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Responses to Readers' Queries; By Cmde. R. S. Vasan IN (Retd.)

There have been frequent exchanges with some of the readers on developments/ issues related to China and their queries have been answered by Cmde. R. S Vasan IN (Retd.), Director, C3S. The answers are grouped under separate headings and appended below:

On the Annual Defence White Paper of Japan  for 2015

 “The Annual Defence White Paper of Japan for 2015 has highlighted China`s growing military assertiveness in the East China Sea and South China Sea which it says is a cause of concern to the regional and international community. China abruptly declared an ADIZ over the ECS that covers the Senkaku in November 2013. In SCS, with fast and large scale reclamation works at seven reefs in the Spratly Islands, China intends to claim sovereignty over almost all of the SCS, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The paper adds “activities by Chinese naval and air force aircraft, which apparently gather information about our country, have been observed frequently”. In its assessment the paper says that the Chinese activities aimed to alter the status quo by force could trigger contingencies.

On North Korea`s development of N-weapons, the paper says that concern is rising in the international community. North Korea has conducted N- tests 3 times since 2006. There is increasing risk of North Korea deploying ballistic missiles with N-warheads that could reach their territory. Also, they have successfully test-fired submarine-launched ballistic missile recently.

The paper says that terrorism continues to pose a constant, pressing security challenge to international community. The risk of terrorism has been on the increase in developed countries and so also in Japan. “

Q. In the light of the backgrounder above, Japan wants to participate in the joint military exercise with India and US. What in your personal assessment can be the disadvantages for India apart from China`s wrath, repetitive nature (so no major gains as such) and expenditures involved. And do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

A.What is this China’s wrath we are talking about?? We need to be able to do what is in our interest. The idea should be to put China on the defensive and not concede strategic space everywhere. Japan is also now breaking out of its pacifist mindset/constitution and will be able to formally have its more capable armed forces supported by a policy vis-à-vis China which is adding to its fire power and punch in all the dimensions.

It may be recollected, that  the quadrilateral exercises conducted way back in 2007 drew flak from China as it felt that the democracies were ganging up to wage a war with China!​ In my considered opinion, it is the right course for India to go ahead with the trilateral during the forthcoming Malabar in October 2015. Does China worry about what India’s concerns are when it engages with Pakistan (Gwadar, CPEC, Sri Lanka, Maldives etc.)? Does it worry about India’s concerns when its Submarines are brought to the Indian Ocean to carry out anti-piracy missions???(Submarines are unsuitable for anti-piracy missions).

So there is no need to be passive about keeping our options open and sending the clear message that whatwe do is what is required depending on the developments around us. If what China does is in its national interest, what we do should serve our national interests likewise. One must also remember that India has also carried out exercises with China and so there should be no hesitation in carrying out such exercises which hone the skills of the forces engaged in various operations including other than war operations.

Q.How come our increasing engagements with South Korea and Japan (and disputes with China) do not invite the attention of North Korea. What kind of situation will emerge for India in case of Japan-N. Korea conflict?​

A.We have not been too concerned with North Korea except for the illicit relation with Pakistan for enhancing nuclear weaponisation and its impact on India’s strategy.

India is not a Pacific power just as China is not an Indian Ocean Power. USA and Japan along with South Korea have enough plans to contain North Korea. Even China is getting disillusioned with N. Korea due to the oppressive regime out there. ​ India while  using all opportunities to engage  in discussions with likeminded countries,  should not and need get involved with the issues of North Korea as there are enough players and stake holders out there to sort out the tricky issues of N. Korea.

On Counter Terrorism

Q.To counter the risk of international terrorism, should India become natural allay of developed countries or maintain status quo.

A.The counter terrorism initiatives are at many levels. There is plenty of dialogue that is taking place formally (at ministerial, agency level and leader level). In most of the bilateral /multilateral​exchanges, counter terrorism has found a mention in the MoU signed. India should engage with all countries facing terrorist threats to have better understanding of the ‘means and methods’ to contain this scourge.

There has to be both formal and informal interaction with the agencies so tasked with counter terrorism missions. In addition, since there is no one template for counter terrorism that has always worked, we have to develop our own models for countering the threat depending on the local conditions. Our own lessons learnt from Mumbai terror attacks(1993 and 2008) Parliamentary attack, Akshardham temple attack, Pune attack , Bangalore and other attacks  will help us better to formulate our own CT strategy. The recent recruitment of Indian Muslims in ISIS has brought about newer challenges that need to be taken head on with proactive measures by taking the community leaders in to confidence.

Technology and Weapon Systems

Q.The testing of sophisticated missiles and delivery systems by China ahead of high level talks with U.S has become a practice. (China tests Wu-14, a hypersonic nuclear delivery vehicle which can deliver while travelling at the edge of space).

Do you think this time, when so many pressing issues are pending to be resolved, Chinese diplomacy mix with military strength would deliver favorable results to them against US.

A. There is nothing new in this practice of China. It always sends a signal by announcing a military or a technological breakthrough or even conducting successful tests just prior to any high level visit either way. If you look at the events in the past and analyse them, it is clear that this template is time tested and one cannot be sure if it still has any desired impact as it is a worn out practice.

No great significance would be attached to this technological breakthrough or a new induction announcement as the intelligence agencies in the west would have already gathered enough intelligence about the product. Whether you can influence USA by such announcement is highly questionable.  No one expects China to back off in South China Sea or ECS or Taiwan which are all identified as its core interests. While constantly engaging in expanding its techno military capabilities China sends a message and the world just has to look on at a Super power in the making. USA on its part would have started working on the counters. By all counts it is not yet time for China to replace USA as the possessor of cutting edge technology and occupy the number one position.  From India’s point of view, there is a lot that needs to be done at the political, military and strategic levels to contain the challenges posed by the ever increasing might of China.

Q. Belligerent China (divergent views expressed in ASEAN meet) is strengthening PLAN by spending a lot and emerging as big defence supplier and earning too. China has reportedly completed its 2nd aircraft carrier base in Sanya, Hainan Island off Southern Coast. The new base can protect and get protection from its defence and Submarine base in Hainan. The new base can strengthen China`s transportation channels and act as 2nd route, if route from Okinama to Taiwan is blocked in case of any conflict.

It is also reported that a new amphibious ship entered in service in Chinese Navy. 12 Yuan Submarines are already in service in PLAN. China is going to supply 3 Submarines to Bangkok Navy apart from 6 to Pakistan Navy. How do you respond to these reports?

A. There are just no surprises in most of the above reports about the activities of China. Yes, it is assertive and it will do everything in its means to ensure that is not surprised by the Extra Regional Players (read USA). There have been acrimonious exchanges on the activities of China in the South China Sea (SCS) and the East China Sea (ECS). In SCS, it has built many Islands by dredging and refilling the areas around rocks/shoals to create strategic outposts .These Islands also equipped with runways while being protected by a Garrison force would allow stage through operations of aircraft and helicopters. U.S.A has been constantly saying that the right to transit through these areas is required and India indirectly has voiced similar concerns on the right to transit through these waters. China on its part continues to maintain that the freedom of the seas has never been interfered with. The declaration of the ADIZ in select areas, and the standoff between Chinese units and other contestants including USA, however tells a different story.

The second and third aircraft carriers will be built. They will be bigger and more powerful and will be part of the growing potential of the Chinese Blue Water Navy.  Whether one or more of them would be propelled by nuclear means is yet to be confirmed. If the submarines are now a regular feature in Indian Ocean, it will not be long before the PLA-N carriers transited the Malacca Straits on missions of forward presence and posturing in the IOR. Yes it is an evolving concept of application of naval air power for furthering once objectives, but let there be no doubts that China will move forward to achieve this capability soon enough.

As for as the sale of submarines is concerned, they will sell it to whoever needs it. If someone does not have the money now, they will ensure that loans are provided which in the long run will actually be prohibitive but will ensure that he recipient will be indebted in letter and spirit. Pakistan will continue to be the most favoured all weather ally that serves the interest of China in Arabian Sea. It also provides the exit to Arabian Sea through Gwadar which also connects the Central Asian Republics when the CPEC is completed.

Yes, the possession of more submarines by Pakistan will challenge the might of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean. The only success in 1971 for the Pakistan Navy was the sinking of Khukri by a Pak Submarine. So India has to rework its Anti-Submarine strategy to counter the underwater threat. This is a prerequisite for the Carrier Battle Group to operate in pursuit of its missions. The presence of the submarines in Bangkok does not affect us but changes the equation in the littorals of SE Asia.

The sale of defence products has to be seen as a means used for both economy and also wield influence in the target countries. It is the same objective that drives their investments in far corners of the world whether it is for energy or for economy. For China which is the manufacturing hub of the world, it is important to have unfettered access to sea ports and also the land locked countries. This is being achieved by the One Belt One Road concept that is being actively pursued. The MSR will give the connectivity through the sea routes and the land routes such as the CPEC will provide the over the land connectivity. These will not be just roads carrying the goods from China but will actually be road to investment in infrastructure in the countries along the sea and land corridors.  Plenty of funds will be earmarked for improving the infrastructure. The BRICS banks and the AIIDB will be used for channeling the funds that will be required by the developing countries who would welcome investments in any sector as long as the continuous availability of funds is ensured.

The PLA Navy will also invest heavily in building an amphibious capability. With so many Islands close by including Taiwan, China would like to have all the means at its disposal should there be a contingency that requires all out application of all the means at its disposal.

On New Domestic Laws of China

Q.How much can the international human rights organizations pressurize China to accept some international norms in providing liberty to its citizens?​ –

A. Zilch… Nothing at all to be precise. These pressures have not yielded any results in the past nor would China come under any kind of pressure. The recent indications that the Chinese economy bubble may burst would bring some pressure. But, it is not Iran or another small country to face any kind of sanctions. Who will impose sanctions anyway? China will maintain that it knows how to deal with the rights of its citizens and will not brook any interference. So if any kind of dissent has to develop, it would be from within. Even in Hong Kong, it was alleged that there was a western hand in fermenting trouble. So, many of the western powers including US would help such movements directly or indirectly to see that China is cornered. But most of the reforms for sustaining civil liberty movements and human rights will have to come from within.

Q.Whether this law will help China in encroaching upon the genuine interests and legitimate rights of its neighbouring countries like boundary issues, exploration of sea bed resources in undefined/disputed areas etc.? Do you believe that Chinese law to secure its territory from internaland external threats will further curtail the rights of ordinary citizens?

A. It is very clear that the new law would provide the handle for China to resort to use of force by citing its laws which are all encompassing. It covers both the internal and external factors and gives enough lee way for Chinese leadership to respond in a proactive manner. It is also obvious, that greater efforts would be made to have proactive intelligence both internally and externally to ensure that there are no surprises. So there would be greater power and therefore possible misuse to bring the citizens under a regime of fear.

It is clear that this new regime would curtain the rights of the citizens. ​Any hope of improved environment to promote dissent and public discourse could be curbed under any of the so called national interest. Well, it is also some form of emergency that could be used by the LEAs freely whenever they want to curb some uprise like in the case of Hong Kong.

Over all, from the point of view of human rights and civil liberties, there is not much hope in China as the leadership would decide using some of the draconian laws to curb the aspirations of the people. The leadership in China has always maintained that they know what is good for their people and would not be guided by western definitions of democracy, civil liberties and human rights.

On PLA-N Submarines

Q.PLAN has more nos. of Submarines than US. Now, they have commissioned Type 056 Jiangdao-class anti-submarine. How is this really going to further increase their warfare capabilities in your opinion.Do they really need such advancements considering that they are already a formidable challenge to US.

A.In the assessment of the PLA Navy, the US can challenge the Chinese Navy in the areas of dispute. The recent utterances by the U.S leadership are indicative of the intention to intervene if any of the traditional allies are threatened. So the submarines are indeed lethal weapons and as game changers. They continue to be the most the feared arsenals of any navy. The more the better. The unseen, the unpredictable submarines would complicate the best plans of a naval commander. Also, the forays in to the Indian Ocean in support of their interests would be best complimented by both the surface and the sub surface units working in tandem. These assets can selectively be show cased like in the case of the submarines that visited Colombo to send signals. India on its part, cannot bank on its geographical advantage alone forever. It has to work towards countering the emerging challenges in the IOR in a more logical manner in a time bound plan by working on the shape, size and quality of its maritime forces.

On Activities in South China Sea including reclamation/construction of Islands

Q.”China is about to have its 2nd Airstrip in the S-China Sea on Fiery Cross Reef (about 3 Kms long), in the Spartlys. It will boost up its power projection capabilities as they can reach far south easily, can patrol over its claimed territory and can give air cover to their ships in the area. Moreover, there is an apprehension that China may enforce an ADIZ in S-China Sea as well. What are your views on this development?

A.There should be no doubts about the reinforcements in the SCS whether at Sea or Air or over the Islands disputed or otherwise. With so many claimants and frequent skirmishes, China would like to ensure that it achieves air/land/sea/cyber superiority. So there would be no surprises if more such facilities come up in the SCS. The fears that an ADIZ would be declared were expressed towards the end of 2013 and it is only a question of time before it is implemented. China is working to ensure that the necessary response mechanisms and structure are fine-tuned before it can declare an ADIZ.

All the actions of China in the SCS and the ECS are indicative of the aggressive and assertive posturing by China to reinforce its claims over Islets (which will be converted as Islands) and other disputed territories. None of us should have any doubts that they are working to a time bound plan to have all means at their disposal. As for as the responses of the US and others are concerned, as of now they are watching helplessly at the developments and are not in a position to initiate any counters. Even the alliance treaties with US will come in to play if at all only if there is an all-out war on the issue by one of the contestants who is also an ally of US with some form of treaty. Since there is reluctance to precipitate direct war with a powerful China, and US is not in a mood to intervene militarily on behalf of the smaller neighbours, China will laugh its way to creating security architecture that will fulfill its aspirations.Yes, the assumptions and the reasoning about how China would like to increase its influence in the SCS are valid. There are many examples of China adding Islands which will provide them the facility to operate helicopters, drones and small aircraft. There were expectations that the ADIZ would be promulgated to cover almost the entire SCS. This has not happened.  Once all the Islands are prepared and they have the wherewithal to effectively implement the ADIZ, this could be a possibility. The time frame of 6-8 years is something to watch out for. This will also be the period when USA plans to have 60 percent of its maritime forces in the Indo Pacific area. So USA’s presence in China’s backyard would cause some concern though USA may not directly intervene with its forces.

Of all the nations who have territorial dispute with China it is only Philippines that has approached the International Court about its claims and counter claims. These things do take their own time and every one would be curious to find out how will react to the judgment particularly if it is against its claims.

Despite some aggressive posturing in the previous years, it appears that China is now keen to have peace and therefore is talking to all the countries including Japan. So the world including us has to wait and watch and see how the situation in SCS and ECS develop in the coming days.

(The queries from readers were answered by Cmde. R.S. Vasan IN (Retd.), Director, C3S.)

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