China’s growing assertiveness: shaping the Indian response

Free­ing Chi­na from restric­tive Maoist eco­nom­ic think­ing, in the mid 70s, then China’s leader Deng Xiaop­ing had unleashed mar­ket reforms which The Econ­o­mist apt­ly sum­marised as “ … the most dynam­ic burst of wealth cre­ation in human his­to­ry.” This grow­ing eco­nom­ic clout is trans­lat­ing into mil­i­tary mus­cle and mod­erni­sa­tion of its forces at a pace which no coun­try in the world can match. As is wide­ly known, Chi­nese declared defence bud­gets are nor­mal­ly half of their actu­al val­ue. From an annu­al defence bud­get of US$ 92 bil­lion last year, the bud­get this year has shot up to a whop­ping US$ 106 bil­lion, which, in real terms, would thus be around US$ 200 bil­lion just for a year! Accord­ing to the wide­ly acclaimed defence con­sul­tan­cy, IHS Jane’s, China’s defence bud­get is set to dou­ble by 2015 to a whoop­ing US$ 238 bil­lion and exceed that of all major Asia-Pacif­ic coun­tries put togeth­er. Japan will remain in defence spend­ing a dis­tant sec­ond with around US$ 64 bil­lion. India with a falling rupee depre­ci­a­tion, heavy fis­cal deficit and large gov­ern­ment debts will be left far behind in defence allo­ca­tions. The over­all strate­gic impli­ca­tions for the entire Asia-Pacif­ic region of China’s triple dig­it defence spend­ing can be eas­i­ly com­pre­hend­ed.

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Leader Deng Xiaop­ing had unleashed mar­ket reforms which The Econ­o­mist apt­ly sum­marised as “… the most dynam­ic burst of wealth cre­ation in human his­to­ry.” This grow­ing eco­nom­ic clout is trans­lat­ing into mil­i­tary mus­cle and mod­erni­sa­tion of its forces at a pace which no coun­try in the world can match. As is wide­ly known, Chi­nese declared defence bud­gets are nor­mal­ly half of their actu­al val­ue. From an annu­al defence bud­get of US$ 92 bil­lion last year, the bud­get this year has shot up to a whop­ping US$ 106 bil­lion, which, in real terms, would thus be around US$ 200 bil­lion just for a year!

In the over­all bud­get for 2011, for the first time the bud­get for Inter­nal Secu­ri­ty out­stripped the Defence bud­get of the Chi­nese and this points towards inter­nal sta­bil­i­ty con­cerns for Chi­na.

China’s core inter­ests and inter­nal imbal­ances

It is not sur­pris­ing to Chi­na watch­ers that China’s all per­vad­ing assertive­ness has led to the def­i­n­i­tion and usage by both its offi­cial and unof­fi­cial insti­tu­tions of its “core inter­ests” spread­ing to embrace new­er sen­si­tiv­i­ties. Ear­li­er, such inter­ests used to be con­fined to a few areas where the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty would brook no dis­sent­ing views. These includ­ed its nation­al secu­ri­ty, nation­al sov­er­eign­ty and ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty.

Tibet came in as a major “core inter­est” after its forcible annex­a­tion in 1951 and so did the island of Tai­wan, which was ced­ed to Japan in 1895 and today is an eco­nom­i­cal­ly vibrant self-gov­ern­ing democ­ra­cy, call­ing itself the Repub­lic of Chi­na. The People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na has repeat­ed­ly warned the world that it will invade Tai­wan if it ever declares inde­pen­dence. More recent­ly, the restive province of Xin­jiang (for­mer­ly East Turkestan), the huge area in west of Chi­na which has seen fre­quent clash­es between the local Uyghur Mus­lims and the Han Chi­nese being set­tled there from main­land Chi­na, has also been added to the list of China’s “core inter­ests”. Chi­na has vocif­er­ous­ly warned of its “core inter­ests” in the South Chi­na Sea as non-nego­tiable to nations like Viet­nam, Malaysia, Philip­pines, Brunei which lie astride this water­way. It has cau­tioned the US to keep its naval ves­sels away from this water­way and only last year, it had aggres­sive­ly cau­tioned an Indi­an naval ves­sel, INS Airawat which was sail­ing in the ter­ri­to­r­i­al waters of Viet­nam where India is oil prospect­ing. Chi­na has now also includ­ed the sus­tain­ing of its exist­ing polit­i­cal sys­tem as a “core inter­est.”

Inter­nal sta­bil­i­ty is cur­rent­ly the most crit­i­cal con­stituent of China’s nation­al secu­ri­ty. The sig­nif­i­cant inter­nal imbal­ances which wor­ry Chi­na are Tai­wan, Tibet, the restive Xin­jiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region, uneven region­al devel­op­ment with the east, name­ly its coastal belt far ahead in devel­op­ment indices than its impov­er­ished west­ern region. In addi­tion, Chi­nese con­cerns also embrace its demo­graph­ic clock where its pop­u­la­tion is age­ing at a rapid rate and it is esti­mat­ed that by the mid-cen­tu­ry, more than half of its pop­u­la­tion will be over six­ty. Bar­ry Naughton in his book on the Chi­nese econ­o­my has sur­mised that “Chi­na will grow old before it has had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to grow rich­er.” In addi­tion China’s grow­ing ener­gy demands to fuel its growth is caus­ing envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems both inter­nal­ly and inter­na­tion­al­ly. Its unchecked mod­erni­sa­tion is also caus­ing severe envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion inside Chi­na with acid rain get­ting worse and its total agri­cul­tur­al land hav­ing decreased by 20 per cent.

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Chi­na is devel­op­ing rapid reac­tion capa­bil­i­ty for cater­ing to speedy and potent respons­es to vary­ing bat­tle­field con­tin­gen­cies. These high-tech­nol­o­gy based rapid reac­tion forces will cater for small scale intense local mil­i­tary oper­a­tions or in sup­port of pre-emp­tive oper­a­tions

China’s defence mod­erni­sa­tion

Chi­na has shift­ed gears since the col­lapse of its major threat, name­ly the Sovi­et Union, in the ear­ly nineties of the last cen­tu­ry. Their para­mount leader, Deng Xiaop­ing had ordained that ‘small and medi­um local con­flicts and not gen­er­al wars were the most like­ly threats.’ Grad­u­al­ly the Chi­nese have, espe­cial­ly after the Gulf War, honed their doc­trine to “Local Wars under Con­di­tions of infor­ma­tion­i­sa­tion.” China’s mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion strat­e­gy is based on the “PLA’s simul­ta­ne­ous trans­for­ma­tion” through mech­a­ni­sa­tion and infor­ma­tion­i­sa­tion. The Chi­nese have been rapid­ly build­ing-up their Infor­ma­tion War­fare capa­bil­i­ties. There are report­ed­ly 30,000 com­put­er pro­fes­sion­als and two hack­er brigades in the Chi­nese forces.

  • Strate­gic forces: Chi­na main­tains nuclear deter­rence employ­ing land based ICBMs. Chi­na has cur­rent­ly around 250 nuclear war­heads in its inven­to­ry with the arse­nal grow­ing. It has around 60 ICBMs (DF-31 of 8,000 km and DF-31A of 13,000 km range). By 2020, experts opine that it will have 100 ICBMs and 6 Jin class nuclear sub­marines each armed with 12 sea launched bal­lis­tic mis­siles. Besides DF-25 medi­um range bal­lis­tic mis­siles, China’s Sec­ond Artillery Corps has over 1,000 short range bal­lis­tic mis­siles with con­ven­tion­al war­heads.
  • Land forces: The PLA is the world’s largest Army with 1.6 mil­lion men. As per the Mil­i­tary Bal­ance, it has 40 divi­sions to India’s 28 with 7,660 main bat­tle tanks to India’s 3,900 and near­ly 18,000 artillery pieces to India’s a lit­tle over 10,000. Besides there are near­ly 60 divi­sions worth of the People’s Armed Police as an inter­nal secu­ri­ty force, the bulk of which are demo­bilised PLA divi­sions.
  • The PLA Navy: For expand­ing naval ambi­tions not only in the seas sur­round­ing it, but for naval oper­a­tions against Tai­wan and in the entire Asia-Pacif­ic to thwart even the US flotil­la and the navies of the oth­er coun­tries in its vicin­i­ty, the Chi­nese Navy is the focus of mod­erni­sa­tion. By 2020–25, it could have three air­craft car­ri­er bat­tle groups, 60 sub­marines includ­ing 10 nuclear and near­ly 80 sur­face com­bat­ants. The Indi­an Navy may just have two / three car­ri­ers and 16–18 sub­marines with 2 nuclear sub­marines and 58 sur­face com­bat­ants.
  • PLAAF: The Chi­nese Air Force is cur­rent­ly under­go­ing a fever­ish qual­i­ta­tive upgrade. Its vin­tage fleet is being rapid­ly replaced by third and fourth gen­er­a­tion fight­ers like the Russ­ian Su-27 and Su-30 and its Chi­nese copy, the J‑11. The main­stay is the J‑10 which is report­ed­ly a F‑16 equiv­a­lent fight­er. It is also joint­ly devel­op­ing the JF-17 mul­ti-role air­craft with Pak­istan and is pro­grammed to receive 250 of these. Like India, it already has air-to-air refu­elling and the AWACS capa­bil­i­ty. By 2020, it will have over 2,300 fourth / fifth gen­er­a­tion com­bat air­craft com­pared to India’s 750 air­craft in the best pos­si­ble mod­erni­sa­tion sce­nario for India — thus this asym­me­try remains oper­a­tional­ly unac­cept­able. Impor­tant­ly, it is plan­ning to build 60 air­fields in Tibet alone.
  • Chi­na test­ed its first anti-satel­lite mis­sile in ear­ly 2007 and in 2010 con­duct­ed an anti-bal­lis­tic mis­sile test. It has launched three manned mis­sions and a lunar orbiter. It is plan­ning for nano satel­lites that will serve as space mines and by 2020 plans to have 200 remote sens­ing satel­lites and a mil­i­tary space sta­tion — the first in the world!
  • Rapid reac­tion forces: Chi­na is devel­op­ing rapid reac­tion capa­bil­i­ty for cater­ing to speedy and potent respons­es to vary­ing bat­tle­field con­tin­gen­cies. These high-tech­nol­o­gy based rapid reac­tion forces will cater for small scale intense local mil­i­tary oper­a­tions or in sup­port of pre-emp­tive oper­a­tions. The Chi­nese already have a ful­ly oper­a­tional Air­borne Corps and anoth­er Z is under rais­ing. These forces could be tasked also in sup­port of China’s “core inter­ests” as spec­i­fied above, in case required.

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

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