By Barun Das Gupta
March 19 was a big day for the Indian Air Force as its heaviest transport aircraft, C-17 Globemaster, landed at Tuting Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in Arunachal Pradesh, very close to the Chinese border. India has been upgrading the old and disused landing strips in Arunachal to ALGs for handling big aircraft as part of its larger programme of strengthening defences against China. Last year’s confrontation at Doklam ended after 72 days when China, for reasons of its own, decided not to further escalate the tension. It chose for the time being to dismount from the high horse it was riding.
But Beijing made it plain soon enough that it had not given up its aim of grabbing Doklam. Control over Doklam will enable China to connect with the Chumbi Valley and give easy access to the ‘Chicken’s Neck” or the narrow corridor that connects India to its north-east. Capturing Doklam will put immense pressure on India, compelling it to shore up its defences. Subsequent satellite pictures have confirmed that the PLA is engaged in constructing barracks, sheds, helipads and trenches in the area.
India is now raising the threshold of its deterrence capability all along the 4,056 kms of the Sino-Indian border. Not much was done by the previous governments to improve connectivity along the border in the north-eastern sector, despite the humiliating experience of the 1962 war. It was only during the second term of the UPA Government that defending the Chinese border received urgent consideration.
The Manmohan Singh Government decided to raise the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC), which will be capable of crossing the border and fighting a war in the Tibetan plateau, if need be. The Corps (17 Corp) is expected to be fully raised by 2021. It will have high altitude infantry divisions and armoured, artillery, engineer and air defence brigades. Its sanctioned strength is 90,276 soldiers. By 2021 India will also acquire a lot more military hardware, including the ultra-light M-777 howitzers that can be transported by helicopters from one area to another, giving greater mobility in deployment according to the exigencies of the situation.
China’s rising hostility to India has to be viewed in a larger context. It is happening at a time when India finds itself at a disadvantage in its relations with some of the immediate neighbours. The new government in Nepal, run by the two communist parties, is inclining towards China. It is lukewarm towards India. Maybe, the forthcoming three-day visit of the Nepalese Prime Minister to New Delhi beginning April 6 will see a free and frank exchange between the leaders of the two countries, ushering in an era of warmer relationship.
Bhutan is trying for quite some time to establish direct diplomatic relations with China, much to India’s apprehension. India has so far maintained that Doklam is Bhutanese territory. That has been the stand of Bhutan also. If Thimpu resiles from its earlier stand and gives up its claim on Doklam, it will be a big setback for India.
In Sri Lanka, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, well known for his pro-China ‘tilt’, seems to have retrieved a good deal of lost political ground, as people’s disillusionment with the Maithripala Sirisena Government rises. In Maldives, India-friendly president Mohamed Nasheed was dethroned, manhandled and forced to leave the country. The present president, Abdulla Yameen, recently declared emergency in the island nation and took over complete power in his hands with the help of the army. He closed down parliament, defied the Supreme Court, and imprisoned the Chief Justice along with prominent opposition leaders. Nasheed, living in exile, appealed to India to intercede but before India could react, Beijing issued a stern warning to India against any interference in the Maldives. The Yameen Government soon echoed the Chinese tune.
Now Seychelles has said ‘no’ to an Indian request to set up a naval base in its Assumption island. The rebuff comes just a couple of months after India signed an agreement with Seychelles for building a naval base there. The Government has the full support of the opposition as well. The Leader of the Opposition, Wavel Ramkalawan, who enjoys majority in the House, said he would not allow the ‘revised’ agreement to be passed by parliament. The agreement was signed by the Indian Foreign Secretary and Seychelles Secretary of State on January 28. The Assumption Island is of immense strategic importance for India to counter China’s increasing footprint in the Indian Ocean.
Behind all these developments, the hidden hand of China can be discerned. Isolating India from her neighbours and putting military pressure on India are two facets of the same policy. China aims at world domination supplanting the United States by the fifth or sixth decade of this century. In Asia the only country that can stand up to Chinese expansionism is India.
As far as military spending is concerned, China comes second in the world, next to the US. It is difficult to make out the actual military spending by China because it is concealed and shown under apparently non-military heads. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military spending by the US is $611.2 billion or 3.3 per cent of its GDP. China’s military spending is $215.7 billion, which is 1.9 per cent of its GDP, while India’s is a meagre $55.9 billion or 2.5 per cent of GDP.
Going by the GDP figure, India is spending more of its GDP on defence than China. But the comparison is highly misleading when the size of economy of the two countries is kept in mind. The size of China’s economy is $11.8 trillion while India’s is $2.45 trillion. India need not compete with China on defence spending because China aims at world domination while India wants to develop a credible military deterrence, which can beat back any attempt to violate its sovereignty and territorial integrity. (IPA Service)