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Is war between India and China likely? Two opinions.

Yes, the war of words is escalating alarmingly

On October 13, 2009, the Chinese ordered the Indians—much as an imperial power would order a vassal state—to abandon Arunachal Pradesh. In response to a visit by the Indian prime minister to the poll-bound state, the Chinese used harsh, intemperate terms such as “we demand”—the diplomatic equivalent of a punch to the nose.

The number of cross-border incursions by China rose to an all-time high of 270 in 2008 (doubling from 140 in 2007), and there were 2285 incidents of “aggressive border patrolling.”

The railroad to Lhasa has been completed. China can move troops quickly to the Indian border. China is talking seriously about diverting the Brahmaputra northward at a bend in the river in Tibet. If this is done, much of northern India and Bangladesh will turn arid.

All this is in addition to China’s long-term “string of pearls” strategy of encircling India with alliances with a series of countries bordering India; the ports of Gwadar in Baluchistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka and the Cocos Islands in Myanmar are being built with Chinese assistance and will presumably host Chinese warships.

So why is China doing this at this time? There are several good reasons.

· China has economic momentum, and the United States, deep in recession, now panders to it, with Barack Obama refusing to have an audience with the Dalai Lama.

· China’s modus operandi typically is to use client states to do its dirty work: North Korea to threaten Japan; Pakistan to proliferate nuclear weapons. But there is the danger that its biggest client state, Pakistan, is about to collapse as a failed state.

· China was afraid of major pressure during the Olympics and the 50th anniversary of its conquest of Tibet. But the international community did not seem to care.

· India is unsettled because of the various threats to its own existence—communist terrorists, ISI-trained jihadi terrorists, etc.

· The world is now talking about China and India in the same breath. China (the “Middle Kingdom”) can brook no equals. The last time there was similar comparison, China gave India a humiliating blow in 1962. They are determined that 2009 will be 1962 revisited.

· It is now clear that India does not have a credible nuclear deterrent: neither ICBMs capable of hitting Beijing, nor enough warheads for a second strike.

From the Chinese point of view, they might as well attack; the time is ripe.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Bangalore, India.

No, China will gain nothing from war with India

There is little doubt that the Chinese offensive, diplomatically and on the border, is the surprise of the year. Sino-Indian border talks are 28 years old now and in recent years had gained momentum. Why then is China suddenly turning hostile? What are the short-term goals that it thinks it can achieve by bullying India with the threat of war? Understanding that will reassure us that China is not going to gain from war.

The main bone of contention between India and China is the refuge India has given to the Dalai Lama, helping Tibetan refugees set up a government in exile. For China Tibet was the issue in 1962 and Tibet is the issue in 2009. Most Indians don’t appreciate how much the Dalai Lama’s presence in India riles Beijing.

Why is China taking to war-mongering in 2009? What is new is that the Lhasa uprising of 2008 was found to have been bolstered by online co-operation among young Tibetans in Dharamsala. Second generation Tibetan youth in India are restless and not under the Dalai Lama’s control, and in no mood of following His Holiness’ middle path.

The Dalai Lama is 74 and the day may not be far when he passes away and a regent takes over the government in exile, looking into the appointment of the fifteenth re-incarnation. China would like to appoint their own man as the next Dalai Lama—just as they have appointed their own Pancham Lama who lives under heavy security in Beijing.

It is very likely then that this successor may come from Tawang, the border town in Arunachal Pradesh which is as much geographically Tibet as it is politically India since the MacMohan Line drawn in 1914. That is why the area is ripe for a dispute, and China is doing all it can to prevent the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. New Delhi, like a good boy who knows the line between courage and foolhardiness, is already indicating that Arunachal Pradesh’s invitation to the Dalai Lama may be withdrawn.

It is very likely that when Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao meet in Bangkok, the tensions may decline. The last thing that China wants is to affect its image of a country rising “peacefully.” Obama may have recently refused to meet the Dalai Lama, but if China goes to war with India it is not as if the powers rallying against China, especially Australia, Japan and the United States, will be silent. Apart from taking control of Tawang, there is little that China may achieve. There may at best be a small skirmish to give India a bloody nose. The days of all-out conventional wars are over.

Shivam Vij is a writer based in Delhi.