Encirclement and Intrigue: Chinese Style of Geopolitics

After suffering humiliating defeat in 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, Indians have applied no efforts in understanding the Chinese psyche and their art of geopolitics which is radically different from Western geopolitical strategy based on Clausewitzian approach. Before the Sino-Indian conflict, Mao summoned his generals in Beijing for giving them historical perspective on why a war with India was necessary to knock sense in India. It was quite unusual as Mao always had nothing but contempt for history. But in the meeting, he told his generals that India and China had fought one and half war so far and a limited war is required if India needs to be kept in check. What were those ‘one and half war’ which Mao mentioned?

In the 7th Century when Tang Dynasty ruled in China, there were close diplomatic and cultural contacts with Harsha Vardhan and Tang Dynasty during which many monks and scholars frequently visited each other’s countries. The most famous one being the travel of Yuan Chwang to India. After the return of Yuann Chwang, Tang dynasty sent a diplomatic mission under the leadership of Wang Xuance but by the time his group reached India, Harsha Vardhan had died and North India was marred in the state of chaos. In the chaos, 30 members of his mission were killed which infuriated Chinese, and with the help of Tibetan king, they probably fought a war with small kingdom in Bihar bordering Nepal emerging victorious. It was not even a war but for Mao, it was a war which Chinese won resulting in better relationship with India and China in the subsequent period.

The ‘Half-war’ which he mentioned was Tamerlane’s invasion of Delhi though Timur was a Mongol. In Mao’s reasoning, as Mongols were the part of broader Chinese civilization, it can be considered as half war. In Mao’s assessment, an amicable relationship between India and China was possible provided there was a limited conflict so that India can’t act as aggressor in near future. The question is not here about Mao’s historical knowledge but of civilizational awareness. Can you expect any Indian prime minister to tell his generals about how Han Chinese were subdued during the Kushana era? Mao was essentially echoing the sentiments which is rooted in China’s unqiue style of geopolitics.

Historically, Chinese considered themselves to be a unique civilization, a heaven on this earth which shouldn’t establish equal diplomatic relationship with its neighbours. If anyone is interested in China, they let people have a glimpse of glory of Chinese civilization instead of treating them as equal partner. But there was also the harsh reality of China’s borders being vulnerable and internal conflicts leading to the decay of China. This resulted in a psyche which accepted that complete victory over an enemy leads to extreme bloodshed not conducive even for the side which attains victory. That’s why Sun Tzu asks to avoid military conflict as much as possible and explore alternate ways. Acharya Chanakya has echoed similar principle by saying that an arrow which has been shot can miss the target but intrigue can kill even a baby in womb.

Though China is a Communist country, it has not given up its ancient technique of warfare and geopolitics. Clausewitz considers war to be extension of state’s policy indicating that war is different from other means while Sun Tzu considers war to be part of state policy. As total victory is difficult for them, they have adopted the doctrine of combative coexistence with its adversaries through encirclement. It was the reason that China declared ceasefire in 1962 when it was at advantageous situation ensuring that India can never gain upper hand in negotiations. When you add the inherent imperialism of the Maoism in their geopolitical approach, the level of threat increases by multiple folds for us. We have to be wary about very realistic possibility of limited conflict between India and China since if it has to keep a rising power like India in check, such limited conflict is imminent for them.


1. On China by Henry Kissinger
2. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Published by Satish Verma

Read. Contemplate. Write.

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