Will There be a Second India-China War?

By Ashwin Tombat
13 August 2017 10:26 IST

The world is in a very tense state. US President Donald Trump has said he will launch "fire and fury like the world has never seen". North Korea, on its part has threatened revenge "a thousand fold" by preparing to fire four nuclear tipped missiles on the US Pacific Ocean territory of Guam.

Is the world really on the brink of a Third World War? Most experts say no. The US President's statements, they say, are just big talk. But this kind of braggadocio has an unfortunate history of actually leading to war.

China issued a stern warning on Friday to both the US and North Korea, urging them not to push things to a point of no return. It wants North Korea to suspend plans for new nuclear tests, and the United States to end large-scale military exercises in South Korea, which the North considers provocative.

Closer to home however, the Chinese are far less pacifist. Arnab Goswami and Co are no match for for the shrill hysteria of the 'Global Times', a state-owned English newspaper in Beijing.

In June, Indian troops prevented the Chinese from building a road in Doklam, a disputed territory claimed by both Bhutan and China — just a few kilometres away from the sensitive 'Chicken's Neck' — a narrow, 26-km stretch of land that connects the North-East to the rest of India.

'Global Times' has urged the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) to "teach India a second lesson" after the 1962 India-China war. Accusing India of aggression "on behalf" of Bhutan, the newspaper has warned India that China too can enter Jammu and Kashmir "on Pakistan's behalf".

In India, some groups — mostly those associated with the Sangh Parivar — have been pushing massive social media campaigns to boycott all Chinese goods. Amusingly, these WhatsApp messages and SMSes are being sent, and received, mostly on Chinese-made mobile phones.

Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed at the government level in both countries. So far.

Despite the xenophobic outbursts of 'Global Times' and its call for a "short, two-week surgical strike" to "teach India a lesson", the Chinese have so far refrained from mobilising large numbers of troops and armaments at Doklam.

But India's recent announcement about moving troops to forward areas of the Eastern border is not a good sign. It probably follows similar Chinese moves. Hopefully, neither side really wants a war.

With a massive dispute over territorial waters in the South China Sea with Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, China is anxious not to be seen as a regional bully. President Xi Jinping wants to present himself as a world statesman dedicated to peace at the BRICS summit — comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — that China is hosting in the first week of next month

India's defence forces are no longer at a disadvantage like in 1962. Even though the Chinese military is greatly superior, the Indians are quite capable of giving China a bloody nose in any confrontation, just as Vietnam did when China invaded in 1979.

But does India have the resources to fight a prolonged war? The stock of as many as 61 types of ammunition — out of a total of 152 considered critical by the Indian Army to fight a war — is only 10 days' supply, says a Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report tabled in Parliament.

Till 1999, the Indian military was required to have store supplies, spares and ammunition — called the War Wastage Reserve (WWR) — to fight a 40-day war. In 1999, the WWR was scaled down to 20 days. Now, it is down to just 10 days. What if the war lasts longer?

A negotiated pullback to the positions held by the respective sides before the standoff will be the best solution. But it must survive the fierce rhetoric on both sides...

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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