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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Rising China And Indian Response

October 17, 2010

By Rajeev Sharma
SAAG
October 14, 2010

George Fernandes, Defence Minister in Atal Bihari
Vajpayee’s government, was bang on target when he
famously said that it was China, not Pakistan or
any other nation that was India’s biggest
security threat. Again, it was not fortuitous
when the then Prime Minister Vajpayee said in a
letter (later leaked) to the then US President
Bill Clinton that the Indian nuclear tests had
been conducted with China in mind.

The remarks of Vajpayee and Fernandes did not
emerge from nothing; rather these averments
indicated that India has long been conscious of a
rising China and its implications to India. The
Indian, and to a certain extent, the
international media have started highlighting
Sino-Indian rivalry circa 2009 when the Chinese
incursions into Indian territory started becoming
more pronounced. From the Indian government’s
point of view, however, India has long been aware
what shape the Chinese threat is going to take in not too distant future.

This has happened a decade after the Vajpayee
government placed on record its concern about a
rising China. The ambitious incursions by China
in 2009, China edging past Japan to acquire the
number two place in the world’s economy rankings
in 2010, the feverish assertiveness of China in
making maritime territorial claims in East China
Sea, South China Sea and Yellow Sea, the flexing
of military muscle by China and China’s
relentless and transcontinental infrastructural
drive are all important milestones that has to be taken note of.

At a time when Indian and foreign newspapers,
journals and think tanks have gone on an
overdrive to emphasize how the Chinese dragon is
all set to devour the Indian tiger, let us focus
on what India can do and is already doing to
develop an effective counter to a rising China.
It was a decade ago when India started developing
strategic plans for dealing with China in 2020 or 2030.

The Chinese infrastructure drive is an integral
part of its strategic encirclement policy.

Three ports that China is building in India’s
immediate neighbourhood – Gwadar in Pakistan,
Sittwe in Myanmar and Hambantota in Sri Lanka –
are important parts of the Chinese strategy.

China has a vibrant presence across South Asia.
Besides Pakistan, with which China has a true
strategic partnership, Beijing has emerged as a
major player in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
It has firmly entrenched itself in Myanmar
(Burma), Mauritius and the Seychelles.

On 5 August 2010, The People’s Daily reported
that two days previously “important combat
readiness materials” (read missiles) of the
Chinese Air Force were transported safely to
Tibet via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway – the first
time since such materials were transported to
Tibet by railway. It is a clear demonstration by
China of not just its technological competence
but also its capability to mobilise in Tibet in
the event of a Sino-Indian conflict. China
already has four fully operational airports in
Tibet (the last one started operations in July
2010) while the fifth is scheduled to be inaugurated in October 2010.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Navy’s recent seafaring
activities and manoeuvres have revealed Beijing’s
intention to increase its control of the maritime
sea lanes of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The
latter is an obvious cause of concern for India.
China’s new-found aggressive posturing and
maritime territorial claims in South China Sea –
which Beijing has begun to describe as an area of
its “core interest”, a term that the Chinese have
been using for Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang – is of no less concern.

China is building up its naval might in a big
way. It is not just India that is confused and
concerned about the real intent of Beijing.
Japan, the US, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan
are equally apprehensive. China’s People’s
Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) was recently given a
green light by the country’s highest military
planning body, the Central Military Commission
(CMC), to build two new nuclear-powered aircraft
carriers. One aircraft carrier – Varyag of the
Kuznetsov class – is already under construction.
All three aircraft carriers will be available to
China by 2017 and will patrol the South China
Sea, Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. This will
give the the Chinese Navy a blue-water capability to rival the US Navy.

India is far behind China's gargantuan defence
capabilities. At the same time, New Delhi is not
sitting idly. India has been conscious of rapidly
growing Chinese military capabilities for well
over a decade. In fact, the then Indian Defence
Minister George Fernandes, while speaking in the
aftermath of the May 1998 Indian nuclear tests,
had gone on record as saying that China was the number one threat for India.

In 1999, the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee
approved a 30-year submarine construction plan
under which 30 submarines were to be constructed.
Construction work on at least four nuclear
submarines is in full swing, while the
indigenously made Arihant nuclear powered
submarine has already been launched. India plans
to have at least 30 submarines by 2030, but this
target may prove to be too stiff. India’s
submarine fleet is currently facing depletion and
their number is expected to go down to 16 by 2012
with the decommissioning of two Foxtrot submarines in the near future.

In March 2009, the present government cleared
Project 15B under which next generation warships
are under various stages of construction.
Besides, at least three Kolkata class destroyers
are under construction under Project 15A. Two
aircraft carriers – INS Vikramaditya (Admiral
Gorshkov of Russia) and INS Vikrant – are under construction.

To strike a harmonious balance, the Indian Navy
is in the process of beefing up its fleet of
stealth frigates and has initiated several new
projects in this regard. Shivalikwill be India’s
first stealth frigate of its class. The Sahyadri
and Satpura class of frigates are under advanced
stage of construction. All this is as per the
government’s plans to maintain a force level of more than 140 warships.

What is important for China to note is that it is
not dealing with India of 1962?

China stepped up its involvement in India’s
backyard – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal
and Afghanistan – as a part of its India’s
strategic encirclement policy. India too has
intensified its diplomatic and strategic
involvement in China’s own backyard – with Japan,
South Korea, Vietnam and Myanmar. But that is another story.

* The writer is a New Delhi-based
journalist-author and commentator on strategic
issues, international relations and terrorism.
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