Tuesday 04 October 2022, 03:18 PM
Enigmatic China’s Geographical Compulsions
By Lt. General S.L. Narsimhan (Retd.) | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 2/23/2017 1:49:22 PM
Enigmatic China’s Geographical Compulsions

                                                      India Should Not Unduly Get Worried

New Delhi: China has remained an enigma for a long time. It is because of the feeling that China has that she is the centre of the world and others in the periphery are inferior to her.  Therefore, she did not open out to the world. Ever since she became a republic, she went behind a “bamboo curtain” and remained cut off from the world. She started opening up since 1978 when Deng Xiaoping, the then President of China,   started the four modernisations programme. Powered by an over 10% GDP growth for three decades she has arrived in the international scene. Due to the 1962 War, the relations between India and China remained in a state of limbo till 1988. In that eventful year in India - China relations, then Prime Minister of India Late Mr Rajiv Gandhi, visited China and a thaw occurred in the frozen relationship between both the countries. However, the bilateral relationship between both these countries has been influenced by the shadow of the 1962 War which India lost badly. The 1962 syndrome affected India’s dealings with China till the beginning of this century.

India started opening up her economy in 1991. From a near bankruptcy in 1991, she has become a star in the world economy, by weathering the ups and downs in the world economy successfully, through a continuous and a high rate of growth. However, this ushered in an era of discomfort in the bilateral relations. China sees India as a peer competitor and the vice versa is also true. Lack of information about China, our pre occupation with Pakistan, and the 1962 syndrome created a feeling that China is a mystery.


In this article we will lay to rest some of the questions that linger in the minds of a common man about what China is and what her capabilities are.


China is affected adversely affected by the geography. It has land on three sides and the Sea in the East. That makes her dependent on East and South China Seas for her trade. Her sea lines of communication pass through Malacca Straits through which a major portion of her trade takes place. China is concerned that if the Malacca Straits (See Illustration 1) is choked it will affect her capability to sustain herself. In 2004, the then President of China, Mr Hu Jintao expressed this concern as “China’s Malacca Dilemma”.

 Illustration 1 – Malacca Straits

This geographical restriction has forced her to find ways and means of entering the Indian Ocean through different routes both on land and sea. Even within her territory, particularly in the West and South West she has inhospitable terrain. In Xinjiang Province, where the Uighur Community, which is of Turkish origin resides, the terrain is dominated by the Taklamakan Deserts. In the South West, where Tibet is, the terrain is high altitude and a significant portion of this terrain is permafrost. Permafrost is an area which remains frozen permanently. Therefore, a major portion of China is dominated by difficult terrain. This phenomenon has forced the population to be concentrated along the East Coast of China.  However, the natural resources are found in abundance in the Xinjiang and Tibet Provinces. Therefore, a disparity has been created by the geography of China.  While the population in the East is dependent on the natural resources in the West, the cost factors have deprived of the benefits of the economic growth to the Western and South Western parts of China.


When China started her Four Modernisations programme in 1978, she laid down priorities for that modernisation. They were agriculture, industry, science & technology and defence. In early nineties, these priorities were changed and defence came into forefront. China follows a policy of her economy and military modernisation going hand in hand, implying that the defence funding will grow approximately equal to the economic growth. There has been a departure from this trend in the past few years. Defence expenditure has been growing more than the economic growth. This has resulted in an improved and more modernised Peoples Liberation Army. A comparison of India’s and China’s equipment is given in Illustration 2.


                     Illustration 2 – Comparison of India and China’s Military Equipment

Even though China has more military equipment than India, it should not be a cause for concern for India. The high altitude terrain in Tibet creates a lot of hurdles for the tactical employment of his troops and aircraft.  The terrain on Indian side creates even worse difficulties for Chinese Armed Forces. China’s navy is still not in a position to carry out sustained operations in the Indian Ocean Region.

Therefore, one need not be unduly worried. However, there is a word of caution. Military capabilities take a long time to build. Therefore, India should not be complacent about building her capabilities. China has the technological capability in terms of space, cyber and information warfare in addition to superior numbers in military equipment. At the moment she does not have any offensive intentions. Should the intention change India should be prepared for it. Therefore, it is suggested that there should be no slackness in India building her capabilities.


In the first paragraph of this article it was mentioned that the 1962 Syndrome played on the psyche of the policy makers till the beginning of this century. As India’s economic development grew and her military capabilities also grew. She also started developing her infrastructure and therefore India’s stance has been growing in confidence. We can rightly say that 1962 Syndrome is a thing of the past.


There are a number of other issues that keep worrying the common man. Periodically, one gets to read in the media that China is blocking the flow of the Brahmaputra River (called Yarlung Zangpo in Tibet) by constructing dams for generating hydroelectric power.  (See Illustration 3)


Illustration 3 – Dams on Yarlung Zangpo River

A deeper study will suggest that many of the projects that China is constructing on Yarlung Zangpo are run of the river projects. More than 70 percent of the water to Brahmaputra is supplied by her tributaries in India. In addition, there is a hydrological data exchange mechanism in place. Under this mechanism, China provides the hydrological data during the monsoon seasons when Brahmaputra is likely to get into spate. While one needs to monitor the hydrological activity on the Chinese side, it will be also prudent to analyse it practically without getting emotional.


Another thing that keeps appearing in the media is about Pakistan handing over Gilgit Baltistan to China in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The involvement of China in Pakistan goes back to 1963 when Pakistan handed over the Shaksgam Valley to China with the condition that as and when Kashmir issue gets resolved, the country that gets the Shaksgam Valley will negotiate the status of this valley with China. Second time was when she constructed the Karakoram Highway in the 1970s. In 2010, China was requested by Pakistan to help the latter in constructing a diversion for the Hunza River which got blocked due to a massive land slide in the Attabad Area. This brought approximately 11000 Chinese Construction Corps Personnel into this area. They are said to be still there. Recently in 2014, China announced an investment of US$ 46 Billion for a China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This corridor will comprise of highways, thermal power plants and development of Gwadar Port. One of the alignments of the highway passes through Gilgit Baltistan. (See Illustration 4). All these issues are of concern to India. CPEC has not found favour with India.

Illustration 4 – China Pakistan Economic Corridor

The third issue that keeps getting highlighted in the media is a two front war. This implies that when either Pakistan or China attacks India the other also opens a front thereby forcing India to face a two front war. Since the discussions on this subject are in the confidential domain, it will be suffice to say that the country’s military planners have already thought of scenario and adequate measures are in place to handle such a scenario.

The fourth issue is China blocking India’s efforts to obtain a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). China justifies her stance by saying that she wants a comprehensive reform of the UNSC. China also opposes India’s entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group on the premise that India has not signed the Non Proliferation Treaty. Entry into this group will benefit India by giving her a role to play in the decisions that are being made by this group. China is insisting that Pakistan should also be given entry as both Pakistan and India have not signed the Non Proliferation Treaty. Since Pakistan’s record on non-proliferation is not upto the mark, this issue is likely to drag on.


There are some other issues also that keep the bilateral issues between India and China under a cloud. China issuing stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh, her blocking India’s move to ban terrorists in Pakistan who have committed or orchestrated terrorist activities on Indian soil are some of the issues that keep the India China Relations from progressing well. The Indian government has been handling these issues with utmost care.


Since China is aspiring to become a global power, she wants to follow a friendly neighbourhood policy so that she can grow without any hindrance. She also does not want any competitors who can obstruct her growth. Since India’s growth is also on a high trajectory, there is likely to be some competition between both these countries. There have been a number of agreements like the 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India - China Border Areas, 1996 Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People's Republic of China on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India - China Border Areas, 2005 Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People's Republic of China on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question and the 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between India and China that have been signed between both the countries. These agreements have ensured that not a single shot has been fired across the border between both the countries since the 1967 Incident in Nathu La and Cho La. Everybody knows that the situation on the India Pakistan border is different.


In sum, the India - China Relations are sensitive and needs to be handled with care. India needs to be careful and build up her capabilities but should not get unduly worried about China.


Lt. General S.L. Narsimhan (Retd.)



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