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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Engaging with the Dragon

Last time the Chinese President Xi Jin Ping visited Bharat, the Chinese army made incursions deep into Bharat’s territory in the Western sector in Ladakh much to the embarrassment of the Bharatiya establishment, and it took the intervention of Chinese President on the request of our Prime Minister for the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) to recede. As Modi embarked on his China visit, an article in the state run Global Times – a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China –  admonished and chided Modi and Bharat for visiting Arunachal Pradesh and supporting Dalai Lama.

When his holiness the Dalai Lama got permission from Bharat’s government to visit Arunachal Pradesh – which is a state of Bharat – China upped the ante and threatened Bharat with dire consequences conveniently forgetting its own incursions in Tibet, South China sea & POK.

Just prior to the Prime Minister’s visit to China the Chinese President was seated to the right of his Russian  counterpart Vladmir Putin in Moscow, as Russia celebrated the victory over Nazi Germany by the allied forces with a grand parade which was boycotted by the Western nations. It is no secret that Russia wants China on it’s right side as it takes on the western powers in its fight in Ukraine. A strong east-west divide already looks imminent on the lines of NATO and Warsaw Pact, with Russia and China joining hands against the US, UK, France and Germany.

The US wants Bharat to act as a buffer against the rising Chinese dominance in Asia and in spite of president Trump’s election rhetoric where he called China an international bully, he has since becoming President softened his stance vis a vis China as was evident during the recent visit of the Chinese President to America. Perhaps, Trump wants to use China’s leverage with North Korea to rein in the latter. However, Bharat should not position itself in a way that it is seen as a western ally and should not bolster ties with the US at the expense of Russia. Bharat has had strong ties with Russia in the past and needs to cement them further as Russia and the erstwhile Soviet Union have been a trusted friend of Bharat. China and Bharat on the other hand have had a relationship of mutual mistrust and scepticism. Even though Modi gave precedence to China over Russia – visiting China before he pays an official visit to Russia – the ground reality between the two countries remains unchanged.

China continues to supply arms to Pakistan apart from its build up in POK, an issue which was raised by Prime Minister Modi with his Chinese counterpart. Chinese hegemonistic designs in the region are all too evident as it fortifies its presence right from the western boundary of LAC including POK to the eastern Sector and further into the Indian Ocean till Sri Lanka. It cannot be denied that China has encircled Bharat along the LAC – 4051 Km long boundary which is mostly undefined – and also in the sea.

Comparative Strength

  Bharat China
Army 13,25,000 22,55,000
Combat Aircraft 1,300 3,380
Warships 150 285
Nuclear Warheads 70 200
Missiles Agni V 5000 Kms. DF-41  10000 Kms.
Submarines 12 60
Tanks 600 3000

China has staked its claim on 90% of the 3-5 million sq. km South China sea much to the chagrin of Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and Malaysia; a face – off with America over this issue is a distinct possibility. The Western Sector comprising Ladakh has seen repeated incursions by the PLA. Aksai Chin is under illegal occupation by China and in the eastern Sector of the LAC, Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by China as part of Tibet. As China breathes down Bharat’s throat on land, it is already looking ominous in the sea as the dragon stretches its reach from the South China Sea till the Indian Ocean having a network of port facilities in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka (Hambantota). China’s martitime superiority is alarming as its warship are almost double that of Bharat and its submarines – which give its navy an invincible feel  – are almost five times that of Bharat’s.

Moreover, Bharat’s fleet of submarines are aged and have had a series of disasters in the recent past, casting a shadow on their war preparedness and readiness. Bharat has restored some parity with China with its Agni V missile – having a range of 5000 kms – catapulting it along with the ‘big four’  (Russia, China, France & America) who have ICBMs (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles). Though China’s DF-41 enjoys a range of over 10,000 kms and is capable of hitting targets anywhere in the world, Bharat’s Agni V is a strong deterrent as it can hit targets anywhere in China.

China’s successive leaderships have shown that they are insensitive to public opinion or pressure internally and externally as the Tiananmen Square incident gravely demonstrated. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to China and his call to de-escalate tensions in the South China Sea went unheeded as the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China will protect its interests in the region at all costs. Diplomatic initiatives and visits by heads of State are always welcome and our Prime Minister’s visit to China was a step in the right direction.

However, Bharat must understand that China’s aggressive leadership will continue to pursue its land and maritime interests in the region unmindful and oblivious of the world. The Chinese dragon is the highest ranking animal in the Chinese animal hierarchy and is synonymous with power and might. The only way for Bharat to prevent the dragon from harming it is to rise in power both militarily and economically and thus make China believe that Bharat is also a force to reckon with. Bharat needs to shore up its naval strength by correcting the imbalance which is currently in favour of China so that China’s maritime ambitions can be countered in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.  On land Bharat needs to up the ante in raising basic infrastructure like roads and air strips thus providing better connectivity for movement of troops – particularly in the eastern Sector and Arunachal Pradesh. Building a strong deterrence is the only way to counter China’s regional hegemony apart from correcting the trade deficit, and Bharat cannot afford to lag behind.

As the international scenario changes rapidly and a possible realignment of  major powers looks likely, Bharat should juxtapose itself in a manner that the major powers particularly China sees it as a key player. The dragon looks intimidating but the Bharatiya tiger can take it on.

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Aman Gupta
Aman Gupta
Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine


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