China preparing for distant ops

With the Indian Government and military unable to think, strategize, plan and operationalize their views, policies, and postures beyond the country’s territorial borders, the document “China’s Military Strategy” issued by Beijing on May 26, 2015 (and accessible at ) is at once chastening and should inspire the utmost concern in India and other like-minded Asian states about a militarily proficient China they are now, and will even more in the future, be confronting.

It crows about the fact that “China’s comprehensive national strength, core competitiveness and risk-resistance capacity are notably increasing” and that it “enjoys growing international standing and influence”. And there is the usual forked tongue-speak that China routinely indulges in, such as inversing the threats and talking about “new threats from hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism” — precisely the dangers countries on China’s sea and land periphery believe is posed to them by an aggressive and territorially expansionist-minded China. Equally mind-bending is China’s accusation that its small and weak “offshore neighbours”, presumably in the South China Sea though this area is not so identified, “take provocative actions and reinforce their military presence on China’s reefs and islands that they have illegally occupied” — a reference to the Spratlys Island chain also contested by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Taiwan) and the Paracel Islands disputed with Vietnam, which bland statement justifies removing/eliminating the so-claimed illegal occupation by whatever means — there are 8 things of relevance to India in this document.

1) China is plainly worried about the troubles in its ethnic minority areas of Tibet and Xinjiang, and its inability to either contain the unrest or contain it, leave alone coopt the Tibetans and the Uighurs. This is encompassed in the rubric of “multiple and complex security threats”. “Therefore, China”, it admits, “has an arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests.” Elsewhere, the document specifically mentions that “Separatist forces for ‘East Turkistan independence’ and ‘Tibetan independence’ have inflicted serious damage particularly with escalating violent terrorist activities”, refers to the fact that “anti-China forces” have not “given up their attempt to instigate a ‘color revolution'”, views these phenomena as “challenges in terms of national security and social stability”, and warns that national security is “more vulnerable” among other things to “international and regional turmoil and terrorism”.

It suggests that India should more forcefully and vigorously play, especially the “Tibet card” by actively recruiting young people from the Tibetan exile community in India — the Rangzen (Freedom) Movement is gathering growing support among young Tibetans — for training in sabotage and guerilla ‘hit and scoot’ operations within Tibet, and to assist in firming up the support base within the indigenous Tibetan society on the plateau to sustain such operations, and otherwise to steadily escalate the costs to PLA and China of occupying Tibet, while all the while mouthing when and where necessary, the panchshila noninterference rhetoric.

2) The Chinese strategy paper confesses that space and cyber space — the “new commanding heights in strategic competition among all parties” has not only significantly impacted the “international political and military landscapes but also posed new and severe challenges to China’s military security”.

This confession suggests to China’s adversaries that they’d do well to cooperate and collaborate especially in these two fields to keep the Chinese state and its minders constantly on the defensive. It is a signal to India to join with Taiwan, Japan, the US, Australia, Vietnam, other ASEAN states, to try and push China into the corner with consolidated collective actions.

3) China, the strategy says, will prosecute “active defense” which, it states, “boils down to: adherence to the unity of strategic defense and operational and tactical offense;…to the principles of defense, self-defense and post-emptive strike; the stance that ‘We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked.”

This means that in the Lanzhou and Chengdu Combat Zones of interest to India, the PLA will undertake at the theatre-level periodic tactical operations — armed intrusions, interventions and the like across the Line of Actual Control as a means of asserting the Chinese territorial claims on the so-called “southern Tibet” — Arunachal Pradesh, and in case the Indian forward units ever get the better of the PLA troops, that strategic wherewithal would be brought into play.

4) The strategy is emphatic about integrating the Central Military Commission, the armed services, and the Combat Zonal Commands for seamless communications, planning and implementation down to the tactical unit level. It speaks of “active defense”, among other things, employing “strategies and tactics featuring flexibility and mobility” and giving “full play to the overall effectiveness of joint operations, concentrate superior forces, and make integrated use of all operational means and methods”. It asserts that a mechanism is being worked on “for overall coordinated programming and planning” and to “intensify overall supervision and management of strategic resources, strengthen the in-process supervision and risk control of major projects, improve mechanisms for strategic assessment, and set up and improve relevant assessment systems and complementary standards and codes.”

In the Indian milieu the government is still caught up on degrees of forces integration. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar (in a TV interview last evening) seemed definite about having a Chief of Defence Staff but confessed he was not yet quite sure about how far down he wanted the force jointness to go! By this reckoning, a minimal force integration is guaranteed. Going up against a maximally integrated foe, well, ….

5) The strategy paper — most importantly — stressed the capability build-up for sustained distant military operations. Thus, it avers that the Chinese army “will continue to reorient from theatre defense to trans-theatre mobility” and “elevate its capabilities for precise, multi-dimensional, trans-theatre, multi-functional and sustainable operations”, the navy “will gradually shift from ‘offshore waters defense’ to the combination of ‘offshore waters defense’ with ‘open seas protection’ and build a combined, multi-functional and efficient marine combat force structure”, the air force is “to shift its focus from territorial air defense to both defense and offense, and build an air-space defense force structure [for] infomationized operations” and “boost its capabilities for strategic early warning, air strike, air and , missile defense, information countermeasures, airborne operations, strategic projection and comprehensive support”, and the Second Artillery [strategic] Force, with both nuclear and conventional missiles under control,
“to transform itself in the direction of informationization, press forward with independent innovations in weaponry and equipment by reliance on science and technology, enhance the safety, reliability and effectiveness of missile systems, and improve the force structure featuring a combination of both nuclear and conventional capabilities.” It specifically warns the military that “the traditional mentality that land outweighs the sea must be abandoned” and greater attention has to be paid to “managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests”. And besides underlining the need to secure space and cyber space, described as “a new domain of national security”, it refers to the nuclear force as “a strategic cornerstone for safeguarding national sovereignty and security.”

Such a clear and holistic view of the necessary military capabilities of the state and the uses they will be put to is simply unthinkable in the Indian context. So the military will blunder along, much as the government has done, these past nearly 70 years. Somewhere, sometime, something is going to bound to show us up.

6) Remarkably, a great deal of attention is paid to “logistics modernization” involving innovating “the modes of support, develop[ing] new support means, [and] augment[ing] war reserves” to fight and win “modern wars”. In parallel, much is made of high levels of preparedness. “Maintaining constant combat readiness” means maintaining “a posture of high alertness, and conscientiously organize border, coastal and air defense patrols and guard duties” and intensifying “training in complex electro-magnetic environments, complex and unfamiliar terrains, and complex weather conditions”.

So India can expect continued armed intrusions across the LAC on the central front and possibly run-ins at sea, especially in the narrow waters of the Malacca, Lumbock and Sunda Straits, and off Aden with Chinese ships ostensibly on anti-piracy missions.

7)Further, it highlights developing close relations with the two militaries PLA compares itself with — Russia and the United States. As regards Russia, it mentions “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination”. Vis a vis the US military, interestingly, it refers to the fostering of “a new model of military relationship with the US armed forces that conforms to the new model of major country relations between the two countries”.

8) And, finally, the strategy commends “A holistic approach…to balance war preparation and warfighting, rights protection and stability maintenance, deterrence and warfighting, and operations in wartime and employment of military forces in peacetime”. And, in an aside of special meaning to an armaments dependent-India, it counsels adherence “to the principles of flexibility, mobility and self-dependence so that ‘you fight your way and I fight my way'” becomes possible.

With imported arms equipping our forces India, in contrast, has always been compelled to fight the supplier states’ way. The awful thing is the Indian armed services do not even recognize this as a problem! And there’s no CMC to give them direction.

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.
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