Is a war between China and India inevitable?
I would like to begin this article with a quote from the famous Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana. Contrary to former US president Woodrow Wilson’s policy on WWI a hundred years ago, in 1922, George wrote in his book Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies that “only the dead have seen the end of war.’’
George’s words are infallible. There is no doubt that war means bloodshed. And there is no doubt that the war will not end without bloodshed.
Bloodshed has already taken place in the recent Sino-Indian border tensions. No party is giving concessions to any other party.
On the contrary, the two countries are in a state of extreme tension over the border issue. Both countries have brought their past tensions to the fore.
What does the past say?
Many of you know that the last war between India and China was in 1962. Since then, the two countries have clashed several times. However, the focal point of that war in 1962 was Arunachal, and this time, Ladakh on one side and Arunachal on the other.
In addition, there is a red alert on the Sikkim border at the moment. However, the current arrangement or possible war between China and India is no longer the context of the 1962 war.
In 1947, the Indian government allowed the US Air Force to use six air bases. From these bases, US forces waged war against communist forces inside China.
In addition, when the Chinese Communist Party or the People’s Republic of China recaptured Tibet in 1950, a guerrilla group fought against China. This guerrilla group was secretly supported by India and the United States. The Sino-Indian War was organized in 1962 in the context of this support. And that was the last official war between China and India.
However, this time, the situation is not centred on any third party or any clandestine issue. This time the context is very clear. The 100-year-old border tug of war between the two countries is what is driving the two countries to war.
How did this long-standing problem begin?
Some may be curious as to when and how China’s border issue with India began. Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Ladakh were part of the then Chinese empire, which originally existed in the 18th century as claimed by China.
When the British signed the Shimla Agreement in 1913, they drew a line between India and China known as the McMahon Line, which China has never accepted.
Not only China, but India too did not accept the border drawn by the British -- although the Indians now say they want to implement the border marked by the British.
There is now a huge disagreement between the two sides about the border. But a disagreement does not necessarily lead to war; there are many countries in the world which have such border problems.
What is the current situation?
Several recent satellite images on the Sino-Indian border have gone viral. They show the soldiers of the two countries preparing for a big war. As soon as the pictures were published, the issue of Sino-Indian war came to the fore again as an important issue. Not only Ladakh, but also the Arunachal border is in turmoil once again.
The armies of the two countries are facing each other almost every day. The pictures show the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers trying to enter the Indian border in Ladakh with heavy spears in one hand and automatic rifles in the other. Shots, too, have been fired.
Despite an agreement between India and China not to fire, India has allowed Indian troops to fire if necessary after the Galwan incident. Both countries have fired shots into the air in the last few days.
But if these shots target soldiers, then casualties on both sides are inevitable and both countries will break the agreement of non-firing and move towards direct war.
That is why, at this very moment, they are moving towards another Galwan incident with a different strategy that does not involve firing their weapons.
On the other hand, two hilltops at the southern end of Pangong Lake have recently been captured by Indian troops. India claims that the two hills are Indian territory. China claims that India has violated the policy of stability by occupying those two mountains.
In fact, from those two mountain peaks, Chinese military structures can be seen across the border, where preparations are underway. As a result, China is desperate to get Indian troops out of the region. Therefore, one small clash after another is taking place.
Not only in Ladakh, but also at the borders in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, Indian troops have issued red alerts. They have also issued a red alert on the Nepal-India-China border in Uttarakhand.
Apart from this, both sides of the Line of Actual Control are making final preparations for war. According to the latest information obtained by PTI and ANI, more than 50,000 Indian troops have been deployed along various borders in Ladakh. There is also an equal number of troops on the Chinese side.
China has stockpiled at least 150 warplanes very close to the LAC. There are also tankers and surface-to-air missiles. The Indian army has also kept an equal number of aircraft and weapons at the Ladakh border.
In fact, a huge amount of warplanes have been kept at Leh Airport. Helicopters are patrolling the border every day from Leh.
According to arms experts, it would take just eight minutes for a fighter from Leh to reach the Chinese border. In 16 minutes, the fighter will be able to return to Leh Airport.
Is war inevitable?
After the clash in Galwan, which lasted almost an entire night, the bodies of 20 Indian soldiers were recovered. India claimed that Chinese soldiers had also died. But China did not provide any information. No shots were fired in the Galwan clash.
China attacked the Indian army with barbed wires. They were beaten to death. The Galwan incident caused a stir not only in India and China but across the whole world. Since then, several political, diplomatic, and military meetings have been held between India and China to prevent war, but those initiatives have not been successful so far.
For example, mid-level military officials from the two countries have already met several times. There have also been multiple meetings between military chiefs.
The defense ministers of the two countries have also met. But, so far, the Ladakh crisis has not ended; in fact, it has escalated.
The two countries are fighting a war of words at the moment. Experts have been saying for some time that the conflict between the two countries could reach a climax this winter. With the two countries arranging weapons and troops on the border, this fear is growing.
The heat of conflict has increased day by day. But another group of experts believes that no country will go straight to war at the moment, considering global diplomacy and the economic downturn. But it is very clear that the conflict will not stop any time soon.
Who has more military power?
India has been named one of the world’s most powerful nations after testing a hypersonic missile six times faster than the speed of sound on September 7. Both China and India have nuclear weapons. If there is an escalation in the conflict between the two countries, they actually have the power to destroy each other.
Both countries have huge armaments and these armaments are quite modern. In the last two decades, India and China have not only built their own armaments, but also imported a lot of weapons. In fact, India has been one of the world’s largest arms importers for a while.
They have brought lots of sophisticated weapons from the US, Russia, France, and Israel. India is in the process of buying 36 state-of-the-art Rafale fighter jets from France. Five fighter jets of the first batch have already reached India.
India itself has made various lethal weapons by bringing in foreign technology. Similarly, China has bought weapons from Russia. However, most weapons are now manufactured by China itself.
The geography and communication system of where this war will take place is also worth taking into consideration. Because the area where these recent tensions between the two countries have been taking place are so inaccessible, there is considerable doubt as to whether there will be a chance to use the weapons.
Who will side with whom?
From the beginning, the Modi government’s relationship with the US has been very cordial. And this relationship is better than any recent Indian government.
In international politics, India’s alliances with powerful countries besides the US, such as Australia, France, Israel, the UK, Germany, etc are also great. These countries may support India politically, diplomatically, and militarily.
On the other hand, it is safe to say that China has no such powerful ally except Russia. Furthermore, it is worth remembering that, despite China’s close alliance with Russia, Russia supported India in the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
In view of the above discussion, it can now be said that the armaments that the two countries have been stockpiling on their borders over time are preparations for war.
If the coronavirus situation normalizes, a war in winter is not unlikely.
However, war or not, the outcome of these conflicts will not be a happy one, be it India, China, or the entirety of South Asia.
Fazlul Halim Rana is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University.