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India wary as China conducts biggest "long-range" war games

August 13, 2009

India's Navy chief says his military is no match for China's growing forces.
By Dan Murphy, Staff writer
The Christian Science Monitor
August 11, 2009

Less than a week after India and China held what
they described as fruitful talks on a
long-standing border dispute, China embarked on a
massive war-game designed to improve its ability
to dispatch troops over long distances.

Not surprisingly, some in India are concerned.

As China’s economy has grown, so has its
offensive military capabilities, which has fueled
something of an arms race in Asia, particularly
with the region’s other emerging economic power, India.

As we reported in June, the Indian Ocean -- the
vital transport hub for the region’s goods and
energy -- will likely become a region of
increasing strategic jockeying as the world’s two
largest countries seek to secure their economic
positions. China’s approach is dubbed the “String
of Pearls” strategy by US military officials.

The China and India fought a border war over
their poorly demarcated boundary in the Himalayas
in 1962, and China has at times since claimed
sovereignty over territory that appears to be
well on the western side of the border (this map shows the disputed area.)

On Tuesday, China began a series of military
maneuvers that it is describing as its
"largest-ever tactical military exercise." The
war games, called "Stride-2009," will involve
50,000 troops form China’s more than 2
million-member standing army, and are designed to
help China improve its “long-range force
projection" by using high-speed civilian rail and
civilian aircraft in rapidly moving troops,
according to state news agency, Xinhua.

According to the PLA General Staff Headquarters,
in charge of organizing the exercise
"Stride-2009," one army division from each of the
military commands of Shenyang, Lanzhou, Jinan and
Guangzhou, will participate in a series of
live-fire drills lasting for two months. Unlike
previous annual tactical exercises, the army
divisions and their air units will be deployed in
unfamiliar areas far from their garrison training
bases by civilian rail and air transport.

The exercise will have troops operating from up
to 1,000 miles from their home bases. Though
China is a vast country with significant internal
dissent -- rioting by ethnic Uighurs in Urumqi
this July (and in Tibet last year) occurred more
than 2,000 miles from Beijing ­ some neighbors fear it is intent on expansion.

The Times of India said strategists have long
worried about the possibility that an expanding
rail network in China could be used to "enhanc(e)
China’s military superiority over neighboring India."

On Monday, Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh
Mehta warned in rather stark terms that China’s
military is outstripping India’s, according to
the Hindustan Times. It was an unusually blunt admission:

"In military terms, both conventionally and
unconventionally, we can neither have the
capability nor the intention to match China force
for force..." He said Beijing was in the process
of consolidating its comprehensive national power
and creating formidable military capability.
“Once that is done, China is likely to be more
assertive on its claims, especially in the
immediate neighbourhood," said Mehta, who as the
Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, is the
country’s senior most military commander.

Two months ago, India’s former Air Chief Marshal
Fali Homi Major said China was a greater threat to India than Pakistan.
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