To sub­due the enemy with­out fight­ing is the pin­na­cle of strat­egy, said Sun Tzu in The Art of War. Cen­turies later, China’s Xi Jin­ping hopes to do much the same with In­dia—de­feat it with its words. For a change, though, South Block has cho­sen the path of quiet di­a­logue over rhetoric, stress­ing a peace­ful diplo­matic res­o­lu­tion to the stand­off. The In­dian and Chi­nese armies last fired in anger 50 years ago, in 1967. Ev­ery ag­gres­sive move the two sides have made along the 4,057­km­long Line of Ac­tual Con­trol since 1967 has es­sen­tially been pos­tur­ing, each side warn­ing the other against al­ter­ing the sit­u­a­tion on the ground. In its July 17, 2017, cover story (Face Off ), in­dia to­day ex­plained the ge­n­e­sis of the cur­rent con­flict—a dis­pute over Dok­lam that brings China even closer to the vul­ner­a­ble 27­km­long Silig­uri cor­ri­dor that links the north­east­ern states to the rest of In­dia.

But what if there is a war? How do the two na­tions com­pare? Xi’s re­forms have mod­ernised China’s mil­i­tary and en­abled greater in­te­gra­tion through a newly set­up joint op­er­a­tions com­mand sys­tem—some­thing In­dia it­self has long de­bated but failed to im­ple­ment. In the first year of Xi’s term, de­fence spend­ing was hiked 10.7 per cent to $114.3 bil­lion. By last year, it crossed $150 bil­lion, though in­de­pen­dent es­ti­mates peg it as high as $215 bil­lion, more than five times what In­dia spends.

In con­trast, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has not even had a full­time de­fence min­is­ter in his cab­i­net since March. In the cover story this week, Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor San­deep Un­nithan re­ports that the In­dian army’s moderni­sa­tion drive—its plan to re­place its age­ing he­li­copters, mis­siles and in­fantry equip­ment af­ter the 1999 Kargil War—is yet to de­liver re­sults. Its first how­itzer buys in three decades will en­ter ser­vice only next year. Its Moun­tain Strike Corps—an of­fen­sive high al­ti­tude warfight­ing force com­pris­ing over 90,000 sol­diers—will be com­bat­ready only by 2020. The IAF’s dip in com­bat air­craft—32 in­stead of the sanc­tioned 39 fighter squadrons—is per­ilous. The navy is short on both sub­marines and anti­ sub­ma­rine war­fare he­li­copters. In­dia’s de­fence bud­get for 2017 was just 1.5 per cent of the GDP, among the low­est in re­cent years. But of greater con­cern is the tardy pace of bor­der in­fra­struc­ture. Only 22 of the 73 all­weather roads along the LAC have been com­pleted a decade af­ter they were sanc­tioned and the 14 strate­gic rail­way lines to rush troops and sup­plies to the bor­der re­main pa­per­bound. China, in com­par­i­son, has com­pleted its road net­work in bor­der ar­eas, and is pow­er­ing ahead with its rail­ways.

Bei­jing ap­pears to be in no mood for com­pro­mise. One rea­son is the cur­rent do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, with the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) set to hold mas­sive war games for its 90th an­niver­sary on Au­gust 1 and a once­in­five­years party congress—all im­por­tant for Xi—in Novem­ber. Any sign of weak­ness could boost his ri­vals. The Chi­nese con­sider this dis­pute more se­ri­ous than past face­offs. “From the PLA to ev­ery diplo­mat, I’m hear­ing the same mes­sage ev­ery day: this time it’s dif­fer­ent,” says Ananth Kr­ish­nan, in­dia to­day’s Bei­jing cor­re­spon­dent. The Chi­nese are say­ing the dis­pute is not about Dok­lam but about In­dia cross­ing a set­tled bor­der into what they see as their ter­ri­tory, so the mes­sage is un­less we with­draw, there’s no room for de­es­ca­la­tion. In­dia is say­ing let both sides with­draw and then talk. The dead­lock will not be easy to break with ten­sion likely for quite some time.

Yet a con­flict with In­dia would be dis­as­trous for China. The key to Xi’s am­bi­tions—in­clud­ing his pet One Belt, One Road project—is a peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment and pre­serv­ing the global im­age of a re­spon­si­ble, ris­ing China. Also, de­spite all our fail­ings in de­fence ac­qui­si­tion, in this in­stance the ter­rain favours In­dia. The Chi­nese would suf­fer heavy ca­su­al­ties in case of an as­sault. That said, both sides should again re­call Sun Tzu: There is no in­stance of a na­tion ben­e­fit­ting from pro­longed war­fare.

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