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    South Asia
     Jul 12, 2012


SPEAKING FREELY
India plans strategic encirclement of China
By Daniel Thorp

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

The conclusion of the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil in June saw only a disappointing outcome, despite it being labelled a "once-in-a-generation chance" to direct the global economy in a sustainable direction and the much positive talk from various world leaders. However, while discussions concerning the global economy took place, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, held talks on the sidelines concerning their

 

bilateral relationship, with both urging strengthened cooperation between the Asian giants.

Singh emphasized that India had no intention to contain China, and he would not tolerate any anti-China activities on Indian soil. We have seen numerous examples of Chinese and Indian politicians meeting to discuss relations strewn with optimistic language. However, despite sustained reassurances from both sides that their respective governments are not pursuing any containment and encirclement strategies of their neighbor, actions over recent years paint a very different picture.

There has been a particular growing fear of a "China Threat" within Indian government and strategist circles over the past decade, with many feeling Beijing is engaging in encirclement and containment strategies in a persistent attempt to tie India down to the Indian subcontinent. Responding to this perceived threat, New Delhi has gradually been undertaking a combination of internal balancing, by means of increasing its military capabilities on both land and at sea, and external balancing, via military cooperation with states in East and Southeast Asia.

Indian internal balancing has taken various forms and has been reflected in the increasing defense budget which was announced as US$41 billion for 2012-13, a 17% increase on the previous year.

Firstly, this has helped to fund an ongoing military modernization program with the recent deal for 126 French Rafale fighters to be supplied by Dassault over the coming decade in conjunction with over 200 fifth-generation fighter aircraft to be developed in cooperation with Russia by 2017.

Secondly, India has been strengthening its defenses along its disputed border regions with China; 100,000 additional troops were stationed along the Line of Actual Control in 2011, along with the deployment of the 300-kilometer range BrahMos cruise missile along the eastern border region. These deployments have been complemented by increasing infrastructural developments including new roads and the construction and upgrading of assorted air bases across the regions.

Finally, and most significantly, India has been bolstering its nuclear capabilities with its "flawless" test of the Agni-V missile, which is able to carry a nuclear warhead and with a 5,000-kilometer range can strike a majority of major Chinese cities along its eastern seaboard.

In addition to military modernization on land, New Delhi has been developing its naval capabilities with naval commanders taking a visible turn in the direction of the teachings of Alfred T Mahan and his sea-based geopolitical philosophy, with ambitious future plans for a fully fledged and highly capable blue water navy able to protect coastal waters, vital sea lanes of communication and project power deep into the Indian and surrounding oceans.

Naval modernization has included the establishment of two new deep-sea naval port facilities at Kawar on the southwest coast and near Viskhapatnam as part of the Eastern Naval Command. In tandem with the establishment of the Far Eastern Naval Command (FENC) at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, the Indian Navy is able to project power across the Bay of Bengal and into the Strait of Malacca, intensifying China's "Malacca Dilemma".

These developments have been complemented by the increasing purchases and indigenous development of naval hardware, including the nuclear submarine INS Chakra on a 10-year lease form Russia and the locally developed INS Airhant. Additionally, the former Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov, renamed INS Vikramaditya, is to be commissioned into service of the Indian Navy by December 2012. These recent enlargements will make up part of a planned 160-vessel fleet including three aircraft carrier groups by the mid 2020s, outlined by Indian Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta.

Internal balancing is taking considerable shape with increasing hardware purchases and consistent upgrading of military capabilities along the border with China and also in the naval realm, where China is undergoing rapid expansion, increasing competition in and around the Indian Ocean. This balancing has also taken considerable shape in terms of external balancing and cooperation with other states in the region.

Military cooperation with other states extends across the realms of both land and sea. On land, New Delhi has become increasingly invested in its relations with Afghanistan, establishing a Strategic Partnership in October 2011, eyeing a greater role following the planned 2014 withdrawal of coalition forces.

With Tajikistan, India has increased its interaction with Tajik security forces and has provided funding for the upgrading of the Farkhor and Ayni air bases succeeding construction of a military hospital and logistics depot. Ayni air base is of particular significance with reports that Tajikistan, India and Russia are in talks over the joint use of the base and that an Indian air force currently has Mi-17 helicopters and has leased Russian fighter jets stationed at the base.

New Delhi has also increased cooperation with Mongolia, signing an agreement on Defense Cooperation in 2001, positioning radar systems able to monitor Chinese missile tests, holding bilateral military exercises since 2004 and having a quiet discussion over basing rights.

Indian relations with Tajikistan and Afghanistan in particular also have the potential to undermine China's use of Pakistan as a proxy state against India in an attempt to split its focus along two fronts. With greater influence in Afghanistan, New Delhi can potentially undercut Pakistani influence in a country which Islamabad has traditionally considered as within its strategic sphere of influence.

Extending into the maritime realm, further cooperation and encirclement can be observed as India has developed ties with some historically contentious neighbors of the Chinese. First of all, Indo-Singapore relations have flourished in recent years with their Defense Cooperation agreement of 2003 upgrading ties and extending bilateral military exercises into all three wings of the armed forces, and most significantly the SIMBEX naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal and South China Sea.

Relations with Singapore have particular geopolitical importance as Singapore is at the western approaches to the South China Sea and eastern approaches to the Strait of Malacca, both vital sea lanes of communication for India and China. Close security relations between New Delhi and Singapore allow for strong power projection by the Indian navy into the South China Sea, an area of particular sensitivity to China with its claims of sovereignty over the sea; they also allow for India to threaten the closure of the Strait of Malacca, exacerbating Beijing's "Malacca Dilemma".

Next stop along India's maritime encirclement of China is Vietnam, with New Delhi and Hanoi sharing a history of conflict with China. Strong ties exist dating back to their 1994 defense agreement and include military training and bilateral naval exercises carried out in the South China Sea which have drawn much criticism from Beijing, not helped by the talk of India providing BrahMos missiles to Vietnam, presenting an undeniable deterrent to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

Hanoi has also recently granted the Indian Navy basing rights at the Nha Trang port, providing a foothold in the South China Sea and intensifying Chinese fears, demonstrated by the July 22, 2011, confrontation of INS Airavat when operating off the Vietnamese coast.

Indo-Japanese security relations provide a real security dilemma for China, as close ties between these two historically contentious neighbors pose the possibility of a pincer movement by two great powers and complete the encirclement of China by land and sea.

Ties between India and Japan are continuously growing and expanding further into the security field with the MALABAR naval exercises. These relations and encirclement of China is further complemented by expanding ties with Japan's old ally and China's greatest threat, the United States. While ties between New Delhi and Washington remain fairly low key, partially due to India's non-alignment strategy, they hold the greatest potential for containment of China. Both sides hold their relations in high esteem, with President Barack Obama proclaiming that their relationship "will be one of the defining relationships of the 21st century".

Despite the constant rhetoric emanating from India proclaiming it has no intention of encirclement or containment of its communist neighbor, its actions, as so often found in international relations, speak much louder volumes about its intentions and reveal a great concern over China's rise to Great Power status.

However, these concerns may be well placed as China has been undertaking many actions which can easily be interpreted as an effort to encircle India and contain its rise, tying it down to the Indian subcontinent. So depending on which angle one observes the situation from, either side can be construed to be the aggressor or just acting in a defensive manner.

Daniel Thorp is an International Politics graduate of Brunel University, UK, specializing in Asia-Pacific security and international relations

(Copyright 2012 Daniel Thorp)

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.





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