Tag Archives | China

From an IAF veteran of the 1962 war

Indian Air Force was ill-prepared for a war with China

Air Commodore (retired) S. Murugan, who commanded the only modern radar with the IAF in 1962, sent me this email. It was in response to the blogpost on Air Headquarters’ views on Offensive Air Support during the 1962 war.

I feel that your “facts” are incomplete. It is the kind of view from the experience of days of Second World war that had caught us unprepared during those troubled days.

Can you fight an Air War without any powerful Ground interception Radar and other supporting modern communication links? ( Today’s Fighter Pilots will laugh at such suggestions.)

We did not have any GCI radar with MTI capability that could detect targets under heavy clutter (mountainous terrain) either in the Western Sector or the Eastern sector. We had poor communication facilities.

The only Radar at that time available in Air Force that had a moving Target Indication under heavy clutter was an Early Warning one of American origin but produced in Italy. Obviously, this being an early warning one without height information could not be used for interception.

However, within the available resources, Air Force took up all measures to defend its potential targets. I was commanding a Radar Unit with this latest MTI capable Early Warning Radar in the Western Sector. When Tawang fell to Chinese, Air HQ immediately instructed me to move this portable Radar to a location in East for Air Defence early warning tasks on highest priority. Within 24 Hours, I , not only moved this portable Radar using AN 12  Aircraft provided for the purpose but also became operational within 24 hours. My task was mainly to provide early warning information to our Fighters. Since this was the only modern radar at that time with MTI capability, we could perform the assigned tasks.

When the American Team arrived in India after the cessation of hostilities on request of the Govt at that time, their first advice was to establish a Radar Chain along the northern Border to assist our Air Defence Fighters. Accordingly we procured the American Ground interception Radar (Starsfire) from USA and established a Chain that proved highly useful during the subsequent wars with Pakistan.

The plain fact was that Govt of India was totally unprepared for a war with China. Army suffered because they did not even have a modern rifle and winter clothing to fight a war, Air Force did not have any modern Radar and communication facilities.

There is no point in blaming Air Force or Army on some of the operational decisions taken at that time. It is pure speculation how Air Force would have performed over a mountainous terrain with out proper ground radar if a decision had been taken to use the Air Force.

This fits in well with what Srinath Raghavan has written about the civil-military relations during and after the 1962 war. It should also put to rest a lot of myths which continue to be circulated 50 years after the war.

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Indian Air Force and the 1962 India-China war

Air Headquarters’ views on Offensive Air Support during the 1962 war

From an IDSA paper, The 1962 India-China War and Kargil 1999:  Restrictions on the Use of Air Power by R Sukumaran:

The official history states that no notings or documents are available to explain the decision to forego the use of offensive air support.  However, Air Marshal HC Dewan (retd), then Director of Operations at Air headquarters, is quoted as saying that he  had advised  the CAS against the use of offensive air support.

In his view, the rugged and heavily forested terrain in NEFA precluded the use of Close Air Support against dispersed infantry. Since armour was not likely to be used, there were no worthwhile targets for air attack.

With our troops heavily dependent on air supply, it would be best not to provoke the Chinese. As the larger Air Force, they could withstand losses that the IAF could not. IAF resources were also to be kept in the West to deal with a possible Pakistani threat.

Lastly, he felt that India was likely to forfeit international sympathy, if  it chose to ‘escalate’ the conflict. There is no mention of  bombing targets in Tibet.  It seems that only Close Air Support in NEFA was under consideration. It was apparently felt that even within our borders, the use of offensive air power would be ‘escalatory’.

Decision not to use Offensive Air Power

The IB assessment of overwhelming Chinese superiority and likely Chinese retaliation appears to have tilted the balance against the use of offensive air power. The decision to limit the role of  the Air Force to transport and supply seems to have been taken between September 18 and September 20, 1962. One year later, in a conversation with Marshal Arjan Singh, then Deputy Air Chief, Palit  says that the Marshal admitted this grave misjudgement.

History, as the Dutch historian Pieter Geyl  said, “is an argument without end”. Military history is no different. The arguments about the 1962 conflict too shall continue without end. But let us at least stick to the facts, such as those given above.


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A disappointment for Deng Xiaoping

On the row over Senkaku-Diaoyu islands

In the 2,200 years of contact between China and its island neighbour, Deng Xiaoping was the first Chinese leader to set foot in Japan. He was also the first to meet the emperor of Japan.

During his visit to Japan in 1978, Deng Xiaoping became the first Chinese Communist leader to hold a Western-style press conference in any location. Some four hundred reporters attended at the Japan Press Center.

When a reporter asked about ownership of the Senkaku islands, the audience became tense, but Deng replied that the Chinese and the Japanese held different views, used different names for the islands, and should put the issue aside so that later generations, who would be wiser than those present, could solve the problem.

This is how the ‘wiser’ generation has handled it in 2012.

This time, it has led to anti-Japanese protests in several Chinese cities and a warning from China that economic ties could be affected. A number of Japanese companies were forced to briefly halt operations earlier this month because of protests.

On Wednesday the Toyota Motor Corporation confirmed that it was cutting back production in China because of a slowdown in orders and sales. A spokesperson would not elaborate on how much of a reduction was planned.

A ceremony due to mark 40 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations has also been cancelled.[BBC]

Update: Here is a list of the most ridiculous anti-Japan boycotts in China.

Wherever Deng Xiaoping is now, he must be felling extremely disappointed with the recent turn of events on the controversial archipelago.

Reference: Deng Xiaoping and the transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel

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Nine dragons stirring up the sea

On the many domestic Chinese agencies involved in the South China Sea

Most Indian reports on China tend to look at that country as a unitary entity with little focus on the internal political and institutional dynamic that affects Chinese actions. Walter Russell Mead blogs about the old Chinese legend of “nine dragons stirring up the sea” used by maritime policy circles to describe the various government agencies involved in the South China Sea. The “dragons” include maritime police bureaus, the national navy, fisheries departments, coastal state governments, energy companies, the foreign ministry, and other bodies. Competition among these actors for a bigger share of the budget pie, and influence within and without China, is intense. He draws from a report titled Stirring up the South China Sea (I) released last month by the International Crisis Group.

Here is an extract from the executive summary of that report:

The conflicting mandates and lack of coordination among Chinese government agencies, many of which strive to increase their power and budget, have stoked tensions in the South China Sea. Repeated proposals to establish a more centralised mechanism have foundered while the only agency with a coordinating mandate, the foreign ministry, does not have the authority or resources to manage other actors. The Chinese navy’s use of maritime tensions to justify its modernisation, and nationalist sentiment around territorial claims, further compound the problem. But more immediate conflict risks lie in the growing number of law enforcement and paramilitary vessels playing an increasing role in disputed territories without a clear legal framework. They have been involved in most of the recent incidents, including the prolonged standoff between China and the Philippines in April 2012 in Scarborough Reef. Any future solution to the South China Sea disputes will require a consistent policy from China executed uniformly throughout the different levels of government along with the authority to enforce it.

China’s maritime policy circles use the term “Nine dragons stirring up the sea” to describe the lack of coordination among the various government agencies involved in the South China Sea. Most of them have traditionally been domestic policy actors with little experience in foreign affairs. While some agencies act aggressively to compete with one another for greater portions of the budget pie, others (primarily local governments) attempt to expand their economic activities in disputed areas due to their single-minded focus on economic growth. Yet despite the domestic nature of their motivations, the implications of their activities are increasingly international. Other factors – both internal and external to China – have also been responsible for increasing tensions, but they are beyond the scope of this study.

Effective coordination of actors is also hampered by a lack of clarity over precisely what is supposed to be defended. China has yet to publicly clarify the legal status of the so-called nine-dashed line that appears on most Chinese maps, encompassing most of the South China Sea. While the foreign ministry has taken steps to try to reassure its neighbours that Beijing does not claim the entire South China Sea and has at least partially justified its claims on the basis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the government cannot easily back down from claims to significant portions of the sea that are based on historical presence in the region. Local government agencies take advantage of this lack of legal clarity when engaging in activities in disputed areas.

Read the rest here.

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A win for Suu Kyi in Myanmar

 But it’s not a loss for India

Recent events in Egypt should warn us of premature euphoria about the victory of people power in countries under authoritarian regimes. But the images of iconic pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest until November 2010 running for elections in a country that till an a year ago was a quiet, fearful military dictatorship are bound to leave most observers intoxicated. In any case, Myanmar is not Egypt, although the military junta still holds power in that country.

First the facts. Myanmar’s Lower House of parliament has 440 seats (of which 330 are elected) while the Upper House has 224 seats (of which 168 are elected). Before the bye-elections, the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) dominated with 348 seats while serving soldiers had 166 seats. By-elections have been held for 45 seats to fill vacancies of those elected in 2010 polls who became ministers and deputy ministers in the government. These by-elections have been contested by 176 candidates from 17 parties and eight independents. The most famous candidate running in these by-elections is Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) has put up candidates in 44 seats.

Although the official results are not yet out, NLD is expected to win 40 of those seats. Suu Kyi herself has reportedly got 99% of the vote and won at 128 out of 129 polling booths in Kawmhu, the seat where she contested from. More surprisingly, NLD is claiming to have won 3 out of 4 seats in the new capital city of Naypyidaw, which is populated largely by government employees believed to be sympathetic to USDP.

These by-elections have been largely free and fair, with few reports of rigging or electoral irregularities. The one rather interesting complaint has been about the use of wax in the NLD box of the ballot paper.

…reports from all around the country that wax had been fixed on the NLD box on the ballot paper, making it hard for voters to put a clear tick in the box. The idea being, presumably, that a lot of scratching to write a tick would disfigure, and thus invalidate, the ballot paper. Certainly, a couple of furious people whom I spoke to at polling stations complained of this, and said that when they asked for a new ballot paper they were told there were none spare.[Banyan]

Notwithstanding this allegation, even if the NLD wins most of the seats, Suu Kyi is not going to be in power: the army and the USDP will still hold about 80% of seats in parliament. Let us also not forget that when Suu Kyi’s NLD had won the multi-party elections in 1990 (winning 392 of the 492 seats), those results were never accepted by the army. Those elections were not meant to form a parliamentary government, but only to form a parliament sized constitutional committee to draft a new constitution for Myanmar. How different could it be now?

Understanding the situation fully, Suu Kyi has promised to use her voice to push for further reforms. But she will need to continue her engagement with the President, Thein Sein. Both have taken big risks over the last year to get to this stage and the response from the international community should encourage them to go further.

What is in this for India? Unlike the Chinese or the Americans — and despite tremendous pressure from the US, India has maintained a working relationship with both the sides: Suu Kyi and the army. This will keep India in good stead in that country in the foreseeable future. India has three goals in Myanmar. One, to deny insurgents from India’s Northeastern states a sanctuary in Myanmar, and deny the Maoists access to arms smuggled via Kachin rebels in Myanmar. Two, to prevent China from gaining complete control in Myanmar, thereby countering China’s growing regional influence. Three, to use Myanmar as a gateway for furthering its relationship with other South-East Asian countries, as part of its Look East policy.

Of course, India can also help nurture Myanmar on to a path of full democracy. Peace and stability in Myanmar will allow India to focus on the development of Northeastern states. For once, India seems to be playing its cards right with a neighbouring country. It has been announced that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will soon visit Myanmar — the first visit to that country by an Indian PM in 25 years. This is one move which will allow the two countries to further strengthen their relationship. From here, it will take something out of the ordinary for India to mess it up with Myanmar. That’s some solace. Because anything out of the ordinary is beyond the current government in Delhi.

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How many India-China boundaries?

Five of them on the army map

This is from Colonel(retired) John Taylor, who served on the India-China border in Ladakh in 1970.

As a young officer with just about six years of service, I was provided with a detailed map on which the boundary had been marked along with Chinese troop deployments (there were just a few). The map did not have just one boundary. It had many:

a.  The McMohan Line (prepared by and named after the first British Surveyor General of India).

b.  The Tibetan Boundary (as per documents left by the British army).

c. The 1962 Indo-Chinese Dispute Line.

d. The Indian Claim Line.

e. The Chinese Claim Line [Rediff]

When you next read a media report about the Chinese transgressing across the boundary, do ask which of these five boundaries was actually violated. That should help understand matters better.

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How China selected its bureaucrats in the fifteenth century

Not dissimilar in principle to the Indian system in the twenty-first century

[In the fifteenth century], China was ruled from the top down by a Confucian bureaucracy, recruited on the basis of perhaps the most demanding examination system in all history. Those who aspired to a career in the imperial service had to submit to three stages of gruelling tests conducted in specially built exam centres, like the one that can still be seen in Nanjing today — a huge walled compound containing thousands of tiny cells little larger than the lavatory on a train:

These tiny brick compartments [a European traveller wrote] were about 1.1 metres deep, 1 metre wide and 1.7 metres high. They possessed two stone ledges, one servicing as a table, the other as a seat. During the two days an examination lasted the candidates were observed by soldiers stationed in the lookout tower … The only movement allowed was the passage of servants replenishing food and water supplies, or removing human waste. When a candidate became tired, he could lay out his bedding and take a cramped rest. But a bright light in the neighbouring cell would probably compel him to take up his brush again … some candidates went completely insane under the pressure.

No doubt after three days and two nights in a shoebox, it was the most able — and certainly the most driven — candidates who passed the examination. But with its strong emphasis on the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism, with their bewildering 431,286 characters to be memorized, and the rigidly stylized eight-legged essay introduced in 1487, it was an exam that rewarded conformity and caution. It was fiercely competitive, no doubt, but it was not the kind of competition that promotes innovation, much less the appetite for change. [Page 43, Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson]

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Fine China in the North East

Indian government mentions China as a supplier of arms to rebels in the North East

Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Shri Mullappally Ramachandran in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha:

There are no specific reports to suggest that rebels in the North East were offered sale of surface to air missiles by agents who were working on behalf of Chinese intelligence agencies. However, there have been inputs suggesting visit of some leaders of insurgent groups in the North Eastern region to China on several occasions, with the objective to establish rapport with Chinese authorities to facilitate procurement of arms and ammunition from arms agents in that country. The armoury being acquired from China by the insurgent groups is being smuggled through Thailand and Sino-Myanmar border to the North Eastern States. The acquisition of arms is facilitated by the easy availability of weapons in the Sino-Myanmar border towns like Tengchong, Ruili and Yingjiang in Yunnan province.[PIB]

Never earlier perhaps has the Government of India officially made such explicit references to the support being provided to the rebels in the North East by the Chinese authorities. However, this seems to be fit in snugly with the 100-page NIA Report reported by Outlook magazine, where confessions of NSCN(IM) leader Anthony Shimray showed exactly how China is fuelling India’s North-Eastern insurgencies.

Further on in the reply, the minister stated:

The Government of India has also voiced its concerns with the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, over the reported smuggling of arms through their territories.[PIB]

But if the armoury is coming from China, it is logical to ask why India has not raised this issue directly with China. Or perhaps India has, if this report is be believed:

“Such activities are inimical to India’s interests,” says a senior MEA official. “Whenever we get the chance, we raise it with the Chinese government to ensure it takes action.”

In response, the Chinese claimed they weren’t aware that arms were being pumped into India from their country; they denied outright the possibility that their government might have endorsed such a move.[Outlook]

In any case, India’s improving relations with Bangladesh and Myanmar, and peace-talks with many North-Eastern rebel groups could lead to a terminal decline in insurgency in the North East. This means that the question of Chinese help to these rebel groups may be rendered irrelevant in the foreseeable future.

Finally, is it a statement of assertion by India against China? The answer is perhaps contained in the query raised by Mr Vikram Sood: Wonder what the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) would say to the reference to China so explicitly!

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Left in a lurch

A rebuff for the Kashmiri separatists from China and EU.

Mir Waiz Umar Farooq really seems to be landing himself into trouble. First, he had to stave off internal problems in the Hurriyat by dissolving his executive and governing council, and issue a gag order on media interaction. All this while he is also being targeted by the hardline separatists under Syed Ali Shah Geelani and opposed by the mainstream soft-separatism of the Muftis.

On the international front, China issued a clarification quashing all speculation about Chinese fishing in Kashmiri waters. But the hardest blow has come from the European Union. A few years ago, the EU was more concerned about Human Rights in Kashmir and international nature of the Kashmir dispute. Now, it comes out with an explicit statement which says:

We consider Kashmir [to be] an integral part of India.

A seemingly friendless Mirwaiz could end up repeating his tactical mistake of the past. He would again gravitate towards Geelani and other hardliners in the Hurriyat to reaffirm his separatist credentials. That is a fail-safe option compared to the far riskier proposition of being seen as sitting across the table discussing a solution for Kashmir with the Indian government. There is not much that India can do to help matters. Except WaW — Wait and Watch!

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The tertium quid

Maoism — terrorism or socio-economic class struggle?

While the Indian army chief was happy labelling Maoism as a “socio-economic class struggle”, here is how Ai Ping, the director-general of the Communist Party of China’s Bureau 1 that advises Beijing on its South and East Asia policies characterised the Maoists.

Maoism is nothing but terrorism. The Maoists should never expect any financial, political or military support from China.[Telegraph]

What has the world come to? Mao’s country claims that its “focus has changed from class struggle to economic development.” And a liberal democracy talks about socio-economic class struggle being waged on its own land.

Tailpiece – Ai also proclaimed that “modern India was a product of colonial rule while modern China came into existence through a revolution.” Well, Martin Jacques in the LA Times disagrees, calling China the “longest continually existing polity in the world, [dating] back to 221 BC and the victory of the Qin.”

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