News & Politics

How Would a War Between India and China Play Out?

How Would a War Between India and China Play Out?
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation on the country's Independence Day. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

While America has been preoccupied with race, a long simmering feud between India and China at their border in the Himalayas is escalating and may ignite a military conflict.

It wouldn’t be anything new. Several times since Indian independence, the two great Asian powers have clashed. The most serious conflict was in 1962 when China invaded India for giving asylum to the Dalai Lama. And there have been other military dust-ups over differing ideas of where the border between the two countries exists.

But today, the issue is water. High in the Himalayas, the Tsangpo–Brahmaputra River is a potential source not only of fresh water, but is ideal for the construction of hydroelectric dams. The river lies near the three-way border of China, India, and Bhutan. India supports Bhutan’s claim to the region that the Indians call Doklam and the Chinese refer to as Donglang.

But it’s more than a question of territory or resources. India feels, quite rightly, that China is looking to hold them down. They recently prevented India from joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group and state propaganda mocks India mercilessly.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it plain that China has gone far enough, saying that India will brook no more provocations. So the stage is set for another clash.

While the conflict would probably not escalate to full-scale war (both countries are nuclear powers), the potential always exists. China has more men and more sophisticated equipment, but the People’s Liberation Army hasn’t gone to war since 1979 against Vietnam. Indian troops have the experience and have successfully defended their border against China before.

If there is war, the conflict is likely to be short and very bloody.

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India invading China is highly unlikely. The Indian Army would not have the ground force necessary to drive through the Himalayas and sustain such a push.

This war would be fought with light infantry, mountain troops, and light armor. China has the advantage in numbers, but India has experienced veteran soldiers. Even aircraft would have trouble fighting in these mountains, but the Indian Army has developed specialized attack helicopters just for this purpose: the HAL Druv and HAL Light Attack helicopters.

China has very few airfields in the area, which would limit its ability to provide air cover, whereas India’s Air Force maintains considerable assets in the area.

India also has multiple layers of anti-air and anti-missile defense and is developing more. China would have to get the bulk of its ground forces across the Himalayas as fast as possible, or the war would grind to a halt.

Any halt to the Chinese advance would be a de facto win for India. China would have to completely capture the disputed territories and move into India to be able to claim victory. China’s only real chance to progress into the subcontinent is to perform an Inchon Landing-style maneuver from the sea, but that would require going through India’s submarine force unopposed.

Frankly, no matter what the provocation might be, these two countries are better off being friends. Growing economies and technological capabilities serve only to bolster the rest of the world’s growth.

Any conflict between the two would be explosive and bloody, requiring a lot of manpower and ending with a massive loss of life and little to show for it. The geography and population density between the two countries makes both of them unconquerable.

What makes the situation so dangerous is that there are thousands of troops facing each other in a very small area. Incidents are likely — any one of which could spiral out of control and bring on a generalized conflict. President Xi of China and Prime Minister Modi may not want any incident to escalate to war, but with both countries poised for conflict, anything is possible.



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