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India Getting Serious on the China Security Challenge

The clash between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Yangtze, Tawang sector shared with the nation on December 13, may well have been one of the few that may have occurred in this and other areas in the Eastern Sector of the India China border in recent months.

This is one in the part of series that have occurred ever since Doklam in 2017 in the Sikkim sector followed by known major engagements in Sikkim in 2020 and a series in Eastern Ladakh in 2020 with the June 20 in Galwan the same year the most serious. It appears that the Yangtze clash could be the second most significant after the Galwan with casualties on both sides.

While varied details of these clashes have been flashed and many knowledgeable military and civilian analysts projecting inferences, the overall, “sub cheej,” or essence of the issue is that India would need to get “serious,” of managing the China security challenge.

Some of the essentials of a comprehensive approach would entail the following –

Territorial nationalism which is the cause of many conflicts throughout history, is still alive and well despite globalization and inter dependencies of economies as is evident in the India China faceoff with both sides willing to sustain engagement and deploy large number of forces to defend and not surrender even an “inch of ground”.

One aspect of territorial nationalism is claiming sections of a neighbors territory. In the context of India and China claims have been made on Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh as “Little Tibet”. In this context nation’s may be willing to live with a mutual understanding for mutual resolution of these claims in the spirit of bilateral cooperation in other spheres. Thus the five agreements made by India and China in the 1990’s and beyond.

Once a state policy shifts to hard nationalism of the kind adopted by China after the rise of Xi Jinping in 2013, these agreements did not hold water but apparently India failed to read the “tea leaves,” even though China’s intentions and military capability building has been clearly visible.

In this context, India needs to shift from capability and capacity building for war rather than war avoidance.

This would entail far greater investments in defence than hithertofore to have the potential for fighting for 30 days – norms that were established decades ago but revised to 10 days in recent years. The downscaling may have been under the presumption that investing in such a capacity will entail wastage which a developing country as India cannot afford.

However, there is a well designed model for circulation of resources from operational to training which had been lying fallow which has to be revived.

In case political leadership decides that India cannot afford such investments these can be tailored to niche areas where usable capability can be created.

And where even this is not affordable, making a compromise with the enemy is an option which has been in the paradigm of inter state relations since the ages.

While India has adopted Kautilya’s Mandala theory by making friends with the enemy’s enemy in this case the United States, the limitations of this approach need to be weighed in balance as this is only a temporary measure.

Thinking like the enemy is another area deserving emphasis.

Frequently India mirrors China as a more expansive image of Pakistan the adversary on the Western border. Yet China and Pakistan are as different as chalk and cheese be it in terms of culture – both people and military.

Pakistan is more like India where “jugaad,” or improvisation is the order of the day, today this has been taken to the extreme levels in that country with the approach being applied to politics and economy.

Chinese work on well defined objectives and time lines which have been identified for the PLA as well - 2035 as the regionally dominant force and 2050 as the global actor. India on the other hand has no such quantified dates by which it intends to achieve capabilities with increasing talk of military indigenization by 2047 that is the 100th anniversary of independence.

Towards this end a transformation in culture in the Indian armed forces to operate on measureable goals and objectives is essential for which a national security strategy will be necessary but one that is unlikely to come by.

A well-reasoned Indian Armed Forces Joint Doctrine 2017 is available as an alternative where the emphasis is on war avoidance as well as to prosecute war if the balloon goes up.

Drawing lessons from Ukraine may be important as to how a “push over,” force in 2014 is today the bane of the second largest armed forces in the world with a fearsome reputation for war but one that has proved ineffective in 2022, just eight years later.

China’s doctrine of Active Defence needs to be studied in detail which is available publicly. Here “defence,” is a misnomer, the doctrine is to continue to maintain an aggressive dominance over the enemy. The recent United States Department of Defence Annual Report on the PLA has a sub section on the same the summary of which can be accessed here.

Transparency is another essential, while security of information is a military principle, in the media sensitive universe of today well measured briefings in the open domain carry immense value rather than allowing dubious bubbles of misinformation which can be damaging not just to the image of the military but also to national security.

Narrative cannot replace reality on the ground. Accepting loss is not a weakness but demonstrates courage and will be the building block of future success.

India has still the time to shift to a more serious approach to military effectiveness to face China as the time line for the PLA is 2035 though some intermediate markers of 2027 have also been mentioned. But this will come about based on hardnosed national and military review of current capabilities and a future road map.

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