New Delhi: India has always seen itself as a regional power and has wanted to dominate the Indian Ocean Region — this is how Beijing perceives New Delhi’s strategic ambitions, according to a recently translated document on China’s military strategy.
The US-based China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI) translated a 2013 document, which is a doctrine of China’s Academy of Military Sciences.
The document traces the evolution of India’s strategic thought — as perceived by China — and gives a broad outline of the People’s Liberation Army’s military strategy. Of note is the fact that such documents are drawn up only once in about every 13 years.
In episode 682 of Cut The Clutter, ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta analyses the aspects of the document that talk about India, using it as a unique opportunity to look at India from the lens of its biggest adversary.
Evolution of India’s strategic thought
According to the document, China sees India’s strategic thought as having developed in multiple stages after Independence.
The first stage is ‘Limited Offensive Strategy’, between 1947 and 1960, occurring right after Independence, when India was a young, economically backward and militarily weaker nation.
According to the Chinese, India laid major emphasis on building its economy rather than defence. However, since Pakistan remained a threat, there was limited offence but increased deployment on the Western front, and movement to the northern frontiers along Tibet, which, from the Chinese perspective, is south of the McMahon line.
“Essentially, what that means is that India asserted control over new regions of Arunachal Pradesh, or what the Chinese call South Tibet. But I suspect this is also an oblique reference to the fact that it was in this period that India went up to Tawang and asserted control,” said Gupta. By 1958, according to the Chinese, India gained control over all contested areas near the India-China border.
Between 1960 and 70, the paper says India’s strategy focused on expansion on two fronts, especially after the 1962 war, when the country started building its military power. In 1964, it started a defence modernisation plan with the first defence five-year-plan, pegged at Rs 5,000 crore. The paper says this led to two things — it gave India greater strength for its operations in the West, and provided in-depth defence against China.
In the next two decades, between 1970 and the late 1980s, the paper notes, India’s objective was to maintain land and control the sea. According to it, India had contained Pakistan at this point and its focus shifted towards gaining control over the sea, particularly the northern part of the Indian Ocean. India started focusing on building its Navy to gain power in South Asia.
In the 90s, the focus shifted from regional offence to regional deterrence. By this time, the paper says, the traditional view of annihilatory war had changed. So, India tried to build influence in an entire region on the back of a strategy of regional deterrence, from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean, from Iran in the West to Myanmar in the East.
By the 21st century, India’s economy boomed, making it stronger than its South Asian neighbours, and leading to its strategy evolving again. The paper also notes that India’s strategy became two-pronged — practising defensive deterrence against China and punitive deterrence with others.
Characteristics that define India’s strategic thought
The Chinese paper notes that there are four inter-woven characteristics to India’s strategic thought. It says India has a strong geopolitical core since the nation believes it’s the heart of Asia, and its region of influence is South Asia. The paper also says Pakistan and China are India’s biggest obstacles in achieving its geopolitical goals.
Indo-centricism has been identified as another objective, one the Chinese think India has inherited from the British. India considers itself the heart of the continent, and regions at its peripheries, including Kashmir, Assam, Bangladesh, Sikkim and Bhutan, are its internal line of defence. The country also wants Tibet as a buffer zone with China. The paper says India relies on the Chanakyan philosophy, dealing with peripheral nations as rivals and regions that are far off as friends.
According to China, India wants to dominate South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, and rise as a first rate world power for which a strong but limited offensive is needed. The paper also says India has been ‘nibbling’ away at Chinese territory in the meantime.
“Chinese say this ‘nibbling’ has been done rather carefully, to turn defence into offence during war time,” Gupta said.
Finally, the paper says, India’s strategic thought emphasises deterrence in all directions. This analysis breaks India’s deterrence strategy into two distinct halves — ambition for dominance and ambition for deterrence.
“India knows that its military power is limited, so for the second one, India has reached out to countries like the US and Japan, and improved its relations to get more people into the tent… you can see that the Chinese scholars had foreseen the coming up of the Quad in 2013,” Gupta said.