rezang la

China vs India : 6 reasons China cannot defeat India in a conventional war

China bested India in the 1962 war. This was the first China vs India war after departure of colonial powers. Although the Anderson-Bhagat report was never officially released, the reasons are quite well known. Out of arms, ammunition, warm clothing and even food, hundreds of Indian soldiers attained martyrdom. China actually almost reached plains of Assam before unilaterally withdrawing.

However, even then Indian soldiers showed showed unparalleled bravery. The Ahirs of Kumaon Regiment taught them a lesson in the Battle of Rezang La that they are unlikely to forget soon. The casualties were 10 times on their side.

China vs India : Rezang La memorial
Rezang La memorial

Due to the incompetence of Lt. Gen B M Kaul, who was appointed by Nehru as he was a close relative, and refusal to deploy Air Force cost us the war. However, it also pushed us to be more vigilant.

China vs India at Nathu La, 1967

The tensions with both China and Pakistan continued to be high in 1960s. In 1965, Pakistan attacked India and received a bloody nose. What we won on the battlefield was lost on the table. The situation is still not very clear about the circumstances in Tashkent. We lost not only our gains, but also ou Prime Minister. However, the military morale was high again.

In the meanwhile, Communist China decided to test India again. In mid September 1967, Sikkim was not yet part of India, but was a protectorate. China decided to encroach on Sikkimese land near Nathu La. The initial clashes were strikingly similar to latest ones.

Soon Indian troops started fencing the border, while Chinese first verbally tried to stop them. On filing they launched an attack in which many Indian soldiers died. Soon though, Indians attacked with disproportionate force and Chinese retreated with heavy casualties. The battle went on for 5 days before a ceasefire was arranged.

One reason for India’s victory was that we were at greater height than the Chinese. The advantage remains with us.

China vs India : Cho La incident

In October of the same year, Chinese again provoked India at Cho La, a pass near Nathu La. However, they were again beaten back after a short battle and heavy casualties.

Aftermath of Nathu La and Cho La

The Chinese, expecting to find no resistance, or an under-prepared Indian army were badly beaten. According to Defence Ministry 88 Indian soldiers were Killed in these clashes as against 340 Chinese soldiers.

The dead among Indians included Major Harbhajan Singh, who led from the front in Cho La and was posthumously awarded Mahavir Chakra.

China vs India : 1987

In 1986, India declared Arunachal Pradesh to be a State. China says it is part of Tibet. China decided to play mischief and set up some posts in Sumdrong Chu area. We were fortunate to have a courageous General like Sundarji, who airlifted 3 divisions in the area and supplied them solely through Mi-26 helicopters. The Chinese withdrew again.

In recent years, China is again testing Indian defenses. It did so unsuccessfully in Doklam in 2017 and done so recently in Eastern Ladakh. Today’s scuffle, in which 3 Indians attained martyrdom and had an unspecified number of Chinese casualties is continuation of the same strategy. China continues to test us for weakness of resolve.

Why China can not win a border war with India?

This is the only pertinent question. Several people fear that China has a bigger military and can easily defeat India. I give several reasons below, why China is in no position to win a war with India. I am only considering a conventional war scenario and not nuclear war.:-

  • The terrain on the whole Indo-China border generally favors India. Due to this advantage at most of the places, China has to deploy multiple soldiers for one Indian soldier to assault Indian positions.
  • The border in India is relatively near to populated areas. This has a logistical advantage as supply infrastructure is quite strong. Consider Chinese situation. Bulk of its population lives in the East. The border with India includes low population zones of Tibet and Xinxiang. Both these areas also resist Chinese rule.
  • The Indian soldiers are quite experienced in fighting wars. The last full scale conflict was in Kargil{1999} and there has been a continuous low intensity conflict with China. The inexperienced Chinese troops face a battle hardened Indian army. China’s last major conflict was with Vietnam in 1979, in which Vietnam defeated China!
  • India has the largest number of trained fighters in plateau and mountain warfare in the world. Much of the army has experience of serving in Jammu-Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Arunachal and Sikkim etc. Indeed, India has an entire mountain strike corps, headquartered in Panagarh, West Bengal. China does not have such soldiers. Even if they bring in other soldiers, they will take 1-2 weeks to get acclimatized to the heights at the border.
  • India has more number of airstrips and airports, with better facilities nearer to the border. This is due to the population dense areas of north and east India. China has not only a lesser number of airstrips, these are far apart. This means that in a conflict, these would not be able to complement each other. India can also supply a larger number of ground troops on the border in a sustained manner.
  • One of the biggest worries for India at China border was lack of roads and other infrastructure. Thankfully, the current givernment has taken this up on war footing in last few years. We now match the Chinese in such infrastructure and Leh-Daulat Beg Oldi road is one of the reasons China is creating recent troubles. The roads have been complemented by new bridges across Brahmaputra, Atal tunnel under Rohtang Pass and the new railway lines near border areas.

The Pakistan factor

One of the worries expressed is that in case of war with China, Pakistan will also attack India. However, Indian army has officially said they are preparing for a ‘two and a half front’ war. This includes Pakistan as well as anti-nationals in India.

Pakistan’s economy does not permit it to conduct war for any length of time. Further, involvement of Pakistan will mean other international players join in. It can at best provide logistical support to China.

The Indian Navy has dominance in Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean region. That means we can impose a naval blockade on Pakistan and also disrupt Chinese energy and other supplies. Pakistan does realize this. The threat from Pakistan is thus real, but also something we should be realistically be able to contain in such a scenario.


If the experience of 1967, 1987 and 2017 has taught us anything, China will soon withdraw from the conflict. In a global environment where everyone blames it for COVID crisis, it cannot risk a war.

India enjoys a clear advantage in this potential conflict. In case, Xi has any delusion of grandeur, his dreams would break on the hard rocky terrain of Tibet.

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7 Replies to “China vs India : 6 reasons China cannot defeat India in a conventional war”

    1. Virendra ji,
      Than you for reading. I have also indicated the same. They will rather go back than start a war.

  1. U have not discussed one vital point ie contribution of chinies military and it’s performance which is not assuring. More ever in many time India was also part of same . They have been good only for armless students and public

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