After 58 years of peace along the border, military standoffs between China and India broke out in May. If we look back at history, it is not a surprise that the neighboring countries are in conflict. That is, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would start a fight with its neighbors whenever the regime’s foreign relations are tense and its domestic economic and social policies are failing. In the past, the regime has picked on India under Mao Zedong’s leadership. Mao’s strategy of “the more mistakes, the more calm you should appear. Shift the battlefront to find a way out,” has been applied again today. However, the CCP is likely to achieve nothing, just like what happened during the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
Rising in Power, Two Dilemmas
The recent border clashes, which led to casualties on both sides, appears to be a natural continuation of the long-standing border dispute between the two countries. However, the border between China and India has been undecided for almost a hundred years. In such a long period of time, the two sides have had two conflicts, one in 1962 and one now. Peace has been maintained for nearly 60 years. Why is the conflict inevitable now? Perhaps the answer is that it was just a matter of time. Let us examine the true historical context of the conflict.
Both clashes occurred when the CCP encountered unprecedented dilemmas, both domestically and internationally. Such dilemmas are actually the inevitable products of the CCP’s desire to become a rising power. The Great Leap Forward, also known as the second Five-Year Plan, an economic and social campaign that began in 1958, totally collapsed in 1962. It was a campaign led by the then-Party leader Mao Zedong that aimed to overtake Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union in prowess. In 2020, the CCP is once again launching policies in an effort to surpass the United States. However, the regime once again fell into a trap caused by its own failed policy.
The common feature of these two campaigns is to accomplish the regime’s ambitions in the international arena. In order to reach its goals, the unscrupulous CCP adopts politics that hurt the economy both domestically and internationally. With the Great Leap Forward, the CCP attempted to accelerate agricultural production by forming communes. This failed practice caused tens of millions of farmers to starve to death. Internationally, Mao launched the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis, when the CCP and Taiwan engaged in a brief armed conflict after the CCP seized several islands in the Taiwan Strait. He even asked the Soviet Union to participate should a nuclear war be triggered with the United States. This brazen act led to the end of the Soviet Union’s honeymoon with the CCP and the termination of technical assistance to Communist China. Sino-Soviet and Sino-U.S. relations deteriorated at the same time.
The current economic dilemma in China dates back to the Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao era (former Chinese leader and premier from 2002 to 2012) when the real estate bubble started to lead the Chinese economy into a dead end. Since then, the economic decline has become a new norm. The “rising up” strategy began with large-scale technology theft, coupled with a long-term trade surplus with the United States, and violating international maritime law by constructing man-made islands, and even a new sea-based nuclear deterrent in the South China Sea. Faced with various threats from the CCP, the Trump administration took countermeasures that accelerated the decline of China’s economy. The novel coronavirus pandemic further deteriorated Sino-U.S. relations.
Mao Zedong’s Strategy
In a democratic country, citizens can hold the government accountable if such dilemmas occur. However, it’s not the case for a communist dictatorship. There’s never an apology. Rather, the regime finds various ways to divert attention. Nationalism has always come in handy. An international conflict shows the strength of an army, which secures the Party leadership and prevents any potential internal threats.
Mao’s strategy of “the more mistakes, the more calm you should appear” means that the CCP will never admit its fault. The so-called “shift the battlefront to find a way out” means to launch new conflicts in internal affairs and foreign relations. Neighboring countries are often the scapegoats. The conflict with India is a big issue which can incite nationalism and allows the CCP to flex its muscles. The Sino-India border issue can be easily manipulated to incite conflict. Of course, the CCP also has a bottomline: it cannot become isolated from the international community. Therefore, the conflict is restricted to the borders only. It won’t go so far as territorial invasion. The purpose of the conflict is to achieve the goal of diverting attention away from domestic pressure.
The Sino-India border has not been surveyed by both sides for a long time, but the national boundaries on this map are not distinguished by natural geographical boundaries of rivers or valleys, and the dotted lines on the map are not precise. The latitude and longitude coordinates cannot be implemented on the ground, let alone erecting landmarks. Therefore, the actual border situation is that both sides have their own actual Line of Actual Control (LAC), and between the LACs is a buffer zone that neither side occupies. When one party takes some actions in the buffer zone, such as setting up fortifications or bunkers, it will cause friction between the two sides. At this time, as long as one side wants to take control, the conflict will immediately erupt. This was true of the Sino-Indian War of 1962, as also of the Sino-Indian conflict this year.
Both Sino-Indian conflicts follow the same pattern: Beijing manipulates the status quo of the unresolved border dispute to instigate friction; then it dispatches troops, designs conflict plans and orders surprise attacks; then minimizes the situation, returns the border to its original state or retreats appropriately, and restores peace. In every conflict, the CCP took the initiative, prepared for it, and attacked suddenly. Let’s review the characteristics of these two conflicts.
The 1962 Sino-Indian Conflict
In the winter of 1962, the Sino-Indian War launched by the CCP broke out. On Oct. 20 of that year, the Communist army launched an offensive in the eastern section of the Sino-Indian border, and the Indian army was defeated. On Nov. 16, the Communist army carried out a long-range attack on the eastern and western sections of the border line, and the Chinese troops advanced over the Indian forces. The Communist troops achieved a complete victory. But, the regime faced a great defeat diplomatically.
Among the Western, Communist, and developing countries, 50 of them supported India, such as Egypt, Iraq, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), Nepal, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Cambodia; only Vietnam, North Korea and Pakistan showed their support to the regime. The most important thing is that the United States and the Soviet Union both strongly supported India, and provided a lot of military assistance, including large military transporters, fighter jets, and helicopters. The Indian army increased its fighting prowess. Consequently, Mao ordered the entire line of troops to withdraw and gave up part of its controlled area.
Beijing suddenly called a unilateral ceasefire on Nov. 21, 1962 and ordered its troops to retreat to their previous positions about 12 miles behind the LAC. It was a shocking move. It has deceived many people both at home and abroad.
For example, a British journalist who covered the 1962 China-India border war, Neville Maxwell, wrote that the regime had launched a counterattack on the Sino-Indian border after India increased military provocations in the region, and attempted to gain territory by force.
Chinese army writer Jin Hui also recalled the war and expressed his disappointment that China failed to benefit from the 1962 victory in his book, “The Charm of Tibet’s Medog,” published in 1995.
The 2020 Sino-Indian Conflict
History has always been a mirror of reality. The conflict broke out again this year. The conflict area is near the western part of the Sino-Indian border near Nepal. It is a deserted, high-altitude, extremely cold area. The weather is harsh, the terrain is steep, and the transportation is inconvenient. Both sides have no residents and no resources to compete for. In the past, border patrol officers often unfurled banners face-to-face in the buffer zone to express their respective border propositions, and then walked away. In recent years, India has recorded hundreds of incidents in which China crossed the LAC every year. China even crossed the Indian LAC, set up camps, and then faced off for several weeks; however, these confrontations did not cause deaths, fights, or hostility.
Then, Indian patrols found some bunkers built by the Chinese army in the buffer zone. When the Indian army tried to destroy these structures, they were attacked by Chinese patrols. Since both China and India have an unarmed agreement—in other words, the two sides do not carry weapons in order to avoid military conflicts—the conflict between the two armies has become a freehand fight.
In the clashes between both sides at the end of May, the CCP army wounded 72 Indian troops and captured five people, according to Indian media.
A skirmish broke out again on the evening of June 15 in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh and lasted for several hours. Both sides used rocks and clubs, while the Chinese side used nail-studded rods. At least 20 Indians were killed.
With the Chinese side having prepared cold weapons to attack, this year’s Sino-Indian conflict can be seen as a pre-emptive and sudden attack by the CCP. No soldier can initiate large-scale attacks on their own without receiving orders; it can be said that behind the sudden attack by the Chinese army is the provocative decision of the CCP. If the regime wants to create friction, the soldiers are ordered to act. At present, both sides have temporarily left the scene of the conflict, but each has mobilized a large number of troops and heavy equipment to the frontlines. It remains to be seen how the situation will pan out in the future.
Since the standoff began, the CCP’s official media stated that an effective bilateral communication mechanism was established after the 1962 conflict, and that both sides would work to “resolve differences.”
Will the CCP Win Again?
In addition to the reasons why the CCP provoked India, there’s also a direct cause to the conflict. The CCP has felt constrained everywhere in the international community after the start of the U.S.-China trade war, including India’s refusal to cooperate in the CCP’s attempts to alleviate U.S. economic pressure. For more than a year, India has refused to participate in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) which is led by Japan, and has also refused to join the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). India’s refusal to submit to the CCP’s wishes could have led to this border conflict.
Compared with the 1962 Sino-Indian War, this conflict was much smaller in scale and severity, and the two sides have not used automatic weapons. However, its international significance is similar to that of 1962. The CCP also faced diplomatic isolation in this conflict. It seems that no country has publicly expressed support for the CCP in this incident.
However, the international situation today is very different from 1962. First of all, the United Nations (U.N.) has gradually been dominated by anti-Western developing countries. The U.N. has not only become the puppet of the CCP, but also an opponent of the United States. Therefore, the U.N. can no longer preside over international justice, and of course it is no longer an effective arbiter of this Sino-Indian conflict. Secondly, after the CCP joined the globalized economy, it has lured many countries through economic interests. Therefore, the CCP is not afraid should any international sanctions be imposed for this small-scale conflict.
India’s international status and economic strength have risen in the decades since 1962. Today, with its own strength, India is capable of fighting the CCP on the economic and political front without international assistance. According to an analysis by Deutsche Welle, after the border conflict, India will quickly change its foreign and economic policies to counter China. The main methods are as follows:
1) Reject Huawei’s 5G technology.
2) Boycott Chinese products. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) Secretary Ashwani Mahajan said 70 million Indian business owners have decided to step up a nationwide campaign to boycott Chinese goods.
3) Continue to pressure China to investigate the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.
4) Form allies against China. The South China Morning Post mentioned that New Delhi may now consider adjusting geopolitical relations. The recent conflict with China may prompt India to accept U.S. lobbying and further participate in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy in order to curb China’s expansion and military activities in the South China Sea.
5) Expand participation in international organizations, and actively participate in the academic community and the private sector.
6) Increase military power.
The CCP achieved nothing from the Sino-Indian War of 1962. It’s also very likely that it will not gain anything from the recent conflict.
Dr. Cheng Xiaonong is a scholar of China’s politics and economy based in New Jersey. He is a graduate of Renmin University, where he obtained his master’s degree in economics, and Princeton University, where he obtained his doctorate in sociology. In China, Cheng was a policy researcher and aide to the former Party leader Zhao Ziyang, when Zhao was premier. Cheng has been a visiting scholar at the University of Gottingen and Princeton, and he served as chief editor of the journal Modern China Studies. His commentary and columns regularly appear in overseas Chinese media.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.