Asian Security Environment: India's options
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Issue Vol 25.1 Jan-Mar2010 | Date : 16 Dec , 2011

In 1993 these nations took another step with national security as a special focus to set ARF, ASEAN Regional Forum, with a considerably expanded membership. ARF includes several distant countries like US, Canada, Australia, Russia and European Union, besides all major Asian countries like India, China, Japan and North Korea. The logic for creating such an omnibus forum was to have all likely adversaries on one platform so that all aggressive design towards the region could be controlled and stalled. ARF has not so far deliberated upon any major security issue but the hope is that in time to come, when regional rivalries are likely to be exacerbated,. ARF could play the role of a mini General Assembly of the UN, India, by being a member of ARF, is now enabled to have its say on any troubling issue, arising in South East Asia.

Experience of many years show, Pakistan is unable to deliver on Kashmir and terrorism. Kashmir is its objective and terror its tool.

Their rivalries were again on display when another forum called East Asia Summit was being set up. To the chagrin of China, India was invited to participate in it by Japan, Indonesia and Singapore, with tacit support from the US. By the time the East Asia Summit was inaugurated in 2005, Australia and New Zealand had also become its members. The Chinese ability to dominate over the institution was thus greatly diminished. The EAS is a futuristic organization, to play a role when in future security related issues in the region would become highly complex. Again, through its membership, India will be enabled to present its view forcefully on any or all issues including security.

The region’s cautious attitude towards China flows from the historical legacy when the Chinese communist party was blatantly supporting insurgencies and smaller communist parties in the neighbourhood. Chinese war with Vietnam in 1979 and propping up of the murderous government of Pol Pot in Cambodia had added to their misgivings. The Chinese attack on India in 1962 and subsequent withdrawal had already added another dimension to the mystery of Chinese decision-making process. Since then and particularly after the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, China adopted a low profile and has been focused on economic development, avoiding distractions which could spoil its concentration. Chinese rapid economic development from the 1990s has revived those anxieties again since China has a number of territorial disputes with its neighbours which have remained unresolved.

Certain projects undertaken by China in the neighbourhood strengthens the suspicion that it wants India hemmed in from all sides, so that it remains a regional power only in South Asia and does not reach the status of an Asian or global power.

China is squatting over 18,000 sq km of Indian land in Aksai Chin in Ladakh and claims ownership of the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh, an area of 84,000 sq kms. It is showing no signs of resolving these land disputes, leaving one wondering whether it wants the disputed status quo to remain just that way. The aim seems to be keeping India destabilized in these regions. The Arunachal Pradesh issue was recently raked up by China with many shrill and hostile comments emanating from state controlled media in China. China’s long and consistent support to Pakistan, including aiding of the latter’s nuclear weapon development against India, violating all norms of non-proliferation, is an abiding indicator that China does not wish India well at all.

Certain projects undertaken by China in the neighbourhood strengthens the suspicion that it wants India hemmed in from all sides, so that it remains a regional power only in South Asia and does not reach the status of an Asian or global power.

Among these projects are port development at Gwadar in Pakistan which could also be a resting place for ships of Chinese Blue Water Navy, Karakoram highway connecting Pakistan with Western China, surveillance outposts on Myanmar Islands, a road from Yunan to Bay of Bengal through Myanmar, beefing up of ports of Myanmar and Sri Lanka etc. The emphasis on port development suggests an intention to use them during forays of Chinese navy into the Indian Ocean. These projects when ready will also help China to expand its trade and investments further to the West. They are, thus a double purpose activity, which should alert India and require it to go by a worst-case scenario for its security and prepare accordingly for the challenges they represent.

At this point it must be stated, the sense of threat is not unidirectional: as their economy strengthens China also is becoming conscious that India can prove to be a menace. Their biggest worry arises from the presence of Dalai Lama and over 100,000 Tibetans in India. Although India has long ago accepted Tibet to be an autonomous region of China, the undiminished strength of Tibetan nationalism and the magnetism of Buddhist monasteries in Tibet for mobilization of Tibetan sentiments against Han settlers and authorities there, create a deep suspicion in the Chinese mind that India will not hesitate to exploit any worsening of Chinese situation in Tibet.

While China remains a potent danger to India on its eastern and northern flanks, many dangers abound in South Asia itself.

Selection of a new Dalai Lama when the present one dies could create such a scenario if the Chinese seek to enforce their choice on the Tibetan people. The entire Tibetan diaspora including those in India could be expected to explode against the Chinese with repercussions inside Tibet. In such an event China’s relationship with India will plummet and the borders would become active. It is probably because of such anticipation that the Chinese are delaying settlement of the border disputes with India.

The security scenario in East Asia remains troubled over the territorial disputes of China with its other neighbours. In East China Sea, China and Japan have laid rival claims over some islands and rights to explore gas and oil in the region. Neither side is giving in, lest it is interpreted as weakness. The disputed Senkaku islands, presently in Japanese hands, lie in this patch of waters. Taiwan also claims Senkaku.

In South China Sea, five countries, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines dispute ownership over Spratly and Paracel islands. A code of conduct signed by the five has taken away the sting but resolution of the problem of conflicting claims remains a distant dream. While India has no direct concerns over these disputes, deterioration in the situation could result in the blocking of Malacca Straits through which India’s bulk of trade with eastern countries passes. Such disputes and the tension of catching up with the US have made China determined to upgrade its military capacity as fast as it can.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anand K Verma

Former Chief of R&AW and author of Reassessing Pakistan.

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