India’s strategic partnership with middle powers like Japan, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam will get greater domestic acceptance than an Asian strategy that relies solely on US commitment to maintain balance of power in the region. This will also counter China’s claims that regional security cooperation is merely a part of US and Indian efforts to contain China. Building multiple power coalitions as a complement to engaging China and deepening the strategic partnership with the US will strengthen India’s independent role in the security of Asia.
China’s experiment with industrialisation and poverty alleviation is unique and nothing short of a miracle…
China’s experiment with industrialisation and poverty alleviation is unique and nothing short of a miracle. Bringing over 30 million above the poverty line into the middle class in a period of 20 years, is unique in history. In fact, the age old adage that “Democracy is the worst type of government but the best devised so far” seems to have been left behind. If we look at the world scene closely, we observe that great economic progress and development has been made by totalitarian regimes slowly introducing civic rights and liberties. Countries in South East Asia notably Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, all point towards better economic development than those where democracy is being hoisted in the name of better political-cum-economic development and religious freedom.
China is a shining example of an authoritarian regime with economic liberalisation. China’s rise is generally viewed with envy, fear and praise. The huge economic success of the past decades has resulted in sustained Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of over ten per cent, 30 million new homes, 1,800 reservoirs reinforced, 197,000 km of new railways and 60,900 km of roads built, to name only a few. China’s success is the outcome of two policy initiatives namely liberalisation of the economy and control of population growth. In the early phases of development, the emphasis was on communism as an ideology with mass social movements such as the Great Leap Forward which, in retrospect, were failures.
As such, China continued to flounder with mass poverty, low rate of growth and growing population. Somewhere in the eighties, Chinese leaders such as Deng Xiaoping realised that to get out of this cycle, a new approach was needed. This started the policy of liberalism and opening up the economy to Western capital. Chinese leadership also realised that the result of development would not be felt by the masses unless there was a strict curb on population growth. China’s “One Child Policy” has worked well in the present, though it has brought an early end to the country`s prime demographic years. On balance, it was a success with the population feeling the effects of greater individual prosperity and high economic development.
China is a shining example of an authoritarian regime with economic liberalisation…
The leadership change from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping and the direction it will take is a key question. We need to understand that large countries such as Russia and China with large land borders, initially need an authoritarian regime, as otherwise, the distant regions may demand autonomy and finally secession. Later, with economic growth and individual prosperity, economic and political control would need to be decentralised. In Xi Jinping’s regime, development will still be the key to solving problems, but it will be modest and incremental. China’s current path is opening its economy but not its political system. The old formula of trying to deliver increasing prosperity but not relaxing political control is likely to see strains especially in rural areas as also in Tibet and Sinkiang. The corrupt jungle of China, which breeds second class citizens, is well-entrenched and its stranglehold needs reforms. This could lead to weakening of central authority and public support.
As the country with the highest savings in the world, China will play a major role on the world’s financial landscape. Currently, its financial assets have reached $17.4 trillion. In cross border capital flows, China has defied global trends. Today, China’s loans to Latin America exceed those of the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. The recent opening of the BRICS development bank is China’s answer to the West-dominated World Bank. The Chinese Yen is already being traded in bi-lateral deals in South East Asia and Africa. With its huge dollar reserves and growing appetite for gold, China is likely to link its currency with time-tested gold reserves and allow it to float and become a major competitor to the US currency.
By 2021, China will become the world’s largest economy with a GDP of over $24 trillion. The next stage of economic reforms will depend on political reforms. The Communist Party may not be able to deliver this comprehensively but will still prove the Western powers wrong. Against dismal forecasts, China will continue its economic growth albeit at a slower pace with increasing military might. China’s view of being the centre of the world and the Han culture, has led to greater Chinese assertiveness in securing its perceived borders and spreading its tentacles over whole of China and beyond.
The leadership change from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping and the direction it will take is a key question…
Rapid economic development in Tibet and its dependence on mainland China has had mixed results. On the one hand, greater economic prosperity in Tibet has improved the life style of Tibetans, but on the other hand, has led to dilution of their religious freedom and culture. China will tread with caution on the Tibetan issue with a judicious mix of autonomy, religious freedom and economic development especially during the lifetime of the Dalai Lama. Post Dalia Lama, there will be no charismatic leader to rally the Tibetans and except for sporadic incidents, large scale opposition will be a thing of the past.
The problem in Sinkiang is more complex, as it involves more geographical, racial and radical religious differences. The region is already restive and Islamic fundamentalism has reared its head as a hydra-headed monster. With its far flung location in the middle of radical Islam, likely it is only a question of time before terrorism grows root, and a Chechnya-like situation develops. China’s non-interference style has allowed it to develop political and economic ties with many countries, especially in Africa and Central Asia.
The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation could play an important role in Central Asia with its gas reserves feeding the Chinese quest for energy. On Taiwan’s integration with mainland China, progress has been slow but incremental. Growing trade and greater economic inter-dependence could pave the way for reducing tensions in the area. With the growing military might of China and requirement to enlist China’s support in world affairs, the US may not think it worthwhile to openly support Taiwan. Finally, a relationship similar to Hong Kong is likely to develop especially as China increases its maritime might and control of the high seas.
China’s relations with ASEAN are in troubled waters. Yet with growing financial, cultural and military/maritime clout, China will dominate the South China Sea. It would prefer to deal bi-laterally with individual states and using the carrot-and-stick diplomacy, establish its claim over the area. For some bare rocky islands, the US may not want to get entangled with China especially near its doorstep.
China’s view of being the centre of the world and the Han culture, has led to greater Chinese assertiveness…
China is worried about the growing US, Japan, Australia and India relations, thus surrounding it and circumscribing its influence close to its borders. Chinese view Japan’s re-emergence from its US umbrella and its self-imposed isolation as a major threat. The growing technological, military-cum-naval revival of Japan will rouse latent historical fears of China-Japan animosity and might lead to a clash of interests with a flash point in the already volatile region.
China supplanting the US as the superpower is not a foregone conclusion. China’s leaders are nonetheless serious about displacing the US as the most powerful country in the world. With its growing naval strength of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, recently developed land-based highly accurate 1,000-mile range missile, with space guided systems, China would provide a stiff challenge to US carrier groups operating in the Pacific Ocean unhindered since WWII and restrict their area of operations away from Chinese coastline.
The PLA Navy will sail the high seas from the Western coastal Pacific, and Indian Oceans till the East coast of Africa. Like any other super power, China would like to have foreign bases such as Gwadar in Pakistan, Trincomalee in Sri Lanka and in Madagascar for refueling, repairs and rest/recuperation for its naval personnel. China’s highly skilled and educated workforce will outsell and out build all others. Yet China will avoid any action that will soup up relations with the US, a military and technology superpower. The Chinese view themselves as a first class power and want to be treated as such by the world.
Relations with India
China views its relations with India as India views its relations with Pakistan. As seen from Chinese eyes, India appears like a monolithic elephant, in an overcrowded mass of 1.2 billion people, in a land area one-fifth its size. Political squabbles, no clear policies, weak infrastructure, and low economic growth, project India at war with itself. Border states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir with a little prodding, are ripe for succession.
China’s leaders are nonetheless serious about displacing the US as the most powerful country in the world…
How would China like to view India in the future? China would like India to remain weak and divided. Entangled by a terror-stricken nuclear Pakistan whose military strength it would bolster from time to time to counter India’s and leave it vulnerable to China’s influence and armed forces on its 4,000 km-long boundary . As such, India would not pose any threat to China both economically and militarily. China would then be able to pursue its policy of dominating the subcontinent. There may not need to be a Sino-Indian military confrontation as China could win without fighting a war.
Alternatives for India
Before we can answer this question let us take a look at the military doctrines of both China and India as also the latter’s relations with other countries, especially US, Japan and Russia. In the past 20 years, the gap between doctrinal innovation of the Mao era and current actual military capability has significantly widened. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under Mao was an army with the maxim, “When the enemy is weak, attack; when the enemy is strong, retreat, regroup, infiltrate and attack” and “What you saw, was what you got.”
But now, when Chinese leaders speak of winning local wars under high-tech conditions by engaging in five-dimensional warfare and launching surgical strikes against an enemy’s C3I nodes, the PLA becomes an army in which “What you think is what you cannot do.” One PLA officer described this phenomenon by citing two Chinese maxims “Great ambition exists when the objective is unclear and plentiful ideas surface when the initiative is undetermined.” The main focus is on amassing a massive integrated capability as a show of force which the enemy cannot hope to counter, carry out threatening manoeuvres to awe the enemy and achieve the objective, without firing a shot.
The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation could play an important role in Central Asia with its gas reserves…
The current combat doctrine of the Indian Army is based on the effective combined utilisation of holding formations and strike formations. In the case of an attack, the holding formations would contain the enemy and strike formations would counter-attack to neutralise enemy forces. In case of an Indian attack, the holding formations would pin enemy forces down whilst the strike formations attack at a point of India’s choosing.
India has recently adopted a new war doctrine known as “Cold Start” and its military has conducted exercises based on this doctrine several times since then. “Cold Start” involves joint operations between India’s three services and integrated battle groups for offensive operations. A key component is the preparation of India’s forces to be able to quickly mobilise and take offensive actions without crossing the enemy’s nuclear-use threshold and implemented within a 72-hour period during a crisis. There is no coherent Indian strategy in the East to let large areas remain forested to impede China’s advance and present insurmountable logistic problems.
Primarily, it is a defensive policy to delay advance along major thrust lines, increase the lines of communication and blunt the Chinese attack. Of late, a Strike Corps is being raised in conformity with the doctrine “No battle can be won by defensive action alone.” As such, when Chinese attacks have been blunted, to mount limited counter-attacks along tactically advantageous axis. The plan is to have large number of troops along collateral axis to make up for the planned reduction of PLA and conduct traditional mountainous warfare where high-tech Chinese elements cannot operate effectively.
Overall, China would prefer not to fight a war with India. Its objectives can be achieved by supplying Pakistan with Chinese weapons, keep the Jammu and Kashmir issue alive and support its bid to keep India engaged in the West. Chinese interests would also be served by nibbling away at Indian territory to establish their actual LOC claims further and keep large Indian forces pinned down in the East so as to balance forces in the West with Pakistan.
Another possible scenario is if India is able to achieve a seven to ten per cent GDP growth. After an initial flash point to create a series of clashes at widely separated pre-planned time and place and follow it with surprise surgical five dimensional warfare strikes to deliver a knock-out blow. The idea is to destroy infrastructure near the Line Of Control (LOC), create fear in the minds of the enemy and make the situation ripe for further incursions.
India has recently adopted a new war doctrine known as “Cold Start”…
China will not make the mistake of waging a long-drawn war but complete the operation within two to three weeks by going in not more than 30 to 50 miles deep from its perceived LOC and closing the battle with bypass and encircling manoeuvres. Chinese forces will then withdraw to pre-held positions, occupying only strategic points. This will be followed by a unilateral ceasefire and massive propaganda of their peaceful intentions laying the blame on India for initiating the conflict. Such operations are likely to be planned when the Western powers are busy with interventions in other parts of the world. Specific targets would be achieved before world opinion and Western powers can intervene. This would be a major setback for India both militarily and economically and bring it on par with Pakistan.
In the present day scenario, US and Indian strategic interests over China converge. To circumscribe Chinese power, no other country except India can foot the bill better. India’s well-disciplined and trained over a million plus strong army, a strong tactical air force and a navy of two aircraft carrier groups, with nuclear submarines, has the wherewithal to tie up large Chinese forces away from Taiwan and Japan. Overall, it will leave the US free to maintain its role as a superpower.
In trade and commerce too, Indian and US interests converge as India’s huge market could be a magnet for US investments and trade. In the fitness of things and in the context of the present world order, there is likely to be a tacit understanding between the US and other Western powers that in case of a major thrust by China, they would come to the aid of India, by blunting Pakistan’s role in the west, providing tactical intelligence, electronic counter-measures and imposing financial and economic sanctions on Beijing.
Relations between China and Japan have a history of alienation / animosity especially during World War II…
The Japanese too would like to invest in India now that its exports and investments to China have peaked and the Chinese are more rivals than friends. Moreover, Japan has the technology and goods to trade with India in a big way. Relations between China and Japan have a history of alienation/animosity especially during World War II when the Japanese forces overran large parts of China. Of late, there have been conflicting claims over Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and the adjoining oil rich seas. With Japan’s new rearmament drive away and growing military strength, it will assert its right to the high seas and defend its rights over disputed island territories. This could lead to a flashpoint in an already turbulent area with conflicting claims and counter claims of many countries.
Russia- India Relations
India is still dependent on Russia for defence equipment for its forces especially the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. Dealing with Putin will not be easy with his strategic power play, tit-for-tat policies and Cold War-like tactics. Thus, India will not have Russian cover in case of hostilities with China. Still, Putin will need to be kept engaged for continued essential war supplies of weapon systems.
Options for the Indian Military
Apart from nuclear alternatives – that have not been considered as they are beyond the scope of this hypothesis, options for the Indian military are enumerated below:
India will not have Russian cover in case of hostilities with China…
- Accept Chinese hegemony by following the present policy of appeasement, one-sided trade and management of the border with ad hoc crisis management.
- Accept the Pak-China axis with large scale transfer of weapons, missile, nuclear technology and trade.
- Allow China to access the Indian Ocean Region via a road/rail link through the Karakorum Ranges in Pak-Occupied Kashmir down to Gwadar port.
- Tacitly agree for China to play a greater role in the sub-continent by greater economic and security arrangements with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and more recently with Sri Lanka.
- As a quid pro quo to achieve relative calm on the 4,000-km border, greater trade with China which is currently the biggest trading partner, pursue a relatively independent role in world affairs.
- Concentrate our energies on economic development with a traditional five to six per cent in GDP growth.
Tie up with the US as a strategic partner and develop military and economic relations with it. An Indo-US alliance could tilt the balance of power in South East Asia and the sub-continent in favour of the US and leave it relatively free to maintain its strategic role in South East Asia and other parts of the world. What India needs to do is to get the latest technology from the US which it is willing to give, preferably via Israel, in the fields of satellites and drones for information and intelligence gathering. This would preclude a surprise attack by China.
India will have to get used to the PLA Navy sailing on the high seas in the Pacific and Indian Oceans…
India would also like advanced electronics technology in missiles and weapon systems for use by the Army, Navy and the Air Force. In such a scenario, India need not view the rise of the Chinese Navy with alarm. Basically China wants to protect its sea-routes for oil and vitally needed supplies from the Persian Gulf and Africa. An Indian view that China would like to encircle India need not also be taken too seriously. With the Indian peninsula jutting into the Indian Ocean and island territories of the Andaman and Nicobar dominating the Strait of Malacca, Indian forces cannot be bypassed and isolated. Yet India will have to get used to the PLA Navy sailing on the high seas in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
However, with or without US support, India need not challenge China’s dominance in the South China Sea but help to keep the sea lanes open as per international laws in coordination with Japan, US and ASEAN and China. This will suffice for its trade with Japan, US and ASEAN. With this end in view, India would need to have base facilities at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. Thus, India could play the role of a key swing state along with Russia. It is not and will not become superpower in the foreseeable future.
Eventually, in the face of reality, India cannot, should not and must not follow a policy of confrontation with China, however much the US would like us to follow. China is too big, geographically too close, militarily too strong and economically too far ahead of India. Today, China has a $11 trillion economy as against India’s $2 trillion. Moreover, the US being a global superpower, its interests and priorities can change, much to our chagrin like in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
India must not ally too strongly with the US. India has to develop its own modus vivendi with China, buy time to catch up economically and militarily. Both Japan and the US can help India but will do so without hurting their own economic interests in China. Just as the US need not choose between its Asian alliances and a constructive relationship with China, India need not choose between a closer partnership with the US and improved ties with China. India needs to manage relations with China but avoid the traps for rivalry/confrontation and seek a stable and peaceful order in which China is nudged into a peaceful and balanced world order.
On the border aspects, India needs to develop its border logistics and infrastructure especially around 30 to 50 miles depth at an accelerated rate. It is vital for India to enhance our capabilities especially around our Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs), lengthen, strengthen, make them all-weather and construct new ones both in Arunachal Pradesh and in Ladakh.
China would not like to attack in strength in the Ladakh sector as it has already achieved its objective of road linkage to Kashgar in Xinjiang…
In addition, these destinations need to be developed as major tourist centres to allow for revenue generation and enhanced infrastructure development/population influx to strengthen our claims. The author has flown extensively over border regions both in the West and East and can authoritatively state that both development and military gains can be achieved at lower cost. The areas present one of the best tourist attractions in terms of ecosystems, animal habitats, flora and fauna worldwide.
One of India’s counter attack thrust axis needs to be along the central axis (Uttaranchal) where the lines of communication are shortest for main Central Army Formations and better located/suited, IAF airfields at Bareilly, Lucknow and Allahabad.
The Central Axis is also better suited logistically for switching of forces from the Western front. On the other hand, Chinese forces would face longer LOC and relatively less advantageous operations from their high altitude airfields. From here, India can best take advantage of Tibetan resistance to Chinese occupation and earmark forces for clandestine operations.
Another flashpoint is the Chumbi valley. Strategically located at the intersection of India (Sikkim), Bhutan and China (Tibet), it is a dagger pointing into the heart of India/the Chicken’s Neck which connects India to North East India. Two main passes between India and China, the Nathu La and Jelep La open up here.
Chinese forces have excellent logistics support close to the border… age to Kashgar in Xinjiang…
This, easiest route to Tibet via the Chumbi valley was followed by British explorer Sir Francis Edward Younghusband to establish a consulate in Tibet in 1904. Today, this area assumes strategic importance and could be the scene of raging battles between the Indian Army and the PLA. Generally speaking, the terrain at places the valley is very narrow thus making it unsuitable for operations of large Chinese forces, logistics and overall force deployments favour India and the LOC may well be shifted towards its Northern end. The location of the newly raised Strike Corps based in Panagarh could play a pivotal role.
The Likely Main Axis of Chinese Thrust
China would not like to attack in strength in the Ladakh sector as it has already achieved its objective of road linkage to Kashgar in Xinjiang. Moreover, there are large well-entrenched, acclimatised and trained Indian forces in and around Leh. In the Central Sector, the area in dispute is small, the terrain difficult and unfavorable to China. In the Sikkim/Chumbi Valley, the terrain and troop deployment is in favour of India.
Although large forces are concentrated here, the major thrust axis is not likely to be in this area. In the Tawang Sector which the Chinese claim, the forces are well entrenched and matched. However, there could be fierce encounters around Tawang. It is the area from Upper Subansari to Kibutu that is likely to be the Chinese main thrust axis. There is a lack of infrastructure on the Indian side with no major rail or road head.
On the other hand, Chinese forces have excellent logistics support close to the border. As such, a large asymmetry exists between the two forces. Recent Indian plans for better logistics with a road network and additional troop deployment, are likely to be too little, too late. This is an ideal area where the Chinese can concentrate forces and launch surprise maneuvering attacks bypassing thinly held Indian pickets, penetrating 30 to 50 miles, encircling forward posts and re-entering China before Indian counterattacks.
India needs to bolster its space programme, especially satellite and drone intelligence gathering to prevent a surprise attack…
Last but not the least, this is the so-called Outer Tibet area which the Chinese claim to be their own. High conflict areas include the 100 sq. km. Asaphila region in Upper Subansiri and Fish Tail I and II in Chaglagam, areas as large as Sikkim.
Finally, India needs to bolster its space programme, especially satellite and drone intelligence gathering to prevent a surprise attack and long range, (over 5,000 kilometres) missiles as a strategic deterrent. Successful implementation of a three to five year defence plans to enhance our logistics, infrastructure and force levels, would go a long way in buttressing India’s border position/perception and coercing China to negotiate on the basis of the “watershed “principle.
Ultimately, India’s strategic partnership with middle powers like Japan, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam will get greater domestic acceptance than an Asian strategy that relies solely on US commitment to maintain balance of power in the region. This will also counter China`s claims that regional security cooperation is merely a part of US and Indian efforts to contain China. Building multiple power coalitions as a complement to engaging China and deepening the strategic partnership with the US will strengthen India’s independent role in the security of Asia.