A new book on China, more particularly on the People’s Liberation Army is always welcome—more so, when it is well researched like China—Military Modernisation and Strategy authored by Dr. Monika Chansoria (KW Publishers, New Delhi).
One still remembers that some years ago, George Fernandes, the then Defence Minister was fired at short range by his own NDA government for having dared to affirm that China is India's No 1 enemy (and not Pakistan). Since then, the mindset in the Indian establishment has changed, mainly and paradoxically thanks to the tremendous progress made by the Chinese PLA in developing the military infrastructure in Tibet.
In the last 10 years, the perception of the Chinese Dragon in India has taken if not a U-turn, at least a sharp bend. For example, in 2009 the Ministry of Defence sanctioned two new divisions to strengthen the Indian borders in Arunachal. This change of mind is due to the stubbornness of Beijing’s leadership who continues to claim the North-Eastern State as South Tibet. More recently, information has circulated that a new mountain strike corps, (40,000 more troops) may be permanently located in northeast India to retaliate against any Chinese offensive. Ajai Shukla wrote in The Business Standard: “For decades after India’s humiliation at the hands of China in 1962, New Delhi shrank from a robust defence posture on the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control, fearing it might provoke China. In the aftermath of 1962, through the 1960s and 1970s, the Indian Army stayed away from the border, remaining behind a self-imposed ‘Limit of Patrolling’. In the 1980s, the army returned to the LAC, but remained entirely defensive in outlook. The sanctioning of a strike corps, therefore, signals a dramatic new assertiveness in New Delhi.”
This is in response to the constant PLA nagging, whether on the Ladakh front or in Arunachal. The latest example: some Chinese soldiers damaged a wall erected by the Indian troops near the border, north of Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh). The incident was termed "as the most important one along the Sino-Indian border this summer." Indian troops eventually repaired the 200 metre long wind-breaker wall and lodged a complaint with the local Chinese military commander. This type of relatively minor incident will only repeat itself and eventually escalate, if India does not show that its defence forces are ready for any eventuality.
This incident and hundreds of others explain why we should know more about China, its armed forces, its concept of war and planned strategy. The lack of knowledge about China is probably the greatest tragedy of a modern India, obsessed with Pakistan. Too few scholars and think tanks have tried to understand the mindset and military culture of the Middle Kingdom. Dr. Chansoria should therefore be complimented for her thorough research.
Predating the 1950s, when the country plunged into the folly of the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai policy and swore by non-violence as the Supreme Truth. The only China advisor of Jawaharlal Nehru was dreadful KM Pannikar who could only kowtow the Communist regime. The consequences were seen in October 1962; India has still not fully recovered psychologically from the trauma.
Chansoria begins her study by exploring the history of China's People's Liberation Army, “a journey of resolute struggle and grit directed towards triumph” and then follows the PLA “from a small Chinese Communist Party organ to a guerrilla force, comprising workers and peasants, to the PLA of today which has transformed into a tri-Service military force.” Later the PLA went through several phases to finally become a regular military force.
Chansoria reminds us of The Art of War written by Sun Tzu more than 2,000 years back: "War is a matter of vital importance to the State. It is mandatory that it be studied thoroughly;" (it is rarely done in India) or "For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill; to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill;" or other principles such as:
• war is based on deception
• win through unexpected moves
• gain victory by varying one's strategy and tactics according to the
• use the soft and gentle to overcome the hard and strong
• stay clear of the enemy's main force and strike at his weak point
• make the devious route the most direct
• fight back and gain the upper hand only after the enemy has initiated fighting
• make a feint to the east but attack in the west
Though the times have changed and the CCP is going through constant RMA, these basic principles of war remain (whether or not they are explicitly mentioned or not in the White Papers on Defence regularly published by the Chinese government). One word constantly appears in all the books on the PLA: ‘modernization’. It seems that it has been the leitmotiv of the CCP Central Military Commission especially after the return of Deng Xiaoping in 1978/79. In the last White Paper issued on March 21, 2011 by the State Council, an entire chapter is consecrated to ‘modernization’.
Chansoria extensively explores the principles of ‘active defence’, as well as ‘local wars under conditions of 'informationisation', both parts of the RMA. Chansoria and earlier Bajwa have done a good job in showing these components of the ‘peaceful rise of China’. One can regret that the lessons of the 1962 War with India have not been more detailed. Because there is always a gap between the theoretical strategy published in specialized websites or publications and the actual facts of an armed conflict. A small detail (details are often telling for China watchers): when in July Vice-President Xi Jinping visited Bayi in Nyingtri Prefecture, north of Arunachal, General Chen Bingde, PLA Chief of General Staff did not accompany Xi. He headed, with some other members of the Beijing delegation, for Ngari (Western Tibet). Bayi is a special place: it is a town run by the PLA, north of McMahon Line; ‘Bayi’ means 'Eight-one" or 'August 1' and refers to the anniversary of the Nanchang Uprising, considered to be the founding date of the People's Liberation Army. It is today one of the two main PLA bases in Tibet. Xi Jinping, the future President of China (and future Chairman of the CMC) probably did not want to alarm India, by taking the Chief of Staff of the PLA with him. Sun Tzu would have probably agreed, “No use to worry the opponent in advance”.
Claude Arpi is a French-born author and historian with expertise on Tibet, China and Indo-French relations. The author of numerous books, Arpi is also the director of the Tibetan Pavilion of Auroville, inaugurated by the 14th Dalai Lama.
(The views expressed in the article are that of the author and do not represent the views of the editorial committee or the centre for land warfare studies).