India needs to take Chinese threat at Doklam seriously

Chief of army staff general Bipin Rawat has been emphasising that India must shift its tactical military focus from Pakistan to China.

 |  5-minute read |   25-01-2018
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Is China preparing for another confrontation with India at the Doklam trijunction? Recent reports using satellite imagery suggest a build-up of military infrastructure on Chinese territory less than 100 metres from where Indian soldiers continue to maintain vigil at the trijunction on Bhutanese territory.

Alarmist reports

In official briefings the Indian government has downplayed the Chinese build-up. The fortifications are on Chinese territory. There has been no attempt to encroach upon sovereign Bhutanese land which Indian troops are guarding at Bhutan's behest. Reacting to alarmist reports of a massive military infrastructural build-up near the Doklam plateau, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said:

"The government would once again reiterate that the status quo at the face-off site has not been altered. Any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate and mischievous." There is a constituency in India that periodically raises alarmist bogeys over threats, internal and external. In the past, routine army movements near Delhi have been called potential "coups" with rarely used front-page eight-column headlines which are employed by newspapers only for extremely critical events. The coup was not. It was a figment.

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The Chinese threat at Doklam though is not an idle one. It needs to be taken seriously. Chief of army staff (COAS) general Bipin Rawat has for some time now been emphasising the Chinese factor in India's overall military preparedness. He says India must shift its tactical military focus from Pakistan to China. At last week's global Raisina Dialogue, General Rawat, commenting on the presence of China's PLA troops in the north Doklam area, observed: "They have carried out some infrastructure development, most of its is temporary in nature. But while their troops may have returned and the infrastructure remains, it is anybody's guess whether they would come back there, or it is because of the winter they could not take their equipment away. But then we are also there. In case they come (back), we will face them."

The Indian army commander who oversaw the successful disengagement of Indian and Chinese soldiers at Doklam last August after a 73-day standoff has clear views on the current situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Lt General Abhay Krishna heads the Eastern Command which monitors the LAC. In a recent interview, General Krishna said emphatically: "The readiness and reactions of the Indian Army to the Doklam standoff have given courage to India's friendly neighbours to live up to their shared concerns. The situation is now normal with our stand having been clearly articulated, backed up by the readiness of the Army for any security scenario in the forthcoming season."

Elite group

Meanwhile, the successful pre-induction trial of Agni V, an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a range of over 5,000 km, places India close to joining an elite group of countries - the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France - that have nuclear-armed ICBM strike capability.

Following one more pre-induction trial, Agni V will be inducted into India's triservices Strategic Forces Command (SFC). Agni V's strike range covers the entire territory of China. An Indian ICBM with a range of 10,000 km -similar to Chinese ICBMs which have a range of up to 14,000 km - is under development. The acquisition of an advanced air defence missile shield, the S-400 Triumf from Russia that can destroy enemy missiles at a range of 400 km and an altitude of 30 km, is in the final stages of negotiations.

Beyond military preparedness on both the Pakistani and Chinese borders, India must use nuanced but robust geopolitics to strengthen its neighbourhood strategy. Towards this end, the United States and India will hold their first "two-plus-two" dialogue in April 2018. It will feature the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries: Nirmala Sitharaman and Sushma Swaraj for India and general James Mattis and Rex Tillerson for the US.

Growing engagement

China is wary of the growing diplomatic and military engagement between Washington and New Delhi. Its spokesmen have "warned" time and again that the US-India strategic partnership should not be aimed at countering China's "inevitable rise", as Beijing puts it, and global influence. China was incensed by being described as a "disruptive, transitional force in the Indo-Pacific" by Admiral Harry Harris who heads the US Pacific command. Beijing sees the emerging "quad" alliance between the US, India, Japan and Australia as an impediment to its ambitions in the South China Sea as well as a spoke in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that will give it seamless access to the markets of Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

India's membership of the Australia Group, finalised last week, in addition to its earlier entry into the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) - non-proliferation groups that China is not a member of - will not worry Beijing much. The three groups are obligation-oriented regimes. China's objective is to block India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which is rights-based. But since the other three groups that control the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have common members with the NSG, China's obsessive opposition to India's membership will be increasingly untenable.

Not a single shot has been fired along the LAC between Chinese and Indian soldiers for over 40 years. That tranquillity, despite China's military build-up in Doklam, is likely to continue. But as General Rawat says coldly, if they come, "we will face them."

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: The worst (and best) thing about Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat

Writer

Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

Biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. Ex-TOI & India Today. Media group chairman and editor. Author: The New Clash of Civilizations

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