Updated: Dec 14, 2022
As appeared in www.saag.org
Appearance of several articles in the state-controlled Chinese language media on the military developments in India since the end of 2004 in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), suggest that the subject has become important, if not of immediate concern, for Beijing from a strategic point of view. Such assessments, which appear to be coming at irregular intervals from scholars of prominent think tanks in the country, do not however conceal China’s underlying fears over the likely long term security implications for the region including the PRC, arising from the evolving defence policy formulations in India.
Setting the stage for a reevaluation of India’s military strategy, an authoritative periodical (‘Contemporary International Relations’, in Chinese language, believed to be close to the PRC’s Ministry of State Security, October 2004) observed that India has shifted to an ‘active defence policy’.
A subsequent comment in the ‘Reference News’ (Can Kao Xiao Xi, Chinese language, restricted circulation, February 17, 2005) while highlighting the increases in India’s defence budget, remarked that this may lead to India’s going all out to import weapons from abroad. Injecting the ‘China factor’ into the matter, a viewpoint noticed later (Reference News, March 2, 2005) described India’s objective was to overtake the PRC in military expansion. The next prominent coverage which came after a gap, citing New Delhi’s big military procurement contracts with Moscow, concluded (China Comments News Agency, January 24, 2006) that the world attention is now focused on how India is developing its arms and equipment and consolidating its military position in the South Asian Sub-Continent and the Indian Ocean.
A very recent signed article contributed by Professor Zhang Weiwei (PRC Foreign ministry-affiliated ‘China Institute of International Studies’, February 6, 2006) has spelled out China’s perceptions of India’s ‘current military strategy’. Identifying the three main components of India’s current strategy as strengthening military structure, realizing military modernization and becoming a global military power, the article pointed out that India’s present objectives are to become a military power on par with China, France and the UK. ‘Political and Military leaders, however, consider that from a long term point of view, India wants to achieve a military balance with China, the USA and Russia. Though India stands in no comparison with any of these three countries in the field of military technology, it aims to have a turn around in this field by 2010’.
Professor Zhang added that as part of changing strategy, India aims to establish its ‘hegemony’ in South Asia, control the Indian Ocean and extend its influence to the far-flung South China Sea and Pacific regions. Explaining the first factor, he said that Pakistan is the only country in South Asia having the strength to challenge India, but through waging wars with Pakistan three times, India has already weakened latter’s military potential. At present, India enjoys an edge over Pakistan in fields like conventional weapons and war capabilities, excepting in the nuclear sector. With geographic and other conditions favouring it, India could expand its strategic space in the region when compared to Pakistan. Opinions therefore point out that India has already become a super power in South Asia and the requirement for India now is only to continue the consolidation of such position.
Commenting on India’s efforts to build a blue water Navy and control the Indian Ocean, the Chinese scholar pointed out that in the Post-September 11 period, the region extending from West Asia to Southeast Asia including the Indian Ocean came under the definition of territory vital to India’s global strategy. Energy security has become important for India. Accordingly, India is enforcing a policy to control vital Sea Lanes of Communications whether it is Hormuz or Malacca Straits.
Elaborating the third component, i.e. India’s efforts to influence South China Sea and Pacific Regions, Professor Zhang opined that it meant a shift in New Delhi’s emphasis from South Asia to Asia-Pacific. The shift is also to be seen as part of developing ‘ Look East’ policy of India, seeking to strengthen links with Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar as well as the East Asian big powers like China and Japan. Separately, under its ‘active military diplomacy’, India’s military links with Russia (‘ally’), the US (‘natural ally’), Japan (to ‘reach a balance in the Asian situation’), China and Southeast Asian nations are growing.
Identifying another objective of India under its current military strategy as ‘entering the nuclear club’, the scholar stated that for New Delhi as the status of a nuclear weapon power is essential for the country’s comprehensive national strength; political, economic and diplomatic factors alone may not be adequate for India in attaining such strength. ‘The Indian Government claims to have the right to use nuclear weapons’ and it is ominous, according to the scholar. India’s development of nuclear weapons is primarily meant to get world recognition to its big power status and it can therefore be expected that New Delhi will continue to maintain the nuclear programme in its agenda, he concluded.
Professor Zhang at the same time perceived the following as constraints for India in pursuing its current military strategy – weak economic basis, lack of military technological strength and insufficient capacity to produce advanced weapons. India remains strategically important globally as an Indian Ocean power, a major player to the East of ‘unstable’ West Asia and a big nation southwest of China which allow it to be fit for the big power strategies like that of the US. But in future, India’s emergence may not be acceptable to the USA. In particular, the US may find the India’s long term objective to achieve naval domination over the Indian Ocean as a challenge to its own global strategic interests.
Admittedly, the articles appearing in the Chinese language media on India’s current military strategy do not seem to indicate a hardening of Chinese stand on the subject, at least for the moment. Relations with India continue to be strategically important for China and no definite anti-India trend (notwithstanding revival of references to India’s ‘hegemony’ in South Asia) can be discerned in the writings, which are mainly meant for the Chinese speaking domestic population. The importance however lies in the fact that the Chinese scholars have been allowed to deliberate on India’s military, a topic sensitive for bilateral relations. In contrast, the PRC’s English language press has so far remained cautious in their comments on India. Future trends will be interesting to watch.
(The writer, Mr.D.S.Rajan, is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter, India. He was formerly Director in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. Email: email@example.com)