While the focus of Chinese force modernisation is primarily to deal the threat from the United States, both as part of cross-straits operations and possible US intervention, it needs to be underscored that this substantially enhances the Chinese threat to India. Beijing factors India while shaping regional policy and a rising India is covered, both in economic and military terms, in Chinese security discourses. Beijing also perceives the growing India-US strategic ties as being aimed to strategically contain China and limit its influence in the region.
China regards India as a hurdle if not a competitor to its big power ambitions in Asian politics. Beijing has encircled India through a combination of soft power—strategic diplomacy, economic linkages and “Finlandisation” of India’s neighbours; and hard power—build-up of military capabilities, nuclear and conventional arms transfers, military assistance and WMD proliferation to India’s adversaries.
China has realised that a future war will be fought in its maritime domain and has given a boost to its naval development—through higher budget allocation and procurements. It desires a blue water navy based on carrier-borne task forces and nuclear submarines. In addition, China seeks a transit corridor from southern China to the Indian Ocean and has intensified activities in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. This is in addition to its presence in Gwadar, Pakistan and attempts at creating a strategic land bridge to link southern Baluchistan with western China. With its extended diplomacy and burgeoning ties in India’s neighbourhood, China has acquired the potential to target Indian shore- and sea-based assets via Myanmar and Pakistan. These aspects are critically important to India as it develops a proactive stand against China’s escalating ambitions in the region.
Any Indian military conflict with China will thus be significantly different in terms of technology and force application models. Network-Centric Warfare (NCW) strategy, based on massed weapon and sensor attacks using information superiority, will form an integral part of Chinese strategy. India will need to consider a range of responses that could limit China’s actions by altering the basic strategies for conflict.
Indian doctrinal philosophy needs to move beyond attrition or manoeuvre-oriented thinking to a nuanced, effect-based operational perspective. India has to evolve its own version of a conventional dissuasive strategy to counter China’s pre-emptive, effect-based operational philosophy. India will have to invest in technologies that help in achieving operational and strategic manoeuvre in higher altitude areas of the North and North-east. While achieving this, India needs to take the initiative by employing asymmetric means of fighting hi-tech wars: the ability to fight at both ends of the spectrum. This will allow the Indian armed forces to destroy and degrade technologically symmetrical or superior force by creating operational asymmetry.
During a number of scenario games, it has emerged that China’s continued economic and military growth could posit a myriad of potential conflict scenarios with serious security implications for India, and some of these could trigger a Sino-Indian conflict. India and China are growing economies with fast growing demands for energy. A competitive relationship on securing energy supplies has already emerged between the two, not least due to existing market structures and the mercantilist approach to energy security adopted by both the countries. Indeed, the Sino-Indian border dispute is unlikely to be the cause for a future conflict. Such a scenario, if it emerges, will be a construct of an economic and strategic competition between India and China, wherein boundary dispute would at best be a related factor.
If India has to deal with growing Chinese challenge, it needs to develop leverages and improve relations with countries along it strategic periphery, deal with growing Chinese presence in Indian Ocean rim through economic and security leverages, and strengthen bilateral and multilateral relationships with South East Asia and West Asia. Most importantly, India needs to develop military capabilities, with concomitant changes in doctrines, equipping and strategy, to prepare for and deter the outbreak of conflicts.