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Fortifying the Future

Recent years have seen escalating tensions between India and China, with the 2017 Doklam standoff and the 2020 Galwan Valley clash underscoring the volatility. As China attempts repeated incursions inside the LAC and asserts claims over Arunachal Pradesh, India must develop a decisive and innovative strategy to counter Chinese expansionism

By Vishal Duggal

SPECIAL FEATURE

The 1962 Sino-Indian War resulted in China’s annexation of approximately 14,700 square miles (38,000 square kilometres) of Indian territory in Aksai Chin, a wound that left a deep scar and remains unhealed, till today. In recent years, tensions have escalated multifold. The 2017 standoff at Doklam, a tri-junction between India, China, and Bhutan, lasted over 70 days and highlighted the strategic friction points between India and China. The 2020 violent clash in the Galwan Valley, resulting in casualties on both sides, was the most severe confrontation in decades and underscored the on-going volatility in the region. This clash was part of a broader series of standoffs in Eastern Ladakh, where China has attempted significant incursions several kilometres inside the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border that remains officially undemarcated, leading to on-going disputes.

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China’s strategy extends beyond Ladakh, with efforts to rename areas in Arunachal Pradesh and covert support for insurgent groups in north-eastern India. These actions aim to undermine Indian sovereignty and create internal instability, requiring India to remain vigilant and proactive

Territorial Dispute in Ladakh

The territorial dispute between India and China, particularly in Ladakh, is longstanding and complex. Eastern Ladakh has seen significant Chinese incursions into Indian areas such as the Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso Lake, Hot Springs, and the Depsang Plains. The northern bank of Pangong Tso Lake, especially the area between Finger 4 and Finger 8, is particularly contentious. China has built infrastructure and established positions up to Finger 4, while the LAC lies at Finger 8. Chinese troops have blocked Indian patrols from accessing several patrolling points in the Depsang Plains, an area strategically important due to its proximity to the Indian base at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO). The Chinese presence threatens India’s strategic Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road, vital for military supplies.

These incursions also enable China to project power and control over significant swathes of contested land. India has responded by increasing its military presence and infrastructure development in the region. Numerous rounds of military and diplomatic talks have taken place to de-escalate tensions, but the situation remains tense with sporadic disengagements.

Both nations have been building roads, airstrips, and other military infrastructure in the contested areas to improve logistics and mobility for their troops. Standoffs continue at various points along the LAC. While there have been some disengagements, many areas remain heavily militarised. Both sides conduct regular patrols and surveillance, and the region remains a flashpoint for potential conflict.

Broader Implications of Chinese Actions

In addition to confrontations in Ladakh, China has been actively renaming areas in Arunachal Pradesh, asserting its claim over the Indian state it refers to as “South Tibet”. This move undermines India’s sovereignty and creates confusion over the region’s status. There are also growing concerns about China’s involvement in fomenting ethnic violence in Manipur and other north-eastern states of India. China’s reported support to insurgent groups has the potential to destabilise the region and divert India’s focus from broader strategic goals.

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China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is expanding its influence in South Asia, notably through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and investments in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. This strategic encirclement, known as the “String of Pearls” poses significant military and economic challenges for India

China’s Encirclement Strategy

China’s expansionist policies extend beyond its border disputes with India. Through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has significantly increased its influence in South Asia, affecting countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives.

  • Pakistan: China has invested heavily in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), enhancing its strategic presence and gaining access to the Arabian Sea through the Gwadar Port. This corridor has strategic military implications for India. The Gwadar port project, in particular, is part of China’s strategy to encircle India with a string of commercial and military bases, often referred to as the “String of Pearls” strategy.
  • Nepal: China has been involved in various infrastructure projects in Nepal, strengthening political ties and causing shifts in Nepal’s foreign policy that often oppose Indian interests. For instance, China has helped Nepal build a rail link from Tibet, which could significantly increase Chinese influence in the region.
  • Bangladesh: Substantial Chinese investment in infrastructure and development projects in Bangladesh has deepened economic ties and increased Chinese influence. Projects like the Padma Bridge, constructed with Chinese assistance, illustrate China’s growing economic clout in the region.
  • Sri Lanka: China’s involvement in Sri Lanka includes significant investments in ports and infrastructure, notably the Hambantota Port, raising concerns about debt dependency and strategic leverage. The leasing of Hambantota Port to China for 99 years has sparked fears about China’s long-term intentions in the Indian Ocean region (IOR).
  • Bhutan: Traditionally aligned with India, Bhutan faces increasing Chinese pressure over border disputes, with China’s diplomatic overtures and infrastructural investments slowly increasing its influence. Recent Chinese attempts to negotiate directly with Bhutan bypassing India reflect this growing pressure.
  • Maldives: Increased Chinese investment in Maldives has raised concerns about sovereignty and debt dependency. Chinese-funded projects, including the development of the Hulhumalé Island, have increased Beijing’s influence in the IOR.

Looking Ahead

By 2047, the relative strength of India and China will hinge on several factors, including economic growth rates, technological advancements, military capabilities, and geopolitical alliances. Projections suggest that China will continue to be a formidable global power with a GDP potentially surpassing that of the United States, possibly reaching around $50 trillion by 2047.

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According to the World Bank, BRI by China could further consolidate its economic and strategic dominance by establishing a network of global trade routes.

Projections suggest China will remain a formidable global power with a potential GDP of $50 trillion by 2047. India’s growth trajectory is promising but faces formidable hurdles. To achieve strategic parity, India must focus on robust economic reforms, technological advancements, and continuous military modernisation, ensuring it remains a strong regional power with significant global influence

India’s growth trajectory, while promising, faces significant challenges. To catch up, India needs to sustain high economic growth rates, improve its business environment, and address structural issues like infrastructure deficits and import dependence.

Projections suggest India’s GDP could grow to around $30 trillion by 2047, making it one of the largest economies but still trailing China.

Military Capabilities and Strategic Imperatives

China is expected to continue substantial investments in defence, aiming to become a world-class military power by 2049. This includes advancements in cyber warfare, space capabilities, and the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China’s military modernisation includes the development of next-generation stealth aircraft, aircraft carriers, and advanced missile systems, all designed to project power far beyond its borders.

India’s defence modernisation efforts must be robust and continuous to ensure strategic parity and effective deterrence. This includes upgrading its naval capabilities to counter Chinese influence in the IOR, enhancing its missile defence systems, and expanding its cyber warfare capabilities.

The journey towards 2047 requires a nuanced and realistic approach to addressing these challenges. While formidable, the obstacles are not insurmountable with a clear, strategic vision and decisive action.

–The writer is a senior journalist and media consultant. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda