The China-India Border Brawl – Read This Wall Street Journal Article

We began writing about the border disputes and the consequent rise in military tensions between China and India over a year ago. Our first article (see Editor’s Note below) was triggered by what we felt was surprising lack of knowledge about this vital topic and the consequent complacency among global investors.

Since then, we have written extensively on this topic over the past year. Our most recent article was in April 2009 titled “China-India Tensions – Views Of The Pentagon & The Indian Military“. This article provides an overview as well as a geo-strategical description of the dispute with maps. In brief:

  • The dispute between China and India goes back 60 odd years. After India’s independence in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the “messenger of peace” Prime Minister of India, unilaterally withdrew the Indian Army from Tibet because he did not want his India to be an imperialist power. Within a few years, the Chinese army moved in unopposed and occupied Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled to India where he now resides. China now proclaims Tibet as an integral part of China.
  • Soon thereafter, China began claiming the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory on the grounds that it uses to be a part of Tibet at one point in the past. China refuses to accept the 1914 Treaty between Tibet and India in which Tibet affirmed Arunachal Pradesh as the integral part of India.
  • The defining event in the China-India relationship is the short but traumatic war in 1962. The Chinese humiliated a woefully unprepared India and conquered tracts of Indian territory. This attack destroyed Nehru’s “Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai” (China-India are brothers) policy and changed the course of India’s defense thinking.

(A straight line of attack from Lhasa, Tibet)              (Arunachal Pradesh in red – Source Wikipedia)

Two weeks ago, the Chinese Press escalated the anti-India rhetoric with articles in the People’s daily and Global Times. 

  • Li Hongmei wrote in the People’s Daily that Indians harboured a mix of “awe, vexation, envy and jealousy — in the face of its giant neighbour”.
  • An editorial in Global Times on June 12 said, “India can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale. India apparently has not yet realised this… India’s growing power would have a significant impact on the balance of this equation, which has led India to think that fear and gratitude for its restraint will cause China to defer to it on territorial disputes. But this is wishful thinking, as China won’t make any compromises in its border disputes with India. And while China wishes to coexist peacefully with India, this desire isn’t born out of fear.”
These publications are considered to be the mouthpieces of the Chinese Establishment. That is why these comments were taken seriously by even the normally sedate, appeasing Indian Media and by the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal Article

The article titled The China-India Border Brawl is an absolute must-read. Its author is Jeff M. Smith, the Kraemer Strategy Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. We include some excerpts from this article below.

The article begins with a summary of the 1962 war between China and India. Then it moves to recent events.

  • In recent years however China has been raising the temperature at the border. Chinese claims to Arunachal Pradesh and frequent Chinese”incursions” into the nearby Indian state of Sikkim have begun to multiply in line with Beijing’s rising economic and political influence. Moreover, unlike India, China has methodically developed its infrastructure along the disputed border, littering the barren terrain with highways and railways capable of moving large numbers of goods and troops.

  • For its part, New Delhi has become both increasingly aware of its disadvantage and exceedingly suspicious of China’s intentions. India’s June 8 announcement that it will deploy two additional army mountain divisions to the northeastern state of Assam will bring India’s troop levels in the region to more than 100,000 (still dwarfed by Chinese strength of 300,000 troops). The Indian Air Force,meanwhile, announced it will station two squadrons of advanced Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft in Tezpur, also in Assam. They will be complemented by three Airborne Warning and Control Systems and the addition or upgrade of airstrips and advanced landing stations. This is part of a broader effort to bolster India’s military and transportation infrastructure in its neglected northeast.

  • Upon hearing India’s plans, Beijing became irate. The People’s Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece that serves as a window into the thinking of Beijing’s insular leadership, published an exceptional broadside against New Delhi on June 11. It described India’s “tough posture” as “dangerous,” and asked India to “consider whether or not it can afford  the consequences of a potential confrontation with China.” China is not afraid of India, the editorial taunted, while mocking India for failing to keep pace with China’s economic growth.

The article then goes on to explain the long and sustained effort of China to build military assets all around India, its “String of Pearls” strategy with bases and ports in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Finally, the article asks the most important question “What is Washington’s role in this Asian rivalry?”. It goes on to answer the question in two parts:

  • In the short term, a priority must be to tamp down friction over the border. In the longer term, Washington should leverage its friendly relations with both capitals to promote bilateral dialogue and act as an honest broker where invited. But it should also continue to build upon the strategic partnership with India initiated by former president George W. Bush, and support its ally, as it did at the Nuclear Suppliers group and the ADB, where necessary. Washington must also make clear that it considers the established, decades-old border between the two to be permanent.

  • Most importantly, though, the Sino-Indian border dispute should be viewed as a test for proponents of China’s “peaceful rise” theory. If China becomes adventurous enough to challenge India’s sovereignty or cross well-defined red lines, Washington must be willing to recognize the signal and respond appropriately.

            (Border Post at Nathu-La – WSJ)                        (Attack thru Nathu-La could split off NE India)

The Greater Aims of China

The Wall Street Journal article focuses mainly on the border dispute between China and India. In our opinion, this is merely a symptom of the real problem and not the problem itself.

In our opinion, China’s main goal is to establish its hegemony in Asia and be declared as a Superpower on par with the United States. China mistakenly believes that, because of its trillion dollar reserves and America’s need for China to buy its debt, China is today the equal of America.

This explains the utterly stupid but completely characteristic demand made by China in a meeting with Admiral Keating, the PACOM naval Chief. This was covered in detail in our May 16 article  China’s Leadership – Just Drunk Or Delusional?  In Admiral Keating’s own words, the Chinese Official said to him:

  • “You, the US, take Hawaii East and we, China, will take Hawaii West and the Indian Ocean. Then you will not need to come to the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean and we will not need to go to the Eastern Pacific. If anything happens there, you can let us know and if something happens here, we will let you know.”
This was not an idle comment. China seriously believes that the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean are its own sphere of dominance. Recently, China has begun to seize fishing trawlers of Vietnam and Philippines to demonstrate its ownership of the South China Sea. No country in Asia is capable of standing up to China. Except, perhaps India.

China is aware that the world considers India to be a strong competitor to China and that, without putting India in its place, China would never be considered as the Hegemon of Asia. This is why, we believe that the Chinese Leadership is deeply desirous of demonstrating to the world that India is simply not in China’s league. The most vivid way to do so is by administering a quick, humiliating military defeat to India and seizing what it claims to be Chinese Territory.

China has also tried to asserts its hegemony in the Financial Arena by trying to block a 2.9 billion dollar loan by ADB, the Asean Development Bank, to India. This was discussed in detail in our April 18 article
China-India Border Tensions Move From The Military To The Economic Arena.

Last week, ADB overruled China with American help and by ADB’s own desire to save face. In response, China rebuked ADB and said that the bank has tarnished its good name. According to a BBC article , “The ADB said that the organisation’s charter stated that only economic considerations – and not political affairs – should be relevant to its decisions,”

Editor’s Note:

Apart from the articles quoted above, below are our other articles on this topic:

Recent reports from the Times of India on this topic:

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