May 13, 2009 12:10:12 am
As mammoth civilisational states,China and India have for long lived with imprecise borders. After they re-emerged as modern states during the last century,China and India have been acutely conscious of their territoriality.
Beijing,however,devotes a lot more energy than New Delhi,to make sure that the national and local bureaucracies are fully aware of the meaning of territorial sovereignty and its effective exercise on the ground.
Late last month,the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a new department to better manage Chinas borders on both land and water. Called the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs,the new unit will be responsible for a number of functions.
These include negotiating land and maritime boundary delimitation,demarcation and joint inspections with neighouring countries,cartography,and oversight of joint trans-border projects.
What the new department does is to consolidate these various functions that were scattered all over the Foreign Office and better coordinate with other governmental agencies that are involved in a variety of tasks relating boundary management.
Although China has sorted out most of its boundary disputes,Beijing wants to be on top of the issues that could arise from the unresolved territorial disputes,including those on land with India and in the South China Sea with a number of Southeast Asian nations.
The new focus on the boundaries is not merely at the national level. In recent weeks China has been showing off the significant improvement in the patrolling of its borders by the security forces,modernisation of boundary infrastructure,and strengthening of the administrative apparatus all along its long frontiers.
Official Chinese media says the nation can be proud of the fact that it now effectively controls every inch of the 22,000 km of land borders. This is not a claim that New Delhi can make.
Despite some inspired bureaucratic initiatives from New Delhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs strong support for them,it has not been easy to force the pace of modernising Indias border infrastructure and improving its frontier management.
Unless the next government takes up border upgradation on a war footing,the current weaknesses of Indias control of its frontiers could trigger a major national security crisis in the not too distant future.
Conducting a military exercise involving 50,000 troops might be no big deal for China or India,which boast of such large armed forces. But the Peoples Liberation Armys plans for Kuayue-09 underline Chinas strong commitment to mastering the techniques of modern warfare.
The exercises to be conducted later this year are meant to assess and improve the PLAs capabilities in six areas. These are,command and decision-making,joint operations of land and air forces,operations in complex informational conditions,paratrooper assault operations,simulated battles,and comprehensive exercises by specialist units,according to the Xinhua news agency.
For the first time,it will involve soldiers from four different army commands as well as the PLA Air Force. The 50,000 men will be moved around for a total distance of 50,000 km in this exercise. The longest single movement would be 2400 km.
Kuayue means a stride in Chinese and the 2009 exercises are likely to be a big step forward in the upgradation of the PLAs operational skills. Military analysts say the Kuayue 09 exercises are very much part of Beijings new emphasis on delivering military force at long range on short notice. Power projection is what all great powers do,and China will certainly be no exception.
After the US,Russia and Europe,China will become the fourth entity to develop a worldwide commercial satellite navigation system. Named Compass,the system will firmly establish Chinas credentials as a space power.
Last month,China conducted its second successful launch of a Compass satellite. The system is expected to provide regional availability over China by 2010 and offer independent worldwide coverage by 2020. By then Compass would have a constellation of 30 satellites.
The Compass data can also be used in conjunction with the existing and planned satellite positioning systems,including the GPS of America,GLONASS of Russia and Galileo of Europe. The system,of course,will offer important services on the military front on a selective basis.
The writer is a Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,Nanyang Technological University,Singapore.
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