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The CPEC challenge and the India-China standoff: An opportunity for war or peace?

August 9, 2020, 10:09 PM IST  in RakshakIndia | India | TOI

(The dynamics of the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) are already causing unprecedented turbulence in the Himalayas along the India-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) as can be seen during the current standoff. China should calculate India’s strength and give diplomacy a chance by inviting India again to join the CPEC project. They need to offer a comprehensive ‘give and take’ package for ushering peace and stability in this region coupled with the reduction of trust deficit through a ‘Win-Win’ strategic treaty that can catapult their mutual rise).

Part 1: The CPEC and its Implications on Regional Geopolitics and Geostrategy.

1. A military war between India-China will cause destruction on both sides, as China’s net assessment should also confirm the same. It will be a clash of wills of two nuclear-powered states with almost conventional parity due to the added advantage to the defender deployed on the formidable Himalayas. Instead, the present standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) could become a real opportunity for both the big powers to recaliberate and create a ‘win-win’ equation for both the countries. This requires an open and ‘Out of the Box’ politico-military Initiative as discussed below.

2. History: Shared a Common Destiny. A little peep into history should set the stage for the solution. Both countries belong to ancient civilizations and have been culturally intertwined. The past of both the countries has been chequered with foreign domination. Both nations had their difficulties. A few historical facts, needs being recalled. At one time, even Tibet ruled a part of China during the Common Era (CA 763). The Tibetan army had seized their capital at Chang’an. During that time, the Tang Chinese appreciated Tibetan power and paid tribute to Tibet. The Mongols under Genghis Khan Exploits, (1279-1368) had also enslaved parts of China. The Japanese also had captured parts of China in 1895 and even later, on July 16, 1937, when Japan declared war on China. Similarly, India during the Ashoka era (268 to 232 BC) had a vast empire but the Muslim invaders from 11th to the 18th century subjugated India. Thereafter, the British ruled until India became Independent in 1947. Both histories reflect on their deprivation and subjugation. Nevertheless, they have a common thread of ancient wisdom. For instance, Mahabharata was fought about 3102 BCE. From there originated the fundamental philosophy of life and the need for Dharma and morality. This battle also laid the tenets of warfare spoken in the words of the philosopher and warrior, Lord Krishna himself. The famous Chinese scholar and philosopher, Confucius was born about two thousand years later in 551 BC. His Analects known as Confucianism anchored around personal and government morality. Similarly, Sun Tzu, (who wrote the art of war) was his contemporary and was born in 544 BC. Both followed similar thoughts as propagated in the Mahabharata. The contents and sense on human affairs and warfare as expressed by Confucius and Sun Tzu are almost akin to the versus of the Gita. There is enough evidence to suggest that both Confucius and Sun Tzu were thus inspired by its wisdom. Now coming to the present 21 st millennium. Both nations, instead of adapting, to western culture have always sustained their traditional/ Eastern way of life. Therefore, in a way, both India and China have till now shared a common destiny.

3. Need for China to Have Benign Rise. As on today, both the nations are emerging powers, with China in the lead. There are only two choices, which both nations can decide mutually. Either, they co-exist or destroy each other. China is already a recognised Nuclear power. India has also been fast catching up on their nuclear capabilities.Agni-5 has a range of 5000 kilometres and now India’s triad is also complete with the operationalization of a nuclear submarine, Arihant. This power matrix, combined with international alliances in support of India raises the security ratio in favour of India (USA has also been reiterating the same). Therefore, clearly, military parity exists. Prudence suggests that since China is already considered a superpower, it should not, therefore, spoil the so far well-played chess game for world domination. Their success should not get marred in a local confrontation with India. In fact, traditionally since the last four decades, the Chinese have demonstrated a peaceful rise option, which has given them inroads in almost every country. Therefore, what is the way forward? The world may have to co-exist with many superpowers like the USA, China and Russia and many other great powers like India, Germany, France or the UK.Thus it is an era of multilaterism. The idea of somebody aspiring to become an Emperor of planet Earth appears to be an out-dated concept in this century. Earlier, Hitler had played the same game, but instead was hounded and killed. Germany was destroyed and an entire race suffered. Rogue states are vulnerable to the power of modern real-time technology. The case of Sadam Hussain cannot be forgotten as he was hunted out, chased and executed. The present brash behaviour of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and especially at a time, when the world is reeling under a global pandemic (China is suspected to be the originator of COVID-19) has bought worldwide disrepute, resulting in ushering a movement for the making of a global democratic alliance. China will have no chance to fight the world altogether. Do we see XI Jinping repeating Hitler? Alternatively, do we see China’s rise as a benign state.

4. The CPEC: Carving a New Set of Rules. Now, coming specifically on the issue of Chinese incursions across the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. This again needs a flash back. China has always been endowed with a strategic culture imbibed in their thinking. When the second world war ended and when China’s civil war ended, they instantly sensed the need for reaching the warm waters from Western China. They saw Tibet unprotected (Unfortunately, the Tibetans after adopting Buddhism became sophist and their armies vanished). They therefore not only captured Tibet by force but also captured part of Aksai Chin, which belonged to India. They even managed to strike a deal with Pakistan who ceded 5180 square kilometres in the Shaksgam Valley.(In fact the Pakistanis had ceded this land out of fear of Chinese expansionism, because the Chinese were claiming Hunsa and other areas). Thereafter, to reach the Arabian Sea on this axis, they built the Karakoram Highway in 1960. It is now in the 21st century that they have upgraded the same and which is now called the CPEC starting from Kashgar (Xinxiang) to Gwadar, a distance of about 3218 kilometres. China sees this route for large-scale trade to shorten the distance as well as reach the CAR markets without being dependent on sea routes, where America/India has the dominance. Thus, CPEC annuls India’s advantage of the blockade at Malacca Straits.CPEC has been called, as the jewel crown project of the ‘OBOR’ and ‘BRI’ initiative of Xi Jinping.The estimated cost of the CPEC project is $87 billion(updated figures of June 2020). China wants to exploit the wealth of Tibet (Mine mapping has shown large deposits of Silver, copper, lead, zinc and gold, only to name a few). In addition, make it the world’s biggest manufacturing hub. From here, it wants to reach to the world through the shortest Land routes. Thus China will accelerate growth of its existing wealth (present GDP of China as per 2019 estimates is about 6.56 trillion in US Dollars. The OBOR/CPEC projects as per estimates are likely to add another trillion every year) by supplying the cheapest goods in the world market. It is estimated that this will then facilitate China becoming economically stronger by many more times.

The summary of the dynamics of the introduction of CPEC in this region is distinctly clear. China is now carving a new set of rules for Asia and makes it adequately clear that the twenty first century belongs to them being a new economic and military power. This will further alter the geopolitics of this region and dictate new alliances and linkages between countries and continents with China in the lead. Albeit, the CPEC is bound to become a geostrategic challenge for India’s security. Thus, it can be said that, China is playing a ‘Great Game’ in the Himalayas to achieve Super Power status in telescoped time, especially in view of the world being distracted in fighting the present pandemic. Earlier the British had also played the Great Game in the Himalayas during the period 18th-19th century to keep the Russians away from reaching India through Tibet. Thus for China, the ‘CPEC’ is not only an economic corridor but also a geostrategic corridor and has the weight to alter the geopolitics of this region. The sudden belligerence shown by Nepal and the other neighbouring states like Pakistan just acquiescing to Chinese pressure is just the beginning of this change. In addition, the dynamics of this corridor and the BRI initiative is subsuming nations either by economic carrot or by coercion. (For instance, 90% of CPEC debt quotient of US $ 88 Billion has to be paid by Pakistan. Obviously, they will not be able to pay back and thus will have no other option but to lose sovereignty of their land). This is consequently again affecting the geopolitics of this peaceful Himalayan geographic zone of Eastern Ladakh.

Part 2: Need For a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Security Treaty’ (CSST) between India & China Causing
a ‘Win-Win’ Matrix rather than war.

5. PLA’s Military Threat & Implications. PLA will continue and aim to capture Eastern Ladakh to provide security to this vital project of the CPEC. The current flashpoints at Galwan, Deepsang valley and the Fingers area (Pangngtso) are all Grounds of Tactical importance (GTI).Possession of these points will allow PLA to form a firm base for launching subsequent operations. India cannot permit this unilateralism and thus the existing standoff. In addition, the Chinese would like to use the Pakistan Army as a pincer in conjunction with their attack, to cut India’s routes of maintenance from the west and east, before the winters come in. This will then box the Indian army during the winters and make them vulnerable to PLA artillery, Rockets and Missile fire (all will be PGMs), in a contingency if war is triggered. Further, the route of the CPEC provides easy transportation of military hardware to Pakistan rather from Sea route. By constructing this road & giving Shaksgam Valley to China in 1963(Sino-Pakistan Frontier Agreement), Pakistan brought China into Kashmir Dispute. As of now, China has already built 36 Kms of road in the Shaksgam Valley(5163 square Kilometers were illegally ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963) and most probably PLA will link the G-219(Lhasa- Kashgar) highway to Karakoram Pass, through the Shaksgam Pass. This will enable the PLA to put pressure on the DBO defenses from the North. Obviously, the PLA is not comfortable with the Indian defenses so close to their Highways. It can be easily appreciated that the PLA’s surprise encroachment in April/May 2020 was obviously to seize the erstwhile friction points along the 1147 Kilometers of LAC in Eastern Ladakh and impose the 1960 Claim Line by this dubious occupation. This road link is further dovetailed by linking the G-219 to G-314(Kashgar-Islamabad KKH) Highway, via Karakoram-Shaksgam Pass axis, which will become a shorter route. These crisscross roads allow faster movement by the PLA to approach the DBO-Siachen defence complex, which in fact is like a wedge disallowing a China-Pakistan pincer attack with good collusive coordination. Once DBO is won by the PLA the route to Siachen via Saser La Murgo-Sansoma, (Base on Nubra River just south of the Siachen base) is reached in quick time. It can be clearly said that the current standoff was actually aimed by PLA, with a similar thought process that of the Kargil misadventure by the then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharaff.Therefore, for India the whole exercise should be to strengthen the whole defence complex of Siachen-DBO-Galwan Valley-Fingers at Pangong Tso because all these grounds are interlinked operationally and tactically. In addition, the Indian army should be prepared to launch spoiling attacks on enemy build up and strategize launching a massive fire barrage with maximum PGM Systems and area weapons like the Fuel Air Explosive etc.

6. As on today, a quick examination of the evolving world theories on geopolitics and geo-strategy needs to be done to understand the perspective of the great game being played by China in the Himalayas. In fact, we are now witnessing a new version of The Great Game almost parallel to, which was played by the British in the 18 th century to keep Russia away from Tibet in the Himalayas. There was also a theory of the Rimland as was projected by Nicholas J Spikeman, an American political scientist. This was in variation to Mackinder’s theory of the Heartland, which said, “Who rules Eastern Europe commands the Heartland, Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island, Who rules the World Island commands the world. “A parallel geopolitical equation to this theory is evolving around the Himalayas and Tibet. Such theories need crystal gazing as the Chinese prepare to break out across the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea. This concept will upturn the existing geopolitics of Asia. This will also accentuate the geo-strategy challenges for India, as the peripheral states, which were until now in the Indian immediate sphere of influence, will now distance themselves from India. These peripheral states will now become dependent on China’s largesse, especially Pakistan, which has already become a surrogate state of China. Clash of ideas between a democratic India and a Communist China will create enough turbulence in the Indian subcontinent.

7. Evolve a ‘Win-Win’ Strategy. On the other hand, India has evolved as a great democracy. It has also created a competent war-fighting machine. (Which till now has been more Pakistan centric)? India-China needs to calibrate a mutual growth equation. If China were the main adversary then India would have pitched its military capabilities accordingly. India has invested only for self-defence capabilities. Therefore, both countries instead of fighting should hold hands and arrive at a common destiny of prosperity and power for the people. What is required now is a politico-military initiative to deal with the present crises and break this impasse. If China wants to do trade on the CPEC then India should be also factored in to fetch equal dividends. India should be made an equal partner. To attract India in this project, a quid-pro-quo philosophy of give and take be formulated. India could be given its legitimate claim of integrating the Kashmiris. This may mean accepting India’s reclaim on POK. India on the other hand should guarantee the security of this corridor. In addition, India be given access to the CPEC to Afghanistan/CAR. As regards the demarcation of the border along the LAC, a package of mutual adjustment needs to be worked out. The CPEC passes through Aksai Chin and thus India should adjust to accommodate China’s claim versus that towards the North East. A solution will emerge to evolve a ‘Win-Win’ strategy, if the two sides sit down with sincerity. Today’s geopolitics clearly points out China’s interest in this sector. In totality, a ‘CSST’ has to evolve and a new equilibrium has to be reached between the two nations as a new norm of mutual sensitivities. India can then leverage China to stabilise relations against Pakistan. However, if either side continues with a dogged approach of obstinacy and supremacy over the other, then obviously it may become the flashpoint for a third world war and with the consequences of their shattered dreams.(like that of Hitler).

8. Strategic-Stalemate Be Immediately Dissolved By a Top-Down Political/Diplomatic Approach. Any attempt by China to capture Ladakh in conjunction with Pakistan’s pincer movement will automatically invite the participation of other countries creating a combat power stronger than that of China and that finally India will be victorious. Because India would be fighting a just and moral war on its ground whereas China would be fighting a war far away from their mainland in a captured land seized by them. It is reiterated, that this strategic stalemate needs to be immediately dissolved by a top-down diplomatic approach by both the countries rather than leaving it to the two nuclear-armed militaries. It is only long-lasting stability in this Himalayan region coupled with the reduction of trust deficit through a strategic treaty, which can catapult rise of both the countries. The opportunity is there now! Same needs to be grabbed without fail, lest both countries suffer huge losses and have an unrecoverable downfall.

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


The blog will address national security issues like on Space warfare,Transformation of the Armed Forces,Terrorism,Siachen and the geopolitics of the Himalayas.It will also cover issues on the China and Pakistan threats


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