Will India in 2023 be to the USA what China was in 1972?

*Nadum Jwad

“Let China Sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world”

Napoleon Bonapert

“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”  

Jawaherlal Nehru

“The only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

German philosopher George Hegel 

History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.”

Mark Twain

History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce

Karl Marx 


This writing coincides with the highly-publicized state visit of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to the USA in which he met with top American officials including President Biden at the White House and addressed a joint session of congress.  He also met top business leaders, including CEOs of Boeing, Amazon and Google, who were gathered in the East Room of the White.  

As was expected, the two sides U.S. and India were set to announce a flurry of deals spanning defense, chips and A.I. (CNBC, 6/22/2023.)  Those deals were in the fields of investment in India in the area of Chipmaker, Trade, Critical Minerals, investment in solar power, fighter jets , Drones, Space, and Advanced Computers.  In addition, the Biden administration will make it easier for Indians to live and work in the United States, and the two sides will open two additional consulates in each other’s country (Reuters, 6/22/2023.)

Indian Prime Minister  Narendra Modi addressing a joint session of congress, June 23, 2023.  Vice president Kamala Harris and speaker of the house Kevin McCarthy looking on

The Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Washington came in after a highly anticipated visit by American Secretary of State’s Anthony Blinkin to Bejin and and his meeting with top Chinese officials including a half an hour encounter with Chinese president Xi Jin Peng.  The visit was to reduce tension between the two superpowers after months of accusations and counter accusations between the two sides on many different issues.  And although there was, as expected, no major breakthroughs as a result of the visit, watchers agreed that at least on the surface it did reduce tension and set the stage for the highly anticipated meeting between president Biden and President Xi later this year.  The two sides, however, didn’t agree on some other issues, for instance, the Americans failed to get the Chinese to agree to reopen the communications channels between their two armies and the Chinese failed to get the Americans to lift the sanctions of selling advanced computer technology to them.

Xi Jinping meets the visiting US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, in Beijing, June 19, 2023

It is no secret that the relationship between China and the USA needs a lot of work.  Just as Blinken returned to the USA, President Biden called President Xi a “dictator.”  The Chinese reacted angrily to this remark and called it “absurd and irresponsible.”  President Biden, however, downplayed his remark and insisted that it would not have any consequences on the relationships between the two sides and he is looking forward to his meeting with President Xi.

Why is the USA so much interested in India?

The Indian express stated on June 22, 2023 the following; “the US wooing of India over just the last three weeks has been startling. Biden sent his trusted hands — National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin — to India to thrash out the details of Modi’s trip.”  The question is why such a warm welcome to the Indian Prime Minister?  Of course there are the reasons which have been widely reported by the media which include wien India off its dependency on purchasing Russian military hardware and replace with American, open the largely untapped Indian market for American goods, trade and investment technology, etc.  However, the main reason which was widely reported was Washington’s goal of using India, which recently was named as the most populous country in the world with more than 1.4 billion people, to counter China’s growing influence on the world stage.  “Washington wants India to be a strategic counterweight to China and sees it as a critical partnership, although some analysts and former officials question India’s willingness to stand up collectively to Beijing over issues such as Taiwan. Washington has also been frustrated by India’s close ties with Russia amid Moscow’s war in Ukraine (Al Jazeera, June 22, 2023.)”  “Clearly, the US is working overtime to draw India away from Russia and make it a strong partner against China (The Indian Express, June 22, 2023, Why America needs India.)”” The US has long viewed India as a counterbalance to China’s growing influence in the region, but Delhi has never been fully comfortable with owning the tag (BBC June 21, 2021.)””Modi’s trip to Washington comes amid increasing American efforts to isolate China economically and diplomatically (The New Yorker, June 22, 2023.)

Many other media outlets have given the same reasoning behind such an overwhelming desire by the USA to use India, a large and populous country with huge resources, to counterweight the Chinese.  The focus of this article is to draw similarities to the famous visit by Richard Nixon to China in 1972 in which the main reason given was to exploit the animosities between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the former Soviet Union and to counter the Soviet influence.  The spectacular rise of China since then from a backward and poor country into the second largest economy in the world with huge and growing global influence nobody has anticipated.  Therefore, the question is now, could the same thing happen here to unleash India into another superpower like China which is hard to contain?  This article attempts to explore such a scenario and what are the possibilities and consequences of this happening to the United States in particular and the world at large.

China in 1972

In 1972 China was a backward, poor, and isolated country suffering from so many social ills and the consequences of the disastrous policies of its communist leaders under the chairmanship of Mao Zedong.  It was also in the midst of his latest and most ruthless policy of what was called the “cultural revolution”  which was a sociopolitical movement launched by Mao Zedong in 1966, and lasting until his death in 1976. Its stated goal was to preserve Chinese communism by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society. The Revolution marked the effective commanding return of Mao—who was still the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—to the center of power, after a period of self-abstention and ceding to less radical leadership in the aftermath of the Mao-led Great Leap Forward debacle and the Great Chinese Famine (1959–1961). And like all his policies and purges, the Revolution failed to achieve its main goals resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and depriving China of most of its educated class who were considered as anti-revolutionaries.

President Richard Nixon and Premier Chou En-Lai Shake Hands at the Nixons’ Arrival in Peking, China, February 28, 1972

China was a desperately poor country with many famines brought by the failed agricultural policies of Mao and the effects of natural disasters. It was estimated that China was losing an average of 20 million people yearly to starvation. These numbers, as horrifying as they may be, are far less than the 1959-1961 great famine in which more than 50 million people died of starvation (Wemheuer, Felix (2011). Dikötter, Frank (ed.). “Sites of Horror: Mao’s Great Famine [with Response]”.)

President Ricanrd Nixon meeting Chairman Mao Zedong

The friction with the Soviet Union

In addition to the disastrous impact of Mao’s purges on China and especially of that of the Cultural Revolution, failed economic policies, and natural disasters, China was in the midst of exhausting disagreement with its communist brother and northern neighbor, the Soviet Union.

The Sino-Soviet split was the breaking of political relations between the communist giants caused by doctrinal divergences that arose from their different interpretations and practical applications of Marxism–Leninism, as influenced by their respective geopolitics during the Cold War of 1947–1991 (Lenman, Bruce; Anderson, Trevor; Marsden, Hilary, eds. (2000). Chambers Dictionary of World History. Edinburgh: Chambers. p. 769. ISBN 9780550100948.)  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sino-Soviet debates about the interpretation of orthodox Marxism became specific disputes about the Soviet Union’s policies of national de-Stalinization and international peaceful coexistence with the Western Bloc, which Chinese founding father Mao Zedong decried as revisionism. Against that ideological background, China took a belligerent stance towards the Western world, and publicly rejected the Soviet Union’s policy of peaceful coexistence between the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc (Lenman, Bruce; Anderson, Trevor; Marsden, Hilary, eds. (2000). Chambers Dictionary of World History. Edinburgh: Chambers. p. 769. ISBN 9780550100948.)  In addition, Beijing resented the Soviet Union’s growing ties with India due to factors such as the Sino-Indian border dispute, and Moscow feared that Mao was too nonchalant about the horrors of nuclear warfare (John W. Garver, China’s Quest: The History of the Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic (2016) pp 113–45.)

The ideological differences between the two manifested itself in other communist countries such as Youguslavia, Albania, North Korea, Cuba, ect. And other communist parties and movements around the world as those countries, parties, and movements took sides to one side or the other.

These differences also translated into frequent skirmishes on the long 4,380 kilometers of borders between the two nations.  In October 1969, after the seven-month Sino-Soviet border conflict, in Beijing, Premier Alexei Kosygin secretly spoke with Premier Zhou Enlai to determine jointly the demarcation of the Sino-Soviet border. Despite the border demarcation remaining indeterminate, the premiers’ meetings restored Sino-Soviet diplomatic communications, which by 1970 allowed Mao to understand that the PRC could not simultaneously fight the US and the USSR while suppressing internal disorders throughout China. In China, from the beginning of the Sino-Soviet split in 1956, there was a perceived necessity for external allies to counterbalance the power of the Soviet Union.

Under these circumstances, and in July 1971, the US advisor for national security, Henry Kissinger, went to Beijing to arrange for President Richard Nixon‘s visit to China. Kissinger’s Sino-American rapprochement offended the USSR, and [Soviet president] Brezhnev then convoked a summit-meeting with Nixon, which re-cast the bi-polar geopolitics of the US-Soviet cold war into the tri-polar geopolitics of the PRC-US-USSR cold war. As relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States improved, so too did relations between the Soviet Union and the by now largely unrecognized Republic of China in Taiwan, although this thaw in diplomatic relations stopped well short of any Soviet official recognition of Taiwan (Share, M. (6 September 2010). “From Ideological Foe to Uncertain Friend: Soviet Relations with Taiwan, 1943-82”. Cold War History. 3 (2): 1–34. doi:10.1080/713999981. S2CID 154822714. Retrieved 15 February 2023.)

The 1972 visit by United States President Richard Nixon to the PRC was an important strategic and diplomatic overture that marked the culmination of the Nixon administration‘s resumption of harmonious relations between the United States (U.S.) and the PRC after years of diplomatic isolation (Hughes, Ken (October 4, 2016). “Richard Nixon: Foreign Affairs”. millercenter.org. Archived from the original on April 17, 2017.)  The seven-day official visit to three Chinese cities was the first time a U.S. president had visited the PRC; Nixon’s arrival in Beijing ended 25 years of no communication or diplomatic ties between the two countries and was the key step in normalizing relations between the U.S. and the PRC.  The normalization of ties culminated in 1979, when the U.S. established full diplomatic relations with the PRC.

The immediate impact of the visit in 1972 

Nixon dubbed his visit “the week that changed the world”, a descriptor that continues to echo in the political lexicon. Repercussions of the Nixon visit continue to this day; near-immediate results included a significant shift in the Cold War balance, driving an ideological wedge between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, resulting in significant Soviet concessions and its eventual fall (Wikipedia, 1972 visit by Richard Nixon to China.) 

The reason for opening up China was for the U.S. to gain more leverage over relations with the Soviet Union. Resolving the Vietnam War was a particularly important factor. National Security Council staffer (and later U.S. Ambassador to China) Winston Lord noted that, by flexibly dealing with both the Soviet Union and China, the United States sought to pressure both countries to reduce their support for North Vietnam in their new prioritization of relations with the United States (Kennedy, Charles S. (April 28, 1998). “Nixon Goes to China”. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: Foreign Affairs Oral History Project. Retrieved February 21, 2013.)

Was opening China a big mistake?

During the research of this article, almost every opinion on the 1972 visit by Nixon to China is to see it in a positive light as an event which truly changed the world, for the better of course.  Economic benefits, robust trade, lower prices, etc. almost always come out as the chief outcome of that historic visit.  Again, when Nixon visited China, the main focus of that visit was to counterbalance the former Soviet Union and in a due process attempt to end the war in Vietnam.  These were reasons which are so much connected to current events (at that time) and nothing more, i.e. for all intents and purposes were to deal with immediate circumstances and geopolitical conditions, and nothing for the long run.  It is really hard to believe that Nixon and Kissinger had envisioned that China would be the superpower and Global giant it is right now with financial, economic, and even military reach across the globe.

The search for this article could not identify references to identify the long term impact of Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, only, as stated above, short term goals, namely containing the former Soviet Union in hope of ending the raging Vietnam war.  And even those who look back at that visit and how it changed China, they look at aspects such as the failure of becoming a democracy rather than the military and economic superpower China is today.  In fact, as it will be seen, it looks like the Chinese were contemplating long-term goals for that visit much more than the Americans did.

In his book “The Hundred-Year Marathon, China’s secret strategy to replace America as a global superpower” and as the title of his book makes clear, Pillsbury concluded that the CCP is running a 100-year marathon to supplant America as the world’s top power. He investigates the CCP’s fascination with the Warring States Period (which led to the “unification of seven feuding states under the Qin dynasty,” from which China gets its name) at length and finds that Beijing’s behavior is consistent with the lessons learned. The CCP’s strategy is based on patience and deception, as the hegemon should not be confronted from a position of relative weakness. Over time, the challenger can become stronger by stealing from the hegemon. This reflected an “ancient stratagem”—to “kill with a borrowed sword.” Thus, according to Pillsbury, the Chinese used the Americans just as they used the Soviets, extracting military and economic assistance from one major rival in the name of countering the other. Pillsbury recounts all the ways America built up the Chinese state—a staggering transfer of economic, scientific and military know-how that is difficult to justify (The Dispatch, Was Nixon Wrong About China, July 29, 2020.)

This sentiment of the USA making the wrong move in 1972 is shared by people like Mike Pompeo, the former US secretary of States.  He stated that former US president Richard Nixon’s policy towards China was a failure, because the past 50 years have shown that China has not changed in the direction that the US expects. On the contrary, a rising China has started to expand its influence and pose a challenge to other regions. The “peaceful rise” that Beijing spoke of is no more. And so, now is the time for Washington to change its strategy towards China, from contact to containment; to surround and block China, like what happened with the Soviet Union (ThinkChina, Was Nixon’s policy of engaging China a failure? August 6, 2020.)

In the following sections, it will be shown how China has changed so dramatically in the past 50 years as a result of that visit in ways Nixon and his handlers never imagined.  The emphasis will be on the military development of China since 1972 since so much was written on its spectacular economic rise from a poor, slowly developing, backward and primitive economy into the second largest in the world and widely expected to be the first in a few years.

The Chinese Red Army development

On October 1, 1949, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  The announcement ended the costly full-scale civil war between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), which broke out immediately following World War II and had been preceded by on and off conflict between the two sides since the 1920’s.  The creation of the PRC also completed the long process of governmental upheaval in China begun by the Chinese Revolution of 1911. The “fall” of mainland China to communism in 1949 led the United States to suspend diplomatic ties with the PRC for decades (State Department, The Chinese Revolution of 1949.)

From its inception, the Chinese Red Army was an integral part of the communist state and its backbone and In the view of the Communist Party, participation of the masses in the Red Army was significant beyond the direct concerns of manpower and material support.  It was also viewed as a political process through which the masses would evolve into “masters of the state.”  According to Mao, “[T]he Red Army is not an entity for fighting only. Its major task (or function) is to mobilize the masses. Fighting is only a means.”  This process involved the Red Army’s significant responsibility for educating, organizing, and mobilizing the masses, functioning like the mobile embodiment of the Communist Party in addition to its military roles.  Academic Cai Xiang writes that the Red Army’s ability to function in this way helps explain why despite the weak industrial base in revolutionary China, a proletarian party nonetheless successfully developed (Cai, Xiang; 蔡翔 (2016). Revolution and its narratives : China’s socialist literary and cultural imaginaries (1949-1966). Rebecca E. Karl, Xueping Zhong, 钟雪萍. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-7461-9. OCLC 932368688.)

Chinese troops in the Korean war, 1950-1953

The first real test of the Red Army came a few months later during the Korean war.  In the fall of 1950, Beijing sent a quarter-of-a- troops into the Korean Peninsula, supporting its North Korean ally and pushing back the combined forces of South Korea, the United States and other countries under the United Nations Command.

Those forces had almost reached the Yalu River, which separates China from North Korea, when then leader Mao Zedong dispatched the Chinese People’s Volunteers to intervene.

The Chinese pushed that combined allied army back down the peninsula, eventually resulting in a stalemate along the 38th parallel, the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea to this day.

More than 180,000 of those Chinese troops died in the Korean War, or what Beijing calls the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (CNN, 70 years later, China and South Korea exchange the remains of Korean war dead, 9/16/2022.)

The People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) was the armed expeditionary force deployed by the People’s Republic of China during the Korean War (Shen Zhihua , 2000. 1, 28–39.)  For many Chinese, the Korean War is generally regarded as an honorable struggle in Chinese history. The PVA was the first Chinese army in a century that was able to withstand a Western army in a major conflict (Wei, Wei (1951). “Who are the Most Beloved People?(谁是最可爱的人)(In Chinese)”. People’s Daily. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved October 2, 2018.)

The Vietnam war, which was cited as one of the major reasons behind Nixon’s visit in 1972, was a major event that shaped the course of the world in the second half of the 20th century.

Although it was a regional conflict that occurred on the Indochinese Peninsula, it also affected the strategic interests of the People’s Republic of China, the United States and the Soviet Union as well as the relations between these great powers. China, in particular, also played an important role in the Vietnam wars during 1950–1975. China militarily supported North Vietnam by fighting South Vietnam and the United States in the Vietnam War. However, with the failure of the North Vietnamese and Chinese negotiations in 1968, the PRC began to withdraw support for the sake of preparing for a clash with the Soviets. Chinese influence over North Vietnam diminished from that point (Zhai, Qiang (2000). China and the Vietnam wars, 1950–1975. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807825327. OCLC 41564973.)

China had been a steadfast supporter of Vietnam during its wars with France and the US. More than 300,000 PLA troops served in Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, with some 1,100 killed and 4,300 wounded. China also sent billions in aid to their communist brethren (The Insider, March 2, 2021.)

The next real test of the Chinese Red Army came in February 1979 when China invaded its former ally Vietnam after years of simmering tension between the two communist neighbors.

Chinese tanks enter Vietnam, 1979

The hostilities began on February 17, 1979, when a massive 30-minute artillery barrage rocked the China-Vietnam border. They were the first of 880,000 shells that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would fire at neighbor over the next three and a half weeks.

Within hours, some 200,000 Chinese soldiers crossed the border into Vietnam. They were supported by an additional 400,000 troops, hundreds of tanks, and 7,000 artillery pieces.

Their mission was to seize provincial capitals and obliterate any Vietnamese Army (PVA) forces in the areas between them. Despite initial breakthroughs, progress slowed, and the PLA found itself bogged down in a costly war in which it drastically underperformed.

Launched to “teach Vietnam a lesson,” as Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping claimed, the invasion was China’s first large-scale military action since the Korean War in 1953, and it remains the PLA’s last full-scale war to this day.

But tensions between the two communist “brothers” had been boiling for decades. Chinese domination in previous centuries left a general distrust of China in Vietnam, and border battles between China and the Soviet Union in 1969, during the Sino-Soviet split, made it clear to Vietnam that it would soon have to pick between its two benefactors.

Vietnam also faced rising tension and increasing border clashes with the murderous China-backed Khmer Rouge regime in neighboring Cambodia. That, along with Beijing’s reluctance to send more aid to Hanoi, led Vietnam to side with the Soviets.

All this was outrageous to Deng and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which viewed Vietnam as unappreciative and traitorous.

Most importantly, as the USSR already had a similar treaty with Mongolia, China felt at risk of being surrounded by the Soviets.

By December 7, China’s Central Military Commission had decided to launch a limited war along the border. At the end of that month, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge.

After about two weeks of fighting, the PLA began its withdrawal

By March 16, its forces had crossed back into China, but not before enacting a scorched-earth campaign in Vietnam, thoroughly destroying or looting anything of value, including factories, bridges, mines, farms, vehicles, and even crops.

Neither China nor Vietnam, known for keeping battlefield losses secret, ever officially disclosed their casualties, though each claimed to have inflicted large numbers of casualties on the other. China said its forces killed or wounded up 57,000 Vietnamese troops, while Vietnam claimed over 60,000 PLA killed or wounded.

More reliable estimates for Chinese losses range from 7,900 to as many as 26,000 troops killed, with about 23,000 to 37,000 wounded. Estimates for Vietnam range from 20,000 to 50,000 soldiers and civilians killed and wounded.

The high number of casualties in such a short period is staggering, especially since Vietnam’s militia and second-tier troops did most of the fighting, as many elite Vietnamese forces were fighting in Cambodia (Insider, What China’s last major war tells us about how it will fight the next one, March 2, 2021.)

Performance of the PLA during the Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979

China in 1979 was facing a battle-tested and highly disciplined Vietnamese army which had previously defeated two superpowers in two long and bloody wars.

Despite a two-to-one advantage in forces and the eventual completion of its military objectives, the PLA severely underperformed.

The high number of casualties in such a short period is staggering, especially since Vietnam’s militia and second-tier troops did most of the fighting, as many elite Vietnamese forces were fighting in Cambodia.

With very little overall training and virtually no combined-arms training, many PLA attacks were uncoordinated human-wave assaults, leading to high casualties and prolonging the battles.

PLA soldiers were so undertrained that there were reports of infantrymen tying themselves to tanks with ropes to avoid falling off, sealing their fate when they were ambushed.

Conversely, some tank units didn’t know how to communicate with infantry at all, leading to them going into battle alone or with little coordination, which allowed experienced Vietnamese tank-killing teams to pick them off. The Vietnamese later claimed to have destroyed or damaged at least 280 tanks and armored vehicles during the war.

How the PLA developed

It is said that in 1991, Chinese military officers watched as the United States dismantled the Iraqi Army, a force with more battle experience and somewhat  “Shocked and Awed, why China was scared of America ebay defeat of Iraq in 1991, National Interest, February 8, 2021.”

This is not surprising given that in the Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979, Deng had forbidden the use of the Air Force and Navy so as to not risk escalation with the Soviets. The PLA was especially worried its Air Force would be soundly beaten by experienced Vietnamese pilots, who had dogfighting experience against the best in the world, the US Air Force.

But to Deng Xiaoping, the high casualties were not entirely surprising. One of Deng’s motivations for the war was so the PLA could gain badly needed experience.

Deng himself had a low opinion of the PLA, calling it “swollen, slack, arrogant, extravagant and lazy.” He used the poor performance as a lesson and justification for massive reforms and modernization of the PLA (Insider, What China’s last major war tells us about how it will fight the next one, March 2, 2021.)

It looks like what Deng has envisioned of a modern army bare fruit later on, as little more than five years later, China was bold enough to almost exchange blows with the USA.

On Thursday, March 7, 1996, in an elegant dining room overlooking the Potomac River, Defense Secretary William J. Perry delivered a threat — about as blunt as they come in contemporary diplomacy — to go to war.

Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping

Hours before, U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance craft and cruiser USS Bunker Hill had monitored three Chinese M-9 ballistic missiles as they were rapid-fired from China’s Huanan mountains toward Taiwan. They splashed down in the shipping lanes adjacent to Taiwan’s two principal seaports: first Kaohsiung in the south, then Chilung in the north, then south again to Kaohsiung.

Liu Huaqiu, a senior Chinese national security official, found a grim-faced Perry waiting for him when he arrived at a scheduled dinner that evening in the State Department’s eighth-floor Madison Room. In what one participant called “a well-rehearsed minute,” Perry notified Liu that there would be “grave consequences” should Chinese weapons strike Taiwan — words not spoken to China since the countries established diplomatic ties, and universally understood as code for a military response. For emphasis, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake repeated the formula in turn (The Washington Post, U.S. and China nearly came to blows in ‘96, June 21, 1998.)

Recent Encounters

Long gone are the days when the Chinese leadership was so concerned about its air force to support its troops invading Vietnam in 1979 for fear of being humiliated by their enemy’s for-experienced air force.    The Chinese air force is much more daring nowadays in its near-miss encounters with the US air force.

On December 29th, 2022 the New York Times reported “the U.S. military said on [previous] Thursday that a Chinese fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. Air Force aircraft that was conducting routine operations over the South China Sea on Dec. 21, nearly causing the planes to collide.

The Chinese pilot of a J-11 jet “performed an unsafe maneuver,” flying in front and within 20 feet of the nose of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 plane, the U.S. military said in a statement, adding that the American pilot was forced to take “evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision.”

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which is part of the United States Armed Forces, said in a statement on Thursday that it expected all states in the region “to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”

A spokesperson for the command, referring to China’s People’s Liberation Army by its initials, also said in an email: “We have seen an alarming increase in the number of unsafe aerial intercepts and confrontations at sea by P.L.A. aircraft and vessels.

“So this latest incident reflects a concerning trend of unsafe and dangerous intercept practices by the P.L.A. that are of grave concern to the United States.”

In Beijing on Friday, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry did not directly respond to the question of whether a Chinese jet had operated in a dangerous way. The spokesman, Wang Wenbin, instead pointed a finger at the United States for conducting reconnaissance on China in the region.

“The United States’ provocative and dangerous actions are the root cause of maritime security issues,” Mr. Wang told reporters at a routine briefing.

A day after the encounter, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that it was “closely tracking” Chinese military activities in the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea and the East China Sea. And it emphasized that it continued to “oppose any military pressure or coercion against our allies and partners in the region.”

More recently, the New York Post reported on May 30, 2023 “Frightening footage filmed from the cockpit of a US Air Force plane showed a Chinese fighter jet swerving dangerously close as the pair flew through international airspace over the South China Sea on Friday.

The Chinese jet could be seen swerving across the nose of the American plane — coming as close as 400 feet — forcing the Air Force pilot to fly through its wake and leaving the plane shuddering and the crew bouncing in heavy turbulence.

“A People’s Republic of China J-16 fighter pilot performed an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver during the intercept of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft,” the US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement, according to ABC.

“The RC-135 was conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law,” the Air Force said in a statement.

“The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows, and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Joint Force will continue to fly in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law.”

The incident was the latest showdown between Chinese fighter jets and Air Force planes over the South China Sea in recent months.

Back in December, a Chinese navy J-11 fighter jet flew within 10 feet of another U.S. RC-135 and forced the Air Force pilot to undertake evasive maneuvers.

Then in February, a US plane flying 30 miles from the Chinese coastline was ordered to leave as a Chinese fighter jet pulled up alongside to escort them out of the area.

US RC-135s routinely fly through the region on surveillance missions and to apply pressure on China’s claims over vast swaths of the South China Sea.

After the latest incident, a US military official said it was believed the maneuvers were part of a coordinated effort from China to harass US aircraft.

“We don’t believe it’s done by pilots operating independently,” the official said, according to ABC.

“We believe it’s part of a wider pattern we see in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and elsewhere”(New York Post, May 30, 2023)

The above sections showed how far the Chinese military developed since the creation of the PRC and how emboldened it has become.  Long gone are the large human waves of Chinese troops storming enemy lines in hope of overcoming their opponents with sheer numbers and total disregard to casualties.  We are now talking about a highly disciplined force with the most advanced and sophisticated arsenal and has no fear in getting entangled with the strongest army in the world with daring moves.  This army has a far-reaching ambition to reclaim lost territories and safeguard its huge and long commercial routes around the world.

The Chinese navy

China has the world’s largest navy today plus a huge rocket force.  In the year 2000, the Chinese navy had 37 vessels, and it has grown to 350 today, and it is estimated that it will be 440 by 2030.  This growth is interpreted as preparation for the retaking of Taiwan which some sources believe would be in 2027.  The Chinese fleet of submarines is, however, one generation behind the American fleet in terms of technological capabilities (CBS 60 minutes, July 2, 2023.)  

Can India become a superpower in a short time?

As a preload to this topic, it is noteworthy to state what Albert Einstein said about India referring to its contribution to humanity; “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”

The focus of this article is to determine whether opening China back in 1972 (to counterweight the USSR) was a mistake in which it unleashed the potential of China which became the superpower it is today.  Now, let’s examine whether using India today to counterweight China would be another mistake.

India has one great advantage over China which is the availability of a large english-speaking segment of the society.  This was and still is a huge problem for China and the world.  This issue was discussed fully by Michael Pillsbury in his book “The Hundred-Year Marathon, China’s secret strategy to replace America as a global superpower, St Martin’s Griffin, 2021.”  He explains the complexity and ambiguity of the Chinese (mandarin) language which makes it that much difficult to understand the intended meaning of a word or phrase (Pages 5 and 6.)  This is not the case with India in which English fluency is dominant in the country as a result of its occupation by Great Britain for almost 200 years. 

One other advantage India has is its higher education system.  On November 22, 2023, University World News reported the following “Indian higher education has suddenly become ‘hot’ – with delegations of global university leaders and politicians flocking to the country, the latest group from Australia. Governments and universities from around the world are signing memoranda of understanding with Indian counterparts and making big plans for research collaboration, joint degrees and other initiatives.

Recent regulations for setting up international branch campuses in Gujarat and the interest expressed by some foreign universities in doing this is the latest trend.

This is not surprising. India is now the world’s second largest higher education system, with around 38 million students in 50,000 academic institutions (including 1,057 universities) and a goal of doubling gross enrolment rates from the current 26.3% to 50% by 2035. Further, India is the second largest source of international students (after China) globally.

Interest is also stimulated by the new National Education Policy (NEP) released in 2020 that promises major investment in post-secondary education and significant improvement in India’s top universities with an emphasis, for the first time, on internationalization.

Importantly, the NEP promises to open up a highly regulated and a largely closed academic system to the world. The traditional Indian ‘swadeshi’ (encouraging local products) ideology will, it is proposed, be replaced by an open door.”

India has the world’s largest number of people able to understand and/or speak English (ABC Australia.)  It claims one of the largest workforces of engineers, doctors and other key professionals that use English (“Versatile, skilled human capital”. Retrieved 11 September 2015.)  It has the 2nd largest population of “fluent English” speakers, second only to the United States, with estimates ranging from 150 to 250 million speakers, and is expected to have the largest in the coming decades. Indians also learn other major world languages (“India needs at least 160,000 foreign language professionals by 2010”. 26 January 2007. Retrieved 11 September 2015.)

In addition to the drive for higher education at home, there is a strong push for Indians to study abroad.  For instance, and according to the latest Education Ministry data, more than 770,000 Indian students went abroad to study in 2022 — a six-year high (Tribune India, February 22, 2023.)  And this number is expected to rise to 1.8 million students in 2024 at a cost of $85 billion dollars on education overseas (Oxford International Digital Institute, July 24, 2022.)

There are, of course, other factors which should enable India to become a superpower.  These include; Size of the economy, Rate of growth, Primary sector of industry, Secondary sector of industry, Tertiary and Quaternary sector of industry, Science and technology, Iron and steel industry, Rare Earth Industry, Energy, Business-to-Business commerce, Railway Network, Mass transit system, Tourism, Medical tourism in India; Geographic location, Large population, Young population, Global diaspora, Democratic republicanism; Candidacy for Security Council, Foreign relations, Role in international politics, Multipolarity, military strength.  Other factors suggested Cost of democratic republicanism, Insurgency, disputes (with neighboring China,  Pakistan, and Bengiladish), Subsistence Farming, Poverty, Infrastructure, Inflation and overheating, Energy dependence and costs, Health, Literacy, Climate and environmental problems, social divide (Wikipedia, India as a potential superpower.)


This article began with a prolific quote by the French emperor Napoleon Bonapart who anticipated that China would shake up the world if it was awakened, and indeed it was in 1972 when Richard Nixon visited the communist giant.

Nixon and his secretary of states Dr. Henry Kissenger planned and made that visit for, as this writer believes, shortsighted reasons, namely to counterweight the Soviet Union and hopefully help to end the war in Vietnam which was taking a  heavy toll on the Americans.

For the Soviet union, and as many archives showed after its collapse, it was nothing more than a paper tiger (Tampa Bay Times, Published March 27, 1992|Updated Oct. 10, 2005, Was the former Soviet Union actually a woeful paper tiger?) which was suffering from so many ills and its grave little more than eight years later (when it invaded Afghanistan and was soundly defeated), and began its slow and painful death process (in 1986 when Gorbachev assumed power and tried to salvage what is possible), and died nineteen years later (in 1991.)  In addition, the visit didn’t really help the war effort in Vietnam as it kept raging on at even a larger scale and bolded the Vietnamese to get all their demands during the Paris peace conference negotiations and score a final victory and decisive victory when Saigon fall on April 30th, 1975 in a major and humiliating defeat for the Americans.

Nixon Visit in 1972 to China, as this writer believes, unleashed all what China had in hidden energies and created a multi-headed super giant with arms extending from the middle east to the carbienne and unbounded ambitions to dominate what it believed its sphere of dominance in the south China sea.  It is also possible that the Chinese, for those reasons, used the Americans in 1972 to their advantage and strategic goals that were the other way around.

Now, the American administration of Joseph Biden is attempting to use India, a subcontinent with limitless resources, the largest population in the world, the world’s largest number of people able to understand and/or speak English, etc. to counterweight the Chinese influence.  The success of this strategy remains to be seen, but this writer believes that the administration is making the same mistake Nixon did in 1972 when he attempted to use China to counterweight the Soviet union, and that policy ended in creating the second largest economy in the world, with huge army, and the largest navy in the entire world plus a huge rocket force.

India, despite many obstacles, has all the factors to become a superpower and can even rival their Chinese neighbor, and in a world of political changes for economic interests, it is not far-fetched to think that China and India will counterweight the USA combined.  This is what happened after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 as there was a long process of rapprochement between China and the Soviet Union, and we see that now through the relationship between Russia and China as it is manifesting itself clearly in the Ukraine war.

*Nadum Jwad is a freelance political writer who lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada