The phenomenal rise of China’s military power is of concern to the whole world. For India it is even greater, since the Chinese have shown no inclination to resolve the long standing border dispute,and Beijing is not averse to threatening the use of force over territorial issues, as seen in the South China Sea and in the Senkaku Islands standoff with Japan. Moreover, China has been brazenly arming Pakistan and has made it known that the Indian Ocean cannot remain India’s ocean anymore. China also believes that having taught India a lesson in 1962 – a consequence of India’s post independence idealist view, that violence had no place in the affairs of nations – it is now almost ready to use force once again, if need be, against India. The question is, ‘how capable is China, of doing so?’
The author, Major General G.D. Bakshi, a soldier-scholar of repute and one with considerable understanding of China’s military mindset and capabilities, has put together this impressive net assessment of the entire spectrum of China’s military power. This book looks at the entire range of Chinese capabilities – from doctrines to demonstrated combat performance, as well as the plans and abilities of each of China’s three services. What emerges from this serious study is an analysis that should make India’s policy makers and military commanders sit up and take note of Beijing’s hawkish agenda.
For a number of reasons, as this book under review highlights, China did not embark on its military modernisation until after the first Gulf War of 1990, which showed Beijing how far its military capabilities lay behind that of America’s. In the 25 years since then, China has systematically sharpened the capabilities of its three military services, by doing away with the baggage of the past, both in terms of the equipment and the old timers who couldnot think beyond manpower intensive land based forces and operations. Over the past decade, China has spent over USD 150 billion to add combat aircrafts, naval ships, submarines and tanks to its growing military inventory. Much of this has been engineered and mass produced within China, often by copying designs of Soviet, Israeli and even American products. Consequently, China, which was a net importer of arms is now one of the world’s biggest exporters of defence technology. Had China purchased the bulk of its military requirements, (as India still continues to do), it would have had to shell out about USD 500 billion dollars or more.
India on the other hand is now on the path to spending about USD150 to 200 billion, over the next decade for a long overdue upgrade of its military capabilities, with much of India’s hardware still being of Soviet era vintage of the 1980s and ‘90s. It was the 1962 debacle in the high Himalayas that shook India’s leadership, and begun the first round of military expansion and modernisation. Since then, India’s forces have successfully fought two major wars with Pakistan (in 1965 and ’71), and a border conflict in 1999, all under the watchful eyes of Beijing. Despite Pakistani hopes to the contrary, Beijing did not intervene in its favour, perhaps because its own military wasn’t quite oat par. But now, the author argues, Beijing has set a timeline to settle all its outstanding disputes.
Is India prepared? China certainly is preparing for a showdown – not just with India, but elsewhere too – and India faces a two and half front conventional conflict threat from China. To its north is mainland China, with considerable force levels deployed across the Tibetanplateau. To its west, a nuclear armed Pakistan, which receives hugely subsidised military weapons from the US and China. And a growing maritime threat from Chinese ships and submarines around India’s coast line with Beijing’s string of pearls strategy that has encircled India with military bases. The author’s analysis is that China could initiate a conflict with India in the middle of the next decade around 2025, when it is satisfied that its comprehensive national power is in place to deal with the fall out of any conflict that it undertakes.
In fact, China has laid down timelines for its military objectives in its successive defence white papers, on the assumption that China’s economy will continue to grow robustly to fuel Chinese military modernisation.The author has therefore based his analysis on the time windows and horizons when China is likely to resort to the use of force. Many observers believe that it is not a question of “if”, but “when”.
In its 50 year perspective plan, China intends to resolve all its disputes from 2025 onwards. With respect to India, China eyes not just the Taiwan tract, but the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. Close home, she seeks to absorb Taiwan to its east, to begin with, if its economy is still growing at 6 to 7% annually.
The author has based his objective assessment on China’s intentions based on his deep understanding and study of Chinese thinking that views India’s designs with concern – especially if an India-Vietnam-Japan axis combined with the US shadow were to pose a serious challenge for China. But India’s ad-hoc military modernisation, its clueless civilian leadership, and a diplomatic elite that is wedded to the hopeless Nehruvian tradition of a peaceful approach to the Chinese dragon, is as yet far from presenting that challenge. What the author instead is suggesting is that India should prepare for a ‘revolving door’ strategy that allows India to push in troops into vulnerable areas across China’s frontlines, as a counter response to the next Chinese aggression across India’s land borders. This then would unsettle Beijing enough, for it to pull back its forces to revert to the status quo. But that is a debate that is yet to find consensus in the corridors of Delhi’s South Block.