UNSC seat

India thumbs nose at China

This is a reprint from Newsbred.

In the first part of this series, we looked at Japan and India raising hackles against China in East and South China Sea. In this second and concluding part, we look at reasons for India’s militaristic posturing and its’ likely fallout.

 

One and a half years into his premiership, Modi seems swamped by issues which certainly are not of his making but would need at least 10 years of his helmsman-ship.

In an impatient country, rogue opposition parties stall him at every step and scoundrels in media bay for his blood every morning. Modi knows immediate issues could sail or nail him, given how they turn out.

Modi’s most pressing concerns—which probably are true of any other country—is improving jobs, infrastructure and Human Development Index (HDI) to go with a secure neighbourhood.

Creating jobs is a millstone around his neck.  India needs 12 million jobs for its youth every year—that is more than the population of a Greece or Hungary. The infrastructure “deficit” is estimated to be over $750 billion—that’s more than twice the size of Singapore’s economy. The HDI ratings are 135 out of 187 nations, conveying a yawning shortfall in areas such as education, health or gender inequality. Agriculture and rural-urban divide is monstrous. Intended legal or economic reforms are hacked by butchers occupying opposition benches in the parliament.

Modi’s best hope in this has been to seek a huge foreign investment.  He chiefly has sought out US, Japan and China in this quest. United States has been quick on the cue. There is now a five-fold increase in India-US trade. US supports India’s bid for a United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) seat. Joint production of weapons and weapon systems has been agreed upon.

US’ interests are evident. It wants India as a frontline state in its bid for strategic naval dominance in Pacific and Indian Ocean. Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz pulled no punches when he declared in September that “America is preparing India to reduce the influence of China in the region.” Japan, as we’ve found out, has been quick to do the bidding on US’ behalf for India.

China, on the other hand, has an indifference bordering on contempt. Chinese President Xi Jinping came with much fanfare to India last year but offered only 20 billion dollars of Chinese investment over five years—that too was a quantum jump on existing Chinese investment of only $500 million in India. It’ ‘investment even in Myanmar totals $14.2 billion.  Before Xi could even settle down in Beijing on return, China’s incursions in India’s northeast borders had left a bitter taste in its hosts’ mouth.

In June this year, India was stunned when China vetoed an Indian attempt to pressure Pakistan into keep the alleged 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), into jail. This wasn’t the first time though. China had thrice before blocked efforts to designate Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD) as a terrorist organization. It was LeT which had attacked the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan last year on the eve of Modi’s inauguration. It’s also worth remembering that China was critical in arming Pakistan with nuclear weapons’ knowhow.

China’s support to Pakistan indeed has been extraordinary. It’s commitment to invest $46 billion in the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), to connect Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, is staggering. It’s the largest investment project ever in one country, bigger than even the US Marshall Plan after World War II.

If it bears to fruition, the CPEC with its power projects, fibre optic links, roads and energy supplies will transform Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan has even created a special division of 10,000 in its army for the defence of the project as it runs through the troublesome Balochistan province. A part of this project runs through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), much to India’s annoyance.

Sure, Pakistan is important to China. It doesn’t want the terrorist trouble to spill into its Tibet and Xinjiang province. Pakistan also is its staunch ally in the Islamic world. Above all, Pakistan sits at the intersection of South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East.

Thus India, on its own part, feels encircled. China has extended its reach in the Indian Ocean through Sri Lanka and Maldives. Gwadar is said to be a pearl in its crown though there is a misnomer here which must be spelt out in full.

Pakistan purchased the small town of Gwadar from Oman in 1958. However, work on its port began only in 2002. Its need arose as repeatedly Pakistan found its naval and strategic options limited in conflicts with Indian Navy who were quick to blockade Karachi. Gwadar happens to be less than 500 km from Karachi and thus an ideal alternative.  At Pakistan’s request, China provided US $198 million for the first phase which was completed in 2006. Thereafter, China took little initiative in completing its remaining two phases.

Gwadar’s importance clearly is being overplayed by the analysts. First, for it to be an effective port, China would need to built thousands of kilometers of roads in Pakistan. So is true of thousands of kilometers of gas and oil pipelines; and railway tracks to justify the investment in Gwadar.

Besides Gwadar isn’t the only option for China in Indian Ocean. It has Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and a container port in Chittagong in Bangaldesh. China has built roads, dams and pipelines in Myanmar, not to say developed port in Kyaukpyu. China’s oil ships from the Middle East and Africa will cross the Bay of Bengal and unload at these ports.

Still, India has sulked at China’s indifference. In China’s latest white paper on defense, India doesn’t figure at all.  India’s insecurity has been further heightened by China’s astonishing military build-up.

Border is another issue. India wants to clarify the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India’s navy has counted 22 “encounters” with Chinese submarines in Indian Ocean in a span of 12 months. China’s defense budget has shown a three and a half fold increase in just last decade. Its’ air force is twice the size of India.

According to a news report, Beijing needs only two days to mobilize on the Chinese-Indian border while New Delhi, hampered by its crippling transport infrastructure would need at least a week to do so. China, if it wants, could place 450,000 troops in a jiffy at the border, three times to what India could manage.

Chinese navy warships have been spotted on long deployments just off India’s coasts. India’s present chief of navy staff, Admiral Robin Dhowan couldn’t help but publicly say that India is “minutely monitoring” Chinese maritime movements.

Sure, India has caused distrust of its own. It hosts Dalai Lama which is a sensitive subject for China. If India wants to stir up things for China in Tibet, the latter wouldn’t mind using Pakistan for the same end. India also views China as a major opponent in seeking oil and other resources from Africa. Last month Modi hosted a summit of African government leaders in India’s capital.

Given India’s needs, it certainly doesn’t want to be leashed in its own region by China’s tactics. It’s association with Japan would certainly make China a little more sensitive to its anxiety. In the real-politic sense too, India has been clever to make the most of differences between Japan and China.

The only concern, and it’s a real one, is if US or Japan go too far in needling China in East or South China Sea. If gloves are off, India would be required to fulfill its obligation or the promised investments would go up in smoke. Modi’s best bet is it won’t happen in next three years and by that time he would have secured his re-election.