China’s growing assertiveness: shaping the Indian response

“Indi­an elites show lit­tle evi­dence of hav­ing thought coher­ent­ly and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly about strat­e­gy.”
— George Tan­ham

One of the man­i­fes­ta­tions of chang­ing Chi­nese doc­trine is the intro­duc­tion of a new cliché in the lex­i­con of Chi­nese think tanks, name­ly ‘Grand Periph­ery Mil­i­tary Strat­e­gy’. The Chi­nese move to expand high speed rail net­works and equip­ping over 1,000 rail­way sta­tions with mil­i­tary trans­port facil­i­ties points towards con­crete mil­i­tary steps being tak­en in this regard. This will ensure rapid offen­sive deploy­ment as required to the many and diverse bor­der regions of Chi­na. Thus proac­tive mil­i­tary actions along sev­er­al the­atres will be a pos­si­bil­i­ty. The excel­lent fast rail net­work to Tibet is a pre-emi­nent exam­ple of adher­ence to the Grand Periph­er­al Mil­i­tary Strat­e­gy of Chi­na and fur­ther its con­nec­tiv­i­ty to Nepal and the Chumbi Val­ley is being planned in the near future. China’s nuclear weapons–cum-missiles nexus with its client state, Pak­istan and mod­ernising the Pak­istani Armed Forces is sin­gu­lar­ly aimed against India. For Chi­na, Pak­istan is a low-cost guar­an­tor of secu­ri­ty against India and Chi­na now a high val­ue guar­an­tor of secu­ri­ty for Pak­istan against India. Since the last two years or so, the Chi­nese foot­print in the dis­put­ed POK region is grow­ing.

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Near­ly 200 years back, Napoleon had prophet­i­cal­ly stat­ed that “let Chi­na sleep, for when she wakes, the world will trem­ble.” Today, Chi­na is the world’s fastest grow­ing econ­o­my, with the largest, if not the most pow­er­ful, Armed Forces in the world and for­eign reserves at US$ 3.2 tril­lion — far exceed­ing even those of the sole super pow­er — the now eco­nom­i­cal­ly weary and strate­gi­cal­ly fatigued US, all trans­lat­ing into China’s ever grow­ing glob­al clout.

China’s bur­geon­ing finan­cial and con­se­quent­ly its mil­i­tary might con­tin­ues to be on a rapid upswing pro­pelled by its ancient civil­i­sa­tion­al wis­dom of realpoli­tik embell­ished by a strate­gic vision and nation­al­is­tic ambi­tions which are dis­tinct­ly unpar­al­leled. That Chi­na will be a super pow­er by 2025, if not ear­li­er, will be under­stat­ing a stark real­i­ty. If the 21st cen­tu­ry has to be an Asian cen­tu­ry, as repeat­ed­ly pro­claimed by many geo-polit­i­cal lumi­nar­ies, Chi­na leads the way well ahead of the oth­er play­ers on the scene includ­ing India, Japan, S. Korea, Viet­nam, Malaysia etc. Chi­na is usu­al­ly brack­et­ed with India as the lead play­ers in emerg­ing Asia but India mere­ly plods along nev­er hav­ing risen yet to its true poten­tial because of its inner con­tra­dic­tions. That Chi­na sees India as its main rival, glob­al­ly, region­al­ly, eco­nom­i­cal­ly and mil­i­tar­i­ly, makes the grow­ing asym­met­ric chasm between the two neigh­bours and Asian giants a seri­ous cause of wor­ry, in the fore­see­able future, for India.

As Chi­na builds-up a for­mi­da­ble mil­i­tary machine, it is con­scious of incul­cat­ing a respon­si­ble image for world con­sump­tion in keep­ing with its grow­ing glob­al sta­tus. Thus Chi­na has been since 1998, issu­ing every two years White Papers on nation­al defence with the lat­est in the series issued late last year — on China’s Nation­al Defence in 2010. This paper com­pre­hen­sive­ly cov­ers all macro-issues con­cern­ing nation­al defence.

China’s stat­ed aim in its afore­said White Paper is the pur­suit of a defence pol­i­cy which ensures a sta­ble secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment and per­mits the devel­op­ment of its econ­o­my and the mod­erni­sa­tion of its mil­i­tary. Impor­tant­ly, it relies on mil­i­tary pow­er as a guar­an­tor of China’s strate­gic auton­o­my and aims to ensure that Chi­na con­tin­ues to enjoy unre­strict­ed access to crit­i­cal strate­gic resources like oil and nat­ur­al gas. Chi­na, fur­ther stress­es that its nation­al defence pol­i­cy is pri­mar­i­ly defen­sive in nature and that Chi­na launch­es counter-attacks only in self-defence. Chi­na fur­ther claims that it “plays an active part in main­tain­ing glob­al and region­al peace and sta­bil­i­ty.” It con­tin­ues to pro­claim, that it fol­lows a “no first use” nuclear doc­trine and is a respon­si­ble nuclear and space pow­er.

Most strate­gic ana­lysts the world over and par­tic­u­lar­ly its neigh­bours, how­ev­er, dis­miss China’s noble-sound­ing rhetoric as noth­ing more than a pub­lic-rela­tions exer­cise as China’s actions in the past few years, all across Asia, have been any­thing but con­tribut­ing to region­al har­mo­ny. On the con­trary, Chi­na is well on the way to have become a region­al hege­mon as many of its actions clear­ly show espe­cial­ly the tur­bu­lence it has cre­at­ed by its mus­cle-flex­ing in the many water­ways which lap the Chi­nese coast­line whether it is the South Chi­na Sea or the East Chi­na Sea includ­ing its many unfair claims on var­i­ous island ter­ri­to­ries in South-east Asia.

China’s nuclear weapons-cum-mis­siles nexus with its client state, Pak­istan and mod­ernising the Pak­istani Armed Forces is sin­gu­lar­ly aimed against India. For Chi­na, Pak­istan is a low-cost guar­an­tor of secu­ri­ty against India and Chi­na now a high val­ue guar­an­tor of secu­ri­ty for Pak­istan against India. Since the last two years or so, the Chi­nese foot­print in the dis­put­ed POK region is grow­ing under the garb of engi­neer per­son­nel being sta­tioned in the region (approx­i­mate­ly 7,000 to 10,000 per­son­nel already there) and reports sug­gest that POK may be leased to Chi­na for 50 years or so

Grand periph­ery mil­i­tary strat­e­gy

One of the man­i­fes­ta­tions of chang­ing Chi­nese doc­trine is the intro­duc­tion of a new cliché in the lex­i­con of Chi­nese think tanks, name­ly ‘Grand Periph­ery Mil­i­tary Strat­e­gy’. This pre­sup­pos­es the fact that the People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, sur­pris­ing­ly to many out­siders, lacked the capa­bil­i­ty of defend­ing its ‘far flung bor­ders.’ Now oth­er Chi­nese mil­i­tary thinkers are rein­forc­ing this new­er strat­e­gy to be adopt­ed in the face of rapid­ly chang­ing geopo­lit­i­cal dynam­ics in South Asia, Cen­tral Asia, South-east Asia and North-east Asia. The Chi­nese move to expand high speed rail net­works and equip­ping over 1,000 rail­way sta­tions with mil­i­tary trans­port facil­i­ties points towards con­crete mil­i­tary steps being tak­en in this regard. This will ensure rapid offen­sive deploy­ment as required to the many and diverse bor­der regions of Chi­na. Thus proac­tive mil­i­tary actions along sev­er­al the­atres will be a pos­si­bil­i­ty. The excel­lent fast rail net­work to Tibet is a pre-emi­nent exam­ple of adher­ence to the Grand Periph­er­al Mil­i­tary Strat­e­gy of Chi­na and fur­ther its con­nec­tiv­i­ty to Nepal and the Chumbi Val­ley is being planned in the near future. In addi­tion, the rail link being con­cep­tu­alised along the Karako­ram High­way link­ing Xin­jiang, through the dis­put­ed ter­ri­to­ry of Pak­istan Occu­pied Kash­mir, to the warm water port of Gwadar in Balochis­tan along the Makran Coast is anoth­er exam­ple of Chi­nese strate­gic deter­mi­na­tion to extend its influ­ence beyond its periph­eries and dom­i­nate regions well away from its bound­aries.

As one of the sig­na­to­ries of the Unit­ed Nations Eco­nom­ic and Social Com­mis­sion for Asia and the Pacif­ic spon­sored 81,000 km long Trans-Asian Rail­way, Chi­na has come out with a plan to build high-speed rails to Laos, Sin­ga­pore, Cam­bo­dia, Viet­nam, Thai­land and Myan­mar along its south-east periph­ery. It has also got the sig­nal to con­struct the Chi­na-Iran rail that will pass through the Cen­tral Asian coun­tries of Kyr­gyzs­tan, Tajik­istan and Afghanistan.

Michael Caine and Ash­ley Tel­lis of the Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace in their sem­i­nal work, Inter­pret­ing China’s Grand Strat­e­gy: Past, Present and Future, have opined that “the con­tin­ued increase in China’s rel­a­tive eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties, com­bined with its grow­ing mar­itime strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion, if sus­tained over many years, will almost cer­tain­ly pro­duce both a re-def­i­n­i­tion of Bei­jing strate­gic inter­ests … that direct­ly or indi­rect­ly chal­lenge many of the exist­ing equi­ties.”