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The proxy war: China is fighting the US on the Sino-Indian border

TOP NEWS-ENG-06-07-2020

Western analysts continue to press home the point that the India of 2020 is not the India of 1962, and that it can fight China better now than it did in 1962. To support this thesis, they not only cite military data but also refer to the 1967 clash, in which, China lost more soldiers than India did. 

But the anxiety of the Indian intelligence agencies means that the psychological impact of 1962 is deep, and that the 1967 clash has not repaired the damage as much as Western experts would like it to be. However, India’s problem may be different from the West’s view of it. The critical question is: Are India and China interested in fighting a war, which many are hoping for?  

Who gains in an Indo-China conflict? 

India reads conflicts like China does, in terms of gains. So does the US. Wars help mobilize public opinion and energize the people. What is hoped for is a spurt in socio-economic activities to reach national objectives including market shares, regionally or globally?

Also Read: India needs a reality check vis-à-vis China

China has a trade war with the West, a zone of influence ambition in the wider region, and ultimately an ambition to become the main challenger of the US on the global stage. This means that China is into the signaling business. The ultimate consumer China must be hoping to get, is the West. They hope to show this by showing what they can do to India.

For the West, containing China is the big objective. So, the proposal for a shared supremacy is taken more seriously by them. What is happening is negotiation through a proxy conflict. It means peace is considered less productive than war in international affairs.

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It is not the big wars which deliver the goods, it is threats and skirmishes which do. Mega wars are not cost effective anymore given several factors including nuclearization. Thus, the Middle East wars waged by the US didn’t work at all and the Vietnam war waged by the Chinese gained it little. Hence, long distance skirmishes, which don’t singe the skin, are preferred by all. 

Covid Factor?

However, China is certainly in a much more robust mood. And that is because of economics as well as successful Covid19 management. The West, particularly the US, has done very poorly in handling the epidemic. Therefore, China can’t be blamed for gloating over its success. India has done or is doing badly, and China has not hesitated to point this out. In a recent rebuke published by SAM, China’s reference to Covid19 was clearly meant to convey India’s overall lack of competence. It translates into the question: “If you can’t manage Covid, how can you manage the Chinese army?” 

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It is not clear why India wants to keep the hostility at the level it is keeping it now. India is not a global power, nor is it an aspirant for such power. Even the hawks in New Delhi don’t think it is a global power. What Indians want is to be part of the superpower caucus led by the US. As a local power with limited economic capacity, India has to be satisfied playing the second fiddle. However, the implication of this may well be completely domestic as it helps to project the image of being a major power.

India’s lost backyard

India has managed to make everyone hostile in the region, its own backyard. However, this may not bother India much as it has continually shown that the other powers in South Asia are no match to it. Giving Pakistan a bloody nose has lost much of its charm but giving China the same makes it lot more appealing. Internally, it would show to the people, that India is now capable of fighting the big boys.

Also Read: Post-Galwan, India has never been so lonely in South Asia

But while this is good internal consumption potential, it is not military capacity that will be deciding the future, but economics. And in that space India has not achieved any miracles. It remains far below the economic status of China. In fact, the military balance looks much better compared to the economic one. And the conflict is a surrogate of the economic war not a military one which is not being fought at all.

India is now caught in a war from which it has little to gain. While the pro-Western analysts reel out data on how close to or at par the military strength of India and China are, none of the parties can gain from the border war which ultimately will, again, mean a return to the status quo ante. And if the war goes on for a while the damage to the Indian economy will be greater. India simply can’t gain anything from such a war. China will not gain much too, but it will suffer much less. The US hopes that it will give China a bloody nose using Indian fists, but the chances of India damaging its own arm is much more.

India is US proxy and China is hitting the US by hitting India. India is not the main enemy of China as it is not fighting a global trade war with India but with the US. India is caught between the two and has no way out of the bind. Global conflicts are now fought through skirmishes like the one on the Sino-Indian border.