The Chinese Conundrum: Friends and Foes
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Issue Vol 24.1 Jan-Mar2009 | Date : 31 Jan , 2011

Indian Navy and its Chinese counterpart conducted a joint exercise for the first time in the seas off the Shanghai coast in November, 2003. The latest naval exercise between the two navies was held off the Kochi coast in November, 2008, just prior to the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Chinese naval ships returning after a joint exercise with the Pakistan Navy carried out naval manouvres with Indian naval vessels. India and China agreed on defence co-operation in 2006. The first joint exercise between the land forces of the two countries was held in December, 2007. This exercise, conducted at ‘company’ level, took place in the south western Chinese province of Yunnan.

The objectives of the exercise were — to enhance understanding and mutual trust, strengthen exchanges in anti-terror areas and to deter the three evil forces, i.e. separatists, extremists and terrorists. A repeat exercise was held at Belgaum, India in December, 2008. 130 People’s Liberation Army personnel drawn from an infantry battalion of the Chengdu Military Area Command, including 40 officers, participated alongside soldiers of the 8 Maratha Light Infantry. While there have been no joint air exercises between the two countries, Indian Air Force’s Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team covered 11,000 km to perform at the ‘Airshow China’ held at Zhuhai in Gwangdong Province from 04 November to 09 November 2008. The IAF Chief and the Indian Ambassador to China witnessed the SKAT performance.

Which China are we to believe? The one that wants joint exercises to fight terror or the one that makes belligerent noises and forays into Indian territory? Perhaps the question needs to be rephrased as, “˜Which China do our politicians take as the authentic one?

While these military exercises have been in progress, exchanges of another type have also been taking place. These have been verbal ones following Chinese incursions into Indian territory. The border between India and China extends to nearly 3500 km. Much of it has not been clearly marked either actually on ground or in maps authenticated by both the nations. So the line dividing the two countries is euphemistically called ‘the line of actual control’ or LAC. India claims 40,000 square km of territory currently under Chinese control. This is in the Aksai Chin area adjacent to the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Additionally, an area of over 5000 sq km, originally part of J & K, lying adjacent to the Siachen Glacier, has been illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963. China too claims nearly 90,000 sq km of Indian territory, including the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh. This claim runs counter to the 2005 agreement between the two countries that, “in reaching the boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas”.

In the year 2008 there have been nearly 70 incursions by the Chinese into Indian territory, mainly Sikkim. This is perhaps to force India into conceding the Chinese demand regarding Arunachal Pradesh, or more precisely, Tawang, which the Chinese consider as the ‘doorway’ between Tibet and the Brahmaputra valley, and therefore is of critical strategic value to India. The Chinese are also probably rattled by the Indian Prime Minister’s recent statement that ‘Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India’. The PM was in Arunachal Pradesh to inaugurate the commencement of major infrastructural and developmental projects.

Which China are we to believe? The one that wants joint exercises to fight terror or the one that makes belligerent noises and forays into Indian territory? Perhaps the question needs to be rephrased as, ‘Which China do our politicians take as the authentic one?’ This question is important because our politicians are reluctant to bring the military on board while taking policy decisions that have long term strategic implications. Perhaps India is the only democracy that virtually shuts its policy room to the military. This trend has been evident from the time Jawahar Lal Nehru was the PM. A

n unexpressed and unfounded but palpable fear grips our political class when it comes to including the military in decision-making. The most recent example of this has been the reluctance of the political class to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff as strongly recommended by the Kargil Review Committee’s panel that analysed higher defence organisation in the country. Our military has vast experience in dealing with our difficult neighbour to the west and with China. But the military is deliberately kept out of the policy making loop. And it is in the relative military capabilities of India and China that sharp differences have become starkly evident.

Also read: Indian Navy: Challenges beyond the horizon

India spends $ 20 billion annually on its military. China’s budget is $120 billion. At 2.3 million the Chinese armed forces are twice the size of India’s military manpower, which is about 1.2 million. Assume India incurs an expenditure of $8 billion on pay, allowances and upkeep of its forces and China’s outflow, giving them the benefit of better conditions, would be four times as much at $32 billion. That would leave India $12 billion for modernization while the Chinese would have $88 billion, more than seven times an amount India can muster. Thus China has established a lead which is increasing every year. While some of the figures indicated may be notional, the grim reality is that China is striding away from us in the realm of strategic capability and force projection.

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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.

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Air Marshal Narayan Menon

Air Marshal Narayan Menon

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