By Saurabh Shukla, India Today
NEW DELHI: While Beijing spars verbally with New Delhi on a regular basis over Arunachal Pradesh and, more recently, displayed belligerence on the issue of oil hunting in South China Sea, the Communist neighbour could now be spoiling for an actual fight.
The threat of a Sino-Indian skirmish that may push the two Asian giants to the brink of war is so real that it has set the alarm bells ringing in the top echelons of the Union government. And, uncannily, the warning about the gathering war clouds comes just a few months before the 50th anniversary of the real war that had broken out between the countries when China launched simultaneous offensives in Ladakh and across the McMahon Line on October 20, 1962.
Last week, India’s external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) informed the government in a secret note accessed by Headlines Today that there was a possibility of a skirmish or an incident triggered by China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Beijing, the input stated, was contemplating such an action to divert attention from its own domestic trouble.
The assessment, shared with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, senior national security officials and the brass of the armed forces, is now being discussed at the highest levels of the government and has raised concern.
The RAW note substantiated its claim by pointing to increased Chinese activity along the LAC. For the first time, China had stationed fighter aircraft in the Gongga airfield in the Tibet Autonomous Region throughout the winter months. It also activated new surveillance and tracking radars in the Lanzhou Military Region bordering India as well as in Tsona to monitor Indian activity, the RAW said.
According to the agency, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted a large-scale India specific exercise in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Plateau Region on June 14.
The threat assessment was made against the backdrop of these developments, coupled with the perceived threat to China’s domestic stability owing to internal political developments, economic problems and social issues in the run-up to the 18th party congress, which would determine a power transfer in March next year.
Ahead of this event, a tectonic shift will be witnessed in China’s political landscape in 2012. President Hu Jintao will step down later this year as the general secretary of the Communist Party and hand over the reins to current Vice-President Xi Jinping.
Xi, who is now 58, will take charge as the Chinese President in 2014. Along with Hu, seven out of the nine members of the party’s highest decision-making body – the Politburo Standing Committee – are expected to retire. This includes current Premier Wen Jiabao, who is likely to be replaced by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.
“The Chinese leadership could be tempted to galvanise inherent xenophobic fervour to divert domestic attention to an external threat. In this context, there are two potential areas of tension. The first is the ongoing stand-off in the Scarborough Shoal area and the other is Tibet,” the note stated.
Scarborough Shoal, located in South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, is being claimed by three countries: China, the Philippines and Taiwan. Tension between Manila and Beijing grew when the governments of the two nations accused each other of illegally occupying territorial waters near the shoal. It sparked nationalist sentiments in both countries and the word “war” was mentioned by several commentators.
But diplomatic sources disclosed that the Indian assessment was based on the fact that Beijing may not risk a war in South China Sea because it could lead to the US and other Western countries coming to the Philippines’ rescue. In the case of the Sino-Indian boundary, however, the possibility of a skirmish was much higher because it was disputed, they explained.
Sources said this assessment took into consideration China’s displeasure over the role of the Dalai Lama in allegedly fomenting trouble, including immolations, in Tibet. Provoking a skirmish with India may be part of a deliberate strategy to teach India a lesson, they added.
“A prolonged conflict is, however, unlikely,” the report concluded.