Commenting on the visit of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to China, Pravin Sawhney, Editor, FORCE news magazine and security analyst says he “has wasted the opportunity of not seeking insights into Chinese military reforms that directly impinge on India’s defence.”

After his meetings with Chinese Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Fan Changlong, and Defence Minister General Chang Wanquan, Parrikar confirmed that he had raised four concerns with the Chinese leadership. These are the need to clarify the Line of Actual Control, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that passes through disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, China’s blocking of UN sanctions against Masood Azhar, and the need to maintain peace in the Indian Ocean region. While listening to India’s concern, Chinese military leaders did not give a commitment to considering them.

Sawhney says China is unlikely to concede on either of these issues.

He recalls the clarification of the LAC was first sought by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the joint Press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his September 2014 visit to India. The issue was once again raised by Modi while addressing students at the Tsinghua University in Beijing on May 15, 2015. The Chinese leadership, says the analyst “had dismissed India’s desire for mutual agreement on the LAC for two reasons. One, after the Chinese announcement of December 2010 that it did not have a border with India in Ladakh (Jammu & Kashmir), the LAC there with India had become meaningless. To ask China to agree to the LAC in Ladakh on what China now considers disputed territory between India and Pakistan is unrealistic.

“And two, the LAC, by definition a military line, can be moved by force by either side. This helps Chinese troops do brazen LAC transgressions and intrusions. On the other hand, transgressions on an agreed LAC a de facto border would be an act of aggression tantamount to declaration of war”. China will thus not lose the advantage of exercising military coercion by sauntering across the LAC at will.

“The CPEC for China is much more than about economic benefit for people of the region. China has deduced that the viability and success of its Belt and Road (B&R) project hinges upon the flagship CPEC, which will link Kashgar in China to Gwadar port in Pakistan. China believes, and with reason, that the triumph of CPEC will convince the world that its B&R is not an amorphous concept but a result-oriented venture which will change the balance of power in the world”.

Keen to replace the US as the foremost geo-strategic player, China has forged a deep, all-encompassing relationship with Pakistan. As a result, “Pakistan has emerged as China’s most trusted and crucial partner for its geo-strategic designs, which are unfolding through the wide-sweeping B&R project. The B&R project seeks economic connectivity with obvious geopolitical implications, both on the Eurasian continent and in the Indian Ocean. It is absurd to believe that China will take India’s concerns about the CPEC passing through PoK seriously”.

The Masood Azhar issue falls in the same category with China not prepared to annoy Pakistan.

According to Sawhney, “India need not seek assurance from China for its Maritime Silk Road project in the Indian Ocean to be peaceful. It is for India to create conditions where China sees benefit in cooperation rather than confrontation with New Delhi. This will not happen if India continues to position itself as China’s rival for connectivity in Asia”.

The reality is that India is an important but certainly not a geo-strategic player like China. But has the potential to become a geo-strategic player. “What comes in the way is the immature thinking that good economic growth alone can lead to a strong foreign policy which nations heed. Without military power, India will not become a geo-strategic or leading power. And military power is less about defence allocations and more about military reforms which India refuses to undertake. In this context, it would have been useful for Parrikar to understand Chinese military reforms from the horse’s mouth”.

Modi government adopting a realistic approach to China

C Raja Mohan, Director, Carnegie India and consulting editor on foreign policy for The Indian Express, analyzes the Modi government’s approach towards its giant neighbor.

In contrast to the UPA government, the NDA “now acknowledges the enduring contradictions between the interests of the two countries at the bilateral, regional and global level, seeks to manage those responsibly, refuses to limit its relationship with other countries by looking over its shoulder at Beijing, and rolls out the red carpet for Chinese capital”.

This is seen as the government adopting a realistic approach. “Modi is conscious that China’s rise over the last three decades put Beijing in a higher league than Delhi. He is aware that China is under no compulsion to make the kind of territorial concessions that India would need to make a boundary settlement work…..Modi is, therefore, building on the mechanisms devised during the UPA years for better management of the border. The frequency and intensity of border incursions appear to have come down since President Xi Jinping visited India in September 2014”.

Delhi is also conscious of the need to manage the broader impact of China’s rise on the subcontinent as a whole. There is sufficient realism in Delhi to recognise that India can’t build a Great Wall against

On the issue of China’s growing economic penetration into the subcontinent, the government is realistic enough to take the view that “if India itself is more open to Chinese investments, it can hardly object to deepening economic links between the rest of the subcontinent and China. This sobering recognition has shaped India’s response to China’s grand “Belt and Road” initiative, which is moving massive amounts of Chinese capital into the subcontinent and improving overland and maritime connectivity with South Asia”. Delhi has objections only to Chinese investments in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and is not opposed to other elements of the intitiative.

The real challenge for India, says Mohan “is not about taking a “diplomatic position” on the Belt and Road initiative. It is about getting India’s own act together on building infrastructure projects on and beyond its borders. It has no option but to compete with China for economic influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. The Modi government is finally taking some steps in that direction. Delhi is also now ready to work with other countries, especially Japan and the US, to offer alternatives to China’s regional connectivity projects”.

Similarly, India cannot be objecting to China’s security cooperation with smaller neighbours. “It must be more sensitive to the political concerns of the South Asian nations and offer attractive terms for military partnerships. Modi has lent greater energy and intensity to some of the regional security initiatives unveiled by the UPA government”.

The Modi government’s most important departure, according to Mohan “from the past is in the framing of the China question itself. In the security domain, Modi is betting that creating strategic leverage is more effective than meekly deferring to presumed Chinese opposition to India’s relations with third countries. If the UPA government consciously limited its defence cooperation with the US for fear of upsetting China, Modi’s wager is that expanded cooperation with Washington and Tokyo could eventually help alter China’s calculus on matters of concern to India, especially Beijing’s all-weather partnership with the Pakistan army”.

Lessons from military reforms in China

All supreme leaders of China have either been generals or political entities in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). But unlike his predecessors, Xi Jinping has taken much greater interest in matters military. Within days of taking over, Xi made high-profile visits to many army, air force, space programme and missile command facilities.

Xi unveiled his plans to transform the PLA in the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on November 12, 2013. The first phase has been completed. The remaining changes are expected to be completed by 2021. The military reforms on the one hand are to transform the land-focused PLA into a well-trained, technologically capable, specialised force to meet the demands of the future battlefield. That would “lead to effective integration of the civil-military leadership, restructuring the military and its force level, and the teeth-to-tail ratio”. On the other hand, it involves some reshuffle of authority, aimed at enforcing discipline and getting a firmer grip on the military.

Speaking about India, Gen V P Malik (retd), former Army Chief writes that in “India, we had discussed such issues in the Group of Ministers (2002) and the Naresh Chandra Committee (2011-12), though not as comprehensively. But our political leadership, civil bureaucracy in the Ministry of Defence and the Service headquarters have managed to stall recommended reforms due to lack of military education and/or parochial interests.

“The over-riding lesson that the Chinese process offers is the important role of political China is the focus of the week with the NDA government’s three-way dialogue with the Chinese leadership, involving External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. leadership in the military reform process. No transformative change can take place in the military of any society — democratic or authoritarian-without the direct involvement of the political class. As this important task can no longer be postponed in India, I hope that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who began his three-day visit to China on April 18, 2016, will find time to learn from the Chinese example”.