Making much of China

Its challenge must not be met by Indian self-deprecation.

Written by Manmohan Bahadur | Published:May 20, 2017 12:00 am
China, india china, india china relations, manohar parrikar, parrikar, CPEC, South China Sea, Pearl Harbour, arunachal pradesh, Arun Prakash, china navy, china naval expansion, indian security, indian navy, PLA Navy, indian express news, india news, indian express opinion China’s power projection has three aspects and follows Sun Tzu’s dictum that “to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill”.

Arun Prakash has analysed the strategic implications of China’s ingress in India’s neighbourhood (‘A strategic encirclement’, IE, April 25), suggesting the possibility of China inflicting a “Pearl Harbour” in the Andamans. News about China “Mandarin-ising” the names of towns in Arunachal Pradesh and the launch of its indigenous aircraft carrier has caused anxiety. Will this percolation of “China” in the nation’s psyche have deleterious consequences? That it may already be happening is typified by the effect, even in strategic circles, where some see the PLA soldier as 10 feet tall while his Indian counterpart is perceived as being devoid of military and strategic wisdom. This self-deprecation needs to be disabused.

China’s power projection has three aspects and follows Sun Tzu’s dictum that “to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill”. First, an “in your face” attitude as it transits to great power status, aided by influence-gathering through “loan warfare”. Island-building in the South China Sea is ongoing while the promulgation of an Air Defence Identification Zone could be next. Its short-shrift to India’s opposition to CPEC passing through PoK falls under this category. Second, its frenetic ship-building indicates a shift from land centricity to one that recognises sea power. Third, its attempt to rewrite the rules of the world order through institutions like the SCO, BRICS Bank, et al.

To India, China is a live challenge, but not a threat, yet. However, the Indian military is alive to the issue. Presently, India’s sea front is safe as the PLA Navy is at least a decade away from becoming a true blue-water force in the Indian Ocean; its supply line is unsustainably long and while steps to build bases have been taken (Djibouti/Gwadar), their operationalisation needs time. And the Indian Navy is modernising as well. Up north, Indian Army assets are being strengthened, connectivity improved and the IAF’s operational capability boosted. The landing of a C-17 at Mechuka in Arunachal signalled India’s air power.

What is it about Indian air power that instills such confidence? First, its well-developed airfields have the advantage of low altitudes enabling aircraft to carry full weapon loads. Chinese airfields, being widely dispersed, are not self-supporting and have no hardened aircraft shelters yet. Second, the IAF’s strike fleet is potent enough to take the battle deep into the Tibetan plateau. Third, Indian aircrew training is more advanced; our tactics incorporate the individuality of the war fighter, unlike the PLA Air Force which has the centralised ethos of the Soviets. Lastly, the PLA Rocket Force has been unrealistically elevated to mythical status: Scores of missiles would be required to knock out just one airfield, but there is runway rehabilitation equipment and a multitude of airbases. And surely, the IAF’s Sukhois, Rafales, Mirages and Jaguars, supported by the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), would not be sitting idle.

This advantage, however, has limited shelf life as China is moving fast to operationalise its modern assets. As China transits from being a challenge to a threat, India has a 10-year window to act. Action must begin with capability building. The Ministry of Defence must push indigenous defence R&D and manufacturing. An MoS for defence production is an immediate necessity, while the impetus imparted by Manohar Parrikar must not flag. The thrust to artillery, ship-building, etc, signal a pursuit for hard power capability. It is good that ammunition manufacturing has been opened to private industry. However, the IAF’s squadron strength needs attention and other services must be tended.

The reality is that we are not bad but must get better. That we are seized of China’s “strategic encirclement” is indicated by a renewed thrust to parleys with Japan, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Let’s do a “China” on China by calling the seas on its coast East of China and South of China Seas.

The writer, a retired air vice marshal, is distinguished fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi

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  1. G
    Gopal Das
    May 20, 2017 at 11:10 pm
    Chinese paper tigers are way behind actual war. It acts through its alleys-N.Korea, stan. In actual war Chinese will not be able to cope with even Vietnam. It's ability was tasted in 1967 war with India, and war with Vietnam in 8is.
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      kaladadkalimata
      May 21, 2017 at 12:37 am
      you very well tested in 1962 when china herself stopped and you were licking American shoes
      Reply
    2. E
      Employ Ment
      May 20, 2017 at 8:10 pm
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      Reply
      1. C
        Chandu Shah
        May 20, 2017 at 7:20 pm
        Indian public should totally stop buying anything made in China
        Reply
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          Suresh
          May 20, 2017 at 6:20 pm
          Strategic thinking is needed to build a global coalition against China. Meanwhile it is unsafe for India to antagonise China to the extent China will use India as whipping horse to establish it's position as global leading nation as US diminish in stature and strength .
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            DILIP
            May 20, 2017 at 7:04 pm
            USA will remain the TOP DOG Militarily and Technologically for the next 50 years and by 2045 India will become the Biggest Economy, so We can not see China whipping India on the contrary India is like to whip China oon.
            Reply
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            a_D
            May 20, 2017 at 6:04 pm
            War is not where China poses any Challenge to India...but in diplomacy, economics and regional and global footprints as a leader.... With America drawing attention inwards , China is trying consciously to become a global leader...and succeeding in steps. They will not want war or make any significant aggressive military overtures either....for that will conflict with their desire to bcome global economic / thought leader.... Hence the Writer of this article is lagging by about a decade in his analysis
            Reply
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              Gram Massla
              May 20, 2017 at 5:32 pm
              The self deprecation that the author mentions comes from incessant invasions over the last millennium. Indians survived the onslaughts by putting themselves down. As Indians gain more confidence in their abilities and understand that historically, India has been dominant in world trade for centuries before the advent of the Euro people their at ude will also change. Nuclear weapons have made direct military confrontations not merely untenable but highly improbable. Indians need to understand that to survive a China steeped in arrogance and hubris it will have to keep improving its economy. Money tends to solve most problems.
              Reply
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                DILIP
                May 20, 2017 at 3:24 pm
                It is well known fact that China fears and respect USA because USA is technically superior, militarily strong. twenty five richer then China , its economy is 15 times larger and is lighter years more innovative then China. In other words China fears money, wealth, power, force and fear technological superiority. India should learnt to take the leaf out of USA's book to drill fear into China and blunt its misadventure intentions. AS to Pukistan ignore them they are small time terrorist out fit dri ven by Wahabbi Islamo Fascist ideology and good for nothing. They are small time cry babies that suck up to their slave master China.
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                  Kamal Pasha
                  May 20, 2017 at 4:41 pm
                  DILIP : And it is also known fact that India fears and respect China because China is technically superior, militarily strong and 100 times richer than India. China's economy is fifty times larger than India. Have $.3 trillion in reserve and have $ 2 trillions US bonds.
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                    DILIP
                    May 20, 2017 at 5:17 pm
                    Kamal: You are a Gaddar Madr a educated from F UU CC K I S T A N. You are confused like most Islamo Fascists that is why inadvertently you had replaced the name of F uu ck is tan with India. You are ignoramous and do not even know your Economic Facts. India gives ph uck all to China as it only glorified by the Pukis who suck up to their slave masters.
                    1. R
                      Rajat
                      May 20, 2017 at 5:33 pm
                      Bhai in which madarssa did you get your education? Chinese economy is only 5 times larger than India.
                    2. S
                      Suresh
                      May 20, 2017 at 6:35 pm
                      Very well said. Let stan suffocate under China's armpit. If anything there should be struggle between stan and China. India should help it to get worse. Ground breaking research in defence and out box thinking can help India leap frog ahead of China.
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                        kaladadkalimata
                        May 21, 2017 at 12:41 am
                        grapes are sour
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                      Rohit Chandavarker
                      May 20, 2017 at 11:10 am
                      The undue importance given to China is sometimes unwarranted & unnecessary. India needs to enhance, refurbish, strengthen & develop itself. The world recognises & respects strength & heft. Comparing with China at every step is meaningless. China's GDP is five times ours & beats us on every metric. First & foremost, does India have a strategic doctrine that is comprehensive, cogent, flexible & visionary? The moves by China around our neighbourhood may seem encirclement but serve its national interest. The over dependence on Malacca Straits choke point for its energy imports necessitated an alternative. Thus the need for CPEC. Hence, China would disregard every opposition to CPEC. The acquisition of port facilities in Myanmar & Sri Lanka also serve as transit points for naval vessels as well as for trade & commerce. Gwadar & Djibouti are designed to further China's ambitions in Africa, a continent that China is desperately wooing.
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                        DILIP
                        May 20, 2017 at 3:15 pm
                        You have a habit of over stating China's position consistently, without having any understanding of China's internal turbulence and soft underbelly of the Communist ins utions. China is not as strong as projected to be by their dalals and vested groups doing their bidding. It is economically weakening month by month, its reserves are depleting its exports to the West, its best market are reducing, it is plagued with corruption at every level, its inequality gap is getting worse then India, scrutinise the Gini co-efficient, India has started from low base and has enough leg room to grow economically faster then China, at 8 , which is slowing down rapidly and will struggle to get out of the middle income trap. The true comparison will materialise in twenty years time, when in all indicators India will be at par if not better. India is a vibrant DEMOCRACY and that is its advantage. Do not exaggerate China power.
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                          Rohit Chandavarker
                          May 20, 2017 at 3:20 pm
                          It is no exaggeration but statement of fact. You have unwittingly admitted that a wide gap exists and will take twenty years to come to par. My point is we should grow without looking over our shoulders at China & comparing.
                          1. S
                            Suresh
                            May 20, 2017 at 9:44 pm
                            Dilip, if we are going to target China we need to aim for its weakest point underbelly. It is unwise to take on its strength. We must understand while we are trying to grow to match China, China will be planing to get to our underbelly thru porkies and sympathisers in India. That way they hope we remain stuck in various unnecessary issues which autocratic China don't have to. Hope China eventually crumble thru corruption and unaccountability.
                            1. K
                              kaladadkalimata
                              May 20, 2017 at 10:53 pm
                              china has uplifted 700 millions since independence and Hindu Satan cannot provide toilets to his 7000 million peoples. deference is is crystal clear. crow pretending swan.
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                                DILIP
                                May 20, 2017 at 11:21 pm
                                China every year brutally and unjustly, denying Human Rights execute 7,000 innocent humans whilst Hind us tan grants Human Rights to 700 millions of its citizens. Hind Us tan gives, liberty, egality and equality to 1.2 billion god fearing people the Right to Religious Freedom whereas China cutes and exterminates them. This is the difference and the reason why China will always remain a law less and a whimpering state trying to punch above its weight a paper Communist TIGER.
                            2. R
                              rameshnk
                              May 20, 2017 at 10:28 am
                              Yes absolutely right. India should relentlessly plan, stragtegise and carry out its vision with singlke minedness. The so called intellectuals who tray to pull us back froim within need to be silenced and effectivvely neutralized. India has a problem with these kind of thinkers which China unfortunately doesn't.
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                              1. S
                                s
                                May 20, 2017 at 7:55 am
                                The late Gen Sunderji was one of the first to challenge ourselves to confront the Chinese on the border. Short skirmishes were promptly stopped by the other side when they quickly realised we were capable of giving a bloody nose and ready to take casualties. Friendship and good neighbourliness must be proved by actions not words. The Chinese plan to hegomonise stan and Afghanistan with Russia giving the Nelson. The Islamists in stan and Afghan Taliban are itching to create trouble in Xinkhiang and instigate the Yighurs into rebellion. China should be mindful of its own weaknesses.
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                                  Suresh
                                  May 20, 2017 at 9:48 pm
                                  No India should finance terrorist organisationso based in pork'stan to create trouble in China....
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                                  Ajay G
                                  May 20, 2017 at 12:52 am
                                  Placing BrahMos in Arunachal and supplying them to Vietnam have been of significant strategic advantage. Being an economic power, China will always be wary of devastation that India can cause at multiple locations, including CPEC. Retired Air Vice Marshal has rightly pointed out that self-deprecation needs to be disabused.
                                  Reply
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