trade-related tiffs with Canada as well. Britain has been warned and threatened by China, both on trade, on the rejection of Huawei’s 5G bid in the UK, as it was in Canada and its attitude of support towards Hong Kong.

Chinese factories have started up, but there are no orders. Xi Jinping and the parts of the CCP and PLA loyal to him are grappling with rising unemployment, falling revenues, simmering public resentment.

 The Wuhan Virus and the devastation it is still causing has radically changed the mood and soured international relations with China.

Most countries are not willing to stomach Chinese belligerence and any more. China’s misguided Wolf Warrior diplomacy has back-fired. It has already consolidated the US, India, Britain, Canada, Australia, into a resistance group. Others, in Europe, such as Germany, Italy and France are following suit. Israel can be counted on, despite its lucrative trade with China. Russia may try to sit on the fence and even play both sides to its advantage.

China as hegemon will, it appears, be definitely checked. America will once again step into the resultant power vacuum, NATO allies in tow. It will be assisted by India, a key Asian player on the front lines.

India has already signed most of the protocols for a close defence partnership with the US, and this is reflected in its increased access to the best US weapons systems.

Chinese has land boundary disputes with practically all its neighbours and claims to most of the South China Sea. This is particularly irksome to the Western powers, as well as countries around it, such as Vietnam. It is also in violation of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdicts on international waterways.

Regardless of this, China has built artificial islands, placed missiles, communications apparatus, stationed fighters, built airfields. The Americans are now also keeping an eye also on the Chinese Naval base at Hainan which houses its nuclear submarines. A skirmish, therefore, could break out any time there.

For India, looking at the long term, the Uttar Pradesh Defence Corridor and connecting highways have not come a day too soon. India cannot be a top-level power by economic growth alone. It must make weapon systems that are world-beaters in their class and function — war or no war.

Others who have been in this position, have taken liberally from what has gone before. Nobody has wasted time and money reinventing the wheel. But after that there is need for speed and innovation. There is need for further design improvements, performance enhancement, localisation. The arms manufacturers must adapt weapons to varieties of terrain, weather, ambient conditions, altitudes, temperatures.

India, fortunately, has no shortage of meritorious personnel, products of a very good higher education system. And it has made some progress on a collaborative model.

India already makes quite a few things. Items include bullet proof vests, rifles, machine guns, howitzers, armoured vehicles, tanks, missiles of various classes, frigates, patrol boats, submarines including nuclear powered submarines, aircraft carriers, fighter planes, drones, radar systems, surveillance satellites.

It also assembles a large array of weapons and makes components in the private sector for military and civilian application. Today, when the hardware of a weapon system is accompanied by a lot of bought out items and software, India should not have an insurmountable problem playing catch-up.

Under the Modi dispensation there has been an attitudinal shift away from imported weapons wherever possible. Over the last six years, the government owned Defence Reasearch and Development Organisation (DRDO), long mocked and derided, have produced radars, howitzers, and other weapons that have been inducted into the Indian Armed Forces. 

Similarly, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), is well on its way to meet the acute shortfall in fighter aircraft. It is also producing helicopters. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is helping with satellites for the military.

India will henceforth make almost all its ammunition as well. It has created a strategic oil reserve underground. The private sector is integrating into the military manufacturing effort is a force multiplier and efficiency catalyst. The cutting edge is yet to emerge. And when it does, India will become a great power.



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