Sino-Indian Relations: Threat Perceptions


The dawn of twenty-first century coincided with an unusual phenomena in the arena of international relations and that is the emergence of China and India as global powers. The steadily rising rate of economic growth in India has recently been around 8 percent per year and there is much speculation about whether and when India may catch up with and may even surpass China’s over 10 percent growth rate. India and China understand the concept of co-existence and the growth very well. This engagement has elements of both rivalry and cooperation. However the pattern of engagement is still limited and will remain secondary to relationship with other global players, especially the US.

With sheer aggressiveness China is creating areas of influence in South Asia just to undermine the position of India in the region. It was a well-calculated strategic move by China to make Pakistan a standalone nuclear power. China has transferred M-9 and M-11 nuclear- capable ballistic missiles and has facilitated the transfer of Taepo-Dong and No-Dong ballistic missiles from North Korea to Pakistan. China and Pakistan have jointly developed a fighter aircraft JF-17 Thunder / FC-1 Fierce and a main battle tank Al Khalid, besides other military hardware like anti-tank missiles. As China develops its latest J-20 fifth-generation fighter and subsequently inducts in in its arsenal, Pakistan could be a potential buyer of the fighter in the future. As a part of its “string of pearls” strategy in the Indian Ocean, China has built a port for Pakistan at Gwadar on the Makran Coast. Besides this China is now building two major hydro projects in POK (1.5 billion) over the river Neelam. In Nepal, the Chinese Government plans to extend the Tibet railway right up to Kathmandu. China has surpassed both India and Japan as a leading doner to Sri Lanka. China’s long-term strategy is to link its Southern landlocked regions to Bay of Bengal through Myanmar and the Arabian Sea through Pakistan. So the prospect of the Chinese Navy becoming an ‘Indian Ocean Player’ is real one and for India this is not a comfortable sign.

All the three important countries in South Asia - India, China and Pakistan have increased their defence spending in 2011 and that may lead to an armament race in the region, which is already facing the rising threat of terrorism. In a sharp 11 per cent increase in India's defence budget to aid rapid modernisation of the armed forces, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on February 28 allocated Rs 164,415.19 crore ($36 billion) for its military in 2011-12. Earlier, the Pakistan Army had sought additional Rs 45 billion (about $525 million) to meet security requirements, an official said in Dec 2010. China has raised its defence budget by 12.7 per cent to 601 billion yuan ($91.5 billion) in 2011, compared with an increase of 7.5 per cent last year.

Due to China's vigorous military modernization drive, the military gap between India and China is growing every year. With the improved logistics infrastructure in Tibet, including the Gulmud-Lhasa all-weather railway line, improved road axes with good laterals linking them and many new air strips, the Chinese are now capable of inducting large numbers of troops into Tibet in a time frame that is likely to unhinge Indian war plans. A report published by the government funded think tank, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) has even warned India about a possible Kargil type short and swift aggressive conflict initiated by China in future.

India needs to invest more in improving the logistics infrastructure along the border with Tibet, in hi-tech intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for early warning and in generating land- and air-based firepower asymmetries to counter China's numerical superiority. India also needs to raise and suitably equip four to six mountain strike divisions to carry the fight into Chinese territory if it ever becomes necessary. All of these capabilities will require a large infusion of fresh capital. India's growing economy can easily sustain a 10 per cent hike in the defence budget over a period of three to five years, especially if the government simultaneously shows the courage to reduce wasteful subsidies.

The steady and rapid growth of China’s economic and military power, as well as an increasing assertiveness by China in her international relations, is being watched by policymakers and analysts in many countries around the world. However, perceptions about the impact of China’s rise on the future of the political, economic and security situation in Asia are varied. Some believe that China’s policies in the region are basically a part of the overall attempt to challenge US supremacy. Some others are quite wary and suspicious of China’s long-term (feared to be hegemonistic) ambitions in the region and the world. It is strange that there seem to be very few who are willing to consider that China has only been relentlessly pursuing what it considers to be her national interests, though perhaps with little consideration of the effects her policies and activities may have on the interests of other countries.

South Asia is strategically important both to India and China; and both need a peaceful environment for their development. While they continue to court and help these countries, they can and should ensure that they cooperate whenever possible, compete where necessary and unavoidable, but do their best to avoid any conflict – engaging in awareness of and respect for each other’s national interests, mutual accommodation and meaningful discussions.

Author Note
Dr. Mahendra Kumar Dash, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Sambalpur University, Odisha