Sikkim standoff: China's border disputes with 18 nations leaves it vulnerable, India could be David to this Goliath

If India and China have a war, the most pointless part is to ask "who will win". Nobody can win a war of such magnitude these days and it does not matter who has more guns or ships or planes. The fact is that the spoils of a war would be impossible to bear and the taking care in the absurd scenario of a defeat of one by the other of a billion prisoners would destroy the victor in double quick time.

Consequently, while there may be skirmishes at the border and a great deal of needling even with casualties the confrontation in capsule stays equal and India even has the edge. There is no all-out scenario so it is an utter waste of time to debate it like it was a soccer match. My-daddy-is-bigger-than-your-daddy is not on the cards.

As a country, we do have problems but there is an upbeat mood and Indian military's morale is no longer that of 1962. China is well aware that Indian troops are well-armed and well-positioned. By that measure China's own military is unwieldy and currently integral to the problems being faced by the country as a whole, paramount among them a fear of losing the global market that it dominates in imitation, making Taiwan a pale contender.

In fact, more than the guns and ships, it is the bruising of the bottom line that is India's big weapon and with China now facing massive corruption, a huge ageing population and disputes on the borders with 18 nations, it is got more than just an Achilles heel. The weak spots range from Japan over the Senkaku and Ryukyu islands, Vietnam over the Spratly islands and parts of the archipelagos in the South China sea, North Korea over Jiando and The Philippines over Scarborough Shoal.

Besides it is also confrontational with Malaysia and Brunei over the Spratly islands, with Tajikistan and Mongolia in toto and Cambodia as an historically integral part of China.

That gives us an idea of the stress Beijing feels on its diplomatic front. Now, let's not be naïve. China still has the potential to live out the words of Napoleon: let her sleep for she is a dragon and if she wakes her roar will shake the world. But this would have been a lot easier in another time and space.

Still not on the cutting edge of technology and behind on its cyber space capacity, China is as vulnerable to cyber hacking and jamming as anyone else if not more because of its size. Beneath the bravado is a certain tangible concern about its size being its weakness in an economic war. Remember David and Goliath, well India has a lot more than the slingshot of 55 years ago.

A file image of a Chinese soldier at the border in Nathu La pass in Sikkim. Getty images

A file image of a Chinese soldier at the border in Nathu La pass in Sikkim. Getty images

In 2015 the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) issued a rather telling research paper.

To quote: "The authors divide Chinese military's weaknesses into two broad categories: institutional and combat capabilities. Institutional problems arise from rampant corruption, outdated command structures, the quality of personnel, and lack of professionalism. The weakness in combat capabilities is due to "an incomplete military transformation," which produced logistical weaknesses, insufficient strategic airlift capabilities, limited numbers of special-mission aircraft, and deficiencies in naval air defense and antisubmarine warfare.

The paper also lists shortcomings in other domains such as space and cyberspace. In addition, China's defense industry is also allegedly suffering from widespread corruption and is in the middle of a "transition from central planning to a more market-oriented system."

If we use these sentiments as the background for the current media hype in China, we notice the fissures. Calling on the country to unite against India, hectoring the soldiers to be professional and chiding the nation to be of one mind the influential Global Times said, "We call on Chinese society to maintain high-level unity on the issue. The more unified the Chinese people are, the more sufficient conditions the professionals will have to fight against India and safeguard our interests. This time, we must teach New Delhi a bitter lesson."

Notice that India has no need to summon its people with a clarion call.

They are already there. In between the lines and again, without downplaying the Chinese might, reflected in the media exhortation there is a reluctant civil and military society that would rather attack the plagues of unemployment, water shortage and a threat to the economy with a possible fresh devaluation than pick up arms against India for a tract of land and nothing at the end of the massive blood sacrifice.

So, let's get over that 1962 hang up that China keeps referring to because that was a political war and badly handled. That will not happen again. Beijing is well aware of that. This time, whether in short bursts or over a long period, it will be army versus army and the Chinese are untried and not battle inoculated.

So, while there is no need to oversell ourselves there is no reason to be that aware of the dragon's breath. Puff and it could go away…into the autumn mist.

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Updated Date: Jul 10, 2017 13:54:21 IST

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