By- Nichole Ballawar;
As the world undergoes unprecedented changes, China is on the verge of a significant strategic opportunity. According to a communiqué issued at the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China has remained loyal to its initial ambition and mission of achieving happiness for Chinese people and rejuvenation for the nation since its inception in 1921. It has united and led Chinese people of all ethnic groups in fighting relentlessly to win national independence and freedom, and subsequently built an affluent and powerful country while remaining faithful to communist values and socialist convictions. Some excerpts from the communiqué also focused on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) modernisation program and China’s national security while it called for preparedness, integration, informationisation and comprehensive military training to defend national sovereignty. The focus is “ensure that the goal for which we have been striving for one hundred years is achieved”. Geostrategist Brahma Chellaney maintains that ‘China needs a multipolar world but a unipolar Asia’ which explains Beijing’s aspirations to achieve broader foreign policy goals to realise what Xi Jinping has called the China Dream, which envisions a return to China’s predominance in Asia. Chinese officials have also promoted the notion of “Asia for Asians”, a nationalistic posturing with a reference to the idea that Asians should settle disputes without the intervention of the US.
With the goal of building a modern military by 2027, China desires to refurbish the military with the capability to defend national sovereignty, safeguard against security threats posed by hegemonism in the western pacific region, and protect overseas development interests. “By 2027, the Chinese military will be able to adequately cope with challenges in the western Pacific area, including Taiwan and the South China Sea, as well as border conflicts between China and India”, according to the report US’s department of Defence
The 2027 milestone is also a powerful propaganda weapon. In the past, CPC has repeatedly set big goals to coincide with historic milestone anniversaries, most significantly the “two centennial goals” reflected in Xi Jinping’s report to the 19th Party Congress. The first centennial aim is to “create a moderately affluent society in all areas” by 2021, the CPC’s hundredth anniversary. The second is to “create a modern socialist country that is affluent, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” by 2049, the centennial of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) establishment.
The 2027 targets and its important components
Revealing China’s broader foreign policy objectives, an article titled VIRAL In China: Beijing Will Conquer Taiwan By 2025, India’s Arunachal Pradesh By 2040 has detailed China’s expansionist propensities in the near and long term. The piece argues that China will conquer Taiwan, Arunachal Pradesh, South China Sea, Southern Tibet, Senkaku Islands and Russia by 2060. Although the 2027 target does not alter the timeline for military modernization, it does indicate that the next few years will be critical for China’s military growth plan. Ren Guoqiang, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of National Defense, highlighted the four essential features of the new standard.
First, after achieving basic mechanisation and making significant progress toward informationisation, the focus shifts to combining and accelerating the integration of mechanisation, information technology, and advancements in intelligentization. Intelligentization, or the integration of artificial intelligence and similar technology into military capabilities, has been designated by Xi Jinping as a key component of military modernisation in the future.
Secondly, factors such as accelerating military philosophy, organisational form, military manpower, weapons and equipment modernisation have long been seen as critical. The PLA has already undergone major organisational reforms and force structure modifications under Xi Jinping, which is likely to continue in the future. Thirdly, the quality component is meant to stress the need for resource efficiency to optimise the quality and speed of modernisation. Ren particularly mentions that the globe is experiencing the acceleration of “huge developments unseen in a century,” making military modernization even more critical. Notably, this third component is connected to the fourth component, since attempts to combine economic and security plans aim to improve efficiency in sectors such as research and development.
Promoting the simultaneous strengthening of national security and economic development is the fourth major component. The CPC’s military-civil fusion plan hopes to achieve significant progress. The Military Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy is described by the US Department of Defence as “a state-wide undertaking that tries to fuse economic and social development plans with its security strategies.” Policy implementation encouraging MCF has increased dramatically in recent years as a result of high-level prioritising and is expected to be a focus area in the future. The strategy could also aim to stimulate innovation in crucial areas and deploy dual-use technology for military end-uses.
Implications for India
India has grown increasingly concerned about its rising power imbalance with China, particularly in light of China’s fast-growing military capabilities and the consequences for the disputed Sino-Indian boundary and the Indian Ocean. Chen Hanghui of the PLA Nanjing Army Command College stated in the official PLA Daily that “the military game of great powers will become more intense” in 2022, and “major powers such as Russia, United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and India have accelerated their military transformation, focusing on key areas to enhance their high-end warfare capabilities.” As a result, the security risks associated with force modernisation of the PLA are manifold.
First, China’s Western Theatre Command, Xinjiang military district and Tibet military district are responsible for operations along the Sino-Indian border. For years China has built dual-use infrastructure to prepare for offensive and defensive operations along the border in Tibet. This includes north-south and east-west highways and the construction of feeder roads. With force modernisation and improved connectivity, the PLA has the capability to transform stand-offs into conflicts. Since 2015, the PLA has also commissioned modern weaponry and held several drills to attain “improved joint-ness and efficiency.” The Qingtongxia combined arms tactical training base simulates Chinese-occupied terrain in Aksai Chin, allowing for realistic joint training.
Second, the Academy of Military Science’s 2013 Science of Military Strategy and China’s 2015 Defence Whitepaper both call for a transition from “near seas defence” to “near seas defence and far seas protection,” which means safeguarding China’s interests in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. In the previous two decades, China’s presence in the Indian Ocean has grown dramatically. In 1999, there was not a single PLA Navy (PLAN) port visit in the Indian Ocean Region. Since 2011, the PLAN has made over 20 port visits every year. The PLAN can sustain 18 ships in the region based on its current military posture. It already has a naval base in Djibouti, and might acquire a few more in the near future. In 2013, a Chinese oceanographic research vessel spent 2-3 months cruising the Indian Ocean, reportedly monitoring the ocean’s hydrological parameters. Researchers estimate that such high levels of mobility in the Indian Ocean over months are for anti-submarine warfare studies, weapon development, and tracking enemy submarines.
Third, to boost synergy across its space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains, China established the PLA Strategic Support Force in 2015. In simple terms, this force is in charge of China’s information warfare and electronic countermeasures operations, as well as cyber-attack and defence missions and psychological warfare missions.
Last but not least, China’s military forces are quickly developing space and counter-space capabilities. They have become crucial elements of China’s force projection capabilities. During the Galwan standoff with India, China is said to have placed roughly 16 DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile systems along the Xinjiang border. Given the rockets’ attack ranges, India is a likely target.
Apart from these developments, India should be concerned about China’s investments in military technology, big data, drone swarms, and other disruptive and offensive technologies, as well as its military ties with Pakistan. These developments are specifically related to India and have massive strategic and tactical ramifications for India’s border dispute with China.
Henry Kissinger rightly observed that “The Chinese are like compulsive students – for them, no problem is finally solved; every solution is an admission to a new problem.” China’s foreign policy objectives will continue to include provocative actions such as border breaches, a missile development programme, cyber and psychological warfare, as well as power projection capabilities for the near future; therefore, India must mitigate and manage this aggressive behaviour. India and other like-minded powers must acknowledge the dangers posed by the region’s emperor-like regime. The Quad and other minilaterals, particularly trilateral alliances with major strategic partners such as Australia and Japan, have the potential to evolve into military alliances in the future. India must also continue to pursue strategic partnerships in which likeminded partners could work together through regional groupings to promote stability in the region. Collaboration in new domains such as such as health, space, and cyber space along with deepened economic and technological cooperation remains pertinent to address the China challenge.
Nevertheless, India must rely on internal balancing to counter China in the economic sphere as well. If India maintains an annual GDP growth of 8%, it will be a $64-trillion-dollar economy in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms by 2047. Within the same time frame, if China grows at 5% per year, it will have a PPP economy worth $86 trillion. In other words, the current asymmetry will be greatly reduced. Hence, to address Chinese provocations, a judicious use of self-reliance, grounded in self-assurance, in which a confident India engages the world without fear, forms alliances with like-minded countries, and effectively leverages democracy and a skilled workforce is a necessity.
Nichole Ballawar is currently working as a Research Associate at the Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA). Formerly, he has worked with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) as a Research Associate and Janes as a Defence Analyst. He has also worked with the Ministry of External Affairs as a China Research assistant and United Nations Development Program as an Intern. He worked with organisations like NIICE, The Diplomatist, 9dashline etc. and published various research papers. He is an author of various articles related to China, Nuclear non-proliferation and arms control. He is also a visiting faculty at the Government Law College, Nagpur.