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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

China and India: A war of giants

By : Eric Margolis

The highly respected British magazine The Economist featured a front-page article in their 21 August issue about the

possibility of a major war

between China and India. I've been thinking about this scenario for over a decade, and authored a book, War at the Top of the World, that warned of the dangers of a future Sino-Indian conflict.

Just thinking about this topic staggers the imagination. China and India account for 2.3 billion people, a third of the world's total population. My book was directly inspired by meeting the Dalai Lama in the mid-1990's. I heard him give a long, very interesting speech on the Indian-Chinese border conflict, which I had studied in depth as a result of my deep interest in the Himalayan region.

The audience that came to hear His Holiness expected to hear a warm, fuzzy talk about the meaning of life. Instead, they were totally bemused by the Dalai Lama's discussion of South Asian grand strategy and the Tibetan-Indian border that had been drawn by Imperial Britain with no regard to China. People often forget the Dalai Lama is the temporal leader of Tibet as well as its spiritual guide.

I was the only person in the audience who understood the subject or who asked questions about the talk. After, His Holiness took me aside and we conversed at length about the contested border, from Ladakh and Kashmir in the West to India's Assam and Northeast Frontier Agency (today Arunachal Pradesh), and Tibet's future. We also talked for a long time about cats, but that's another story that will be in my next book.

So from my encounter with the Dalai Lama came my first book, War at the Top of the World (now in its fourth, revised edition), which also covered then little-known Afghanistan and the endless conflict over Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

In War, I predicted that the first major crisis of the 21st Century would occur in Afghanistan.

9/11 happened soon after War came out. I was swamped by calls from the media to talk about Afghanistan and a certain Osama bin Laden.

"How did you know?" everyone asked me in amazement.

"Because I was watching that part of the world when few others were doing so," came my reply.

In 1962, India moved troops into remote valleys high on the eastern Himalayas claimed by China. Beijing proclaimed it would "teach India a lesson."

It certainly did. Marching over the high mountains, Chinese troops quickly outflanked static Indian forces -- as they did with American troops in Korea in 1950. The Indians were routed. The People's Liberation Army took much of Arunachal Pradesh, and stood before tea-producing Assam, only a relatively short distance to Calcutta.

Satisfied by his "lesson," Chairman Mao ordered his troops to withdraw.

Proud India was humiliated and deeply shocked. Since then, India has built up its forces in the region to over three army corps of 100,000 mountain troops, backed by high-altitude air bases and a network of new roads and supply depots.

The long, poorly demarcated border has been tense ever since. India claims two large chunks of territory in the west held by China: Aksai Chin and a slice of Kashmir given by Pakistan to China to allow a military road connecting Tibet with Chinese Xinjiang. I have explored both frozen wastelands, both over 15,000 vertiginous feet.

China claims most of Indian-held Arunachal Pradesh on the eastern end of the Himalayan border, known as the McMahon line. India has only grudgingly accepted China's 1950 takeover of Tibet and has harbored anti- Chinese groups dedicated to liberating the mountain kingdom. At the same time, India quietly asserted control of two other Himalayan mountain kingdoms, Bhutan and Sikkim. India sees the growing array of Chinese bases in Tibet as an extreme danger. China's air, missile and intelligence bases in Tibet look down on the vast plains of India.

India's leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, once complained of this danger to China's Premier Chou Enlai. Chou laughed and retorted, "If I wanted to destroy India, I would march 100 million Chinese to the edge of the Tibetan plateau and order them to piss downhill. We would wash you into the Indian Ocean."

Tibet controls most of the headwaters of India's great rivers. Delhi has long feared that China may one day dam and divert their waters to China's dry western provinces.

Other serious potential flashpoints exist. India's old foe, Pakistan, with whom it has fought four wars, is China's closet ally. Beijing arms Pakistan and has built up its nuclear arms program. An Indian-Pakistan war over divided Kashmir, or an Indian intervention in a fragmenting Pakistan or Afghanistan, could draw China into the fray. A new port in western Pakistan at Gwadar will give China port rights on the Arabian Sea.

Burma (today Myanmar), on India's troubled eastern flank, which is rent by tribal uprisings, deeply worries Delhi. Strategic Burma is rapidly becoming an important forward Chinese base. A new road links China with Burma, and provides China's navy a badly needed port on the Andaman Sea, and thus access to the Indian Ocean. India believes China is trying to strategically encircle it. To the west, Pakistan; to the north, Tibet; to the east, Burma. To the south, China is busy cultivating Sri Lanka.

In spite of million man armed forces and nuclear weapons, India feels increasingly threatened by China's rise. The Indians know full well that China expects obedience from its neighbors. Even a small border clash between these two assertive giants could light the fuse of a broad and very frightening conflict. The scramble for oil and gas offers ample causes of yet more conflict in Central Asia and even the Gulf, where today America's rules supreme.

(Veteran journalist, Eric S. Margolis and author of War at the Top of the World –- The Struggle for Afghanistan and Asia is a syndicated columnist and broadcaster whose articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, TheInternational Herald Tribune, Mainichi Shimbun and US Naval Institute Proceedings).
NOTE:This is a cross post from Huffington Post.


  1. funny as well as informative.

    did China really help pakistan build its atomic programme?

    China may be a great friend and a real ally to Pakistan, but i doubt this statement.

    a friend can only do so much, its the will of a people to achieve greatness in any field. and imho, it was the will of the people that delivered fruits in 1998.

  2. "1>In spite of million man armed forces and nuclear weapons, India feels increasingly threatened by China's rise.

    2>The Indians know full well that China expects obedience from its neighbors."

    1>India is the neighborhood's bully. the "threat" it feels is not from a progressing China but because of the fact that there is another giant gentleman in the area, ready to hold the bully's hand anytime it may wanna use it against a smaller country like Pakistan.

    2>China does not expect obedience from its neighbors. y should it. but if anyone wants to meddle in their affairs or seems like trying to corner them with the global Inspector General of Police and its cronies, then they have a right to counter it.

  3. China has proven to the world that it is a very responsible and mature nation and that it has no expansionist designs against any country. They believe in resolving their international disputes through diplomacy rather than aggression. They have amply proven this in case of Shanghai and also in case of still lingering on issue of Taiwan. They fought a war with India, captured a lot of area and then voluntarily vacated it inspite of the fact that they have a claim over a large area under occupation by India.
    Now mark my words: If India remains neutral, then, inspite of their claims against India, Chinese would never like to initiate a war against her, UNLESS India gets involved with and starts playing the American great game against China.