The Sino-in­dian Bor­der War: 1962-2012

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Austin Bay

On Nov. 21, 1962, as the In­dian Army con­tin­ued a chaotic re­treat from its high al­ti­tude po­si­tions in the Hi­malayan Moun­tains, Com­mu­nist China’s victorious forces halted their ad­vance and im­ple­mented a uni­lat­eral cease­fire.

That cease­fire stopped com­bat op­er­a­tions in what we now call the 1962 Sino-In­dian Bor­der War.

That mid-20th cen­tury war, how­ever, isn’t an­cient his­tory.

In fact, as East Asian and South­east Asian mar­itime bor­der quar­rels es­ca­late from rhetor­i­cal spar­ring to naval con­fronta­tions, the war has a fright­en­ing con­tem­po­rary res­o­nance.

China is in­volved in the most con­tentious mar­itime bor­der dis­agree­ments.

China claims roughly 80 per­cent of the South China Sea and its seabed’s po­ten­tially enor­mous min­eral wealth. China’s south­ern neigh­bors, par­tic­u­larly Viet­nam and the Philip­pines, deny China’s broad as­ser­tion of sovereignty.

In Septem­ber 2012, a hot­blooded, and quite se­nior, Chi­nese gen­eral said his coun­try should pre­pare for war with Ja­pan over a string of islets China calls the Diaoyus and Ja­pan the Senkakus.

China’s naval buildup and its mar­itime claims have drawn Amer­i­can me­dia at­ten­tion, but it is in the high Hi­malayas, in some of the world’s most for­bid­ding moun­tain­ous ter­rain, where Asia’s nu­clear-armed giants col­lide. In­deed, in the edgy Asia of 2012, China and In­dia, two com­pet­i­tive mil­i­tary and eco­nomic pow­ers with global in­flu­ence, re­main locked in a frozen war over a dis­puted bor­der.

Op­ti­mists ar­gue that, ex­cept for an al­leged skir­mish or two in the late 1960s, the fact that the Sino-In­dian cease­fire has re­mained in ef­fect for 50 years in­di­cates sta­bil­ity.

How­ever, a cease­fire is not a ne­go­ti­ated, signed and rat­i­fied peace treaty.

Hard­line na­tion­al­ists in Bei­jing and New Delhi con­tinue to use dif­fer­ent names for the dis­puted ter­ri­tory. The Chi­nese re­fer to the re­gion as South­ern Ti­bet. In­di­ans call it the north­ern fron­tier of what is now Arunachal Pradesh state.

“Frozen con­flict” is diplo­matic slang for an unset­tled but rel­a­tively lo­cal­ized con­flict where the an­tag­o­nists re­main “frozen” in their po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions and nei­ther side has the mil­i­tary re­sources or diplo­matic in­flu­ence to re­solve the con­flict on its terms. Di­vided Cyprus is one ex­am­ple. The Korean War and the Is­raeliPales­tinian con­flict are frozen con­flicts with re­gional and in­ter­na­tional di­men­sions.

Frozen con­flicts may have the ve­neer of sta­bil­ity, but they are, in re­al­ity, slow wars waged by diplo­matic, eco­nomic and cul­tural means, or hot wars on sim­mer, await­ing re-ig­ni­tion.

Frozen war ap­plies to the Sino-In­dian con­flict at a lit­eral level. With the Hi­malayas as the 1962 bat­tle­field and the still-dis­puted bor­der wind­ing over glacier and snow­fields, Cold War-era gal­lows hu­morists de­scribed the Sino-In­dian con­flict as “the cold­est war.” China pre­pared for its 1962 at­tack by ac­cli­mat­ing its as­sault troops to the high al­ti­tudes (14,000 feet) and train­ing them for moun­tain in­fantry op­er­a­tions. China also timed its of­fen­sive to take ad­van­tage of the loom­ing Hi­malayan win­ter. Launch­ing the sur­prise at­tack in Oc­to­ber meant any In­dian counter-stroke would have to wait for the spring thaws.

In 1962 the war didn’t quite fit the East Bloc-West Bloc par­a­digm. China was a nom­i­nal Soviet Rus­sian ally. In­dia, how­ever, was no West­ern ally. In­dia’s lead­ers re­sented Great Bri­tain and sus­pected the U.S. fa­vored its ri­val, Pak­istan. How­ever, a Cold War echo fol­lowed the con­flict: a nu­clear arms race. In 1964, China det­o­nated a nu­clear de­vice. Geo-strate­gists knew In­dia would re­spond. In­dia went nu­clear in 1974.

The 1962 de­feat still trou­bles the In­dian mil­i­tary. In­dian veter­ans of the war call it a hu­mil­i­a­tion that still stings. Sev­eral re­cent ar­ti­cles writ­ten by In­dian de­fense an­a­lysts and a re­tired gen­eral or two have de­bated the In­dian government’s fail­ure to use the In­dian Air Force to stop the Chi­nese at­tack and strike Chi­nese sup­port in­stal­la­tions in­side Ti­bet. Af­ter read­ing them, I was left with the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that any fu­ture Hi­malayan war won’t be con­fined to bor­der passes and gar­ri­son out­posts.

Given China’s and In­dia’s tech­no­log­i­cal prow­ess, air could turn to space. In April 2012, In­dia test-fired its new Agni in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile. If you think Pak­istan was the pri­mary au­di­ence, think again. In­dian Air Force fighter-bombers al­ready have Karachi within range. The Agni puts Bei­jing in the bull’s-eye. Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.