Where is India in China’s wild arms race?

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Parjanya Bhatt
The situation emerging in South and South East Asia with China and India as key players is akin to the Cold War arms scenario between the US and the USSR. It is for New Delhi to choose whether it wants to become a ‘strong economic power’ making it a credible military force, or a ‘lethal military power’ with a weak economy. India certainly cannot afford to be another Soviet Union, which adopted the latter strategy and got drawn into a wild arms race with an economically stronger America
India is rapidly arming its Defence forces. The latest media reports suggest that the Modi Government has cleared Defence acquisition projects worth Rs 82,000 crore, which would include purchase of 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Air Force, a total of 464 T-90 Russian tanks and raise six regiments of Pinaka missiles for the Army, 15 Light Combat Helicopters (LCHs) and Japanese US-2i long-range amphibious surveillance aircraft for the Navy. These acquisitions come on the heels of purchase of 36 French Rafel fighter jets and a second Akula class nuclear submarine at a cost of $2 bn from Russia.
In the post-surgical strikes scenario, India’s open support to the Baloch cause is likely to send alarm bells ringing in China. After all, it is in this very region that Beijing has made multi-billion dollar investment in the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), which originates from the Gwadar port in Balochistan and ends in Xinjiang province in China.
According to media reports, Pakistan imports about 63 per cent of its armaments from China. According to research carried out by Stockholm-based research institute Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Pakistan consumes about 35 per cent of China’s arms supplies followed by Bangladesh at 20 per cent, making Beijing the world’s third largest arms supplier. In August this year, China agreed to supply Pakistan eight diesel electric submarines at a cost of $5 bn. These submarines are likely to have capabilities to fire nuclear missiles. This trend is dangerous not only from the conventional war point of view, but importantly because the three nuclear countries are adjacent to each other.
Pakistan is China’s pawn to keep a check on India’s western flank and simultaneously prepare to choke New Delhi on its eastern front. India’s arms acquisition is justified for two reasons: First, its Air Force and Navy are short of technology and required number of equipment. Second, China’s gigantic military build-up both across the Himalayas and in the IOR.
There has been a meteoric increase in China’s Defence spending. According to Defence consultancy HIS Jane’s report published earlier this year, because of heightened tensions in the South China Sea, China has accelerated its Defence preparedness. Beijing’s annual Defence budget is $146 bn and is expected to rise by 5 per cent annually crossing $233 bn by 2020. In contrast, India’s Defence budget is meagre $51 bn. However, the Modi Government has plans to spend Rs 50,000-60,000 crore in the current fiscal on new Defence deals.
India has strong capabilities to thwart any misadventure from Pakistan and keep China at bay, but looking at China’s mammoth investment to match the American military power, Beijing has raised the stakes for everyone in the region, especially for India.
The situation emerging in South and South East Asia with China and India as key players is akin to the Cold War arms scenario between the US and the USSR. It is for New Delhi to choose whether it wants to become a “strong economic power” making it a credible military force, or a “lethal military power” with a weak economy. India certainly cannot afford to be another Soviet Union, which adopted the latter strategy and got drawn into a wild arms race with an economically stronger America.

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