Event ReportsPublished on Jul 15, 2015
In the Chinese defence paper, though nothing is directly indicative of India, the implications are quite clear with the focus on open seas protection and unbending approach to territorial disputes. Urgency and imagination will be key in tackling Chinese ambitions in what is considered New Delhi's backyard.
China's Military Strategy: Implications for India
In late May, China released its 9th defence white paper which is its first public summary of military strategy. Issued by the State Council Information Office, the paper highlights China’s strategy of active defence and emphasizes China’s commitment to "winning informationized local wars" and becoming a maritime power. To discuss the Chinese white papers implications for India, Observer Research Foundation’s National Security Initiative organised a workshop on "China’s Military Strategy" on 2 July 2015 in New Delhi. This new defence white paper is hardly surprising or unexpected, and it provides confirmation of polices and strategies that the Chinese have been pursuing in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean Region over the last few years. The white paper, apart from a preface, has a section each on the National Security Situation, Tasks of China’s Armed Forces, Active Defence, Development of China’s Armed Forces, Military Force Building Measures, Preparation for Military Struggle and Security Cooperation. The paper reflects the trend under President Xi Jinping towards centralization of decision making, a top-down design approach to strategy and policy, and a vision of policy that views all fields as interconnected and inseparable. The emphasis on far sea force projection, force sustainment and offensive operations reflects an increasing likelihood of military intervention to defend China’s strategic interests. With no previous precedents of such action, China is slowly developing and putting out in public the language and literature to deal with such an eventuality. The implications of releasing such literature is not lost on most countries, China is in the coming years going to be more assertive in enforcing Air Defence Identification Zones (AIDZ) and in the contentious South China Sea. Key words and phrases in the document indicate a trend towards the militarization of Chinese society. The fusion of peacetime and wartime goals is however classic rhetoric and not necessarily indicative of its conduct in external affairs. However, inequalities and contradictions in the Chinese economy as seen in the recent stock market crash do make the population more susceptible to military and nationalist rhetoric. The mention of co-operation with Russia in the white paper is being considered surprising. Post Crimea, Russia has been driven closer to China exponentially increasing their engagements. China and Russia conducted naval exercises this year in the Mediterranean Sea, considered to be the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’S) backyard. China and Russia are planning to hold similar exercises’ in the South China Sea in 2016, which may give further credence to the idea of a new Sino-Russian block if any. The People Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) recent deployments and engagements in the Indian Ocean Region reflect how fast the their force modernization and architecture is changing towards a force capable of blue water operations. Their constant participation in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden has allowed them to leverage experience in operating in far off theatres and gaining crucial operational experience which had till recently been lacking. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA)too is focussing on mobility amongst its different military regions, possibly reflecting the need or the possibility of quelling instability in different regions in mainland China. The timing of the Chinese white paper has implications. The Chinese financial year is from December to January. The Chinese however published their paper after the US Department of Defence published their report this year and the Japan released its white paper. It also comes as tensions are aggravating in the South China Sea over reclamation of islands. Based on the discussing at ORF, the two key takeaways for India from this new Chinese white paper are the China’s growing maritime ambitions and its uncompromising approach to territorial disputes. China’s growing forays in the Indian Ocean over the last few years confirm India’s fear of Chinese intentions in the region. Deployment and recent port visits by Chinese submarines in the region has New Delhi concerned and is driving the modernization of the Indian Navy and its infrastructure in the region. Indian efforts to reach a settlement on its land boundary with China is still to materialize after 18 rounds of talks. The fact that the Chinese use of maps of 1954 which include the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Nagaland, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are a reflection of Beijing’s obdurate position. While nothing in the Chinese white paper is directly indicative of India, the implications are quite clear with the focus on open seas protection and unbending approach to territorial disputes. Urgency and imagination will be key in tackling Chinese ambitions in what is considered New Delhi’s backyard. (This report is prepared by Pushan Das, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)
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