China’s superpower ambition is bound to have a long term impact on Asian security. It’s very difficult to deal with an inscrutable, revisionist and rising superpower next door with whom India had a historical rivalry and whose brazen inroads into India’s traditional sphere of influence leaves embittered. Ironically, its trading relationship is important to the economy. The main areas of conflict are
ENCIRCLEMENT FROM EVERY POSSIBLE SIDE
India is contained geopolitically by the longstanding axis between China and Pakistan, involving, among other things, covert nuclear, missile and intelligence cooperation. With serious strains emerging in Beijing’s relationship with North Korea, Pakistan is now clearly China’s only real ally almost 24th Province of China.
Paradoxically, China and Pakistan have little in common, yet boast one of the closest relationships in international diplomacy. Their axis has been built on a shared objective to tie India down, as former state department official Daniel Markey says in his 2013 book. Weapon transfers, loans and infrastructure projects allow China to use Pakistan as a cost-effective counterweight to India. Pakistan, for example, developed nuclear weapons with Chinese aid and US indulgence. Indeed, the more Pakistan has become a jihadist snake pit, the greater has been China’s leeway to increase its strategic penetration of that country.
For India, the implications of the growing nexus are particularly stark because China and Pakistan are hostile, non-status-quo powers bent upon seizing additional Indian territory. Significantly, as China’s strategic intervention in PoK has grown, it has started needling India on J&K, one-fifth of which is under Chinese occupation. It has employed innovative ways to question India’s sovereignty over J&K and stepped up incursions into Ladakh. China is clearly signalling that J&K is where the China-Pakistan nexus can squeeze India. Its military pressure on Arunachal Pradesh appears aimed at distracting from its other designs. PoK serves as the artery of the China-Pakistan nexus. Much of the Chinese funding will be for power projects, including the $1.4-billion Karot Dam, located on the so-called Azad Kashmir’s border with Pakistani Punjab. This dam is the first project to be financed by China’s new $40-billion Silk Road Fund.
As if to highlight that China treats Pakistan as its newest colony,
China thinks in the long term. Pakistan is now becoming China’s launch-pad for playing a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and West Asia. It will also serve as the lynchpin of China’s India-containment strategy. China’s land corridor to the Arabian Sea will extend India’s encirclement by the PLA from the J&K land borders to the Indian Ocean sea lanes. Insurrection-torn Baluchistan, however, stands out as the Achilles heel of China’s corridor initiative.
China already has the capability of launching a swift border offensive against India in conformity with its principle to ‘win local wars (China’s latest Defence White Paper). China is also enhancing its extended range force projection capabilities by establishing overseas naval bases in the Indian Ocean. China’s rapidly growing military modernisation programme has changed the balance of power in South Asia. China with its asymmetric and fourth-generation warfare and joint operations capabilities and enhanced strategic reach can pose a serious challenge to India both in a border war and the Indian Ocean region.
Chinese maintains strength of five to six divisions on the borders against Indian forces. It is estimated that China can deploy only about 20 divisions in a war because of constraints posed by the Himalayan ranges. However, it has created infrastructure to maintain large reserve forces in Tibet that can be deployed both for defensive and offensive tasks at short notice. China may able to deploy over 32 divisions in an offensive operation supported by an array of Chinese missile forces thus posing a formidable threat to India.
India’s air power is sufficient to hold its own against the Chinese air power in a limited war but its capability in a prolonged unlimited war will be limited.
In an all out war scenario India will face simultaneous multiple threats from China and Pakistan that may range from conventional, asymmetric and sub-conventional level war with threats of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), moreover India will face additional threats from terrorism, cyber and electronic and information warfare.
Indian armed forces will have to protect its island territories and sea lanes from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait in a war against China.
2. CHINA-PAKISTAN NETWORKING ACROSS THE NORTHERN FRONT
China is developing a network of highways and has moved troops to the Gilgit- Baltistan region in northern areas and has improved military infrastructure in the eastern sector, increasing the possibility of a two front war.
China is sending ambiguous signals; Army’s proposed revised defence strategy would be a step in the right direction. China’s occasional papers on a border war with India must be fully analysed as they could be an indication of the Chinese concept of waging a war that it can win. China has been enhancing its offensive capabilities all along our northern borders by deploying new weapons systems in collaboration with Pakistan that is calculated to change the military balance in a border war. China is accelerating military modernisation drive that will greatly add to its strength.
China has a huge geographic handicap: no access to southern world oceans.
So Chinese shipments from Europe, Middle East, Africa have to travel all the way around India, Malacca and ASEAN. China has serious problems with most countries in that region due to its aggressive military posture. Pakistan is very important for Chinese economy. If China could get a route through Pakistan to access the Arabian Sea that will give multiple advantages. The strategy to deal with it has led to evolution of CPEC. A corridor of highways and railways will run from Kashgar in China to Gwadar in Pakistan (Baluchistan) on the Arabian sea near Iran border. And all the infrastructure and associated work for CPEC will be constructed for Pakistan by China, free or cost or for negligible loans.
3. CHINA’S THREAT IN INDIAN OCEAN REGION
China is rapidly increasing its naval presence in Indian Ocean region although it proposes only new facilities and denies intentions to increase military power in this region; Chinese have signed an agreement to set up a naval facility in the Seychelles for counter-piracy operations. Earlier China gave two Y-12 surveillance aircraft to the Seychelles for this purpose, under an existing defense support agreement arrived at in 2004 two Chinese frigates visited Seychelles, and its naval hospital ship Peace-Ark in November 2010 treated the sick people of the island. There is little doubt anti-piracy operations in the region especially off the Somalia coast and the Gulf of Aden are required but it has to be an international effort not only to secure China’s shipping or merchant ships plying under its flag. More over it gives China a strategic reach in this important part of the Indian Ocean. A naval base of China can be a part of power projection and not only Counter-piracy naval operations. Some Chinese naval ships have been deployed off the Somali coast since 2008 but a naval facility that become a base that is exclusively Chinese means power projection in disguise. Chinese efforts to secure military collaboration and support have been reported with the Maldives and Mauritius also. However, the most significant Chinese move have been to establish facilities at the Gwadar deep sea port in Pakistan, obviously for collaboration between the armed forces of China and Pakistan as China forces can operate from here to help Pakistan at short notice.
A Chinese strategic policy document issued in the 90s had said that China should employ military diplomacy with the countries of the Indian Ocean region. It was mentioned openly that in small countries the militaries can be won over with free and low price (friendship price), military equipment supported with some economic assistance, getting bases there from any political dispensation will be then easy. Bases and friendship treaties with Indian Ocean rim countries is new major strategy that endangers India’s security. It aims encirclement of India with a southern ring and China’s advancement in Indian Ocean towards African continent and petroleum-rich areas. This Indian Ocean strategy of China was first reported in 2004 in various military papers to create a China dominated region in the Gulf and Indian Ocean region and linking it to the Asia Pacific region.
Chinese efforts to secure port facilities in Bangladesh remain unsuccessful and in Myanmar, and Sri Lanka it is yet secure any sure bases, but new developments and efforts of establishing a chain of military base establishments in the Indian Ocean is a danger signal for India that cannot be ignored. The main maritime trade route in the in the Indian Ocean region must not be allowed to be dominated by China. China is rapidly developing its naval power to acquire blockading and area denial power in this crucial region. Chinese navy now include missiles and other weapons for establishing blockades in chosen bottlenecks.
China is beginning to adopt a firm policy to have a number of military bases in Indian Ocean, though asserts its peaceful intentions and its pledge of not sending Chinese soldiers against any foreign country except under UN peace keeping flag but it also asserts its right to go war for securing its strategic interests anywhere China’s military is accordingly is preparing for various kinds of future wars. China now considers that a world war is possible and China must be prepared to win it including any regional level confrontation or the possibility of short ‘local wars’ or efforts to encircle it. It is training its armed forces to face any global or regional challenge.
4. STRING OF PEARLS
String of pearls is an effort to
a) Encircle India
b) Control Indian Ocean
c) Find accessibility to oil resources, and
d) Explore Africa.
In pursuance of its effect China is encircling India in Indian Ocean by building bases having a foothold in Sittwe, Somalia and Seychelles.
Hambantota is the key for China to breathe around India and to control Indian Ocean.
China is engaged in building the prerequisites of naval access and basing in maritime regions that are outside its waters. China envisages a Three Island Chain maritime network evident in three concentric rings of its maritime domain of sea-control/denial and thereby ensuring the security of its shipping Sea Lanes of Communication.
Hambantota as China’s “Pearl” in the Indian Ocean is immensely important for several reasons. The geo-strategic location of Hambantota provides for China the most vital access to a natural harbor that could bring in high seas shipping from the South China Sea-Straits of Malacca-Indian Ocean-Arabian Sea shipping traversing the region into immediate berthing access in safe havens right in the Indian Ocean.
Strategic Implications of Hambantota
Hambantota in its topographical profile is yet another deep natural harbor that could be converted into a multi-pier port that could host surface Hambantota as military port would be the “next Gwadar” that could offer Chiness naval warships the first port call after they surge across the Straits of Malacca.
Hambantota would be the most ideal site for the Chinese to build multi-piers that could co-host civilian container, oil tanker ships and, military warships with major dredging
Hambantota would thus be the “pivotal pearl” in China’s “string of pearls” of an expanding network of Chinese ELINT, SIGINT facilities that are now strung from “Woody island in the Paracels Hainan Sittwe Coco island Chittagong,
Hambantota is located in the epicenter of this string that overlooks the Indian Ocean having the densest traffic of international maritime commerce and the Indian.
Hambantota could offer berthing facilities to a limited forward presence
Chinese nuclear submarine movements in the region and its visits to Hambantota could become a reality and routine when the port becomes fully operational.
5. CONTROLLING NORTHERN ARABIAN SEA
The ambit of regional stability has been ‘outsourced’ to Beijing. As for Pakistan, China’s involvement lets it gain a legitimate, not default, position in the morphing geo-strategy of the region as well as a backer that commands global respect and Islamabad’s trust.
And yes, that’s also where Pakistan gets to push India out of its neck of the woods: the northern Arabian Sea and Afganistan. That’s why the Chinese subs are coming to town. That’s why warship construction deals are being announced by Chinese, not Pakistani media. That’s why Beijing just scuttled India’s plans for sanctioning Pakistan for abetting militants at the UN. And that’s why restaurants in Islamabad have started carrying menus un Mandarin.
6. REVIVING THE MARITIME SILK ROUTE (MSR)
The idea of the MSR was outlined during Li Keqiang’s speech at the 16th ASEAN-China summit in Brunei, and Xi Jinping’s speech in the Indonesian Parliament in October 2013.
The thrust on reviving the ancient maritime route is the first global strategy for enhancing trade and fostering peace, proposed by the new Chinese leaders. The MSR inherits the ancient metaphor of friendly philosophy from the old Silk Route to build the new one. It emphasises on improving connectivity with Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and even Africa, by building a network of port cities along the Silk Route, linking the economic hinterland in China. More importantly, it aspires to improve China’s geo-strategic position in the world.
The main emphasis was placed on stronger economic cooperation, closer cooperation on joint infrastructure projects, the enhancement of security cooperation, and strengthening “maritime economy, environment technical and scientific cooperation.”
China is taking decisive steps to improve its overall geopolitical position by developing extensive transport networks, building roads, railways, ports, and energy corridors through such initiatives.
The MSR will also be helpful in promoting certain strategic objectives — for example, in supporting friends and clients, neutralising similar activities by other naval powers, or merely by showcasing one’s maritime power.
Naval forces are more resilient, and they have greater visibility. Thus, the proposed MSR has clear strategic objectives.
7. USE OF TIBETAN RIVERS AS A WEAPON
China has started using ater as a weapon, a deadly and a lethal weapon. In Tibet China is in control of waters flowing into Indian subcontinent and South East Asia. There, it has Control over Indus and its tributaries as well as Brahmaputra and its tributaries in Tibet.
Chinese strategy is to construct dams over the rivers so that it can regularize the flow of water as per its own will and use it as a weapon to bargain for it to trouble the countries. The other strategies involve creating a natural dam by blasting the river valley of rivers and then demolishing it to flood Indian territories without the danger of being blamed legally or logically.
India has a lot of concern with respect to Tibetan rivers flowing into its territory.
1. China’s dam building overdrive is a concern because there are no bilateral or multilateral treaties on the water
2. China believes dam building on the Brahmaputra helps it assert claim over Arunachal Pradesh
3. India believes China’s projects in the Tibetan plateau threaten to reduce river flows into India
4. Dams, canals, irrigation systems can turn water into a political weapon to be wielded in war, or during peace to signal annoyance with a co-riparian state
5. Denial of hydrological data in critical seasons when the flow in the river very high is an instance
6. Most Dangerous of all, China contemplating northward re-routing of the Yarlung Zangbo
7. Diversion of the Brahmaputra is an idea China does not discuss in public, because it implies devastating India’s northeastern plains and Bangladesh, either with floods or reduced water flow
8. THE DANGERS TO CHICKEN NECK (SILIGURI CORRIDOR)
The thin “chicken’s neck” is a territory-connecting the seven Indian North-eastern States to West Bengal and the rest of India also called the “Siliguri Corridor”- lies in the Chumbi Valley of Chinese-held Tibetan Autonomous Region that is contiguous to the Indian States of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Chumbi Valley is flanked on either side by Sikkim on its west and Bhutan on the east. Nepal shares a common border with Sikkim and Chinese and Indian armies are face-to-face along the whole of Arunachal Pradesh.
The geostrategic significance of the place for India is that it is able to monitor the Chinese movements in the Chumbi Valley.
The Siliguri Corridor is an area so constricted that it is amazing that after the debacle at the hands of the Chinese, Indians have not developed their connectivity to desired extent.
Disadvantages For India
China can do to India what India did to Pakistan in 1971 by delinking the former East Pakistan from West Pakistan and helping to create the sovereign independent nation-state of Bangladesh.
Other disadvantages that India faces in its defensive posture vis-a-vis China is that many of the infrastructure projects of roads and bridges, belatedly initiated, have been delayed by the difficulties of the terrain and the inadequacy of heavy lift helicopters to deliver civil engineering material to the building sites.
Given China’s growing belligerence stoked in large part by the renewed Tibetan unrest within the Tibetan Autonomous Region (and that of the Uighur Muslims in Xingjiang province) marked by self-immolations by Buddhist monks and the blame for its bad governance in Tibet at India’s doorstep for being home to the largest Tibetan refugee population. By the very nature of its geography the Siliguri Corridor is indefensible with static obstacles and firepower.
As experience has shown the sustained patrolling by the Indian Army, paramilitary forces and the West Bengal police not to mention the protection forces of the Indian Railways, a broad guage and a meter-guage line pass through it-criminal and anti-national activity is rampant.
Problems with its defence and management
Defending it within an internal security concept will not work against a conventional military force of the type the Chinese can deploy from the north of the Chumbi Valley which is well supplied by a network of roads.
The fact that Bhutan lies to the east of the northern limits of the Siliguri corridor creates a dicey situation for India. The use of Bhutanese territory for the defence of the corridor will attract Chinese punitive action against Bhutan.
To ensure Bhutan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and neutrality, India cannot do anything to jeopardize its very existence.
The emerging Nepal factor is also disturbing for India given that there is talk of not allowing recruitment of Gorkhas for the Indian Army.
The Chinese tactics will be to use the top of the funnel that is the Valley, as a “forming up place” for the PLA preparatory for an attack into the Siliguri Corridor.
One indicator of the Chinese intention will be the strength of the battalions that are permanently posted in the funnel of the Chumbi Valley.
What happened in Doklam Cha is indicative of this Chinese design to control this territory.
9. CONFLICT ALONG LAC
At various pockets along the disputed 3,500-km LAC-a line that reflects the territory under the present control of India and China, but is not an agreed upon final border-both sides have differing views on where the line actually lies. With troops patrolling up to what they see as their perception of the LAC,
patrols have had run-ins and face-off situations caused by overlapping claim lines.
1. KARAKORAM RANGE- Talks on the LAC in the western sector stalled with China rejecting discussions on areas west of the Karakoram Pass and the roughly 5,800 sq-km Shaksgam Valley ceded by Pakistan to China, which is claimed by India.
2. DEPSANG- Ties strained as Chinese troops pitched a tent on the Depsang plains, ahead of the May 2013 visit of Premier Li Keqiang. China claimed the area as being on “its side of the LAC’:
3. CHUMAR- Patrols on both sides engaged in three-week-long stand-off coinciding with President Xi Jinping’s September 2014 visit to New Delhi.
4. BARAHOTI- Differing perceptions of area in the middle sector in Uttarakhand emerged during the map exchange in 2000, with reports of intermittent incursions in this region.
5. TAWANG- China has never recognized the McMahon Line in the eastern sector. Its hardening claims on Arunachal, and especially on Tawang in spite of a 2005 understanding on settled populations, has led to further stalemate in the east.
(Author- K siddhartha, Geostrategic Thinker, Author and Advisor)