The next big conflict with China is likely to be played out in the Indian Ocean and not on the Himalayas, according to acclaimed journalist and author Bertil Lintner.
Speaking in a panel discussion at the launch of his new book “China’s India War: Collision Course on the Roof”, Lintner questioned China’s new found maritime interest under its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.
“You hear about this OBOR thing – One Belt One Road. They want to revive old trade routes,” he said.
“Well, they once had land routes, yes, the Silk Road. But a maritime silk route? What’s that,” he wondered.
He said that the last time Chinese ships went into the Indian Ocean was in the 15th century when Zheng He, who was a Muslim from Yunnan, sailed with his fleets of junks to India, Southeast Asia and Africa.
Stating that Zheng was only an adventurer, Lintner said that after that China lost interest in the oceans.
“China never had a navy. Apart from river patrol boats in the rivers to suppress banditry in their own country, now for the first time China is developing a blue water navy,” he said.
“They have never been in the Indian Ocean for 600 years… I don’t think there is going to be war in the Himalayas. Any conflict with China is going to be in the Indian Ocean.”
In his new book, Lintner rather than India, despite being seen as the provocateur of 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, it was actually China that started planning the war in 1959, much before then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru launched the Forward Policy in the border areas.
Questioning Neville Maxwell’s book “India’s China War” that opined that India provoked the war with China, Lintner said that this did not make sense given the realities on the ground.
Pointing out that the Forward Policy of India was adopted only in November 1961, the Swedish journalist, known for his expertise on southeast and south Asia, wondered how China was able to mobilise tens of thousands of troops in less than a year, including heavy military equipment, through one of the most difficult terrains in the world.
Lintner is of the view that Maxwell must have made a misjudgment in saying that India’s border issues with China could have provoked the 1962 war.
Stating that in 1962 China was an extremely secretive country, Lintner said that Mao Tse-Tung’s (Mao Zedong’s) position in the Communist Party of China was extremely shaky after his Great Leap Forward policy in the 1950s to industrialise China turned into a disaster.
“In that kind of situation what kind of country will go to war over a disputed border?” he questioned. “Only a country or leader of a country who needs to unite the party, the government and the military behind him to be able to reconsolidate his grip on power.”
As to why it was India that China went to war against, Lintner said that after Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, it became convenient for Beijing to call New Delhi the enemy coupled with the border dispute
Another reason that Lintner offered was that, with India being the leading voice of the newly independent countries in the 1950s, Mao wanted to be the leader of the Third World.
Former Indian Army chief, Gen. J.J. Singh, who was one of the panellists at the book launch, said that it was high time India got under China’s skin.
“We must understand the Dragon and its Middle Kingdom,” he stated.
Lt. Gen. S.L. Narasimhan (Retd), a member of the National Security Advisory Board, was of the view that with ties between the then USSR and China being very low in the 1960s, Beijing wanted to prove that it was very powerful through the 1962 war.
Nitin Gokhale, foounder and Editor-in-Chief of Bharatshakti.in, said that Lintner’s book made two very important points: it debunked the theories of Neville Maxwell and Alistair on the causes behind the 1962 war, and that Mao Zedong used the war to purge his rivals and reinstate himself in power.