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China’s Encirclement Policy:IS INDIA’S DEFENCE IN PLACE?, by Dr PK Vasudeva, 21 October 2009 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 21 October 2009

China’s Encirclement Policy


By Dr PK Vasudeva

The assertion of Foreign Minister S M Krishna that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is one of the most peaceful borders does not seem to be based on facts. The strategic moves which China is undertaking with other smaller neighbouring countries in the subcontinent show that Beijing has sinister designs of encircling India and subsequently divide it into smaller independent States, notwithstanding denials.

It appears that Beijing still rues its decision of voluntarily withdrawing from the 90,000 sq km of Indian territory it had occupied in 1962 and has been harbouring a desire to make up the loss at an opportune moment. The Chinese always work on a long-term strategy unlike India, which does only firefighting thanks to short-term strategic planning. Beijing keeps throwing feelers along the borders and carries out a few diplomatic moves to gauge New Delhi’s reaction.

However, India claims that as its trade with China has crossed $ 52 billion and is its largest trading partner it will not indulge in any adventurism. If that be so then why should it build its network of roads and railways right up to the borders, and establish strategic airfields in Tibet, near Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin and across Ladakh?  

Moreover, in the recent past New Delhi has on quite a few occasions, hurriedly moved Army units away from the Jammu and Kashmir border and posted them along the boundary with China. This happened when Beijing had suddenly increased the Army strength near a mountain ridge, which is very close to the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China. But what is inexplicable is the hush-hush atmosphere, which New Delhi prefers to drape over the issue.

On its part, Beijing has been practicing a policy of ‘encirclement’, a diplomatic-military initiative for a long time. In line with this, China has been gradually pushing its outposts nearer to the Indian border, the most important case being Xigatse, the second most important city of Tibet that has been put on the Golmud-Lhasa extended railway line. It has now become a bustling centre of not only trade and commerce but Chinese espionage activity too.

Take the case of Nepal. Other than the Kodari highway, which was built with Chinese assistance in 1960, a second highway connecting Nepal and Tibet has come up. Although the Maoists are no longer in the Nepalese Government, there are reasons to believe that the recent beating of Indian priests at the Pashupatinath temple may have had Chinese blessings.

Likewise, China has become one of the most important patrons of Pakistan in international politics. In return Islamabad has allowed Beijing to open at least four link roads from the Karakoram Highway, one of which will connect the Gwadar deep-sea port, which China has built for Pakistan.

In the world energy market Beijing is now in brisk business of securing energy supplies most of which pass through the Persian Gulf. By using the Gwadar port China gets an automatic access to the Persian Gulf where it has substantially increased its naval strength in recent times.

For Myanmar, it has developed the Irrawady corridor thereby creating a network of roads, rails and waterways. The corridor is extremely important for China as it would give its landlocked areas an access to the Bay of Bengal where Beijing is rapidly increasing its naval strength.

In competition, India has also agreed to invest $ 100 million for upgrading the Sittwe port and developing the Kaladan river system of Myanmar. However, in matters of respective bilateral relations China has left India way behind. Beijing’s relations with the military junta are extremely cozy and it has stood up for Yangon to block world sanctions against it.  

China has already secured rights for free use of Myanmar’s river systems due to this facility. It has been able to build up surveillance stations on the Coco Island near the Andamans. That India recognises the probable Chinese threat from the sea becomes clear from New Delhi’s decision to upgrade its naval station in the area.

Indeed, the military threat from China is real. The numerical strength of its Army is 2.5 million, more than double of India’s, with the range of its missiles too being higher, with a good number in Tibet carrying nuclear warheads. Besides, this year China’s defence expenditure has increased by 14.9 per cent, pushing its defence budget to $ 70.2 billion, an increase of $ 9.1 billion from last year. It now stands very near to Japan, Russia and the UK in respect of military spending, while India lags far behind. Interestingly, Chinese experts are always at pains to point out that their country spends only about 1.5 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for defence. But its GDP has been growing by over 10 per cent annually. 

This has enabled China to build its war industry, which not only produces arms and ammunitions for its own use but exports to countries such as Sudan, Egypt, Tanzania, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka, other than Pakistan. In 2007, it successfully carried out its anti-satellite test. It has acquired technology for construction of aircraft carriers, for carrying out air-to-air refueling and for developing anti-tank missiles. While its MiG-33 is much superior to the IAF’s accident-prone MiG-21, it has also developed a multi-role fighter aircraft christened CAC-J7 which is widely used not only by Pakistan but Myanmar and Bangladesh too.  

Another important arsenal rolling out of China is the basic jet trainer-cum-light attack aircraft, a product of the Hongdu Aviation Industry. Its export variety is called K-8 in Pakistan, which uses it extensively and has a 45 per cent share in its joint production. China’s participation in the production of the Jalalat class missile fast attack naval craft in the Pakistan Navy Dockyard at Karachi is also well known. Nowadays Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh use large numbers of patrol boats, fast attack crafts and vessels for amphibious operations either designed or built by China. In contrast, India’s presence here is minimal, with the only noteworthy example being the Hindustan Shipyard-built 1890-tonne patrol vessel “Shaurya,” used by the Lankan Navy.

Undoubtedly, China considers itself a big power and a clash of interests with India is inevitable. It is likely to come into conflict with New Delhi’s “look East” policy. Therefore, there are enough grounds for escalation of tension between the two nations. The most important being the unresolved border question with Beijing not accepting the LAC and the McMahon Line.

New Delhi does recognize the danger, but refuses to spell it out. It has recently decided on a series of steps such as stationing of the Sukhoi-30 aircraft at Tejpur, revival of abandoned airfields in Ladakh, posting of two Army divisions for the defence of Tawang and building all-weather roads up to the farthest Army post on the border. 

Some honest confessions are also emerging. Sometime back former Naval Chief Admiral Suresh Mehta was candid enough to admit the inadequacies of the Navy. The other day Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik said the IAF is only one-third the size of its Chinese counterpart. Sadly, the political tribe continues to desperately hide its failure. --INFA 

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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