The Challenge of China
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Issue Book Excerpt: Threat from China | Date : 11 Feb , 2012

The recent denial of a visa by China to one of our senior most serving army officers has taken the Indian Security and Diplomatic establishment by considerable surprise, more so when the visa was being sought for an official visit. The surprise has clear and justifiable reasons to turn into consternation because of a cluster of similar messages conveyed through aggressive statements and actions over the last couple of years. The 6-8 months preceding Beijing Olympics was perhaps the only respite we have had.

Ever since our humiliating defeat of 1962 China has been blowing hot and cold to keep us continually off balance. Till the completion of the Ghormo-Lhasa rail line, the hot and cold was evenly spaced but after that clearly it has been mostly heat that we have felt. The reasons are obvious. Distance to Tibet from mainland China and the existing communications imposed substantial limitations on China’s capacity to control and administer this region. Equally, its ability to maintain, sustain and project military forces from this region were also constrained. The commissioning of the strategic rail line considerably eased the situation and thus also altered the military equation somewhat to Beijing’s advantage.

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The rail link connecting mainland China to Tibet has a long history. Since the quelling of the Tibetan uprising in 1959 the necessity to better connect Tibet to Mainland China was unambiguously established. However, because of a host of other priorities like the border issues with the Soviet Union and Viet Nam the decision to execute the project was finally taken in 1994. The stated objective of the rail line was to ‘dismantle the isolation of Tibet ‘and help create an “inseparable organic link’. The concept was also claimed as part of China’s ‘Western development strategy’ (WDS).

The commissioning of the strategic rail line considerably eased the situation and thus also altered the military equation somewhat to Beijings advantage.

The Indian Defense and security establishment has been aware of the project ever since its inception. It has also been conscious of the serious security implications but regrettably other than haplessly observing the progress of the construction and its eventual commissioning in 2006, it has taken no counter measures to neutralize the strategic advantage that China would derive. Concurrent to the building of the rail line the Chinese have been painstakingly augmenting administrative and military capabilities across the Tibetan Plateau. Today China exercises firm control over the Tibetan Autonomous people and has the capacity to swiftly crush all dissent. It has also the capability to project sizeable military forces in both Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

In addition to the rail line, fresh airbases have been developed and their capacities increased.  Ever since the activation of the rail line, we have also been witnessing the steady induction of missiles launchers (could be used to deliver either conventional or nuclear warheads) in to the region.

Infrastructure development has kept apace with the flow of military hardware. Images of roads, communication arteries, logistic dumps, barracks downloaded from Google maps reveal the glaring disparity on either side of the divide.

It is not military conventional capability alone that is in China’s favor.  Its Second Artillery (nuclear weapons forces) is infinitely superior to ours. Against China we do not even have a credible deterrent capability. Our delivery systems and warheads have limitations and the Chinese know it. They are further comforted by perhaps justifiable assessments that-may be not much is being done to redress this imbalance.

Also read: Chinese incursions and India’s flawed response

Over the last decade China has also been concentrating on building up its blue water navy; the rate at which its submarines and ships are growing is causing alarm not only to us but globally. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Viet Nam, the Philippines, Australia and the US are all appearing wary on this count.

“¦for the first time, after centuries, Indias defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously.

Further, closer home the collusion with Pakistan to confront us on as many fronts as possible could not be more evident. A similar design can be discerned when Chinese activities are closely scrutinized in Nepal, Myanmar, Bangla Desh and Sri Lanka.

What has been recounted makes a grim picture. And when viewed against the backdrop of the Chinese claims over large tracts of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin region we have the serious prospects of a possible war on our hands. There are many arguments against such an eventuality but can we risk a repeat of the humiliation of 1962? And what if the Chinese and Pakistanis work in tandem? There is growing evidence that they are.

Our predicament is evident and can no longer be wished away. So- what next? It would be instructive to return to a letter written by Sardar Patel in Nov 1950 to Nehru our Prime Minister. The abridged letter is reproduced below.

“— I have been anxiously thinking over the problem of Tibet and I thought I should share with you what is passing through my mind.

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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

Lt Gen Vinay Shankar

Lt Gen Vinay Shankar, former Director General Artillery.

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