How should India respond to Chinese Aggression

India has a visceral fear of China. After suffering a defeat in 1962 war it has never fully regained its confidence when dealing with China. It is revealing to read the account of Henry Kissinger about how China planned the 1962 war with India. India had overestimated its own capability and in the 1950s it started pushing pushing further into the Chinese occupied territory following a so-called Forward Policy. At a certain point China decided to push India back and to teach it a lesson, only with the objective of getting India to the discussion table. China launched a sudden and decisive attack that defeated India, and having achieved its objective they withdrew to their initial positions (Exercpt). From an Indian perspective, Chinese had betrayed the good faith and the crushing rout in fact hastened Nehru’s death. Thoughts of confrontation with China still brings alive the memories of that humiliating defeat.

Today, as Chinese refuse to withdraw from their incursion into Ladhak, the choices that India faces are tough. It does not have the resources to start a war, but nor does it have the luxury of ignoring the Chinese threat. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is travelling to China to talk them into withdrawing. He is underplaying the entire threat by calling it a mere acne on a pretty face (pretty face is apparently the state of relationship of India with China, dont know which mirror he is looking at), but it is a weak response. There can be no talk amongst unequal partners. Any diplomacy rests on an assessment of strategic options that the other person has, and India has shown none yet.

India has conveniently chosen to focus all its military and strategic energies on Pakistan. Pakistan is a lightweight compared to India – economically, militarily, socially. But India plays the victim even against such a feeble country. Not having reacted to obvious state-sponsored attacks by Pakistan shows the lack of mental resolve of Indian Politicians. India has a poor body language internationally, and if ever a bully was looking to find the weakest kid to pick on, here is India walking with its head lowered afraid to even look at others straight in the eye, too lost in its own internal drama’s.

To grow up, India needs to learn to handle China which is 6 times the size of India economically and 3 times militarily, and has to do it alone. China has a unified vision of what it wants and moves like a Juggernaut to achieve it. It treats its own citizens brutally, suppressing even a minor internal disturbance with cold efficiency. It can be expected to treat its enemies even more ruthlessly. China’s ambitions are global and it is aware of the power it commands across the world especially now that it is the 2nd biggest economy in the world and driver of global growth. It has reached such a position of strength that even USA is forced to abandon all its concerns of Terrorism and the Middle-east, and do the ‘Pivot to Asia’ by forming alliance with South eastern countries to neutralise China – even though economically it cant survive without China. China is treated by a different yardstick by the world and many of its transgressions are ignored by the global community, so India will have to fight this alone.

China has started to play its long strategic game against India. Geopolitically, China is pursuing its string of pearls strategy against India and thus building relationships with each of India’s neighbours even as India has failed to build bridges with any of them. Economically  India’s fledgeling manufacturing industry has been devastated by Chinese imports – talk to any manufacturer or even a wholesaler and they will tell you how they all have become low margin traders of Chinese goods. India’s current bread-and-butter accounting for over 60% of GDP, the Services industry, is losing its edge as more educated and better culturally aligned nations to the western markets like South-east Asian nations and China are starting to chase this market, so growth is not assured into the future. Socially, we have overstretched our social spending to a point where any economic slowdown will probably bankrupt the country and rolling the social dole-outs will unleash social unrest. Politically, we are a bee-hive as Rahul Gandhi aptly described it and we cant achieve consensus on anything, especially the tough calls. We are busy with our demonstrations against builders, politicians, corruption, crimes, Scams, Price increases, religious strife, etc… just too busy to really see the guns that is now pointing at us. We need to all stop in our tracks and do what is necessary.

India is irrelevant economically to China – except as a small buyer of its products. It carries very less clout globally to get any attention to its dispute – it has failed to do any damage to Pakistan despite trying so hard and focusing all its diplomatic resources on it. India’s pacifist thinking, the non alignment, no first use doctrine, the soft power of non-violance are all irrelevant in a world where a bully walks free and probing our borders at will. A recent article in economist talks of the lack of strategic culture in India, where the political class is disconnected from the military and thus lacks a coherent response to the military threats India faces.

A good simulation of a managing a country is the video game- Age of empires. The task in the game is to build cities and civilizations by choosing where to deploy limited resources – on education, mining, soldiers, professors, library, horse stables etc. No matter how much you progress on other parameters, without a standing army to defend the city from sudden attacks, even a small tribe will  reduce all progress to a rubble. On the other hand, if all the resources are spent just on military, then the civilization does not progress from the age of swords to that of gun powder, and this time again the city will be attacked by a more advanced civilization  with advanced weapons and your country will be destroyed again. Investment in Military is nothing more than the cost of buying peace to grow your civilization.

So how should India handle China? The strategy is no different than how to handle a bully at school. 1) Take on the bully directly by overcome fear,  be willing to commit to a course of action and assuring the bully that despite your weakness you will inflict damage if picked on, 2) Form alliance with others so that you become more powerful than the bully or that bully respects, 3) Offer the bully something that it wants, and become too valuable for him to upset you, 4) Complain to a higher authority, the teacher, and let law take its course, 5) or walk away (but which is really not an option). But India has chosen to plainly succumb, and underplay the whole incident. India’s body language is that of fear and China has smelt it. The next incursion will be even more serious.

India needs to demonstrate its military resolve even as it uses  diplomacy to give China a face-saver to withdraw in the short term. For the long term, India needs to redefine its military doctrine against a ruthless China. It first needs to create credible deterrence from any external attack, and then redouble its focus on economic growth – this is the only path of evolving to the next stage in the Game of Empires.

A mental state of fearlessness is the key to playing a bigger global game that India aspires to play.

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