China’s PLA may have an edge over Indian Army, but we are better prepared in high-altitude warfare

The year 2020 and thereafter have been calamitous for the world, including India. Combating the worst disaster after the end of World War II...

The year 2020 and thereafter have been calamitous for the world, including India. Combating the worst disaster after the end of World War II in 1945, nations battled the Wuhan-originated COVID-19 pandemic which ravaged the global economy besides inflicting over five million fatalities. Another global challenge that has emerged during this stressful period, in particular, are the unbridled ambitions of the emerging hegemon, China, which remain unsatiated despite its growing economic and military power and influence spreading all over. Unmindful of the sufferings all over, China found it opportune to give vent to its geopolitical aspirations in nations whom it views as its adversaries. That India is one of the prominent ones which China sees as one of its permanent competitors is more than obvious as one visualises the vexed India-China relations since the early 1950s to date.

That all Indian Prime Ministers have endeavoured to improve relations with China is an undeniable fact, though to no avail. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping directly and at various international summits about 18 times, but the Chinese strongman is unrelenting with his imperialistic ambitions and China is making all efforts to nibble away Indian territory as part of its wider “salami-slicing” strategy.

The just-released US Department of Defense Annual Report 2021 has revealed that China has established a village comprising over 100 houses in the upper reaches of Subansiri Division in Arunachal Pradesh. It may be a disputed territory in China’s viewpoint, but its actions at unilaterally changing the status quo unmistakably displays its aggressive intentions.

Currently, according to well-informed security analysts, reliable media reports including foreign, commercially available satellite imagery and some ambiguous official reports, both China and India have moved nearly 40,000 to 50,000 troops each into the region with adequate artillery, a vast number of tanks, air-defence weaponry, rocket systems, drones and helicopters with the air forces of both nations standby at short-notice. Adequate arrangements for roughing out in the extreme winters in that inhospitable terrain appear to have been made by the Indian Army.

Though China’s defence budget is believed to be nearly four times that of India, that doesn’t mean the Indian Army is weak vis-à-vis China, especially in the Himalayas where Indian troops are better prepared for high-altitude warfare.

Statistically, China has an edge over India. It has 21,83,000 active personnel and 510,000 reserve troops, while India has 14,44,000 and 21,00,000, according to Global Firepower. Likewise, China possesses 3,500 tanks, 33,000 armoured vehicles, 3,800 self-propelled artillery, 3,600 towed artillery, and 2,650 rocket projectors. As for India, it has 4,292 tanks, 8,686 armoured vehicles, 235 self-propelled artillery, 4,060 towed artillery and 266 rocket projectors.

As is well known even to the Chinese, that Indian troops are far better in military prowess in high-altitude warfare than them. That India will not permit any further nibbling of its territory is commendable, but it must make all arrangements, including kinetic and mirroring actions against the Chinese — if need be — to restore the pre-May 2020 ground situation. In addition, our military establishment must also prepare adequate contingency plans to cater for any collusive mischief from the China-Pakistan combine. Never before has India faced the serious possibility of a threat of a two-front war as now. The Indian Army has done well by redesignating one of its strike corps into a second mountain corps and is working to the raising of the first mountain strike corps which was envisaged some years back.

Apart from stoking fires against India since early 2020, China’s hegemonistic designs have been felt in the Indo-Pacific and across the entire Asian geo-political landscape. The recent events in Afghanistan with the sole superpower US’s inglorious exit from Afghanistan has only emboldened the Chinese.  In the past few months, in particular, China has made provocative gestures questioning the independence of Taiwan — it has repeatedly indulged in deliberate violations of Taiwan’s airspace, deployed some of its army units in the vicinity of Taiwan and appears to be getting ready to launch operations to annex Taiwan.

In nearby Bhutan, China is claiming all areas up to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary which is 100 km inside Bhutan — the aim is to open the underbelly route to facilitate the capture of Tawang. That China has only recently pressurised Bhutan to sign a treaty with it to demarcate the Sino-Bhutan border is fraught with danger to Indian security in the foreseeable future.

Last year China attacked and sunk two Vietnamese fishing trawlers besides curtailing the fishing rights of Indonesia in the South China Sea. Further, China has laid claims on Japan’s Senkaku and Rya Ka islands — it also claims ownership of islands lying within the EEZ of South Korea and also rejected the ICJ ruling as regards EEZ around Spratly islands being awarded to the Philippines. It is well known in the maritime world that China scoffs at international conventions on the freedom of navigation and movement in the seas.

Though India must be prepared to fight its own battles against China, it should always retain its strategic autonomy, besides re-energising the global endeavour to combat China. Towards that end, India must impress upon the US and other nations to attempt strategic convergence. Some of these steps could be taken into consideration:

(a)              The world must condemn the Chinese genocide in Tibet and Sinkiang province where systematically the Chinese are destroying the ancient Tibetan culture and the Islamic population and religion respectively. That Chinese atrocities in Sinkiang province has not drawn the ire of the Islamic world is also surprising.

(b)              The Quad and the recently announced AUKUS must be strengthened with a credible military deterrent. The Quad must be expanded by including a few more Asian nations which are suffering from Chinese bullying tactics.

(c)               The WTO must identify and censure China’s monopolistic and corrupt trade practices. G7 nations, including the US, must endeavour to cut their trade with China substantially and introduce a new tariff regime to match Chinese trade machinations.

(d)              China has the capability, which has been recently proved that unleashing another pandemic as part of its bio-warfare, is always possible. Thus the global community must remain consistently prepared to combat another pandemic.

(e)              India must diplomatically become proactive in managing myriad Chinese machinations vis-à-vis other poor nations in our neighbourhood and beyond. The malpractice and perils of “Debt Trap Diplomacy” perfected by the Chinese against poor nations has to be properly understood as the highly punitive loan terms are nothing but financial blackmail.

(f)                China is making breathtaking breakthroughs in the fields of Hybrid Warfare, Information Warfare, Cyber Warfare, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing and exporting embedded technologies in technical electronic components around the world including to India. Utmost vigilance and technical advancements are warranted to manage such Chinese machinations.

(g)              China has been devoting adequate resources to augment its capability in space warfare — the world, especially the US, needs to look into the myriad nuances of space warfare with the seriousness it demands.

(h)              India needs to further re-energise its diplomatic ties with nations in our neighbourhood in diverse ways and prevent them from falling into the Chinese trap.

(i)                India needs to augment its all-encompassing naval preparedness in the Indo-Pacific which surely will be the next domain of an India-China conflict. India must also vastly strengthen its Andaman and Nicobar Command to keep Chinese maritime ambitions in check.

India now needs to assert itself vis-à-vis China and an ostrich-like attitude towards the fire-spewing Dragon will only be self-defeating. The Chinese bluff needs to be called off and they must be reminded that as in Nathu La in 1967, Sumdrong Chu and Wangdung in 1986, Doklam in 2019 and now Galwan Valley in June 2020, Indian troops will administer a medicine of their choice on them, if required. There is now no alternative before the civilised world but to synergise its resources and strategies to effectively combat the emerging and rapidly growing global hegemon, China, before it assumes monstrous proportions.

The writer was India’s first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency and is a renowned military expert. Views expressed are personal.

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India World News: China’s PLA may have an edge over Indian Army, but we are better prepared in high-altitude warfare
China’s PLA may have an edge over Indian Army, but we are better prepared in high-altitude warfare
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