Addressing a rally in Arunachal Pradesh on March 12, Narendra Modi, BJP’s then PM nominee, made it clear to the people of the state that: “No power on earth can snatch away Arunachal Pradesh (from India).” He added: “Times have changed. The world does not welcome the mindset of expansion in today’s times. China will also have to leave behind its mindset of expansion.” Interestingly, Beijing did not react strongly to Modi’s address. Unlike Washington, Beijing had welcomed him as CM of Gujarat and is aware of his readiness to strengthen economic and investment ties.
What Modi said about Beijing’s “mindset of expansion” was again manifested on May 1, when China moved a giant oil rig to a location less than 200 km from the shores of Vietnam. The movement was accompanied by the deployment of seven naval vessels and some 80 coastguard and other boats. This was within Vietnam’s Continental Shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone, and violated the provisions of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea.
China declared its unilateral “nine dotted line”, claiming 80 per cent of the South China Sea in 2009. This led to territorial disputes with Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. It also has disputes over islands in the East China Sea and Yellow Sea with Japan and South Korea. Vietnam’s vice premier informed Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi that Hanoi will “apply all necessary and suitable measures to defend its rights”. The Chinese provocation outraged the Vietnamese. In the riots that followed, Chinese nationals in Vietnam were attacked, Chinese business and industrial establishments torched and over 2,000 Chinese nationals evacuated. China has historically treated Vietnam like a vassal state. It attacked Vietnam in 1979 to “teach” Vietnam a “lesson”. In more recent times, China seized control of the “Mischief Reef”” and the “Scarborough Shoal” in the South China Sea from the Philippines, a military ally of the US. It has been more circumspect in dealing with Japan in a dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which the Japanese have controlled since 1895. China respects real power and realizes that given its military potential, Japan will be no pushover like the Philippines.
As China’s military power grows rapidly, it is ever more inclined to flex its muscle. Some years ago, a high Chinese functionary told the chief of the US Pacific Fleet that the US should confine itself to Eastern Pacific, leaving Western Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean to be controlled by China. In November 2013, China unilaterally declared an Air Defence Identification Zone, which covered islands under the control of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. This required all aircraft flying over the zone to identify themselves to the Chinese authorities. Japan and South Korea refused to comply. But the Obama administration caved in and agreed to comply with Chinese requirements, by civilian aircraft registered in the US. The US action left Japan and South Korea disappointed, with questions raised about the credibility of American security guarantees.
These developments clearly indicate that with China’s military and economic power growing, the country is becoming assertive afflicted with a “mindset of expansion”. They also indicate that where China finds it is the militarily stronger party, it is quite prepared to militarily assert its expansionist aims and ambitions. Given its commitments on its eastern shores, China will be more circumspect of its moves on its western borders with India. But China will seek to dilute Indian military capabilities by strengthening Pakistan’s nuclear, missile and conventional military capabilities. This process is already underway, with China’s supply of equipment and knowhow for Pakistan’s Plutonium warheads, its ballistic and cruise missiles, apart from tanks, fighter aircraft and frigates. The security challenge that India faces today is, therefore, not from either China, or Pakistan, separately, but from a Pakistan-China strategic partnership. firstname.lastname@example.org