05/07/2013 04:27 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

China and India

In January 1963, I was sent to India as part of a U.S. delegation demonstrating kinship with that nation in response to an invasion of its territory by China way up in the Himilayas. In late 1962, China had launched two border attacks about 1000 miles apart, one in Ladakh, India's arctic-like district in Kashmir, and the other in the North East Frontier Agency at the far end of India's 1,500 mile barrier with Tibet.

There was never any rational explanation for China's incursion into those areas which I would learn are some of the most inhospitable on earth. I helped the Indian army set up some communications in those regions, but they did not amount to much, and neither -- thankfully -- did the conflict that petered out about the time I got there.

So it was with some interest that I learned China is still up to its old tricks. Last month about 30 Chinese troops ventured some 12 miles into Indian territory. This has unfortunately become somewhat routine over the years. The Indian government counted 400 similar incursions last year, and 100 already this year. This activity is baffling to observers at a time when China is facing unrest on the Korean Peninsula and engaged in sovereignty disputes over islands in the East and South China Seas. It would seem the last thing China needs right now is a conflict with India. The Chinese troops subsequently withdrew, but not before fostering much ill will with India, and leaving everyone to wonder what China is up to and might do next.

But then, that is and remains the challenge of dealing with China. Without question that nation is coming into its own as an economic power to be reckoned with. Right now the U.S. remains far and away the world's strongest military power, but with a surging economy and more than 1.3 billion people, it seems inevitable that the Chinese will before long pose a challenge to us militarily as well as economically.

That in itself would not pose an insurmountable problem. As one of the world's great economic engines, China would seem to have every reason to pursue a balanced foreign policy to support its economic ambitions. Historically, China has not been inclined to territorial aggression. That is why China's incursions into India are so troubling. They make no sense.

China's economic success has led many to ignore its opaque foreign policy, but we would do well to remember how hard our ancestors have worked to endow us with a Constitutional government of checks and balances in which political leaders are required to explain their actions, and answer to the voters. China's economic success does not trouble me nearly as much as its lack of transparency and contempt for basic human rights. A great power led by a rogue government that answers only to itself will present a continuing dilemma for the world in the century ahead.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications", published by The History Publishing Company.