Global Review

Indo-Chinese Conflict and the Eurasian Heartland

July 16, 2020

In Russia, be it Russian President Putin, be it former Soviet Prime minister Primakov and his advisor Dr. Kulikov (Russia-India-China model/RIC), be it Karaganov, be it even Dr. Kortunov (RIAC), or the Russian Orientalists, Eurasianism is quite en vogue and not only by its former avangardist Alexander Dugin. Especially Dr. Kortunov in his article "Heartland Reunion: Geopolitical Chimera or Historical Chance?” revitalized the idea of Mackinder's paradigm, according to which who controls the Eurasian Heartland, controls The World-Island. He sees this formula as very modern. In his opinion, Sino-Indian cooperation beyond the RIC, BRICS and SCO framework would mean the control of the Eurasian Heartland at present and in the future. In his article, the author highlights how such cooperation could work, as well as how, serving as a tandem, China and India could attract both authoritarian states (China) and liberal democratic countries (India). Furthermore, in the article "Pakistan's Role in the Great Eurasian Partnership" from June 2020, Mr. Morozov and Mr. Korybko present Putin's concept of Great Eurasian Partnership (GEP), covering topics such as further cooperation between the BRI and the Eurasian Economic Union, the deepening of the SCO, as well as the incorporation of other Eurasian states like Pakistan.

However, if one looks at the present Sino-Indian border conflict and the rising assertiveness and nationalism on both sides, it is hard to imagine, at least for the foreseeable future, for such a harmonious Eurasian Heartland cooperation to exist. Even if Russia tried to mediate for and support India’s membership in the permanent UNSC, with China blocking all these efforts, raising doubts about a possible Eurasian world, cooperation remains quite unlikely. In this regard, it is of particular interest to have a look at the present Sino-Indian border conflict.



The Indo-Chinese border conflict at Ladakh carries different explanations:

According to China, India's new nationalism as well as the country’s rapprochement with the USA, aiming at replacing China as a global factory, would now also mirror in the military sphere. As evidenced by the Global Times:

"An economy-crippling lockdown doesn't seem to have deterred India from daring to dream big as its ambition to replace China's role in the global industrial chain expands”.

Furthermore, according to media reports , in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India would be attempting at forming an economic task force in order to attract companies eyeing a manufacturing shift from China. However, despite such efforts, it is still unrealistic to expect financial pressure facing China amid the COVID-19 pandemic will allow India to become the world's next factory. Radical voices saying that India is on track to replace China reflect nothing but nationalistic hubris.

Such misconception has gone beyond purely economic issues, reaching also the military level, leading some to mistakenly believe India could now confront China with border issues. Such thinking appears not only dangerous, but also misguided. Thus far, Chinese border defense troops have bolstered border control measures and made necessary moves in response to New Delhi's recent attempt to unilaterally change the border control situation in the Galwan Valley region.

Western media outlets have been enthusiastic in touting India's competitiveness by comparing its market potential to China's, giving some Indians a false impression of the actual situation. It would be unrealistic to think that India could take China's place at the current time. Tensions between China and the US are not to be regarded as an opportunity for India to attract relocating industrial chains. Given its inadequate infrastructure, lack of skilled labor, and stringent foreign investment restrictions, the South Asian country is not yet prepared to receive such a manufacturing shift". (The Global Times).

According to China, India would be responsible for the its new assertiveness, infrastructure building in the Galwan Valley region with the aim of fixing new borders, the Trump-Modi meeting, as well for the new Indian Hindu nationalism which by the Jammu-Kashmir abrogation law also would influence the Line of Control. On the other side, India denounces the rise of a new Chinese assertiveness. The country also pointed out how, until just recently, China never publicly stated for the contested territory to be part of its country. Furthermore, India blames the opponent for its aggressive actions, such as those taking place in the South China Sea, considered to be the model for Chinese encroachment approach. Chinese and Indian hawks on both sides are proposing military action and voice alarmist warnings.

Frontrunners to this, the Tibetan exile community in India, which sees Mao Zedong's five finger strategy at work. In a recent interview Lobsang Sangay stated Beijing's recent actions on the Line of Actual Control with India could be perceived as a way to follow the 'Five Fingers of Tibet strategy' laid down by Mao Zedong.

China's claim of sovereignty over the entire Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, a claim that it had not made directly for decades, has prompted the Tibetan government-in-exile leader to issue a dire warning to India: "learn from what happened to Tibet".

"When Tibet was occupied, Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders said, 'Tibet is the palm we must occupy, then we will go after the five fingers'. The first finger is Ladakh. The other four are Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh," he said.

The statement came shortly after India's ministry of external affairs cautioned China not to make "exaggerated and untenable claims."

Following a read-out phone conversation between Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on June 17, the country denounced the Chinese side for having "sought to erect a structure in the Galwan Valley on our side of the LAC".

Beyond encroaching the Galwan valley and other disputed areas, China also seems to be planning vast water reservoirs in Tibet through the so-called Heaven Channel in order to diversify water resources to Beijing and Shanghai and hence satisfy China's water shortage. The plan, however, entails that water volumes belonging to India and Southeast Asia would, consequently, also be lacking. A behavior that could lead to great ecological and economic consequences. In this regard, there is increasing hope among Tibetans for their country independence to be also promoted through a Sino-Indian water conflict, as well as through a border one, as the Tibetan Rangzen Alliance and one of its leaders Jamyang Norbu expressed very clearly:

"The possibility of anarchy and chaos breaking out is very real. Should it get there, there would surely be a chance to achieve Tibet's independence. Of course, we have to use those moments with determination and force. The Chinese, however weak and disoriented, will certainly not surrender Tibet peacefully or voluntarily. Simultaneously, it must be emphasized that independence is not achieved by merely waiting for China to destroy itself. The Tibetans can promote the process by destabilizing Tibet from the inside and organizing international economic actions against China. (…) Even if China should not ultimately break up, but is only weakened by today's difficulties, the Tibetans would still have the possibility of creating or promoting a situation in which China's resources are underutilized, and Beijing’s leadership is forced to consider whether it is wise to sacrifice China' s own stability and integrity peripheral colonies. (…) (Chinese geostrategist ) Wang does not overlook India's role in the matter and surprisingly admits that the Tibetans are much closer to India mentally, culturally, and even physically than to China. He describes how Chinese Qing and Guomindang officials often traveled to Lhasa via India because it was much more convenient. Wang sees a great danger in this proximity of the two nations for he recognizes that India's military capabilities have improved tremendously since 1962. The specialist also admits that Indian defense spending rose almost twice as fast as the Chinese one in the 1980s, reaching, as of today, even higher levels, although China has also, on its part, increased its spending significantly. He appeals to foreign military experts who "believe that India today has the best mountain troops in the world, the toughest, the best equipped and capable of successfully warding off any Chinese attack."

Jamyang Norbu´s assessment mets with present analysis of experts:According to media reports, the expert also stated that India "has the world's largest and experienced plateau and mountain troops equipped with some of the best weapons suited for such terrain in the Tibetan border."

While the Dalai Lama is still committed to a peaceful solution and to a "meaningful autonomy" in dialogue with Beijing,, parts of the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Rangzen Alliance are likely to explore other options. The extent to which it seems realistic to assume that India could occupy Tibet militarily and that a war with China would be waged remains to be seen. Nonetheless, parts of the Tibetan community seem to be placing their hopes in such an option, especially after the Dalai Lama's death. Ultimately, however, it is decided in India and the United States to what extent you want to play the Tibetan card,means: the propmtion of an Tibetean uprising and insurgency as a pretext to intervene. The Global Times in the article “Proposed ‘Tibet card’ adverse for Indian economy“warns India from using the “Tibetan card”:

“Some Indian media outlets have recently suggested that India should play the "Tibet card" after deadly clashes erupted at the China-India border, reflecting nothing but a misguided and nonsensical viewpoint.Perhaps some in India think the Tibet issue could be a trump card to use as leverage when it comes to the tensions between China and India, but such an idea is simply delusional. The Tibet issue falls under China's internal affairs, involves the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity and is a bottom-line issue that should not be touched. “

However, other countries as Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and former allies of India remain silent and attribute the new crisis to Modi.

China hawks in India already propose Indian assertive actions and criticize Modi for not posturing resolute enough as well as for having let China step by step make its gradual encroachment of the Indian territory. Therefore, even the threat of an Indian-Chinese border war was an idea as Indian geostrategist Bharat Karnad proposed in his article "India's squeamish attitude towards China is a liability. The army should implement more violent rules of engagement and prepare for limited war."

Indian strategist Samir Tata also proposed a US-Indo alliance not only in the Indo-Pacific but also in the Himalaya, with US boots on the ground and in the event that Indian and US forces attacked Tibet and cut off China in Tibet and Xinjiang from its New Silkroad, gas and oil pipelines and water resources. In his article "US Land power and an Indo-American Alliance"[1] Samir Tata questions former Secretary of Defense Robert Gate's assumption that in future US wars boots on the ground would not be essential and that Navy and Airforce would likely be the main forces involved. Accordingly, the US Army should get prepared to fight Himalaya and land wars against China together with India. The question is if the author means his article serious or if it is just a desperate move of the US Army to find a new place and role within the US military branches, which are enlarged by a Cybercommand and maybe a new Space force . However, the article also addresses other issues, such as: China getting more independent from sea routes as a result of its New Silkroad initiative; the obsolescence of offshore control and air-sea battle; and the fact that, in the event of a war, the USA would have to find a solution to cut off China from its silk roads. In this regard, it is also noted that precision-guided missiles on pipelines and trucks might work in the Himalaya.

The Chinese military strategist Chen Guodong comments Samir Tata's article in an Global Review article as follows:

"What is the strategic motivation of Indian scholar Samir Tata? I can't see it in this report. If Britain does not deliberately delineate a controversial borderline in the South Asian subcontinent, there will be no contradiction between China and India, and there will be no contradiction between India and Pakistan. There have been three wars between India and Pakistan, and a large-scale border war between India and China.

India's national strength and national interests do not support India's political ambitions. India should work to reduce conflicts with its neighbors. This report suggests that India is involved in an unknown conflict, which is not in India's interest.

From a military perspective, the cost of long-range strikes is high, which is a disadvantage of India. The border between China and India is very close to major cities and industrial centers in India. China can use the tactical ballistic missiles and the J-20 stealth attack aircraft to hit India's core area. India lacks conventional attacks on China's core regions.

China's energy import routes are diversified. China's massive investment in wind power, solar power, nuclear power, and electric vehicles will significantly reduce its dependence on imported oil. Even on the Indian Ocean route, the range and hit accuracy of China's second-generation anti-ship ballistic missile Dongfeng-26 can effectively protect Chinese merchant ships sailing in the Indian Ocean.

The strategic motivation of Indian scholar Samir Tata is chaotic."

Of course, these are China hawks on both the US and Indian side, but China also wants to show that it is prepared for that sort of scenarios and wants to deter it.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been conducting intensive military exercises of multiple dimensions. Those actions include: the tank drills in Tibet Autonomous Region; the large-scale army maneuver to Northwest China, and, following the fatal clash between China and India, the nighttime group parachute infiltration.

These PLA drills not only showed that its forces stationed in border regions have high combat capability, but that troops from across China will also come to their aid, and the PLA can crush any aggression with land-air integrated joint operations.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert stated that while the Western Theater Command is responsible for the defense of the border between China and India, forces from other theater commands could also support it.

While the fatal clash between China and India in the Galwan Valley region is unlikely to escalate into a large-scale military conflict, as such an escalation is against both sides' interests, the PLA showed they are prepared, as analysts said.”

There are also voices in India that want to deescalate the conflict. Indian president, Modi stated India is prepared to counter further Chinese expansion. The president rejects the Congress Party's attacks according to which the soldiers were not armed. Conversely while denouncing the fact that that they were armed, Mobi also asserted that India, in case of a territorial dispute, is not willing to make any concessions. However, he also proposed military dialogue. An approach which might be followed by a political discussion between him and Xi Jinping and in the framework of SCO and BRICs, maybe even with Russia as mediator. Another high-ranking military also tries to deescalate by his opinion that the Indo-Chinese border conflict was not a new Kargil crisis. Former chief of army staff General Ved Prakash Malik says Xi wants to retake territories China believes it had controlled earlier. "

However, while in China the population doesn't care too much about these Himalaya territories, in India it is a big issue:.There are now "Boycott Chinese products", stop Chinese 5G, decouple from China, and other anti- Chinese movements in the Indian population. General Asthana already mentioned the idea according to which these border conflicts would actually be due to the fact that China never really accepted the old British treaties. And, still according to the expert, in lack of an agreement of delineation, demarcation, and demilitarization, these conflicts are likely to continue. However, given China's new assertiveness resulting from the Chinese-Pakistani Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as the New Silkroad, it remains unclear whether there will be any compromise. China and Pakistan, as of today, fought separate wars against India. Nonetheless, lacking a problem’s resolution, it doesn’t seem that absurd for a possible joint two front attack against India to occur, also in view of a Chinese support in the Indian Ocean. In this regard, Modi and Russia are jointly working to reduce such tensions. However, at least for now, Eurasian heartland cooperation, as proposed by Dr. Kortunov, seems very unlikely.

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