China hikes arms budget to $44 bn
Bad News For An Already-Worried India
Rajat Pandit | TNN
New Delhi: Even as India warily watches China take huge strides to expand its sphere of influence in the strategic Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Indian defence establishment has been confronted with yet another unnerving bit of news: a whopping 17.8% hike in ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s military budget
Already apprehensive of the rapid modernising the 2.5-million-strong PeopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Liberation Army, which has substantially enhanced its Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬Ëœtransborder capabilitiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬â„¢, ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s announcement of a $44-billion
defence budget caused yet another flutter of concern in the top echelons of Indian armed forces.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœFirst, China conducted an anti-satellite weapon test in January. And now this. Though relations with China have been on an upswing over the last five-six years, we always have to keep China in mind,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ said a senior officer.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœWe are unsure about its long-term aims. Though peace prevails along the still unresolved 4,057-km LAC, China does remain a long-term potential threat,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ he added.
China, for one, continues to have deep strategic links with Pakistan, ranging from the joint development of the Gwadar deep-sea port in Baluchistan and the JF-17 Ã¢â‚¬ËœThunderÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ fighter jets to the covert cooperation in the nuclear and missile arena.
Then, of course, New Delhi remains apprehensive of ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s development of military infrastructure in Tibet and other border areas as well as its expanding military cooperation with countries in IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s backyard like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Seychelles and the like.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœIn keeping with its Ã¢â‚¬Ëœstring of pearlsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ strategy, China is especially focusing on expanding its arc of influence in the IOR to project its power overseas as well as protect its energy security,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ said a Navy officer. India has taken some steps to counter Chinese moves by stepping up its own efforts to bolster military ties with Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives but much more needs to be done.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœGifting a fast-attack craft or a patrol boat to Maldives (INS Tillanchang) or Seychelles (INS Tarmugli) is not enough, we have to enhance economic and military cooperation with all IOR countries on a sustained basis,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ said another officer. India also has to learn how to dovetail military capabilities with long-term political objectives as far as defence expenditure is concerned. While Chinese defence budgets, which have seen a double-digit hike for almost two decades now, have a definite strategic underpinning to them, IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defence expenditure remains an adhoc exercise most of the time.
The modest hike in IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defence budget for the next fiscal, Rs 96,000 crore or around $22 billion, for instance, will barely take care of inflation, instead of any major jump in modernisation of the 1.3-million strong Indian forces.
The long-standing demand of Indian military planners to take defence spending to around 3% of the GDP still remains a mere pipedream, with the figure continuing to hover around 2.5%. Contrast this with ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s $44-billion budget, which some analysts hold is just onethird of the actual spending it does on its military.