Friday, March 02, 2012

Are China and India about to go to war?

According to a report in the Indian press, China may be planning territorial land grabs and may even do so with a "major military offensive".

Reports particularly point to the Arunachal Pradesh or Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, areas which have been the subject of territorial disputes for decades. If China were to make any move in reclaiming what it believes belongs to the mainland, India should respond with "a strategy of quid pro quo", the report, written by an independent group of Indian analysts, suggests.

There has been a  relative calm for the last four decades between India and China, but now the two countries are once again squabbling over the long-disputed border in northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

"Our frontiers with China have been mostly stable for some years now. However, China could assert its territorial claims (especially in the Arunachal sector or Ladakh) by the use of force," the report says.

The report, which seeks to outline a foreign and strategic policy for India in the 21st century, points particularly at the so-called Line of Actual Control which was drawn in the 1960s but which both sides still contest.

The report entitled "Non-Alignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for the 21st century" [PDF], was unveiled this week at a panel discussion at Hotel Ashok in which National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and his immediate predecessors M.K. Narayanan, currently West Bengal governor, and Brajesh Mishra participated.

The publication of the report coincided with a two-day visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to India and comes at a time when China is expanding its military presence in the region.

India is concerned over China's build-up of military forces in Tibet as well as it ever growing presence in the South China Sea. The report outlines strategies to counter any Chinese offensive which includes accelerating the integration of the frontier regions and its people by speeding up and improving communication infrastructure with the mainland and to expand naval capabilities in the Indian Ocean region.

"Due to the multiplicity of the agencies involved, there is need to establish a Maritime Commission. The crucial decision we face here concerns the quantum of additional resources that we must devote to developing our maritime power."

Talks between the two nuclear powers have be luke warm at best. In January Dai Bingguo, China's top diplomat, arrived in New Delhi for a 15th round of talks concerning the border dispute and proclaimed the two countries shared a historic opportunity to forge a brighter future "hand in hand."

Writing in The Hindu, Dai said China-India relations had entered a "golden age" and that there was "enough space" for the two countries to "achieve common development".

"China and India can join hands, seize the historic opportunity, and work together to further advance our friendship and cooperation," Dai said. "Together, we will bring benefits to our two countries, two peoples and the whole mankind."

But a visit by India's defense minister to a border state claimed by China, accompanied by a fly-past by fighter jets recently stationed in the area, provoked a frosty response from China who said India should not "complicate" matters. India's defense minister, A.K. Antony, retorted that China's comments were "most unfortunate" and "really objectionable."

The heart of the tension lies in an intractable border dispute that erupted into a brief war in 1962. But tensions have not been helped by India drawing itself closer to the United States.

"Ever since the US nuclear deal in 2005, relations with China have been going through a turbulent time," said Brahma Chellaney at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. "Nothing has changed in recent months to suggest that turbulence is easing or subsiding. What we are seeing actually is that Chinese state media is taking an increasingly hard line." And tensions have increased dispite an agreement signed in 2005 [BBC].

It is difficult to determine how developed China's preparations for a possible conflict are. There is certainly an increased naval presence in the South China Sea and although it rarely goes beyond its claimed territorial waters it recently sent warships to protect shipping off the coast of Somalia. As for a military presence on the ground, such facts are difficult to establish.

However, China has certainly developed contingency plans concerning the disputed border region, whether defensive or offensive.

Some 100 km to the west of Beijing a secret military complex is located in China's Huangyangtan province [Location: 38°15'58.69″N, 105°57'8.52″E / KMZ file - Google Earth required]. That China has a military complex is in itself nothing special, but satellite pictures show that as part of the installation there is a scale model of the Aksai Chin border region, another area of dispute between the two nations and where Chinese troops passed through during the 1962 war.

The landscape is extremely accurate and built to a scale of 1:500 complete with mountains and lakes. There is much speculation about when it was built, but it is clear that it was built for the purpose of military planning.

When the installation first came to light in 2006 the Indian press approached the military for their assessment. However an Indian army dismissed the find as nothing extraordinary, saying, "Militaries are always known to simulate potential conflict zones as a standard practice," and added that there was "nothing alarming" about what he called "standard training methodologies."

However, one officer, speaking off the record. told the Indian Express the accuracy of the model was surprising. "We knew that they had some facilities for this purpose but the scale and detail is something new to us," the officer told the paper.

When contacted by Beijing correspondent for The Sydney Morning and The Age, Mary-Anne Toy, Chinese authorities dismissed any sinister motives behind the plot of land claiming the facility was used for putting tanks and their drivers through their paces and that the installation had been there for seven or eight years.

Tanks of course would be far too large for such a model landscape, and there was no mention of its obvious similarities to the Aksai Chin border region. Indeed, by admitting it had been built well after the 1962 war, it seems clear that the facility was intended to familiarise military strategists with the landscape for a future conflict [see also: tvnewswatch : mystery of Huangyangtan]

The likelihood of an armed conflict between India and China is difficult to predict. But it only needs a small miss-step for the two countries to become embroiled in more than just a war of words [Economic Times / Economic Times / Washington Post / Register]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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