Indian options to meet Chinese challenge

Anjan Roy
Nothing could compensate the loss of twenty young lives of the Indian Army, but the episode and China’s premeditated actions on India’s Himalayan borders willy nilly has changed for good the global geo-political narrative.
Much to its chagrin, India is now hyphenated -as they say in strategic talks- with China. China, the pretending global power, now considers India its biggest stumbling block in Asia in its bids towards attaining its pre-eminent position.
Until recently, as many would recall, India used to be hyphenated with Pakistan and US strategy calculation weighed India versus Pakistan. Now the United States is obliged to consider India as the most important bulwark again China’s projections of power in Asia. This is no small gain.
Years back, a Japanese friend of mine had told me “You Indians always fight with Pakistan. This is small time. If you have to fight, fight with the Americans as we did. And then, rise again to beat them in their own game.” Japan dominated the entire economic discourse of the United States for a over a decade when the US car companies were being driven out in their home ground by the Japanese producers.
Thereafter, in electronics to high technology, the Japanese were scoring over the US to shore up their trade surplus. It was then difficult to remember that twenty five years back Japan was hit by atom bombs by the US.
It was then Japan that made its place secure in the high table of the world’s largest economies. It surged past UK, France, Italy and Germany.
Indeed, China’s implacable hostility towards India is the reflection of the weight of India in the global discourse. Today, China is fighting with India for small slices of land in the inhospitable Ladakh region and northern Sikkim. China knows for certain that in tactical terms, it will be no cakewalk to gain substantial ground in the Himalayan terrain. This is possibly just the first round.
Its next moves will come in the Indian Ocean. China is building up its flotilla of ships for projecting its power far away from the mainland. The sheer objective of China’s Belt and Road initiatives in Pakistan is to gain access to the Arabian Sea from its crucial road facility across the Karakoram.
China is building the port at Gwadar in Pakistan from scratch for this purpose. Once Gwadar is functional China will be in a position to station its critical naval resources in that area and then command the access and movements across the Arabian Sea. India’s trade routes and vital sea links run through these waters and hence it will be of immense importance to start building up capacity to meet this imminent threat.
Gwadar is of critical importance because it will eventually link up by road with Chinese hinterlands in that country’s western parts. It already has military bases in these parts and these could then be easily linked up to its outlets on the Arabian Sea and eventually in the Indian Ocean.
This is like Crimea in the Black Sea region for the Russian Empire. Right from the nineteenth century, Crimea was of critical importance for Russia and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was driven by the calculation for gaining a strategic access into the open waters through Crimea.
As of now, India can expect only lip service from Russia in its strategic movements to meet the Chinese threat. With the Western world’s generally attitude towards Russia, and its disposition towards a dictatorial system, Russia is fused together with China.
This week, Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, had participated in Russia’s Victory Parade, thereby assuaging Russian pride. He has also secured promises for supply of a good number of aircraft immediately and substantial military spares for the hardware stocks that are already with the Indian defence services.
Selling such items would be of critical interest for Russia as these orders shall work towards propping up sick or lame defence production industries of that country. India has been used to Russian defence items and their operations. Hence, to obtain such supplementary material at this point would be essential value.
However, India should start putting its eggs in several boxes. Fortunately, such alternative safe keeping of our interests look possible now than ever before.
Because of China’s gross hostility towards a number of other countries, many others are now ready to join forces with India. Japan, for one, is feeling increasingly vulnerable to the Chinese threat. It has given open demonstration of its uneasiness with China when it announced a corpus of $200 billion for its companies for shifting base from China.
Currently, Japan’s long-standing dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands is simmering. Experts feel it can be the next flashpoint for armed confrontation between China and Japan. Senkaku is even more sensitive for China than Himalayan borders.
During an earlier round of dispute over the Senkaku, the Chinese had boycotted Japan and anything associated with Japan. China’s national hostility towards Japan was so acute that a Chinese citizen was beaten to a state of coma on a Beijing road just for the crime of driving in a Toyota.
The catch for China however is that Japan has a defence treaty with the United States that provides an attack on Japan would be tantamount to an attack on USA – just the same reason why China after all cannot dare take military option for integration of Taiwan. China would be keen to demonstrate its might over the Senkaku Islands to establish its claim to being the big power.
Japan is also threatened over the South China Sea, along with a host of others from Vietnam to tiny Brunei. And these are all under the protection of the USA.
As China is claiming whole of South China sea as its sovereign territory, USA has made it a point to patrol these waters if only to establish its right of navigation in international waters. USA has also flown over some of the Islands which in these waters which have been militarised by China.
While previously USA never made any concession to the idea of a defence tie with India, being as it was, hyphenated with Pakistan, now India is noted as a counter-balance to China in American strategic talks.
If anything, casting aside all past reservations about defence ties with USA, efforts should begin for a comprehensive agreement with the United States. Maybe, these could include inviting strategic US resources in India as well. These may hold enough intimidation for China to be more civilised in any approach towards India till we nurture our own capabilities to a level to pose adequate threat.
Faced with power and intimidation, it is threat potential that alone matters. (IPA)