There is a near consensus across the strategic spectrum that New Delhi must learn from the history of Beijing’s policy of territorial aggression toward India and take appropriate steps to neutralise it.
Knowledgeable sources say it is very much in the nature of the Chinese communist state to aim at expanding its national boundaries. With this imperialistic objective in mind, Mao Zedong, the father of communist China, attached special importance to the country’s military.
In his September 21, 1949, address to the first plenary session of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, Mao praised the role of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in defeating “the reactionary Kuomintang government backed by U.S. imperialism.” In his October 1,1949 speech at Tiananmen Square, Mao declared himself the chairman of the People’s Revolutionary Military Commission of the Central People’s Government.
Mao happens to be the role model of present Chinese supremo Xi Jinping. Ever since Xi became president of China, he has put Beijing on a course to establish itself as the world’s number one military power. In 2016, China reorganised its forces into a joint structure. In recent years, China has invested a lot in developing fifth-generation fighters, ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons.
China has, in recent years, built up a very sound infrastructure in Tibet. According to a study, China today has over 1700 combat aircraft, 60 submarines, and 1,550 rocket artillery systems. In 2020, Beijing had a military budget of nearly $178 billion.
China has also penetrated itself deeper into India’s neighbourhood, including Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, not to speak of its all-time ally Pakistan. With its notorious ‘String of Pearls’ strategy, China has been building a network of commercial and military bases in India’s neighbouring countries. This is aimed at reducing India’s strategic clout in the region.
New Delhi needs to remain cautious of the possible Chinese designs and take appropriate steps to foil them. India needs to equip itself with credible conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities. The country needs to increase its defence budget and modernise its Army, Air Force and Navy. India needs to accord special attention to modernise its Air Force and Navy. The Indian Air Force needs over 42 combat squadrons. The Indian Navy requires at least three aircraft carriers. India also needs to develop its infrastructure in its mountain belt along the LAC and have a Joint Himalayan command.
Besides, India may coordinate better with countries such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan to checkmate Chinese designs. Like India, all these nations perceive China’s growing military prowess as an existential threat to themselves. Tokyo has had a dispute with Beijing in the East China Sea; Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia have it with China in the South China Sea.
Contemporary Indian diplomacy towards China needs to discard its traditional, idealistic Nehruvian obsession with peace. It requires an appropriate dose of Kautilya realism. The sooner this is done, the better.
The legendary Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu taught his pupils, “ Exhibit a maiden’s coyness. Afterwards, emulate the running hare. It will be too late for the enemy.” Foreign policy honchos in India would do well to remember his teachings are well embedded in communist China’s strategic culture.
(The author is a New Delhi-based journalist)