Deciphering China's Endgame: Defence White Paper, Intrusion in Ladakh and Indian Response
The Defence White Paper issued by the People’s Republic of China in 2013 is the latest in a series of these official documents first published in 1998. It is a declaratory unveiling of the capacities and intentions of the state’s defence organisation and structures. It is significant both for what it reveals and it does not. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) very much remains the sword and shield of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Xi Jinping reiterated that its foremost responsibility is to defend the Party and its rule.
There is greater emphasis on confidence in the PLA’s capabilities and modernisation strategies. The focus on the role of science and technology in defence strategy is much more pronounced this time. The PLA Navy’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, with plans of constructing a second one, and its new frigates come out as the future tools of projecting China’s maritime ambition and influence beyond the ‘near seas’. The focus areas for the PLA Air Force shall be acquiring early-warning assets and building stronger strategic deterrence with long-range strike capabilities. The corps allocation of the various military area commands too has been declared for the first time.
The White Paper categorically asserts the importance of the Asia-Pacific region in China’s external security environment and identifies the Diaoyu Islands (Japan-controlled Senkakus) as a core interest. There are blunt references to the US’s more assertive Pacific strategy and Japan with regard to the balance of power, arms race, and alliances in the region.
Lt. Gen (retd) Arvinder Singh Lamba
The recent incursion by the PLA in Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector in Ladakh is a fresh wake-up call to the Indian foreign policy and security establishment. The DBO proved to be easy to infiltrate and the incursion was perhaps timed to give an angle to the upcoming visit of the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Pressure was applied on the Indian side to move out of the area and stop infrastructure projects close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The media hype around the issue quickly turned a tactical military manoeuvre into a national security and strategy debate.
While problems with the command and control apparatus of India’s border security came to the fore yet again, China’s actions signalled an approach similar to its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. China’s exercise of power in international politics typically combines diplomatic and military pressures timed to put the adversary in a tight spot. Beijing has built up capacity and infrastructure in the border areas and narrowed the response time-frame of their strike formations which arguably makes the resolution of territorial disputes and settlement of the international boundary a low priority. The Chinese have never produced maps and other legal evidence in the past and the basic objective remains reining in India’s will to plan and prepare in advance.
Dr. D. Suba Chandran
Border incidents between India and China frequently stir up political tensions in New Delhi and the calls for military responses. There is a need for prevention and better border patrolling till the international boundary is settled through negotiations. Better co-ordinated human and technical intelligence would go a long way in ameliorating potentially escalatory scenarios. While strong political will and sharp military response may seem warranted in some cases, it’s near improbable that India would risk triggering a major armed conflict on the Chinese border. Therefore, short of settling the boundary for good, the state must ensure that its political and administrative control covers all of its sovereign territory and reaches right up to the claim lines.
There is a pressing need for integrating Ladakh, the areas outside and around Leh in particular, into the Indian civil administration and developing the region beyond the overarching military security umbrella. Tourism, reactivating and converting airstrips into local civilian airports, and improving governance and education throughout Ladakh would all add up to increase the state’s socio-political presence. These facts on ground would give credibility to India’s sovereignty claims and embolden its posture on the negotiating table.
Prof. P.R. Chari
The chain of incidents on the Sino-Indian border now goes back decades. But, it is hard to pinpoint the implications for India-China diplomacy barring the deduction that China has little desire to resolve and go for a comprehensive settlement. Keeping the dispute alive has ensured that the scope of strategic competition never shrinks even as trade and cultural engagements have taken off quite well.
Therefore, the lesson for India is to begin infusing its China policy and diplomacy with proportionate military preparedness and to develop new doctrines and strategies for making full use of India’s geographic advantage be it on land, air or the high seas. For this to come to fruition and win for India strategic parity with China, it is absolutely necessary that the vision, direction, and decision-making be focused, driven, and consistent at all levels of government and the armed forces.
Report drafted by Rana Divyank Chaudhary, Research Intern, CRP, IPCS.