Why India should not take China’s ‘war cry’ lightly
It is rather unusual to wish your countrymen (and your neighbours) with a war cry. It is what Chinese President Xi Jinping, also the Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC), did on January 4, during a meeting.
He ordered the Chinese armed forces to enhance their combat readiness and be prepared for a war. He urged the armed forces to resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty and withstand complex situations and severe struggles:
“The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century,” he asserted.
The Chinese armed forces are expected to speed up their preparation in view of a series of landmark anniversaries in 2019, particularly the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic; the 1989 massacre of Tiananmen Square will, of course, be omitted from the ‘celebrations’. Four days later, the state-owned Global Times reported that some units of the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) stationed in Tibet have been equipped with a new vehicle-mounted howitzer to boost China’s combat capability and improve border security.
China’s Arms Race ::
The mouthpiece of the Communist Party referred to the new system as ‘PLC-181’, claiming that it had already been deployed in Tibet during the 73-day-long stand-off in Doklam in 2017.
Xinhua reported that some two million personnel were involved in more than 18,000 mostly small-scale exercises in 2018, compared to roughly 100 larger scale exercises in 2016.
Moreover, China has been active for months in boosting its border defence with India through the construction of Xiaogang (‘moderately well-off’) model villages in Tibet on the Indian border; rapid development of infrastructure on the plateau (three new airports in Lhuntse, Purang and Tingri); new drones to boost border control; the new-generation Type 15 lightweight battle tanks, which have better mobility than other armoured vehicles that can easily be deployed in Tibet in the event of a conflict with India.
At the Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, a new LW-30 laser weapon system was displayed. It can “effectively contain tactical reconnaissance and prevent terror attacks and can be easily deployed on level ground like in Tibet and islands of the South China Sea,” military analysts told The Global Times.
The system could use a directional emission high-energy laser to quickly intercept many kinds of aerial targets, such as photoelectric guidance equipment, drones, guided bombs or mortars. PLA special forces are building ‘Super Soldiers’ for a ‘digital’ modern warfare. Already in August 2018, photos of China-developed Z-20 utility helicopters which replaced the imported UH-60 Blackhawk, trended on Chinese online military forums and will be deployed in Tibet. All this shows that China is working hard to be ready to face any contingency.
The ‘BRO’ code ::
The pace of development on the Indian side of the border is painfully slow. The minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, stated in the Lok Sabha that out of 73 roads identified as strategic Indo-China Border roads (ICBRs) with a total length 3,812 km, 61 measuring 3,417 km have been entrusted to Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
Out of these, only 28 roads (981 km) have been completed. In Arunachal Pradesh alone, 11 roads (1,110 km) have been identified as priority.
The quasi-monopoly of the BRO is a serious problem.
Can the government be bold enough to bring in private players on a big scale in the ‘national interest,’ before the elections?
It is doubtful. The main reasons given by Rijiju for the slow pace are: “Delay in obtaining forest/wildlife clearances, hard rock stretches, limited working season, difficulties in the availability of construction materials, delay in land acquisition, natural calamities and strategic security consideration.”
‘Soft’ weapons ::
The Middle Kingdom does not have the ‘political’ and bureaucratic compulsions facing a democracy.
Developing the border infrastructure more vigorously should be India’s first priority for 2019; it is the only chance to ‘dissuade’ China.
Another ‘weapon’, a soft one, needs to be mentioned; for the first time in 2018, the number of Chinese tourists in Tibet exceeded 30 million, up 31.5 per cent from the previous year.
The TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region) government hopes to receive 40 million visitors in 2019. What does it mean for India? It will translate into a change of the demography of the plateau and trigger an exponential growth of dual-use (civil and military) infrastructure; not only in the big urban centers such as Lhasa, but in the smallest hamlets on the India border too.
Apart from the infrastructure development, the acquisition of the Rafale aircraft (and their arrival at Hasimara Air Force Station in Bengal) could be a game changer… if the Opposition lets it happen. Meanwhile, Beijing greatly enjoys watching the debates in the Indian Parliament.