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India has greater military advantage over China: Ex-Army Vice Chief
16 November 2012

Former Vice Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman, believes that "the Chinese do not seek any territorial claims." He justified his observation by explaining how the Chinese, in spite of being in a better bargaining position, did not retain any Indian territory after the 1962 war.

Initiating a discussion on 'Fifty Years after the Chinese Debacle' at ORF-Chennai on Saturday, 10 November 2012, Gen Pattabhiraman (Retd) pointed out that ironically, China has settled border disputes with all other countries except India and Bhutan, indicating a linkage in the two cases.

At the beginning of the discussion, Gen Pattabhiraman mentioned that there has been a debate in "informed circles", especially through the print media, whether, after 50 years of war, if India was ready for any confrontation with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China. He gave a very brief introduction to the classification of Eastern, Western and Middle sectors of the northern borders of India that it shares with China. He said that "we have to face the reality of disputable lands" in the borders along China.

Gen Pattabhiraman stressed on the poor state of infrastructure in the northern part of India and said that the western sector has seen far more development in infrastructure and logistics compared to its eastern counterpart, namely, the northern part of Arunachal Pradesh, which is divided into two by the means of the Brahmaputra river and a series of valleys. He also recalled how elephants used to be the common means of transport between the northern and southern banks of Brahmaputra.

Explaining the legacy and unresolved border disputes, Gen Pattabhiraman said that the Indian perception of the LAC (Line of Actual Control) differs from that of the Chinese, which explains the quite frequent intrusions by the latter. He also said that the Chinese were not ready for a mutual agreement on the LAC. Another big issue along the border of Arunachal Pradesh is the claim by Chinese on the entire State, calling it 'southern Tibet'. Yet, overall, Gen Pattabhiraman said, India has a great military advantage over China, as the Chinese operated on exterior lines of communication whereas India operates on interior lines of communication. When the Chief of the Army Staff assures the nation that the history of the '62 war would not be repeated, he also implied this advantage.

While discussing the causes that led to India's humiliating defeat in the month-long war against China, Gen Pattabhiraman said that it was the ill-advice given to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru by then Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon and others on setting up a forward-post to throw out the Chinese in the unilaterally declared border area. The real legacy had started out with the People's Republic of China, formed in 1949, annexing Tibet in 1954. India accepted Tibet to be a part of China and an ever-lasting friendship with the new Chinese Republic. In 1959 Dalai Lama sought refuge in India and since then two generations of Tibetans have been assimilated into India without citizenship status.

As Gen Pattabhiraman pointed out, before the aggression of 1962, there had been a massacre of Indian policemen, repelling Chinese intruders near the disputed lands in 1959. The particular day is being commemorated as the annual 'Police Day' across the country. He talked about the McMohan Line, and recalled how all along the Chinese have maintained that their representative had never signed the 'Shimla agreement' of 1916, thus making McMohan Line a unilaterally declared border by the then British rulers of India.

The Chinese had indeed warned India in 1960 not to change the status quo on ground by making any territorial claims, Gen Pattabhiraman said. But, a foolhardy young Indian nation which was successful in the Indo-Pak war of 1947-48, having done a neat job in Congo as a part of the UN-mandated force and forming of a part of the international truce arrangements in the post-Korean War of 1953, possibly pushed the unprepared Indian army into the unwise move of taking forward-posts and defending themselves against the Chinese.

Gen Pattabhiraman also said that New Delhi failed to use the Indian Air Force (IAF) in offensive missions, in spite of having numerous air fields near the theatres of war which were not used since World War II. The use of IAF could have turned around the war as the Chinese had very little infrastructure to support air operations against them in Tibet. In spite of India's humiliating defeat, the loss made way for a patriotic fervour among the young people of late 1950's and the 60's in the country. On the one hand, the youth joined the armed forces in large numbers, and on the other the Government took a serious interest in the modernisation of the armed forces. It thus proved to be a 'blessing in disguise', as it prepared the nation in every way to win all successive wars.

While discussing regional developments after the '62 war, Gen Pattabhiraman said that very soon after the war, Chinese negotiated a pact with Pakistan for 5400 sqkm of territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. In 1962, India did not capture even one Chinese prisoner of war and the entire Sino-Indian war was one-sided. But five decades after this humiliating defeat, India is now prepared to defend itself against future aggression. The country now has highly sophisticated CBMs with China, and could try and avoid any aggression in the future. Yet, potential tension over the LAC is always possible.

In general, relationship between India and China has improved with bi-lateral engagements in trade, which is expected to touch $ 100-billion by 2015. People-to-people exchange has seen a rise with nearly five lakh Indians and one lakh Chinese travelling to each other country in a year. One other important feat in fostering Sino-Indian relations is the construction of a railway line to Lhasa, near the Tibetan border. There has been talk of extending the railway line which would further build Indo-China relations.

Gen Pattabhiraman also stressed the growing asymmetry on military-spending. He said that the Chinese military spending has grown six-fold from $30 billion to $180 billion in a matter of 10 years, between 2000 and 2010. India has spent $ 41 billion in 2012. India lags behind China in military modernisation and the prognosis for future looks bleak. Gen Pattabhiraman attributed it to project-delays caused by poor co-ordination within the Government. This growing asymmetry is of concern.

Gen Pattbhiraman touched upon the Sino-Pak collusion. He said that the Chinese have 'all-weather friendship' with Pakistan, and it should not be taken lightly. There are PLA troops in PoK, which have not been denied, joint exercises of aircraft, tanks and missiles with Pakistan. China is also selling military hardware to Pakistan at 'friendship rates'.

On the question whether China has any intention of going for a war with India, the former Vice-Chief of Staff said it is very unlikely unless diplomacy fails. But there are a few red flags raised as concern with the military exercises and capacity-building measures of the Chinese in Tibet. India should not adopt an ostrich-like mentality and ignore this reality. He said that a few flash points could act as triggers for confrontation, one being the LAC which he described as being a unilateral one that could lead to a conflict. The other is the South China Sea, which as yet has not witnessed any aggression.

Gen Pattabhiraman said that in order to maintain cordial relationship with the Chinese, in case of a likely tension, it is necessary for India to adopt rational diplomacy, including military diplomacy, and work hard on the issue of LAC. On a concluding note, he recalled that a Chinese official as saying that the border issue would not affect the Sino-Indian bilateral relationship.

(The report is prepared by Va Ramalingam, Student, I Year BA, Department of Journalism and Media Studies, S R M University, Chennai)