Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 43, October 10, 2009
Chinese Threat on Border and India’s Defence Preparedness
Sunday 11 October 2009, by
Notwithstanding the assertion made by S.M. Krishna, the Indian External Affairs Minister, that the India-China boundary happens to be one of the most peaceful of our borders, continued Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control and the series of strategic moves being undertaken by Beijing in regard to its relations with some smaller countries of the subcontinent, point to a sinister Chinese design of encircling India. It appears that Beijing still rues its decision of voluntarily withdrawing from the 90,000 sq km of Indian territory it had occupied in 1962 and has been harbouring a desire to make up the loss at an opportune moment.
China wears an inscrutable mask and India has so far been unable to see through it as it did in 1962. China is now India’s largest trading partner and the amount of transaction between the two countries touched a whopping $ 52 billion last year. This has possibly given India a comforting idea that China would never choose to go for an all-out war in spite of the fact that the Chinese Army has been carrying on incursions into Indian territories not just in the western and central sectors but in Sikkim too where the border is now undisputed.
But the Government of India is trying to keep the people in the dark about some serious moves of the Chinese Army. Recently they penetrated deep inside Ladakh and painted the word China on rocks and boulders in an area which is not very far from the Pangong-Tso lake, a highly sensitive point near the international boundary. But long before there were reports that China had built a helipad in an area in the Arunachal Pradesh sector which, in fact, belongs to India. There is nothing new about the Chinese presence in Ladakh as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has often been violating the boundary in the Pangong-Tso lake which is situated in the neighbourhood of the Chushul mountains acoross the Changla Pass in the northeast of Leh. Forty per cent of this lake belongs to India while the rest sixty per cent is Chinese domain. But China’s patrol boats often penetrate deep into Indian waters and they sometimes willingly barge into Indian naval vessels. Intelligence reports, quoted by the national as well as regional media, have pointed out quite sometime back that China has built its own road network inside Ladakh.
The Government of India is well aware of the Chinese moves along the border and in recent past it has, on quite a few occasions, hurriedly moved Army units away from the Jammu and Kashmir border and posted them along the boundary with China. This happened sometime ago when Beijing had suddenly increased the strength of its Army near a mountain ridge which is very close to the trijunction of India, Bhutan and China. But the most inexplicable side of the whole story is the hush-hush atmosphere which India prefers to drape over the whole issue.
A.K. Antony, the Indian Defence Minister, was perfectly right when he had voiced his concerns sometime back about the unsatisfactory state of communication network on the Indian side of the border. He had reasons to do so as China has not only been strengthening its communication system in the area but trying to attract some smaller subcontinental countries in such a type of patron- client relationship which would go a long way towards putting India in a disadvantageous position.
This forms China’s policy of ‘encirclement’, a diplomatic-military initiative Beijing has been practising for a long time. In line with this, China has been gradually pushing its outposts nearer to the Indian border, the most important example being Xigatse, the second most important city of Tibet which has been put on the Golmud-Lhasa extended railway line. Xigatse has now become a bustling centre of not only trade and commerce but Chinese espionage activity as well. So far as Nepal is concerned, in addition to the Kodari highway, which was built with Chinese assistance in 1960, a second highway connecting Nepal and Tibet has come up. Although the Maoists are no more part of the Nepalese Government, yet there are valid reasons to believe that the bashing of Indian priests by the Maoists at the Pashupatinath temple may have had Chinese blessings.
China is now one of the most important patrons of Pakistan in international politics and in return Pakistan has allowed Beijing to open at least four link roads from the Karakoram Highway one of which will connect the Gwadar deep- sea port which China has built for Pakistan. In the world energy market Beijing is now in brisk business of securing energy supplies most of which pass through the Persian Gulf. By using the Gwadar port China gets an automatic access to the Persian Gulf where it has substantially increased its naval strength in recent times. For Myanmar, it has developed the Irrawady corridor thereby creating a netwok of roads, rails and waterways. This corridor is extremely important for China as it would give its landlocked areas an access to the Bay of Bengal where Beijing is rapidly increasing its naval strength. In competition India has also agreed to invest $ 100 million for upgrading the Sittwe port and developing the Kaladan river system of Myanmar. However, in matters of respective bilateral relations China has left India way behind. Beijing’s relations with the Myanmar military junta are extremely cozy and it has always stood up for Yangon to block sanctions against the junta in international organi-sations. China has already secured rights for free use of Myanmar’s river systems. Due to this facility it has been able to build up surveillance stations on the Coco Island near the Andamans. That India has recognised the probable Chinese threat from the sea becomes clear from New Delhi’s decision to upgrade its naval station in the Andamans.
The military threat from China is real. The numerical strength of its Army is 2.5 million, more than double that of India, while the range of its missiles is more than its Indian counterparts. Quite a good number of Chinese missiles in Tibet carry nuclear warheads. This year China’s defence expenditure has increased by 14.9 per cent. This would push up Beijing’s defence budget to $ 70.2 billion, an increase of $ 9.1 billion from the previous year. While India lags far behind in this respect, China now stands very near to Japan, Russia and the UK in respect of military spending. Chinese experts are always at pains to point out that their country spends only about 1.5 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for defence. But China’s GDP has been growing by more than 10 per cent annually. It has no staggering inflation and its currency is stable.
This has enabled China to build its war industry. China now not only produces arms and ammunitions for its own use but supplies them to a good number of other countries also. They include, apart from Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt, Tanzania, Albania, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka. In 2007 China successfully carried out its anti-satellite test. It has acquired technology for construction of aircraft carriers, for carrying out air-to-air refuelling and for developing anti-tank missiles. While its MiG- 33 is much superior to the accident prone MiG-21 which the Indian Air Force uses, it has also developed a multi-role fighter aircraft christened CAC-J7 which is widely used not only by Pakistan but Myanmar and Bangladesh as well. Another very important arsenal rolling out of China is the basic jet trainer-cum-light attack aircraft, a product of the Hongdu Aviation Industry. Its export variety is called K-8 in Pakistan which uses it extensively and has a 45 per cent share in its joint production with China. China’s participation in the production of the Jalalat class missile fast attack naval craft in the Pakistan Navy Dockyard at Karachi is too well known. Nowadays Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh use large numbers of patrol boats, fast attack crafts and vessels for amphibious operations either designed or built by China. India’s presence in this field is minimal, the only noteworthy example being the Hindustan Shipyard-built 1890 tonne patrol vessel “Shaurya” which is used by the Sri Lankan Navy.
China now considers itself a great power and a clash of interests with India is inevitable. It looks upon the Asia-Pacific region as its hegemony. As a consequence it s likely to come into conflict with India’s “look East” policy. So there are enough grounds, strewn all over, for escalation of tension between India and China, the most important of them being the unresolved border question with Beijing not accepting the Line of Actual Control and the Mcmahon Line. New Delhi recognises the danger and therefore it has recently decided on a series of steps like stationing of Sukhoi-30 aircraft at Tejpur, revival of abandoned airfields in Ladakh, posting of two Army divisions for the defence of Tawang and building of all-weather roads upto the farthest Army post in the border. Defence experts, however, opine that due to the Pakistan-centric defence policy pursued so long, not an illogical thing either, India’s defence preparedness has to be improved considerably to meet the Chinese might in the extreme heights of the Himalayas.
Unfortunately the biggest impediment before such an important task is the attitude and self-deception of the Indian ruling class. Although George Fernandes, the Defence Minister during the NDA regime, always voiced concern about Chinese intentions, he did not get sufficient support from other members of the Vajpaiyee Cabinet. Manmohan Singh, the present Prime Minister, is also advising restraint with respect to the attitude towards China. Obviously he is trying to sweep every uncomfortable information beneath the carpet. Manmohan Singh has reasons to do so as he is in the best position to know how unprepared his government is to match China force by force.
Some honest confessions are also emerging. Sometime back Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the former Naval Chief, was honest enough to admit the inadequacies of the Indian Navy. The other day Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, the incumbent Chief of the Indian Air Force, has said that the IAF is only one-third the size of its Chinese counterpart. But the political tribe is desperate to hide its failure.
Indira Gandhi always tried to keep herself posted with latest indepth information about the security affairs of her country. The same should be expected from Manmohan Singh. If he is honest enough he should ask explanations from Pranab Mukherjee, the Defence Minister for a large part of the previous UPA Government, about infra-structural development along the LAC and inade-quacies of the armed forces. What has now prompted A.K. Antony and the Naval as well as Air Chiefs to admit serious drawbacks about India’s defence preparedness?
Let Manmohan Singh be reminded of a hilarious assumption by the people of Sikkim. The condition of the road from Gangtok to Nathu La is atrocious. But local drivers who ply their vehicles along this road proffer a different reason for this. In the event of a war in the Nathu La sector the Indian side will be vanquished and swept aside by the Chinese Army within a few days. The Indian Army and the Government of India know this. So they do not repair the road to Gangtok in the hope that bad roads might ultimately turn out to be the only defence against the might of Beijing, the drivers point out.