Indo-China Relations - The Way Ahead

Having strained-relations with China will only benefit Pakistan, which puts India strategically in a great disadvantageous position. Good relations with China would be nothing less than a strategic victory for India.


Indo-China Relations - The Way Ahead

Theoretically speaking, a war can never be ruled out. Hence we have no choice but to remain prepared, which in turn helps in avoiding a war. The stronger you are, the better it is. Even the conventional military strength acts as a deterrence, which in turn achieves the larger aim of avoiding a war. In fact, what prevents the US engaging herself in an open war with Russia or China is nothing but 'The Deterrence of being Destroyed'.

However the real question is, what is the probability of China initiating a war with India ? Firstly, both are nuclear powers. While China has never publicly declared its nuclear doctrine since it became a nuclear power in 1964, it has largely been determined through various statements made by her leaders. What has been discerned is that China's nuclear doctrine has eight clauses, the first clause being "No first use." While India has a publicly-stated nuclear doctrine with three clauses, the first clause being "No first use." So what is common in both the doctrines is : "No first use pledge". Hence 'nuclear deterrence-wise', both the countries are well balanced.

Secondly, it is generally appreciated that as China grows in strength and stature, it would resort to coercive means to secure her border claims. However, the border-settlement treaties between China and her neighbours reveal quite the opposite. China has in fact conceded many of its claims in the larger interest of securing her borders, in order to concentrate on development. She has conceded larger tracts of territory to Myanmar and Pakistan in return for what she had received. Her aim obviously had been to secure peace to ensure development.

China's 'Grand Strategy' since the late 1970's has been the acquisition of 'Compressive National Power' (CNP), derived from continued reform of the economy, without the conflicting demands of an adverse security environment. The same was propounded by Deng in his '24-Character Strategy ' : "Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capabilities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership."

The underlying logic of this strategy is to avoid calling attention to herself, thereby precipitating those regional or global responses that would seek to retard the growth of its CNP. The '24-Charater Strategy' outlined by Deng resulted in China pursuing a policy of mending relations in South and SE Asia and exploring new relations in central Asia. This policy has led to a two-pronged approach aimed at securing Chinese interests with respect to her territorial disputes :

a. If the dispute in question is intrinsically trivial and marginal, it should be resolved amicably to pursue larger goals.

b. If the dispute is significant and cannot be resolved rapidly by peaceful means, she advocates an infinite postponement of the border issue without conceding its basic aim.

Since our borders with China are not demarcated and ratified through any treaty, we encounter severe teething problems resulting in border-clashes from time to time, which we perceive as China's strategy to use force to exert her military muscle power. But when the same thing is seen through China's point of view, she perceives India to be using the same strategy. The end result leads both the countries blaming each other, which further raises the suspicion level instead of confidence building. And this cycle of cause and consequence continues to strain mutual relationship.

However, since both the countries want peace on their borders so that they can concentrate on progress, ideally they should make serious attempts to settle the border dispute. But India is stuck since 1962 with its claim on Aksai Chin, without any historical justification or any treaty supporting the same, hence the talks invariably end up in an impasse. In fact, border settlement between India and China does not involve any surrender of territories by either party, since both are in possession of what they really need. It simply involves ratifying the existing borders, with minor mutual adjustments. But the Indian public has been psychologically so conditioned to claim Aksai Chin since 1962, that any govt recognizing Aksai Chin as part of China may not survive far too long, and this is where the real problem lies. As a result, no Indian govt is likely to take such a risk, and that is what pushes us to a dead-end.

But in case we are able to resolve our border dispute with China by displaying a flexible and far-sighted approach, we stand to gain immensely, which will help us to concentrate on economic progress. In fact India stands to gain more because we can then reduce the strength of our Army on our borders. China has already done it in a gradual manner since 1993, and formulated the strategy of Rapid Reaction Forces (RRFs), which are kept centrally deployed, to be used wherever and whenever required and fall back. Incidentally, their deployment has always been Taiwan-centric, and not India-centric. Hence we need not unduly be over-suspicious of China's intentions.

Indian Army's doctrine against China is a full strategic defence, with tactical level offensive capability. With such a doctrine, the Army is required to guard all important ingress routes on the 4,056 km of Line of Actual Control (LAC). For China, its doctrine for India is a full strategic offensive, which obviates the need for its troops to physically hold ground. The Indian Army is fully stretched out since it has to physically hold 745-km long  Line of Control (LC) and AGPL (in Siachen) with Pakistan, in addition to 4,056 kms of LAC with China.

With our strained relations with China, Pakistan stands to gain, and this puts us in a great strategic disadvantageous position. However, notwithstanding all this, China will not wage an all out war to settle her boundary problems with India, as that would retard her economically by  50 years at least, without gaining anything significant or substantial. It makes no sense at all, since she is already in possession of what she needs. Now she has to simply ensure the sanctity of her undefined borders, where border-clashes are an unavoidable phenomenon, but an all out war is just not a necessity. It serves no meaningful purpose . Her strategic aim is not to resolve her border issues with India by waging an all out war, but to rise as an economic superpower to counter and compete with USA, to avoid getting dictated by the whims and fancies of the US Presidents. It's a superpower giving sleepless nights to USA. Waging an all out war with India would be too myopic a vision and a senseless option for China.

Hence wisdom demands that India should ratify her borders with China and concentrate on economic development. Simply trying to compete with China militarily would be an endless, futile, and worthless game, resulting in unnecessary drain on our economy, without any meaningful gains. India should opt for buying peace with China, which would ultimately prove to be of strategic advantage for her. It is not worthwhile losing the precious lives of our soldiers without striving to find a permanent solution to the problem. After all, all this cannot and should not carry-on till eternity; it simply makes no sense. Having strained-relations with China will only benefit Pakistan, which puts India strategically in a great disadvantageous position. Good relations with China would be nothing less than a strategic victory for India.


Brig BL Poonia, VSM (Retd) was commissioned in the 2nd Battalion Brigade of the Guards in Jun 1974. He commanded a Company as well as a battalion in Nagaland during the height of insurgency.

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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