China has in the last one month officially hiked its defence spending by 17.5% to about $45 billion this year. Many security analysts across the world estimate that the actual spending is at least 2 to 3 times more than that totalling nearly $100 billion plus. That makes China the third largest defence spender in the world this year after the US and Russia/(or Japan)* with a budget equal to nearly one-fifth of the US defence budget and nearly six times that of India's total defence spending.
So, what is China's long term and short term plan with this increase? The short term plan is to hike the salaries of the PLA personnel by up to 20% and check the signs of discontent that are said to be brewing within the PLA ranks about the low wages that have not kept pace with China's rapidly expanding economy and the resultant increase in the cost of living.
The long term plan is to make sure that there is a firm foundation by 2010 for the planned second level of modernization to begin from 2010 onwards and lasting up to 2020 by when China plans to transform its forces from largely manpower based armies designed for the battlefields of the 20th century to smaller but highly technological forces capable of engaging hi-tech adversaries in short duration, high intensity conflicts.
To that end China is investing in big ticket programs to build advanced nuclear attack and ballistic submarines, Designing and building its first Aircraft Carrier and working on improving the range and accuracy of its missile arsenal which includes ICBMs, MRBMs, and submarine-based ballistic missiles. It also recently unveiled its new indigenously built J-10, multi-role fighter aircraft, and, in January, it conducted an ASAT test by blowing up an old weather satellite of its own in low earth orbit sparking widespread international condemnation.
Many western analysts are under the impression that the rapid buildup of the Chinese forces is aimed at making sure that Taiwan does not declare independence. While this is largely true, it would be a fallacy on our part to assume that the dragon is doing nothing much at its tail end.
India-Defence had an article about a year and half ago about unprecedented Chinese military buildup in the Tibetan plateau against India. This threat speculation has by now materialised. The Qinghai-Tibet railway is complete upto Lhasa and is now being expanded to the Nepal Border coming very close to and pointing like a dagger to India's vulnerable chicken-neck area near the Sikkim-Nepal-Bangladesh-Bhutan junction. This will enable China to attempt to slice off India's north-east from its mainland in case of conflict, leaving the Indian forces in that region stranded and in peace time flood Indian markets with cheap Chinese goods made by forced prison labour.
On to the west; China has built a fully metallic highway capable of carrying Battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and other heavy equipment linking Lhasa to Urumqi and Kashgar at its frontier with Central Asia. It has also setup a listening post in Aksai Chin. India-defence says that the Indian response of upgrading the Daulat Beg Oldi outpost in Ladakh with advanced communication equipment is not adequate because the PLA is capable of deploying up to two divisions on the Ladakh front at short notice taking advantage of the Lhasa-Kashgar highway.
Also China has built two new helipads that can support four helicopter squadrons and also has by now completed building two new airstrips to bolster the PLAAF. And also it has completed deploying twenty MRBMs and 60 short range missiles aimed at Indian cities in the North like Srinagar, Delhi, Chandigarh, Shimla, and also many other vital military installations in the area.
And if all this was not enough China is already expanding its presence around the Indian peninsula. According to Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta, "China we believe is shaping the maritime battle field in the region. It is making friends at the right places. If you don't have the capability to operate in those waters for a length of time then you need friends who will support your cause, when the time comes, so definitely China is doing that, as there are Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and down below Africa. So it is a known fact that we are ringed by states, which may have a favourable disposition towards China. They are looking 20 years ahead."
And in such a disquieting scenario the current Indian government in its infinite "wisdom" has decided to keep the Indian defence spending largely flat in this year's budget leading to concerns among many analysts that it is too little for a country like India with two hostile neighbours straddling almost its entire length of Western and northern frontiers and at the same time facing serious problems with so many failed or failing states around it.
* The Final figures for Military spending in 2007 will be available only in 2008 at the end of the financial year.Powered by Sidelines