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Theatres & theatrics of India-China war

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Ankit Shah
Ankit Shah
Indo-Pacific Security & Foreign Policy Observer, Consultant, PhD scholar and Past Academic & Research Associate of IIM Ahmedabad. Follow his twitter handle @ankitatIIMA for China-Pak issues.

In the ongoing standoff between India and China, several rounds of talks under various mechanisms have failed to reach consensus. Talking till the end and in the after-life seems to be the only agreement between the two on a lighter note. From India’s perspective, either China does not wish to reach consensus because it has a particular event like the US election results and the subsequent consequences in mind or this is a signal of a long-term trend in the relations from now on. However, allowing the standoff to project that Diplomacy is a failed tool is dangerous for both the countries. Sudden crisis events are always in dire need of quick, in-time diplomacy. Maybe the ‘dire need point’ is not yet reached and will require some more blood to spill on both the sides. As time goes diplomacy is slowly ceding space to military interactions, hot and cold. The so-called wolf-warrior diplomacy initiated by China in no time ended up being considered as ‘worthless to do any diplomacy with Beijing’ as trust is not the word the World would like to attach with China. It has reduced itself to a country that cannot be trusted even for back channel or track two diplomacy.

Silence, surprise and deception are known Chinese tools. However, one could easily predict till now the pattern of salami slicing attempt in the north every time a Chinese leader met an Indian counterpart. But this time there are several other additions. Following are some of the new tools at work.

Mocking enemy’s capability and threatening in media –

Chinese media which is an organ of information warfare of the Chinese communist party has come a full circle. The narrative which changed to calling out hyper-nationalist Indian behavior after Galwan is again back to ‘democracy is ineffective and also a failure militarily’ noises. The irony is that they still haven’t produced the total number of Chinese casualties of the Galwan fight. Editorials like the ones in Global times are high on drama and very low on content.

Engaging multiple Fronts –

China has adopted a strange stance of engaging multiple fronts at LAC with India, Hongkong, Taiwan, South china sea and with Japan. This clearly does not look like a war-serious action. It keeps all the enemies constantly guessing and face heavy costs of constant military alertness. Changing deployment strengths at several friction points randomly, confuses all the countries as to which one will be picked.

Draining down Diplomatic strengths –

Delhi’s global clout is unquestionable in terms of diplomatic might. Stretching talks for months together is draining down Delhi’s diplomatic status. While Chinese foreign ministry is hardly taken as a trustworthy institution as Beijing is known to dishonor international agreements on a regular basis. As Diplomacy cedes ground, military naturally gains importance. India showed that it can trigger military actions too by taking over tactical heights at the end of the month of August.

It is important to note that multiple level of talks under different mechanisms is only going on with India. By the sheer length of the time spent in talks under various mechanisms, it is clear that the Chinese are learning about Indian reactions, diplomatic as well as in military terms. After Doklam, the current standoff could be an attempt by Beijing to confirm if this is how India will always react at the borders. With this delay in solving the crisis, Chinese are trying to convey to India that talks with them will always be very difficult. So, do not initiate any crisis and give in to their actions. Otherwise, you will get into an endless loop of talks; your future plans, exercises and budget everything gets disrupted. The message is for the Indian forces to avoid initiating any big military action against China.

Theatres of War –

My understanding is that both India and China will implicitly agree to take their fights for the time being inside Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Pakistan instead of warring with each other. Myanmar is almost certain to jointly act with Indian forces against China propped Arakan army and other allied groups. Both the nations are matured and economy-serious enough to not take war inside each other’s territories. However, in case of limited war or short-term conflict between India and China in the Himalayan region, no force of the World can beat the Indian army. In case of a medium term – multiple theatres conflict, India and China both would land at a stalemate. And in case of a full scale – long term – all theatres war scenario, both Delhi and Beijing get wiped out from the map of the World. The People’s liberation army is although showing a non-serious behavior since the beginning from pitching-in tents at the standoff points, warning in Hindi and playing loud Punjabi songs. It has no record of attacking a fully prepared army. Both the nations are losing the military capability perception in the World and appearing amateur diplomatically.

For now, facing the Himalayan winters looks very probable for both the armies. This could open another window of opportunity for the Indian forces to occupy more areas. It is clear that the Chinese would take talks seriously only if they themselves ask for talks. Talks should always be initiated as step two with rogue actors after landing a big mark of action on their face. The simple lesson here for India is to promptly act at the very beginning of such attempts on the age-old principle that “if someone is showing you war preparations, you give them war on the spot, then and there”. There is no need for a strong country to shy away from the consequences. It’s always better to prepone your learnings and hand over the other side their fair share of learning too.

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Ankit Shah
Ankit Shah
Indo-Pacific Security & Foreign Policy Observer, Consultant, PhD scholar and Past Academic & Research Associate of IIM Ahmedabad. Follow his twitter handle @ankitatIIMA for China-Pak issues.
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