Prepare for India border row to escalate, Chinese strategists warn Beijing

Catherine Wong

Hawkish Chinese military strategists have called on Beijing to be better prepared for an escalation in its border dispute with India, saying the potential for armed conflict between the two nuclear powers is on the rise.

Tensions between Beijing and New Delhi have grown since deadly clashes two weeks ago in the Galwan Valley between Indian-controlled Ladakh and Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin.

The Indian Army said 20 of its soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand combat with Chinese soldiers. Both countries have accused each other of causing the skirmish and of breaking promises.

A number of retired members of the Chinese military are calling for Beijing to prepare for further escalation, including granting its frontline troops more power to respond to an “intrusion” by Indian forces and deploying non-lethal hi-tech weapons such as laser guns along the border.

Qiao Liang, a retired air force major general and military theorist, said that while the possibility of an all-out war between the two countries remained low, China needed to prepare for an escalation into an armed conflict.

“We should not overestimate India’s response, but we must also not let our guard down,” Qiao said in an article posted on his WeChat account.

China must “take the initiative” in case of a more serious military conflict along the border, he said.

China-India border rift simmers with reports of troop moves on both sides

“If we must fight a war, we must strike quickly and contain the scale in a small and mid-sized war aimed at causing pain to our opponents and hence gaining respect via small wars,” he said, adding that such a victory would project China’s power to the United States and pro-independence forces in Taiwan.

Wang Yunfei, a Chinese naval expert and retired PLA Navy officer, said Beijing should increase support for frontline troops, such as granting them the power to counter an intrusion without requiring higher approval.

“[We should] strengthen surveillance along the border region and in case of a transgression by the Indian Army into the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control, we will counter-attack resolutely and such an attack should not be bound by the Line of Actual Control … until we have completely forced the Indian army into retreat,” Wang said in the article reposted by Ordnance Industry Science Technology, a Chinese journal covering defence industries and technologies.

Wang also suggested that Chinese troops should prepare for a possible escalation from hand-to-hand combat to an armed conflict.

“The Indian Army has repeatedly transgressed the border and destroyed Chinese camps, roads and other military facilities. If that happens again, the Chinese side should use more forceful measures to destroy the opposing side’s facilities and equipment,” he said.

Wang also said that Chinese troops should prepare to deploy non-lethal weapons such as lasers, tear gas and stun grenades after reports that India had changed its rules of engagement in the area.

He said that if the situation escalated despite last week’s military and diplomatic talks, China should make preparation for a possible military conflict a higher priority than further diplomacy.

Indian news outlets reported that the Indian Army had authorised field commanders to use firearms in case of “extraordinary” circumstances along the LAC and that the Indian government had ramped up armed forces funding for emergency ammunition and weapons.

India’s foreign ministry said China had massed a large number of troops and weapons along the LAC in violation of bilateral agreements, and India had “to undertake counter deployments” because of the Chinese build-up.

Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri said China’s claim of sovereignty over the Galwan Valley in Ladakh was completely “untenable”, and the Chinese side should realise its responsibility to de-escalate and disengage from the area.

He told the Press Trust of India that it was “entirely the responsibility” of China to take a careful view of China-India relations and to decide which direction the relationship should move.

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