As China bolsters its defence potential on India’s borders, New Delhi appears to be significantly, though belatedly, responding to the build-up. It has been recognised over the past decade that we need army strike formations on our borders with China to respond effectively to any cross-border adventurism. But implementation of the raising of a Strike Corps was earlier moving at a snail’s pace. Likewise, it is now recognised that we made a fatal mistake in 1962 by not using air power to counter Chinese aggression. Moreover, our forces on the borders have lacked mobility and firepower, while the Chinese have far better roads and communications.
These deficiencies are being rectified with the deployment of tanks and acquisition of light, mountain artillery from the US, together with some progress in raising a Strike Corps. But what seems to have raised blood pressures across China is the positioning of frontline Sukhoi 30 aircraft in new border air bases, along with moves to deploy BrahMos cruise missiles, which can attack border infrastructure inside Tibet. China has chosen to dictate to us what our troop deployments should be by warnings from its military that current moves could have an adverse bearing on peace and stability along the borders. China wishes to resort to psychological warfare and pre-empt any move that could deter aggression from Tibet and Xinjiang, bordering India.
The Chinese arrogance coincides with its stepped-up military ties with Pakistan, now directed at India. The most dangerous dimensions lie on the northern and southern ends of China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ Project in Pakistan. Its Silk Road Economic Belt comprises a road network across Central Asia and through Pakistan. This belt reaches the Indian Ocean at the Port of Gwadar in Balochistan. Gwadar becomes the point where the Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt and its Maritime Silk Route, across the Indian Ocean, meet. It is this port that makes Balochistan and the Baloch freedom struggle so important for India. The Baloch hate the Punjabi Pak Army and its Chinese backers equally.
The belt is complemented by a fibre optic link, estimated to cost $44 million, connecting the headquarters of China’s Western Theatre Command in Kashgar with the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The two armies thus have a secure communications link, ready for use in times of conflict with India. China is providing Pak navy with a dozen submarines and frigates, which will reinforce its own navy in developing the potential to block the sea routes of India to the Persian Gulf, from where we get around 75 per cent of our imported energy needs. It is this tie-up that leads to China blocking India’s NSG membership and opposing any action being taken by the UN Security Council against Pak-based terrorist groups.
PM Narendra Modi has had a busy diplomatic schedule, including a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China. He will be meeting President Xi again at the BRICS-BIMSTEC Summit in Goa. He pointedly visited Vietnam en route to China and significantly expanded military cooperation with it by extending a $500 million credit for purchase of equipment and enhancing satellite links, which would boost Vietnam’s defence intelligence capabilities.
Modi also assured Vietnam of India’s commitment to off-shore oil exploration contracts to which China has objected. One hopes this will lead to ending our inhibitions on supplying BrahMos to Vietnam. We would, only then, be regarded as a meaningful and serious player capable of impacting on the existing balance of power in the South China Sea.
The writer is a former diplomat