India needs to seek Alliance Partners who are Prepared to Contain the Chinese Aggression
Ostensibly, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is meant for trade and commerce. However, it has serious geopolitical ramifications which we seem to have overlooked. The first is the very alignment of this so-called economic corridor. It runs through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region of J&K which legally belongs to India. We should have protested vehemently against any renewed road construction activity in this disputed region. Amazingly, some mandarins in our foreign ministry initially welcomed the initiation of the CPEC project. China is cleverly using the alibi of trade to further its military ambitions.
The recently published map alignment of this corridor indicates two major loops that come close to the Indian borders in Punjab and Rajasthan. The whole world knows that major tank battles have taken place here in past Indo- Pak wars—notably, 1965 and 1971.In any future Indo-Pak conflict, these would be the two primary areas for major tank-to-tank battles which may well be decisive.
The two stated aims of China are the mechanisation and informatisation of its military. As part of this drive, almost all Chinese Army formations have converted to wheeled/track-based mechanised formations with high mobility and firepower. These can easily operate in the Tibetan plateau but cannot be applied across the Himalayan passes (except in Ladakh). The CPEC now provides China a major opportunity to apply its huge tank forces against India via Pakistan in any future war. This would erode the tank superiority we have over Pakistan and poses an existential threat to India. No government worth its salt can accept this accentuation of the land threat to India with equanimity. In such a scenario, India may well have to reconsider its no-first-use nuclear doctrine.
Secondly, the CPEC culminates in the Gwadar port in Balochistan. This is already operational and Pakistan has offered this to China as a naval base. That has serious implications for India’s national security in as much as it poses serious threats to our sea-based lines of communications from the Middle East and Africa. This could jeopardise our energy security. The nightmare would be China basing its nuclear and conventional submarines at Gwadar. In one fell swoop, Pakistan, by renting out its territory, has made the Chinese Navy, a serious contender in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Responsible nation-states don’t let such serious threats emerge in their own geopolitical backyard with such impunity.
They don’t react to such serious developments with the equanimity that we have displayed so far. We have permitted China to reach the Makran coast without let or hindrance. When news of the CPEC had first emerged in the press, sections of the foreign ministry bureaucracy had even welcomed it. The guiding mantra then was to not do anything to annoy China. People had to be reminded that this rail road corridor was being built through our territory. China had contemptuously decided to ignore all Indian concerns and sensitivities and invest $46 billion in China’s highway through Pakistan. The CPEC is now operational. By renting out its territory, Pakistan had in one fell swoop, made China a major military player in the IOR.
Donald Trump had threatened that he would make allies like Europe, Japan and South Korea pay more for US bases and protection. He wanted Japan and South Korea to develop their own nuclear weapons. An isolationist America may not continue the US pivot to Asia. In such a scenario, it becomes imperative for Asian powers like India-Japan-Vietnam and South Korea to balance the power of an increasingly aggressive China. Towards that end, our Prime Minister’s recent visit to Japan was a landmark event, because it saw the signing of the India-Japan Civil Nuclear deal.
The signing of the US-2 Amphibian plane deal will perhaps be equally significant. India and Japan can cooperate in the development of a Fifth Generation Fighter, conventional warships and submarines, tank and aircraft engines and in the field of cyber warfare and outer space. Japan and South Korea may well have to develop nuclear deterrents of their own because the US nuclear umbrella may no longer be guaranteed. Singly, the Asian powers, who feel threatened by a rising China, may not be able to hold their own against the colossus in Asia but collectively they could force it to disperse efforts and resources in multiple directions.
Multi-polar world orders are inherently unstable and prone to conflict. India must now seek alliance partners who are prepared to contain the Chinese aggression. Asia may well see the emergence of a NATO-style architecture to balance China. India will have to exert enormously to counter the China-Pakistan axis that is solely directed against itself. If Pakistan is so willing to rent out its territory simply to discomfort India, it must be prepared to pay the price for its mindless provocations.