Strategic pincer & Trojan Horses

Consider the simplified timeline: on May 4, when the armed intrusion by Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Depsang Bulge is on-going, the Indian government in an inspired fit announces the extension of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan scheduled in May-end by a day. Literally a day later Beijing, after treating India’s military capability with near contempt – otherwise it wouldn’t have dared risk the intrusion in the first place — agrees to a pullback. It was China’s calculations of a prospective Indo-Japanese strategic pincer, not India’s “nuanced diplomacy”, that persuaded Beijing to retract its claws.

China, always fearful of a remilitarised Japan, is unsettled by what it means to have its nemesis take a nationalistic turn and for India to make common cause with it. Potentially, that can distend the Chinese security system at the two ends of its imperium — bounded in the west by Tibet and Xinjiang — and verily be a nightmare for the PLA which still feels queasy about the last time it ventured into an adjoining country – not India, silly! – Vietnam, in 1979. The PLA invasion force (of some 28 infantry divisions) escaped with huge casualties and its dignity in shreds. The Indian minister for external affairs Salman Khurshid perversely blamed the delay in the Chinese vacating their aggression to the Indian media getting wind of the intrusion!

And a week after benefiting from the merest hint of India and Japan (and the US) engaging in a military exercise, the pusillanimous gang in-charge of our China policy orders the Indian Navy out of a full-fledged joint war game with the US and Japanese navies off Okinawa that was in the works for seven-eight months, lest it upset Beijing. No country is more solicitous of its natural adversary than India.

Instead of enhancing Chinese apprehensions, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s regime has foresworn playing the many strategic cards India has been dealt over the years. In return for Chinese assistance to the India’s rebel movements in the Northeast, India should have played the Tibet card; as payback for Beijing arming Pakistan with nuclear missiles, India could have armed Vietnam with strategic missiles, and India should have shoved China on the defensive by putting security cooperation with Japan and America into over-drive.

While Dr Singh, mercifully, predicated good relations with China on peace on the border and did not gratuitously reaffirm that old saw about “One China” – a formulation encompassing countries and territories whose status as part of China is questionable — New Delhi’s traditional feeble-mindedness led to Premier Li Keqiang placing more Trojan Horses at the Indian gate — larger contracts for the Chinese telecommunications and power production and transmission companies at a time when the PLA-owned Huwaei Company, for instance, has been barred for security reasons from most Western markets. India apparently has no fear of remotely-controlled disruptions of high-speed communications networks or insertion of logic bombs into Indian information systems.

Even as New Delhi was accommodating Beijing – the armed intrusion in Ladakh was accepted as only an “incident” — Japan under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dispensation of Shinzo Abe warned China to keep its submarines from the exclusive zone around the disputed Senkaku Islands and issued notice of its intent to amend the country’s “Peace Constitution”, enabling Tokyo to arm itself to the extent necessary and to sell arms and military technologies to friendly states. It is an opportunity the Indian Navy should capitalize on, exploring with the Kawasaki shipyard the transfer of the Soryu-class diesel submarine technologies for its Project 75i and firm up the deal with the Shin-Meiwa corporation for the private sector manufacture here of its PS-1 flying boat for maritime operations. It is precisely the cross-stakes in each other’s security that Prime Minister Abe has been pleading for.

Japan, moreover, is a “para-nuclear state” — quite literally a screw-driver’s turn away from nuclear weapons status. Its vast holdings of spent fuel can be converted, the LDP President Ichiro Ozawa had said in 2002, into “thousands of nuclear warheads”. “If we get serious,” he warned, “we will never be beaten in terms of military power”. Beijing is one major incident in the East Sea away from a nuclearised Japan, its most disturbing nightmare. No better Asian power, in the event, for India to get close to than a reviving Japan.

India, Japan and America, actively cooperating with each other, will keep Chinese adventurism leashed. New Delhi better begin to appreciate just how much of a leverage security ties with Tokyo affords India and why Dr Singh should consider elevating it as a key issue in bilateral relations.

Actually, India should emulate the hard-driving, multi-layered, diplomacy Beijing conducts so effortlessly, which New Delhi can only goggle at. Often great adversaries are good exemplars in the policy field. And policy urges spawned by ingrained outlooks and habit that lead MEA to disregard military instruments of foreign policy have to be resisted. Hence, last-minute withdrawals from scheduled air-sea war-games with Japan and the US that can grow in complexity, and cancellation of strategic “trialogues” with these countries send the wrong message to friend and foe alike, and should be avoided at all cost.

Then again, one cannot under-estimate the myopia and complacency of the present lot of India’s security minders. Asked if the government shouldn’t be worried about critical sectors (telecommunications, power) of the economy becoming dependent on Chinese spares supplies and service support, Mr Khurshid airily dismissed the concern. “We have not heard of such an issue”, he declared, with a trace of asperity. “If someone brings it to our notice, we will certainly look into it.” It is evident that the Congress Party government is keener to pull in the Chinese Trojan Horses than to strategically stretch China with a powerful India-Japan pincer.

[Published May 23, 2013 in the Asian Age at and in the Deccan Chronicle at ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, Military Acquisitions, Nuclear Weapons, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Technology transfer. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Strategic pincer & Trojan Horses

  1. shalesh jain says:

    sir, Who do you think is exactly responsible for projecting India as a kitten whose tail has got under a truck(Chinese)? Why are we always ready to take a beating?? Why All this Pseudo Power Projection ? BRAHMOS/ARIHANT…will they ever be used :)?

    • The meek Manmohan Singh as PM is in the van, backed by like-minded NSA Shivshankar Menon and the China Study Group that I have repeatedly been mentioning in writings, are responsible.

      As to use of the weapons, well, in a crisis that’s the litmus test.

  2. Guru says:

    It is not just that India is slow on building up capabilities( which is a serious matter in itself), far more important in geo-political issues where impressions and perceptions MATTER, India comes across as a nation which lacks resolve. THAT is what emboldens not just the Northern neighbour but all and sundry to take pot shots at us AND actually get away with it.
    Nations are judged not only by words but by deeds. It is the reaction during man precipitated “crisis’ that this that nations resolve is tested,based on which deductions are drawn. The degree of pain that a punch delivers depends not just on the weight of the boxer but also the place, time and number of blows !!! Let it not be that we are taken as a punching bag, India, one has reason to hope, is alive to this issue and is taking appropriate counter measures.

  3. Joint development of defense systems with Japanese companies is precisely what the doctor has ordered to counter China. I am not against the EAM speaking the words about China he is speaking as long as he is lying. I was surprised he was made the EAM in the first place without getting his name cleared in the corruption allegation against him. Japan is certainly the key along with Vietnam as you have mentioned in your article. Don’t like Huawei much either. Had visited one of its offices in Bangalore once. The vibes I got were mostly negative seemed like an organization with a very closed culture. Is it true that the Chinese bring their own unskilled/semi-skilled workers for implementing the infra projects they get instead of hiring locally? Why do we even issue them VISAs?

    • One of the issues raised by MS with Li in Delhi was precisely this: the importation of unskilled Chinese labour for the projects in India. But that’s how China means to generate employment for its own rural youth — overseas infrastructure projects.

      • shalesh jain says:

        Sir, We are soon going to be getting back 50k above man force from Saudi Arabia. May be, we should take this cue from Chinese and get those skilled and unskilled labour to work on overseas Indian infrastructure projects. Like in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sub-Saharan Countries..

      • What a great idea!



    Due to China’s aggressive posture towards India ,India have to concentrate to improve of relationship with southeast Asian countries.Geostrategic position of Myanmar is very important to India.Myanmar is like a bridge between south and south east Asia.China is continuously flexing its muscle in Myanmar.North east er sector of India is alienated from the main land of India.China is spreading its influence over Myanmar in very calculated way,a huge part of north east of shares boundary with Myanmar.There are so many tribal rebel groups in the hilly forest area near to border.I think there is a possibility that China will give them aide and push them to India.That will be a security disturbances in the north east.India have to make a tie with Myanmar.Chinese are constructing naval bases,radar station ,this the move to keep an eye over India and make disturbances in Indian territory time to time.India should help Myanmar Govt in building infrastructure ,make good economic ties.Myanmar’s huge amount of natural resources is also target of China.Like North Korea China may help Myanmar to get access to the nuclear technology ,that will be a grave danger for India as nobody wants more amnd more nucear powered neighbour.Please give your valuable view on this.

    • China has made noises about civil nuclear cooperation with Myanmar, but it is unlikely to result in anything substantive any time soon. The issue is not a nuclearized Myanmar but why Yangon believes it needs nuclear weapons. It feels insecure — mostly because of China — and it is this India needs to address with open-ended transfer of conventional weaponry.

  5. Guru says:

    Absolutely, if my reading on Myanmar is correct, it was us that Myanmar has consistently approached for help and assistance and it was “our reluctance” that has compelled it to very grudgingly accept the Chinese embrace. What, in your opinion, is the apparent reason for lack of enthusiasm to help Myanmar, Sir?

    • Well, GOI has recognized the error of its ways and is mending its policies to recover the ground lost to the Chinese whom, fortunately for us, the Myanmarese fear and detest.

  6. shalesh jain says:

    Sir, Be it Myanmar, Sri lanka , Bangladesh,Maldives,Seychelles or Nepal, why are our neighbouring countries act against our policies and show us regression in bilateral co-operation? Why do we always end up back on square one and nothing frutifies? Why are we let down inspite of doing so much(in terms of development aid) for the above mentioned countries? Why are we always caught on the wrong foot , always on the defensive ? Our foreign policy is always shrugging.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.