India and China have far too much to lose; border skirmishes may cause confrontation not war

If India and China do have a war, the most pointless question to ask is 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 aircraft. The fact is that the spoils of war would be impossible to bear, and given the billion-plus populations and taking care of them, even the victor would be destroyed in double quick time.

Consequently, while there may be skirmishes at the border and a great deal of needling, and even casualties, confrontation in capsule stays equal. In fact, India even has the edge. There is no all-out scenario, so it is an utter waste of time to debate it like it is. My daddy is stronger 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 like 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 also integral to the problems faced by the country as a whole, paramount among them a fear of losing the global market that it dominates in the manufacturing sector, making Taiwan a pale contender.

Representational image of Chinese army. Reuters

Representational image of Chinese army. Reuters

In fact, more than the guns and ships, it is the bruising of the bottom line that is India's biggest weapon, and with China facing massive corruption, a huge aging population, and disputes on borders with 18 nations, Beijing has more than just one Achilles Heel. It has got weak spots ranging from Japan over the Senkaku and Ryukyu islands, Vietnam over the Spratly islands and parts of the South China Sea archipelagos, 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 with Cambodia as a historically integral part of China.

That gives us an idea of the stress Beijing feels on its diplomatic front. But 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 so 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 it possessed 55 years ago.

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. 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 defence and antisubmarine warfare."

The paper also lists shortcomings in other domains such as space and cyberspace. In addition, China's defence industry is 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. It 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.

Updated Date: Jul 08, 2017 21:58 PM

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