China’s naval expansion

[Chinese warships at sea: firing drills]

A recent Sansad TV programme — ‘The Defenders’ featured a discussio on “China’s naval expansion” with Vice Admiral Satish Soni (Retd), former FOC-in-C, Southern Naval Command (Kochi) and, later, Eastern Naval Ciommand (Vizag) and myself, and may be of interset. It is available 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.
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18 Responses to China’s naval expansion

  1. Amit says:


    From what I’ve read so far, continental powers have traditionally not had strong navies, e.g., Russia, Germany, France, China. Does this create a civilisational and experiential handicap for China? Do you therefore think that it may take even longer than 15 years for the Chinese to master naval ops?

    • Perhaps. But then China has a seafaring tradition exemplified by the 15th Century voyages of Admiral Zheng Ho and his fleet of “treasure ships” — huge, multi-masted, junks — that sailed as far as into the Indian Ocean.


    Wonderful presentations sir particularly how the Chinese can actually be balanced by the QUAD countries using their naval resources together.

    I have the following four questions for you which I believe are critical for the Indo-pacific region.

    1. Can China impose a blockade over Taiwan in the next couple of decades to force it to come to a Hong Kong type relationship with the mainland ?

    2. Can China use their presence in the Indian ocean region in the Indian backyard in places like the Gwadar port to impose a blockade/containment on the Indian western coastal areas therefore hugely denting the Indian economy there.

    3. What would be the possible role of countries like Russia (and Iran) when it comes to any potential conflict that involves Japan in the region given their strong ties with China ?

    4. How would countries like South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan react to US handing over considerable security responsibilities to a country like Japan which have historically complex relations in the region given her colonial past in this region.

    • Ass to your Qs ad seriatim:

      1) No
      2) No
      3) While making pro-China statements, they’ll mostly stay out of it
      4) Given Japan’s post-World War-II reluctance, unlikely this will happen
      anytime soon, not little because of the wartime severities imposed
      by the Imperial Japanese forces on these states and peoples.


    Dear Dr Karnad

    Thanks a lot for your prompt and very erudite answers . I would love to know your frank views of the most recent Bhutanese position on Doklam which is contrary to Indian expectations and much closer to the Chinese position. Why do you think Bhutan suddenly wants to balance India by playing the China card now ?

    • Growing Chinese influence in Bhutanese Court and govt.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Debanjan- Bhutan is completely justified in mending its ties with China.

      Indian rhetoric has been totally busted by the Chinese in the 2020 border clash although PLA lost more personnel than the Indian army yet, it gained a total area of 1000 odd square Kms.

      When India cannot even reclaim its own territory from China. How can they assist Bhutan & why should the Bhutanese establishment trust India?

  4. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    The US navy’s last battle engagement was against the Japanese in 1944, even at the height of Cold War the USSR navy didn’t indulge it’s Yankee rival in any combat.

    Modern Chinese navy has never experienced any battle. During the Ming dynasty time Chinese navy was quite powerful but that phase was in 1400’s.



    I do not believe this accusation from you that India gave up 1000 sq kilometer of territory in Ladakh. This is Rahul Gandhi accusation completely denied by any honcho in our military.

    You should learn to differentiate between accusations and facts.

    On another note, I would love to state that the Taiwan theatre where everyone believes that there will be a naval battle between US led QUAD and China , I doubt this type of scenario. I feel China would love to control and manipulate the global economic supply chains in a way that ultimately Taiwans falls in the lap of China without firing a shot. The real battle in Taiwan is between China and Japan in order to control erstwhile protectorates of the crumbling US empires in the Asian region.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Debanjan- In this very forum Professor Karnad has on multiple occasions stated that India lost sizeable territory to China during 2020.

      Many other eminent geopolitical experts have expressed the same opinion.

      China will never wage any war on Taiwan. Status quo will prevail. Chinese establishment won’t act like Putin (Ukraine)

  6. Amit says:

    @Tyagi, the 1000 sq. Km. Has not been lost – patrolling rights have been lost. You may say it’s a matter of semantics, but the status of this land is less decisive that Aksai Chin which is a more permanent loss. For example, China has built infra in Aksai Chin and India cannot do anything about it, but if China does something similar in Depsang, things will be different. However, It does not make sense to go to war to regain the 1000 sq. Km as India’s armed forces are not yet up to the mark relative to China. The Indian army was sleeping when the Chinese intruded, but what is done is done. It’s better for India to build infrastructure, armed force capability, and partnerships and alliances to deter further aggression, but not go to war to reclaim the 1000 sq. Km. Not right now. It should focus on Balkanising Pakistan with US help and break the China-Pak connection forever, covertly.

    Regarding Taiwan, while China is not in a position to go to war with the U.S. today, the likelihood does exist as China builds its navy. To forcefully retake Taiwan, China will need to conduct an amphibious assault, which it is not ready to do today. However, with a rollback strategy (not just containment) in play by both the US and China, the risk of war is definitely high in the future. As China grows economically and militarily, or as the U.S. blunders with Russia and grows weaker possibly, the risk of war only increases.

    @Debanjan, the resident great power in East Asia is the U.S., not Japan. It makes no sense for China to take on Japan while this is true. It needs to kick the US out to be the regional hegemon in East Asia. Of course, Japan will be involved immediately in case of hostilities over Taiwan, as the U.S. seventh fleet is based there and China would initiate war by attacking the seventh fleet first, if it chose war. The same logic applies to a Chinese war with India, though the Indian case is different from Japan’s.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Tyagi, the 1000 sq. Km. Has not been lost – patrolling rights have been lost.

      Those patrolling rights have been lost forever so, the aforementioned area of land is lost forever.

      China won’t initiate a full fledged war with India since their so called ‘salami slicing’ tactics are working very well.

      India as already said by Modi “This era is not of war” will not initiate any pro-active measures either to get the area in question back or to reclaim Aksai Chin.

      • Amit says:

        @Tyagi, loss of patrolling rights is on both sides. No one talks about this in our media, but it’s not like the Chinese are patrolling in the Depsang area. These one sided narratives are rampant.

  7. Ayush says:

    Dr karnad,
    Your frantic pleas for giving Indian MSME’s a chance to supply cutting-edge C2 equipment for Indian army appears to failed.Few days back, the MoD signed massive multi-billion dollar contracts with BEL which included a mention of “SDR”.It’s safe to say the contract for C2 of Indian army is now in BEL’s hands.
    The message is loud and clear that MSME’s will remain as sub-component suppliers (like Astra microwaves) and not as OEM’s.

    At the very least it’s heartening to see that the MoD is procuring massive quantities of stat-of-the-art local-sourced weapons and not directly importing “phoren maal”.Their focus is very clear.They are dividing resources properly into capabilities that can improve combat-readiness in the short-term and long-term.In the short-term emphasis is on stand-off munitions, hardened C2 latest AD and nukes.In the long term it’s stealth aircraft, submarines infrastructure and more.

    It is the need of the hour that the armed forces recognize that they cannot match china plane for plane.What they must do is focus on stand-off munitions.A few thousand parlay and 1500 km range supersonic LRLACM can crush any thought of PLA aggression.Stand-off weapons have already made fancy toys like stealth aircraft and aircraft-carriers obsolete.

  8. Gaurav Tyagi says:


    The Hindu had reported on December 22, 2022 that there are at least 30 PPs in eastern Ladakh along Line of Actual Control (LAC) are not being patrolled any more by Indian troops.

    These points were regularly patrolled before April-May 2020, when China started amassing troops close to the LAC in eastern Ladakh.

    Excerpts from the following;

    • Amit says:

      That may be true, but the 1000 sqkm in Depsang are also not being patrolled by the Chinese. So it’s not like the Chinese dominate here. This no one reports.

      • Gaurav Tyagi says:

        @Amit- Indian troops were patrolling there prior to the 2020 clash if they are unable to do so since then, it clearly implies that Indian side lost territory.

        What’s your take on the aforementioned Professor Karnad?

      • Amit says:

        @Tyagi, while Indian troops cannot patrol there, the Indian army does not allow the Chinese troops to patrol there as well. So, it’s not like lost territory.

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