Times are changing! Many years ago, the then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh was asked an unexpected question by his Japanese counterpart during their summit meeting in Tokyo: “How do you deal with China?”
Manmohan Singh's sedate answer was: Stay engaged with China with normal diplomatic and trade ties and keep on discussing all bilateral contentious issues without pushing them under the carpet.
The Japanese Premier's question indicated that Tokyo was at its wits end in figuring out how to deal with a resurgent China, which stepped up flexing its military muscles in South China Sea in an alarming manner since 2010. Then Japan was confused how to deal with China.
Today it’s China which is confused about how to deal with India.
The Doklam Standoff
The unprecedented over-a-month-long still-ongoing eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the armies of India and China in Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction is a case in point. This is the worst flashpoint stretching for so long without a resolution yet since the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
India has refused to budge from its unusual hard position of not letting the Chinese build a motorable road in Doklam close to Bhutanese territory, despite warnings from the Chinese foreign office and the People’s Liberation Army and crude threats handed out by the state-controlled Chinese media couched in humiliating and abusive language.
Instead, India has dispatched hundreds of additional troops to Doklam, though in a non-combat mode, wherein the nozzles of their modern rifles are pointed downwards.
The Chinese are utterly confused by the ‘sudden’ hardening of India’s stance towards China.
China has been monitoring with unease the way the Narendra Modi government has beefed up its China-specific military muscle. India is going to raise a second division of the China-specific Mountain Strike Corps, named 17 Corps, despite financial crunch and is to be headquartered at Pathankot in Punjab.
The second Division alone may cost anywhere between $6 billion to $8 billion and is likely to be completed by 2021. The first Division of 17 Corps, headquartered in Panagarh, West Bengal, has already been set up at a cost of around $6 billion. The 17 Corps will hold its first exercise in Ladakh in August-September this year. A corps normally has 45,000 personnel and three Divisions of 15,000 men each.
India’s Stern Stand
On 30 June, the Ministry of External Affairs came up with a rare statement on China-related issues and what was more remarkable was that it was a hard-hitting, poke-you-in-the-eye kind of statement. This statement alone conveys the hard Indian stance vis a vis China.
Two relevant points in the longish statement confirm India's tough stand:
- India is deeply concerned at the recent Chinese actions and has conveyed to the Chinese government that such construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India.
- In this context, the Indian side has underlined that the two governments had in 2012 reached agreement that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries. Any attempt, therefore, to unilaterally determine tri-junction points is in violation of this understanding.
BrahMos Missiles, the Game Changer
What has unsettled the Chinese most is that India has recently deployed the BrahMos missiles in the Chinese theater. BrahMos is going to be inducted in Indian Air Force soon and will be the biggest gamechanger of a strategic asset in the Indian military arsenal.
This missile will then acquire the formidable capacity to be launched from air, land, sea and sub-sea and aim at very well shielded Chinese military assets in sea and on land targets while simultaneously being capable of evading the Chinese air defence systems due to its variable trajectory.
The 17 Corps is in the process of deploying such lethal weapons as BrahMos and Agni missiles, US-made M-777 howitzer guns and Apache helicopters.
IAF Chief's Call to be Prepared For a 15-Day War With China
Incidentally, China has not failed to notice that India's tough posturing has come weeks after Indian Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa, while addressing the IAF Commanders Conference in New Delhi (19-21 April), asked his commanders to be prepared for a possible 10-day war with Pakistan and a 15-day war with China.
The IAF chief reportedly told the commanders to be ready for a possible “short but intense” war with China and Pakistan and directed them to keep their men and machines – including fighter aircraft, radar systems and missiles – in a state of combat readiness. This is something extremely unsettling for the Chinese as they have never come across Indian military leadership making such strong observations. Times have indeed changed.
Now, China can indulge in a bit of sabre rattling, but cannot walk its talk because at a time when Beijing is busy implementing President Xi Jinping's ambitious One Belt One Road project – under which China is going to invest over $90 billion in international connectivity projects and trade corridors – the Chinese can hardly afford to wage war with anyone.
(Rajeev Sharma is a strategic analyst and columnist who tweets @Kishkindha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)