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Can China do a repeat of 1962 in 2017?
Relations between China and India are at the lowest in years. President Xi Jinping has been following expansionist policies in South China Sea and against India. His political future may be decided by his military exploits. China has military and economic superiority. But it's armed forces are untested in battle. Indian armed forces are no pushovers. But we should not rely on China not attacking but to be ready for all eventualities.

The bonhomie between PM Modi and Chinese premier Xi Jinping of 2014 has continued for appearances at the G20 Summit at Hamburg. China has stubbornly refused to allow India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It has vetoed UN proposal to declare Hafiz Saeed a global terrorist.

Under Jinping, China has displayed strong expansionist tendencies in South China Sea and against India. It has given Tibetan names to six towns in Arunachal Pradesh in its maps. The present standoff between the two armies at Doka La Pass and Doklam Plateau in Chumbi Valley of Tibet show no sign of ending. Dokalam plateau is recognised by India as belonging to Bhutan. Since India is treaty bound to protect Bhutan, it has troops deployed at Doka La and Doklam. China claims that Doklam belongs to it and not to Bhutan.

As per China's new assertive and aggressive policy it has started building a road in the region and destroyed two Indian bunkers at Doka La. Indian troops have physically pushed the Chinese back. Chinese media is threatening war. Chinese ambassador is talking tough. I am sure the readers will like to know about earlier Sino-India conflicts and an assessment about the probability and outcome of a new war.

History of conflicts

China did not attack Sikkim in 1962. One reason could be that the logistics required to fight a war were not in place. It is also possible that it did not have resources to attack on so many fronts.

In late 1967, there were two skirmishes between Indian and Chinese forces in Sikkim. On 11th September 1967, troops of the Indian Army's 18th Rajput Regiment were protecting an Engineering Company that was fencing the border at Nathu La when Chinese troops opened fire on them. This incident escalated over the next five days to an exchange of heavy artillery and mortar fire between the Indians and the Chinese. 62 Indian soldiers, from the 18th Rajput, the 2nd Grenadiers and the Artillery regiments were killed. Major Harbhajan Singh of the Rajput Regiment was awarded a Mahavir Chakra (posthumously) and Naib Subedar Pandey, a Vir Chakra (posthumously) for their gallant actions. The extent of Chinese casualties in this incident is not known but high enough for them to back off.

On 1 October 1967, a group of Indian soldiers noticed Chinese troops surrounding a forward post at the Cho La outpost on Sikkim-Tibet border. After a heated argument over the control of the area, a Chinese soldier bayoneted a Gurkha rifleman, triggering the start of a close quarters knife and fire fight, which then escalated to a mortar and heavy machine gun duel. The Chinese troops signaled a ceasefire after three hours of fighting but later scaled Point 15450 to establish them there. The Gurkhas outflanked them the next day to regain Point 15450 and the Chinese retreated across the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Twenty one Indian soldiers were killed in this action. The Indian government awarded Vir Chakras to Rifleman Limbu (posthumously) and battalion commander Major KB Joshi for their gallant actions. The extent of Chinese casualties in this skirmish were enough for them to pull back.

India and China made efforts to improve relations after 1979. China remained silent on Sikkim's merger into India and also India's special relationship with Bhutan. The Chinese leaders agreed to discuss the boundary issue. Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake in Tibet were opened to annual pilgrimages from India. In 1980, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi approved a plan to upgrade the deployment of forces around the Line of Actual Control to avoid unilateral redefinitions of the line. India also increased funds for infrastructure development in these areas. 

Can China teach India a lesson by starting a war?

Both China and India have made great economic progress and modernised their armies over the last 45 years since 1962. India is in the process of raising an additional Corps to develop offensive capability in the Northeast. China is economically stronger. It has over 2 trillion dollars in foreign exchange while India has less than 400 billion. In terms of numbers, the Chinese Army, Navy and Air Force are much larger than their Indian counterparts. However, they have a much larger border to defend. China manufactures most of its weapon systems and constantly upgrades its weapon systems. India relies on imports. There has been no upgradation of its artillery or air force in the last 30 years. It, however, needs to be noted that new equipment is usually sent to priority sectors. Thus, most of the new equipment for the Chinese Army would have gone to troops facing Taiwan, Vietnam and those deployed in the South China Sea. It is unlikely that Chinese troops in Tibet would be equipped with the latest arms.

It is said that God is on the side of the larger battalions. But it is not always so. Generalship, quality and morale of troops play a very important role in war. Thus, 30000 strong army of Ahmed Shah Abdali routed the 100,000 strong Maratha army in the Third Battle of Panipat. There are many such examples. China has not fought a war since the Sino-Vietnam War of 1979. China wanted "to teach a lesson" to the Vietnamese. But the People's Liberation Army was badly mauled and forced to retreat. The battle hardened Vietnamese, with better strategy and motivation, were able to take on the Chinese Army and inflict heavy casualties. China's generals and troops are untested in battle. India on the other hand fought the Kargil War in 1999 and recaptured territory occupied by Pakistani forces. Indian infantry is engaged in counter insurgency in Kashmir and the Northeast. Most units have been baptized under fire. Chinese infantry has not had a bullet fired at them since 1979. How will they react in the face of Indian fire? Will they come in human waves like they did in 1962 and die or will they simply bolt?

China's options

China has three military options. Firstly, it can go for a limited war in Chumbi Valley and try to capture Doklam Plateau by force. This would be a grave mistake and is likely to fail. Terrain here favors India as Indian positions are on higher ground. Its logistic lines are long and can easily be attacked by India both from ground or air. The military air fields are much closer on the Indian side. Secondly, it can go for a limited war at some other sector where the terrain is more favorable and maintenance of troops is easier. Thirdly, it can attack on all fronts as they did in 1962. Whatever military option they adopt, they will have to build up and mobilise its troops. In the age of satellite and drone surveillance such activities are easier to detect than they were in 1962. Indian armed forces will have time to react. The Chinese armed forces will not get walkovers as they did in 1962. Neither country has the resources to conquer the other. But both have the capability to make battlefield gains.

Conclusion

It is not easy for any country, however powerful it might be, to teach a military lesson to a determined opponent. US actions in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are living examples. Chinese attempt to teach Vietnam a lesson failed miserably. But Xi Jinping may have painted himself into a corner with his expansionist policies and war may be necessary for his political survival.

Sun Tzu (500 BC) the great Chinese military strategist said, "The art of war teaches us not to rely on the likelihood of the enemy not coming but on our readiness to receive him: not on the chance of his not attacking but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable". I hope our government will not rely on China not seeking to teach India a lesson but get ready for a fight. The military commanders at all levels must ensure that deficiencies in equipment, spares and ammunition are quickly made up and that the units are battle ready. Surveillance of enemy activities has to increase. The government should appoint a full time defence minister and take action to modernise our artillery and air force on priority.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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