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China's Indian Provocations Part of Broader Trend

September 11, 2010

Dean Cheng and Lisa Curtis
The Heritage Foundation
September 9, 2010

Over the last few years, tensions have been
brewing between India and China over their
long-held border disputes. The source of the
tensions is multi-faceted but driven in large
part by China’s concern with an emergent India
and Beijing’s desire to consolidate its position
on Tibet. While military conflict between the two
Asian giants is unlikely any time soon, recent
Chinese moves illustrate a broader trend of
muscular diplomacy from Beijing over its various territorial claims.

In order to guard against a variety of threats,
including a potentially hostile China, India will
continue to pursue a robust military
modernization program and closer diplomatic ties
with other Asian nations. The U.S. should keep
close tabs on the simmering Sino-Indian border
friction and continue with plans to enhance
U.S.–Indian defense cooperation, through
coordinated maritime security programs, joint
military exercises, and defense trade deals that
assist India in accessing advanced military technology.

Unresolved Issues

While trade and economic ties between India and
China are improving (bilateral trade has
increased from around $5 billion in 2002 to over
$60 billion in 2010), both sides continue to
harbor deep suspicions of the other’s strategic
intentions. In recent years, China has
increasingly pressured India over their disputed
borders by questioning Indian sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh.

China lays claim to more than 34,000 square miles
of this northeast Indian state and since 2007 has
focused on building up its military
infrastructure in areas close to the Arunachal
Pradesh border, as well as expanding a network of
road, rail, and air links. India has sought to
match the Chinese moves and to reinforce its own
territorial claims by augmenting forces—including
the raising of two mountain divisions and placing
of two squadrons of Sukhoi-30 fighters near the
state—and constructing several roads on its side
of the border in Arunachal Pradesh.

The most recent flare-up between Beijing and New
Delhi, however, involves Indian sovereignty over
the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is a
particularly sensitive region for India since the
state was wracked by a Pakistan-backed insurgency
throughout the 1990s and has more recently
erupted in violent riots led by anti-Indian
Kashmiri youth. India and Pakistan have disputed
the status of Jammu and Kashmir since partition
in 1947 and fought two full-fledged wars and one
brief border war in 1999 over the issue. During
the 1962 Sino–Indian war, China invaded the
eastern and western sectors of their shared
borders and ended up annexing the area of Aksai
Chin, which had been part of the pre-partition
princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The current tussle developed late last month when
Beijing refused to grant a visa to Indian
Lieutenant General B. S. Jaswal, chief of
Northern Command, which includes parts of
Kashmir. General Jaswal had intended to travel to
Beijing to participate in a high-level
China–India defense exchange. It is unclear what
prompted the latest visa incident, but it follows
Chinese complaints about a meeting between the
Indian Prime Minister and the Dalai Lama in
mid-August. India is a long-term host to the
Dalai Lama and about 100,000 Tibetan refugees,
although the Indian government forbids them from
participating in any political activity.

In response to China’s refusal to grant General
Jaswal a visa, India cancelled a visit by Chinese
officers to India and postponed indefinitely any
further defense exchanges with China. Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened a meeting
of the Cabinet Committee on Security last week to discuss the visa incident.

The meeting also likely included discussions of
new claims of a Chinese troop presence in
Pakistan’s Northern Areas that abut the Indian
state of Jammu and Kashmir.[1] Most likely, these
troops are construction battalions helping to
build transportation links between Pakistan and
the PRC, possibly from the Chinese-funded port facility at Gwadar.

Nonetheless, New Delhi would view with
consternation the possibility of Chinese troops
being stationed on both the eastern and western
borders of Indian Kashmir. China already
maintains a robust defense relationship with
Pakistan, and the China–Pakistan partnership
serves both Chinese and Pakistani interests by
presenting India with a potential two-front
theater in the event of war with either country.

China may be returning to a position of
reflexively supporting Pakistan on Kashmir. Since
the 1999 Kargil border conflict between India and
Pakistan, Beijing’s position on Kashmir seemed to
be evolving toward a more neutral position.
During that conflict, Beijing helped convince
Pakistan to withdraw forces from the Indian side
of the Line of Control following its incursion
into the Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir.
Beijing made clear its position that the two
sides should resolve the Kashmir conflict through
bilateral negotiations, not military force. Any
Chinese backtracking from this neutral position
on Kashmir would likely be met with subtle moves
by India that increasingly question Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.

Pattern of Chinese Pressure

China’s recent actions are increasing pressure on
many of its neighbors. In April, Chinese naval
forces engaged in exercises near the Ryukyu
Islands. In August, Chinese naval forces
conducted major naval exercises in the East China
Sea and more recently have held live-fire
exercises in the Yellow Sea (after protesting
U.S.–South Korean military exercises in the same area).

More recently, the Chinese also planted a flag on
the floor of the South China Sea to reinforce
their claims to that entire area. Meanwhile,
Chinese naval vessels made a port call in Burma,
marking the first time Chinese naval combatants have called on that nation.[2]

China’s growing assertiveness is supported by a
range of increasingly sophisticated military
capabilities. This year’s report on Chinese
military power from the U.S. Department of
Defense highlights China’s ever more effective
air and naval forces, as well as ongoing
investments in both space and cyber operations.

A concrete example of this growing set of
capabilities was displayed in August, when China
held its first major parachute exercise in the
Tibetan plateau. This involved a paratroop drop
of 600 troops, clearly establishing a rapid force
insertion capability on the part of the People’s
Liberation Army (PLA).[3] As a Chinese officer
observed, this exercise showed that, in the event
of a crisis, Chinese paratroopers could rapidly deploy at any time.

These modernization efforts are supported by
investments in training and doctrine so that the
PLA can put those new weapons to effective use.
The paratroop drop is only one example of the
current Chinese training tempo, which includes
major joint exercises in the Jinan Military
Region (which appears to be the PLA’s test-bed
military region for “test-driving” new
operational concepts) and naval exercises ever
farther from Chinese shores. Chinese media also
reports that Chinese “third generation” fighters,
deployed into the Chengdu Military Region since
March, have recently flown with live ammunition in the skies above Tibet.[4]

U.S. Reaction

With regard to China’s maneuvering in South Asia, the U.S. should:

* Continue to build strong strategic ties to
India and encourage India to play a more active
political and economic role in the region. To
help India fulfill that role, Washington should
continue to seek a robust military-to-military
relationship with New Delhi and enhance defense trade ties.

* Collaborate more closely with India on
initiatives that strengthen economic development
and democratic trends in the region and work with
India to counter any Chinese moves that could
potentially undermine such trends in order to
ensure the peaceful, democratic development of South Asia.

* Cooperate with India in matching increased
Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region.
Given the substantial Indian naval capabilities,
U.S. naval forces should increase their
interaction with their Indian counterparts, both
to improve Indian naval capabilities and to
signal Beijing that its moves will be matched
jointly by New Delhi and Washington.

Leadership Needed

With an ascendant China determined to flex its
diplomatic and military muscle, American
leadership is needed now more than ever.

Dean Cheng is Research Fellow in Chinese
Political and Security Affairs and Lisa Curtis is
Senior Research Fellow for South Asia, in the
Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
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