The China-India Conflict (Introductory Remarks & Chapter I: Recent Developments)

 

Introductory Remarks

 

The recent escalation of the conflict between China and India is an important issue – irrespective of whether it will lead to a war as it did in 1962.

It isn’t difficult to understand the relevance of this issue for socialists and liberation activists – in these countries as well as internationally. Other than these two states’ being the two most populous countries in the world, there are additional factors. For one, China is also an emerging imperialist power challenging the long-time hegemon – the US – not only in Asia but also globally. On the other hand, India, while not an imperialist power, is certainly an important and vibrant capitalist country which aspires to become a kind of regional power and is even attempting to increase its influence in other regions like Africa.

To these factors must be added the fact that the very centrality of these two states and their respective influence in Asia guarantees that other imperialist powers – like Japan and the US – invariably involve themselves in this conflict in order to advance their own interests.

The RCIT has repeatedly pointed out that socialists can only intervene and lead the vanguard in ongoing workers’ and popular struggles if they possess a correct understanding of the fundamental dynamics and the crucial events of the world situation. This necessitates a careful study of the ongoing changes in the relations between the classes and states as well as the nature of any given conflict. It is therefore vital that we not remain satisfied with some general theoretical concepts, but always strive to concretize them in any given situation of class struggle, conflict and war. Revolutionaries are well advised to take to heart Trotsky's insistence that "the truth is always concrete”:

The vast practical importance of a correct theoretical orientation is most strikingly manifested in a period of acute social conflict of rapid political shifts, of abrupt changes in the situation. In such periods, political conceptions and generalizations are rapidly used up and require either a complete replacement (which is easier) or their concretization, precision or partial rectification (which is harder). It is in just such periods that all sorts of transitional, intermediate situations and combinations arise, as a matter of necessity, which upset the customary patterns and doubly require a sustained theoretical attention. In a word, if in the pacific and “organic” period (before the war) one could still live on the revenue from a few readymade abstractions, in our time each new event forcefully brings home the most important law of the dialectic: The truth is always concrete.[1]

For all these reasons, socialists and liberation movement activists in India, China and around the world need to understand the nature and the background of this conflict and to develop appropriate revolutionary tactics. The following pamphlet should help achieve this important goal. [2]


 

I.             Recent Developments

 

 

 

Let us first summarize the recent developments which have led to the present stand-off between Chinese and Indian troops along their common border. [3]

 

In recent weeks, tensions between China and India in the Sikkim border region have intensified to a level not seen since the 1980s. On 18 June, Indian troops, with two bulldozers, entered the area known as Doklam (by India) or Donglang (by China). This area is located on the strategically important Himalayan plateau at the tri-junction of Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan. While Doklam/Donglang is officially part of Bhutan, China also has claims on it. (See Map 1 below.)

 

 

 

Map 1: The Sikkim border region between China, India, Bhutan and Nepal [4]

 

(See below)

 

 

 

The trigger for this attack is the ongoing construction of a road in this area by China. China's attempt to control Doklam/Donglang is an extremely sensitive matter for India, as it overlooks the Siliguri corridor, the 27km-wide so-called “Chicken Neck” which links mainland India with its remote northeastern regions and which is only 100km from China’s military fortified Chumbi valley. In other words, access to this region potentially enables China to easily disrupt the land connection between the bulk of the Indian state and its northeastern regions.

 

Vice Admiral (retired) Vijay Shankar, former Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Forces Command of India, expressed the concern of India's ruling class in a recent article: "Recall in 1962, the real anxiety was that the thrust of China’s Army of Tibet would develop on a North-South axis from the Chumbi Valley to cut off the strategically vital Siliguri corridor (Chicken Neck). In 1965 again China in support of Pakistan, threatened to open this front. If China were to ever get hold of this territory, the Northeast would remain in a state of unremitting peril." [5]

 

Since then, up to 400 Indian troops stationed on the peak of the plateau, have occupied the area and thereby in effect obstructed Chinese work on a road spanning the heights. These troops allegedly entered the area at the formal request of Bhutan, but this is a matter of dispute between Delhi and Beijing. Contrary to Indian claims, the official press release of Bhutan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not mention any request for Indian aid – in fact it does not mention India at all. [6]

 

Bhutan is a traditional ally – one would more aptly call it a satellite state – of India, even though this status is probably now more in flux given the rise of China as a neighboring Great Power economically superior to India. (More on this in chapter II.)

 

While there are certain indications that the governments of both countries struck an agreement not to escalate this dispute (e.g., India is said to have reduced the number of its troops to 40 by of end-July), there is no solution for the conflict within sight.

 

All in all, about 3,000 troops from both countries are reportedly stationed near Doklam/Donglang. Tensions in recent weeks between the Chinese and Indian troops have reportedly led to unarmed clashes by “jostling” – bumping chests, without punching or kicking, in order to force the other side back. [7]

 

The media in both countries are promoting chauvinist, hard-line stances. China's Global Times, the regime's international mouth piece, warned that "India will suffer greater losses than in 1962 if it incites military conflicts". [8]

 

Colonel Wu Qian, a Chinese defence ministry spokesman, said India must not underestimate Beijing's determination to safeguard what it considers sovereign territory belonging to China in the Sikkim border region. "China's determination and resolve to safeguard national security and sovereignty is unshakable," Wu told reporters. "Here is a wish to remind India, do not push your luck and cling to any fantasies," he added. [9]

 

To underline its position, China held live-fire drills on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau near the site of the standoff in July. So did India, which is similarly in no mood to give in. An Indian military expert, Nitin Gokhale, said India was prepared for a long haul: "The decision is to stay resolute on the ground and reasonable in diplomacy". [10] And India’s army chief, Bipin Rawat, has said that Delhi is ready to fight a “two and half front war” – referring to Pakistan, China and the country’s various internal insurgencies. [11]

 

In general, with China's rise as an imperialist power, the military balance of power in the Himalayan region has shifted in its favor and to the disadvantage of India. John W. Garver, an expert on China’s foreign relations, writes:

 

"Across the Himalayan frontier in Tibet, India saw steadily improving PLA capabilities. The opening in 2006 of a high-speed rail line from Xining in Qinghai to Lhasa in Tibet caused Indian military planners to reduce from ninety to twenty days the estimated time it would take China to mobilize two divisions on India’s northeastern borders. New Delhi responded by strengthening its defenses. In the early 2010s, India deployed its most capable multirole combat aircraft, the Russian-made Sukhoi-30MKI Flanker, to the northeast to defend Arunachal Pradesh. Old airbases in India’s northeast were reopened and refurbished to host those aircraft. India also established two new mountain divisions to serve as a mountain strike force to India’s northeast." [12]

 

There will be efforts by diplomats to resolve this border issue before a summit of the so-called BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in the Chinese city of Xiamen in early September. This would naturally help China to make the summit a show of cooperation and friendship among the participants.

 

While such a resolution cannot be excluded, it is clear that conflict between the two states can and certainly will emerge again. This is unavoidable given the accelerating rivalry between China and India in this historic period of capitalist decay, as well as the fact that they share a 3,500km frontier large parts of which have been disputed for decades. (See Map 2.)

 

 

 

Map 2: India's Disputed Border Areas [13]

 

(See below)

 



[1] Leon Trotsky: Bonapartism and Fascism (July 1934), in: Trotsky Writings 1934-35, p. 35

[2] For a short version of the conclusions of this pamphlet we refer reader to the following two statements which the RCIT issued jointly with ELA (Zambia): There is No Progressive Camp in the China-India Border Conflict! Neither Beijing nor Delhi! Down with Chauvinism and Expansionism! 18.08.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/china-india-conflict/; Zambia: Down with the Exploitation by Foreign Powers! 18.08.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/china-india-in-zambia/

[3] On this, see e.g. Sanjeev Miglani: Diplomacy fails to defuse India, China border crisis: sources, August 8, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-china-idUSKBN1AO1D4; PanARMENIAN: China Ups Rhetoric In Border Row With India, August 6, 2017, http://www.eurasiareview.com/06082017-china-ups-rhetoric-in-border-row-with-india/; Al Jazeera, China warns India over 'military buildup' at border, 2017-08-04, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/china-warns-india-military-buildup-border-170804041315590.html; M.K. Bhadrakumar: China raps India over Doklam standoff, but dogs are on leash, August 3, 2017, http://www.atimes.com/article/china-raps-india-doklam-standoff-dogs-leash/; Ben Blanchard: China-India border spat casts shadow ahead of BRICS summit, August 3, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-india-idUSKBN1AJ08L; Ben Blanchard: China says India building up troops amid border stand off, August 3, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-india-border-idUSKBN1AJ1TP; Al Jazeera: China demands India pulls back troops in border dispute, 2017-07-24, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/china-demands-india-pulls-troops-border-dispute-170724065132611.html; Ashok K. Mehta: To Prevent a Bigger Conflict, India and China Must Both Withdraw From Doklam, The Wire (India), 10/07/2017, https://thewire.in/156134/india-china-doklam/ 

[5] Vice Admiral (retired) Vijay Shankar: A Pug, A Terrier And The Doklam Stand Off – Analysis, IPCS, August 8, 2017, http://www.eurasiareview.com/08082017-a-pug-a-terrier-and-the-doklam-stand-off-analysis/

[6] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan: Press Release, June 29, 2017, http://www.mfa.gov.bt/press-releases/press-release-272.html

[7] There are a number of video reports on YouTube. See e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38EsW5XbGPc

[8] Global Times: India will suffer worse losses than 1962 if it incites border clash, 2017/7/4, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1054925.shtml?utm_content=bufferc5873&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[9] Quoted in Al Jazeera: China demands India pulls back troops in border dispute, 2017-07-24, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/china-demands-india-pulls-troops-border-dispute-170724065132611.html

[10] Ben Blanchard: China-India border spat casts shadow ahead of BRICS summit, August 3, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-india-idUSKBN1AJ08L

[11] Michael Safi: Chinese and Indian troops face off in Bhutan border dispute, The Guardian, 6 July 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/06/china-india-bhutan-standoff-disputed-territory

[12] John W. Garver: China’s Quest. The History of the Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China, Oxford University Press, New York 2016, pp. 740-741

 

Map 1: The Sikkim border region between China, India, Bhutan and Nepal

Map 2: India's Disputed Border Areas