China’s growing assertiveness: shaping the Indian response

China’s water hegemony

Tibet is the water reser­voir of India. Chi­na vir­tu­al­ly exer­cis­es con­trol over the waters of rivers like the Tsang­po (Brahma­pu­tra), Indus and Satluj flow­ing into India owing to is supe­ri­or upper ripar­i­an posi­tion in the Tibet plateau. sub­stan­ti­at­ed reports con­vey the alarm­ing fact that Chi­na plans to uni­lat­er­al­ly divert the waters of the Brahma­pu­tra to its vast arid areas in the north and west. It also has com­menced work to dam some oth­er rivers flow­ing into India. India’s hydel project on the Brahma­pu­tra, upstream of Pasighat, has been hang­ing fire for a very long time. Chi­nese cal­lous atti­tude in its areas in water man­age­ment upstream of the Indi­an rivers has result­ed in two dev­as­tat­ing flash floods for India. In June 2000 parts of Arunachal Pradesh were sud­den­ly flood­ed due to the burst­ing of Yiong Riv­er Dam or release of water from the dam. In 2005 again, the Satluj riv­er was flood­ed in Himachal Pradesh from the Pare Chu Lake in Tibet caus­ing hav­oc to many low lying vil­lages in some regions of Himachal Pradesh in the vicin­i­ty of the Indo-Chi­na bor­der. In addi­tion, its pro­posed con­struc­tion of the 116 metres high Zang­mu Dam on the Tsang­po in east­ern Tibet in a high seis­mic zone can cause hav­oc to Assam in the event of a major earth­quake in the region.

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Though Prime Min­is­ter Dr Man­mo­han Singh him­self assuaged the con­cerns of Indi­an par­lia­men­tri­ans in the Rajya Sab­ha in August 2011 regard­ing China’s diver­sion of waters from the Brahma­pu­tra or damming it inside Chi­na, India will be well advised to ensure its satel­lite intel­li­gence cov­er­age of China’s activ­i­ties in this field are zeal­ous­ly mon­i­tored. Chi­na has a propen­si­ty to keep its water strate­gies under wraps and does not allow any out­siders for on-site vis­its. It has dis­re­gard­ed UN rec­om­men­da­tions on water and infor­ma­tion shar­ing on ear­li­er occasions.

A wake-up call for India

Notwith­stand­ing the fre­quent and dozens of rounds of dia­logue between India and Chi­na since the last few years to dis­cuss many vexed issues between the two coun­tries includ­ing the con­tentious bor­der issue, Chi­nese actions towards India are hard­ly encour­ag­ing. Chi­na appears to be still suf­fer­ing from the “Mid­dle King­dom” syn­drome and resents Indi­an aspi­ra­tions as the sec­ond Asian pow­er. Its ‘string of pearls’ strat­a­gem aims at the strate­gic encir­clement of India to con­fin­ing India to the back­wa­ters of the Indi­an Ocean and to restrict India mere­ly to South 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. Chi­na and Pak­istan appear to have decid­ed to con­vert POK as Pak­istani ter­ri­to­ry and in doing so, legit­imise the 5180 sq km of POK ced­ed by Pak­istan to Chi­na in 1963 as Chi­nese sov­er­eign ter­ri­to­ry. With these omi­nous devel­op­ments, India thus faces anoth­er front to secure against Pak-Chi­na collusion. 

Chi­na has suc­cess­ful­ly made seri­ous inroads into India’s imme­di­ate neigh­bour­hood through Nepal, Bangladesh, Myan­mar and Sri Lan­ka pro­vid­ing them sub­sidised arms and mil­i­tary train­ing facil­i­ties besides con­struct­ing strate­gic infra­struc­ture for them.

China’s fur­ther mis­chief in issu­ing sta­pled visas to Indi­an cit­i­zens from Jam­mu and Kash­mir vis­it­ing Chi­na and lay­ing ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims to Arunachal Pradesh, call­ing it South­ern Tibet, all point towards China’s evil machi­na­tions towards India. Despite India’s con­tin­u­ing friend­ly over­tures towards Chi­na, at times bor­der­ing on the sub­mis­sive, it appears that Chi­na will, most like­ly, adopt a con­fronta­tion­ist pol­i­cy towards India. Com­pe­ti­tion for for­eign mar­kets and glob­al influ­ence are like­ly to spur mul­ti­ple chal­lenges between the two ris­ing Asian giants and thus India needs to fac­tor in the myr­i­ad Chi­nese strat­a­gems in the long term perspective.

Prog­no­sis and the Indi­an response

The not so “peace­ful rise” of Chi­na and its provoca­tive actions vis-à-vis India — por­tends more com­pe­ti­tion than coop­er­a­tion between the two Asian giants. China’s own stat­ed reuni­fi­ca­tion poli­cies point to the fact that it can use mil­i­tary pow­er to regain cer­tain parts in its neigh­bour­hood which it per­ceives to be its own. Thus, India as it endeav­ours to resolve all con­tentious prob­lems with Chi­na in a mature and peace­ful man­ner, must gear up to face the Chi­nese drag­on square­ly for Chi­na only respects strength. In order to do that we need to, first­ly, cor­rect­ly assess like­ly Chi­nese threats both in the short-term and long-term per­spec­tives. In par­tic­u­lar, the Indi­an gov­ern­ment must not play down Chi­nese chal­lenges in any form. Sec­ond­ly, we must address with deter­mi­na­tion, the mil­i­tary asym­me­try to counter the threat from Chi­na and ensure no bureau­crat­ic slug­gish­ness or pro­ce­dur­al short­com­ings in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and pro­cure­ment of our mil­i­tary hard­ware for all the three ser­vices in a speedy time frame. The three ser­vices must be made capa­ble for offen­sive oper­a­tions in Chi­nese ter­ri­to­ry. Third­ly, we must pay ade­quate atten­tion to fur­ther devel­op our strate­gic infra­struc­ture lead­ing to the Indo-Chi­na bor­der. Nuclear and space assets require to be vast­ly improved as well as our elec­tron­ic and cyber war­fare where­with­al. Fourth­ly, under an inter­na­tion­al umbrel­la we need to go for either bilat­er­al or region­al water-man­age­ment treaties between India and Chi­na and the oth­er Asian low­er ripar­i­an states. Fifth­ly, India needs to take the lead to ener­gise all Asian group­ings like the ASEAN to ensure peace and sta­bil­i­ty in the Asia-Pacif­ic region with active coop­er­a­tion of the US and Australia.

It is high time that India car­ried out a real­i­ty check of its over­all capa­bil­i­ties vis-à-vis Chi­na. It now needs to upgrade its mil­i­tary strat­e­gy from dis­sua­sion to deter­rence. For effec­tive deter­rence, India needs to enhance the capa­bil­i­ties of its nuclear forces by field­ing 5,000 km range Agni IV and Agni V Inter­me­di­ate Range Bal­lis­tic Mis­siles and sea launched long range mis­siles by nuclear subs to com­plete the nuclear TRIAD for our forces. The syn­er­gy of the three ser­vices and India’s future mil­i­tary build-up to deter the for­mi­da­ble Chi­nese will only be suit­ably ener­gised if the coun­try goes in for long await­ed defence reforms in India’s high­er defence man­age­ment structure. 

About the Author
Lt Gen Kamal Davar PVSM, AVSM (retd) — The writer is a dis­tin­guished sol­dier hav­ing served in all the­atres of oper­a­tions in his 41 years of ser­vice. A vet­er­an of the 65 and 71 oper­a­tions, he was wound­ed in action in the 1965 ops. He was the first armoured corps offi­cer to be spe­cial­ly select­ed to be GOC Ladakh where he imple­ment­ed many inno­v­a­tive oper­a­tional and logis­ti­cal inno­va­tions. He has been Chief of Staff of a Corps HQ in Jam­mu and Kash­mir and then as GOC 11 Corps respon­si­ble for the defence of Pun­jab. He was espe­cial­ly select­ed by the Gov­ern­ment of India to raise the Defence Intel­li­gence Agency after the Kargil War. After retire­ment he writes and lec­tures on secu­ri­ty issues. He is wide­ly known to pas­sion­ate­ly espouse the cause of joint­ness in the Indi­an Armed Forces. As the first DG DIA, many intel­li­gence ini­tia­tives includ­ing abroad were tak­en by him. 

Note by the Author:
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 geopo­lit­i­cal 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 

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