More churning in South Asia : India bolsters defences on China border

June 12, 2009

Power play in South Asia is always a delicate dance and anything that happens between India and China will likely play itself out across the region, not the least in Pakistan, Beijing’s all weather friend.

And things are starting to move on the India-China front. We carried a report this weekabout India’s plan to increase troop levels and build more airstrips in the remote state of Arunachal Pradesh, a territory disputed by China.  New Delhi planned to deploy two army divisions, the report quoted Arunachal governor J.J. Singh as saying.

Other reports in the Indian media said the air force was beefing up its base in Tejpur in the northeast with Su-30 fighter planes, the newest in its armoury. The HIndustan Times said it was part of a decision to move advanced assets close to the Chinese  border.  The IAF base in Tejpur which is in the state of Assam is within striking distance of the border with China in Arunachal Pradesh.

Arunachal evokes especially painful memories for India – for this is where the Chinese advanced deep inside, inflicting heavy casualties on poorly-equipped Indian soldiers in the 1962 war. The Chinese retreated but have refused to recognise Arunachal as part of India, and that along with other disputed stretches of their 3,000 km border has remained at the heart of more than four decades of distrust.

Indeed the renewed Indian defence deployment comes days after the air force chief said China posed a bigger and more potent threat than Pakistan.

And what of the Chinese? What do they have to say to the noises coming out of India?  While official China hasn’t appeared to react publicly,  the Chinese media has responded. The Global Times said in a hard-hitting editorial the Indian government’s tough new posture ”is dangerous if it is based on the anticipation China will cave in”.

China is in a different league, it says, by way of international influence, overall national power and economic scale and India’s politicians don’t seem to have realised this. On the contrary, they seem to think that they would be doing China a huge favour simply by not joining the so-called  “ring around China” established by the United States and Japan, it says.

China is not going to compromise on its border dispute with India, and it was up to New Delhi to figure out why it can’t have stable relations with many of its neighbours such as Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka while Beijing can, the Global Times says.

The Global Times is a popular tabloid and has been taking a strident tone on foreign policy issues. But it is published by the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, and can’t really be ignored.

Are we seeing the beginning of a more open, declared rivalry  between the world’s two most populous countries? Where does Pakistan fit in all this? Is New Delhi going to organise its energies and defences to meet the perceived threat from China and leave Pakistan to figure out its own troubles?

And what of the Chinese? Are they going to turn up the heat on India? As this analysis notes, New Delhi is already wary of China’s role in Pakistan, and now reinforcing its fear of strategic encirclement are Beijing’s expanding ties with India’s smaller neighbours such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.

 [Indian troops at the Indian-China trade route at Nathu-La; an Indian and a Chinese soldier also in Nathu-La] 

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