There ‘s one brewing on the northern frontier between India and China. The problem is that there’s no agreement where the frontier actually lies. A British colonial official by the name of McMahon drew a line on a map and then everyone forgot about the desolate region. There are two contentious areas: Aksai Chin and Arunachai Pradesh (which the Chinese call Southern Tibet). The two countries fought a war in 1962 over the latter bit of ground. To the dismay of the proud Indian army, the Chinese People’s Army gave them a right royal spanking.
China’s economic rise has fuelled their great power ambitions. So Arunachai or Southern Tibet is now a hot spot. As it serves as an escape route for fleeing Tibetans, Beijing would like to close this doorway to India. So it has been engaging in a huge military build up. It has constructed roads, railways, airfields and a complex communications network. There are about 160,000 Chinese troops in Tibet and intermediate range ballistic missiles there as well. The Indians have nothing comparable on their side of the disputed border. This asymmetry has led to New Delhi announcing a $13 billion military modernisation of the region. About 100,000 soldiers are to be recruited to patrol the area. So both sides are getting serious.
There is simply now no trust between the two Asian giants. Various rounds of talks have got nowhere. Despite this there were joint military exercises in 2007 and 2008. Relations plummeted in August 2011 when the Chinese denied entry to an airforce officer who was a member of an official delegation. The reason? He hailed from Arunachai Pradesh. The Indians responded by cancelling the third round of joint military exercises.
Border talks have been frozen too. The Chinese object to the Dalai Lama’s activities in India. This is always a neuralgic point in relations: Beijing is increasingly nervous about its control of Tibet and fears the Dalai Lama’s influence.
So what should the Indians do faced with superior military forces on their northern frontier? The proposal has been floated that since India cannot hope to defeat the superior Chinese forces there is no point in attempting to compete with them. Find weak spots in Beijing’s armour and attack there. There are hundreds of Chinese incursions into India annually. Indian forces should move across the long border and occupy small areas. This will throw the Chinese off balance and force them to disperse their forces. Another tactic is to promote an insurgency in Tibet. This example of soft power can weaken the hard power of the Chinese military. This is a highly inflammatory proposal and could lead to China invading India to force New Delhi to desist from undermining Chinese control of Tibet.
China will change its leaders in October. A little war with India could benefit one of the two factions fighting for dominance in Beijing. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. There is no telling what the consequences of military conflict in the Himalayas might be. Another war is something the world can do without. Hold your breath.