Monday, August 30, 2010

Sino-Indian Border Infrastructure: Issues and Challenges

Here's the link to an Issue Brief (co-authored with Kailash Prasad) on the Sino-Indian border infrastructure, published recently by ORF. The brief looks at the recent Chinese infrastructural developments along the Sino-Indian border, including building of highways, road links and oil pipelines that have improved the country's force deployment and sustenance capabilities. The paper also assesses India’s infrastructure initiatives on the border front and argues that it is inadequate, especially in light of the Chinese developments.

There is a clear military imbalance between the two, in terms of equipments and units as well as the physical infrastructure.

In the last few years, the infrastructural developments that China has undertaken in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as well as on the Indo-China border provide the potential to the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) to mobilize forces and equipment onto Indian borders in a much shorter span of time. China now has a 40,000-km road network in Tibet, apart from rail links like the 1,118-km one from Lhasa to Gormo in Qinghai province. This would enable China to mobilize large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during winter. The new rail line into Tibet, and expressways, have changed the scenario totally.

For the full report, click here.

Type rest of the post here

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Annual Report to Congress, "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2010"

The latest US report on the Chinese military power, titled Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, has been released by the Pentagon yesterday. The report details China's evolving military strategy, the accompanying military modernisation to implement the evolving military strategy, and also looks into the force structuring along the Taiwan Strait. The report, while addressing the issue of power projection that goes beyond Taiwan, offers analysis of the emerging situation vis-a-vis India, Russia, Central Asia and South China Sea.

For more details on the evolving strategy and power projection beyond Taiwan, in the report, continue reading.

One of the key features of its evolving strategy is that of the area denial or anti-access strategy, along with asymmetric means of warfighting. Asymmetric warfare remains an important component of the Chinese military strategy given the lacunae in several vital areas and they are compelled to rely on asymmetric means to attack enemical forces. The report notes, for instance, the increasing Chinese reliance on "an array of systems to attack intelligence, communications, and navigation satellites, seeking to neutralize the US advantage in space, ... an emphasis on offensive and defensive electronic warfare" are examples of their way of using asymmetric means to exploit certain weaknesses in a strong enemy force. Similarly, China has mastered area denial strategy that would essentially restrain the ability of other countries to use a particular space or facility. This will allow China to establish a buffer zone around its land and maritime periphery which in turn will increase the difficulty for other states to operate close to Chinese mainland. Beijing’s anti-access strategies have expanded to all spheres of warfare including space, cyberspace, land, air and naval. One of the China watchers notes that this strategy may not have fully evolved to defeat superior military, but they may employ “a number of tactics that are clearly anti-access in intention or effect.” Such tactics can be expected to be in wide use in a potential conflict on the Taiwan Straits, where the US and Japanese forces would be involved and who will rely on information systems heavily. Attacks against logistics have been another area that the PLA plans to attack.

China has been developing strategies and capabilities "to improve extended-reach power projection," which has impacted upon the shifting military balance in East Asia and beyond. The report also noted that while China has been increasingly focusing on military operations other than war (MOTW) such as international peacekeeping, disaster relief, anti-piracy operations, these very same capabilities, it is feared, could become options for Beijing "for military coercion to gain diplomatic advantage, advance interests or resolve disputes in its favor."

On India, the report noted that China continues to be concerned about the persisting border disputes with India as also "the strategic ramifications of India's rising economic, political, and military power." The report cites that in order to strengthen regional deterrence, "the PLA has replaced older liquid-fueled, nuclear capable CSS-3 intermediate-range ballistic missiles with more advanced and survivable solid-fueled CSS-5 MRBMs and may be developing contingency plans to move airborne troops into the region." The refurbished border infrastructure has also been noted in the report. There is a clear military imbalance between the two sides, in terms of equipments and units as well as the physical infrastructure. The infrastructural developments that China has undertaken in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as well as on the Indo-China border, in the last few years, provide the potential to the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) to mobilize forces and equipment onto Indian borders in a much shorter span of time. China now has a 40,000-km road network in Tibet, apart from rail links like the 1,118-km one from Lhasa to Gormo in Qinghai province. This would enable China to mobilize large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during winter. The new rail line into Tibet, and expressways, have changed the scenario totally.

Although Russia is apparently the "closest international partner," Beijing "remains concerned that Russia's long-term interests are not wholly consistent with China's. Not only the interests are not consistent, the "PLA strategists view Russia as a potential long-term military challenge." Russia, on the other, has its own concerns of the rising Chinese power. Beijing's "significant force structure in the Lanzhou, Beijing, and Shenyang Military Regions, in addition to its conventional and strategic missile forces" are of enormous concern to the Russians.

China has its power projection ambitions also in Central Asia and South China Sea, which both come into conflict with the Russian and US interests respectively.

An aircraft carrier's significance for power projection purposes cannot be underestimated. China is aware of this and if one is to go by what the Chinese admirals have to say, they have the will and apparently the technological and economic strengths to build one in the next few years. The Report states that "in April 2009 PRC Navy Commander Admiral Wu Shengli stated that 'China will develop its fleet of aircraft carriers in a harmonious manner. We will prudently decide the policy." In March 2009, another PLA Navy Admiral Wu Huayang had said, "China is capable of building aircraft carriers. We have such strength. Building aircraft carriers require economic and technological strength. Given the level of development in our country, I think we have such strength." The report says that China will build "multiple carriers by 2020."

Lack of transaprency and rising military expenditures are other issues that the report has paid attention to, in addition to the force posturing across the Taiwan Strait.

Monday, August 9, 2010

China-Iran Military Ties

Here's the link to an article of mine on the China-Iran military ties. The Occasional Paper has been published (August 09, 2010) by the Middle East Institute, New Delhi (MEI@ND).

While China may agree with the US that a nuclear Iran may contribute to regional instability, it does not want to hamper its own goals vis-à-vis Iran or other countries in the Middle East per se. These goals are: Iran’s oil and gas resources; gaining access to Central Asia; and ensuring the emergence of an anti-Western regional power in the Middle East. Given these potential benefits, China seems to solidifying the relationship with Iran. As far as Iran is concerned, three major drivers appear to be pushing its ties with China – becoming self-reliant, attaining regional power status and establishing strong deterrence against any attacks.

What has been most critical in Iran-China military ties is not the actual transfer of weapon units and other systems as much as the Chinese assistance in setting up and aiding their indigenous production capabilities. While these may be difficult to monitor and track, they have been more useful to Iran than simple transfer of units and have created a dangerous situation wherein the country can develop these systems on its own without any outside help. The kind of self-sufficiency that Iran has been able to achieve in a few decades, mostly due to the Chinese assistance, is significant.

For the full paper, click here.

Type rest of the post here

Monday, August 2, 2010

New Tension in South China Sea

South China Sea is in the news again. The recent statement by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the ARF Foreign Ministers' meeting has some for sharp criticim from the Chinese leadership that the US is trying to internatiolize the issue, while reiterating its "indisputable" claim to all the islands and waters of the South China Sea. Sensing some sense of coercion and aggressiveness in South China Sea, Hillary Clinton had stated at the summit that there has to be "freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons and respect for international laws." She also ruled out out use or threat of force in the area.

Why did Hillary raise the issue of South China Sea all of a sudden?

The South China Sea is a 1.3 mn square mile waterway, in dispute between China and several other neighbours – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Apparently, the Chinese claims go back to the 1930s when “official” maps from China showed the whole area as theirs. Chinese historians too have shown some ancient pottery on atolls, again making a point that the South China Sea had belonged to them. But analysts suggest that China’s historical claims on these islands are “tenuous” and cannot put through the international practices such as the UNCLOS. However, these smaller Asian neighbours have been increasingly sensing aggressiveness on the part of China in the recent times. The number of actions reflecting aggressiveness has been on the rise. It has been reported that there have been seizing of fishing boats, arresting of sailors from other countries, exchanges of gunfire, pressurizing of western oil firms not to do business with Vietnam and so on. The Chinese have also been expanding the limits of their territorial waters, usually about 12 miles to now the entire exclusive economic zones, which is more like 200 miles. There have been recent instances between the Chinese and Indonesian naval vessels, besides the increasing number of face-offs between US and China and Japan and China in the recent years.

And what is the basis for the Chinese claims on these islands? Beijing says it has legal and historical backing for its claims. That is precisely the worry and concern among its neighbours. Are they making these territorial claims based on history and if so how far back will China go to justify all its historical territorial claims or make newer territorial assertions? The Chinese claims are by and large accompanied by or associated with a larger political aim.

In March this year, the Chinese for the first time stated that South China Sea formed part of their “core” national interests along with Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan. Recently, the Global Times, generally a pro-Chinese leadership daily, noted that Beijing should not go on adding to their list of core interests that may dilute their stand in the long-run. Beijing appears to be getting aggressive in waters or areas that has economic and strategic interest to them in the long-term, given the emerging geopolitics.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"India Digs Under Top of the World to Match Rival," story in New York Times on the Sino-Indian Border Infrastructure

Here's the link to a story in New York Times, quoting me on the Sino-Indian border infrastructure. The story by Lydia Polgreen has appeared in today's print edition.

India Digs Under Top of the World to Match Rival
ROHTANG PASS, India — The name of this white-knuckle pass, one of the highest in the world, means “pile of corpses” in the Tibetan language. Every year a few dozen people die trying to cross these spiky Himalayan peaks.

For six months the road is snowbound, putting at the mercy of the elements tens of thousands of Indian troops posted beyond it in this remote but strategically important region along India’s long and disputed border with China.

In the past decade, as China has furiously built up its military and civilian infrastructure on its side of the border, the Rohtang Pass on the Indian side has stood as mute testimony to India’s inability and unwillingness to master its far-flung and rugged outermost reaches.

But now, India is racing to match its rival for regional and global power, building and bolstering airstrips and army outposts, shoring up neglected roads and — finally, decades after it was first proposed — building a tunnel to bypass the deadly Rohtang Pass.

In June, work started on the ambitious project, which will take five years and require boring five miles through the Pir Panjal range. Several other tunnels, which would allow all-weather access to Ladakh, which abuts the Tibetan Plateau, are also in the works.

“What India is belatedly seeking to do is to improve its defenses by upgrading its logistics,” said Brahma Chellaney, an analyst who tracks the India-China relationship at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, in an e-mail. “By building new railroads, airports and highways in Tibet, China is now in a position to rapidly move additional forces to the border to potentially strike at India at a time of its choosing.”

As a result, he said, “The Sino-Indian border remains more unstable than the Pakistani-Indian frontier.”

India and China are hardly enemies, but much of the 2,521-mile border they share is disputed or ill marked. The two countries fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962, and while these days they have, on the surface, a mostly cordial relationship, it is marked by tension over border disputes and the future of Tibet and its leader, the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India.

China’s push to develop its infrastructure on its side of the border — including an all-weather railway to Tibet that includes the world’s highest tunnel, at 16,000 feet — is viewed with considerable suspicion in India.

For much of its history, India has regarded the Himalayas as a form of protection, not a barrier to be overcome, said Rajeswari Rajagopalan, an expert in India-China relations at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

“The Indian side has been very slow to develop the border areas,” Ms. Rajagopalan said. “They believed if you improved the infrastructure it would only allow the Chinese to walk into your territory. This was very foolish and naïve.”

Three hundred miles of winding road lead from the town of Manali, through the verdant Kullu Valley, to Ladakh, an alpine desert that abuts the Tibetan plateau.

Tens of thousands of Indian Army troops are stationed among Ladakh’s barren peaks, and the region borders several potential trouble spots, including Aksai Chin, a region that India claims as part of its territory but that China administers. North of Ladakh is the Siachen Glacier, a river of barren ice that India and Pakistan have fought over intermittently since the 1980s. Both countries maintain outposts on the glacier, which sits at an altitude of 20,000 feet.

During the summer, thousands of trucks, laden with supplies to last the harsh mountain winters, rumble up the two roads that lead to Ladakh, from Manali and Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

The road from Ladakh to Srinagar is also closed in the winter, and because of its proximity to the Line of Control that splits Kashmir between India and Pakistan, Indian officials worry that the road can easily be cut, as it was in 1999, when the two countries clashed at Kargil.

Gurmeet Kanwal, a retired brigadier who runs the Center for Land Warfare Studies, a New Delhi research institution, said India could not afford to be cut off from its most vulnerable reaches half of the year.

“As long as we have these territorial disputes you cannot rule out another border conflict,” Brigadier Kanwal said. “We would like to make sure that we can deploy our forces in the right quantities in the right places.”

The tunnel has been on the drawing board for decades, said P. K. Mahajan, the chief engineer on the $320 million project. He first became involved as a young engineer in 1988, when he helped carry out a feasibility study, five years after the project was first proposed by Indira Gandhi, then the prime minister.

“It is only now that these projects are seeing the light of day,” Mr. Mahajan said.

The challenges of building a long tunnel in the rough environment of the Pir Panjal are enormous. The Himalayas are the world’s youngest mountain range. They shift and grind, still moving, expanding and shrinking.

That makes life tough for people like Thomas Riedel, a German contractor working at the north end of the tunnel. Because no one is sure what kind of rock will be found inside the mountain, the tunnel will be built using a painstaking method of blasting and digging, rather than the tunnel-boring machines that have revolutionized tunnel construction in recent years.

“Nobody can look inside the mountain,” Mr. Riedel said. “That is where we will find problems.”

Just weeks into what will be at least five years of digging, the workers encountered their first unexpected obstacle: a foot of snow. In June.

The tunnel will sit beneath more than a mile of snow-covered rock for much of its length. Ventilation will pose a huge problem.

People who live on the other side of the Rohtang Pass say the tunnel will transform their lives.

“For six months, we are prisoners,” said Chetan Devi, a schoolteacher who lives in a town beyond the pass. “In the winter, you have to risk your life to go to Manali.”

The tunnel will turn an ordeal of several hours, even in the summer, into a brisk 20-minute trip.

Virender Sharma, the chief government official in Kyelang, the main town of the Lahaul Valley, which sits between Manali and Ladakh, said that last winter 21 people died trying to cross the Rohtang Pass on foot. People were found frozen solid, he said, “sitting with rucksacks on their backs, water bottles at their sides, but they were dead.”

Winters in the Lahaul Valley are a miserable affair, he said.

“During summer, it seems very pleasant,” Mr. Sharma said. “In the winter, there is no light. No vegetables. No mail. Nothing to do in the evening. If there is an emergency, you are practically at the mercy of God.”

For the engineers building the tunnel, it is not merely a matter of logistics, but also a matter of national pride.

“Once this tunnel is complete, it will be an engineering marvel for the whole nation,” Mr. Mahajan said.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.