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Potential threat no. 1 - Blitz

P. M. Kamath ()
May 30, 1998

Title: Potential threat no. 1
Author: P. M. Kamath
Publication: Blitz
Date: May 30, 1998

Defence Minister George Fernandes's May 3 characterisation of
China as India's "potential threat number one" is nothing new,
unknown or unstated in government records.

In its '95 report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on
Defence had considered our communist neighbour as a potential
security threat to us and stated that it "is likely to remain the
primary security challenge to India in the medium and long
term..... despite warming relations".

What is the basis for India's threat perception? First, the
unsettled border between the two countries gives an edge to
China. Though there is the September 1993 Peace and Tranquillity
Agreement signed between the two, the dispute can be activated to
its advantage by China at any given time.

Despite 10 rounds of talks by the Joint Working Group in as many
years. lack of progress is evinced in the latest round held last
year. It merely reiterated earlier understanding - on the need to
develop more confidence-building measures - reached during
President Jiang Zemin's visit to Delhi in 1996.

Second, while India unilaterally conceded Beijing's claim over
Tibet as an autonomous region of China, it did not insist on a
reciprocal recognition of India's boundaries with China. This
should have been a natural demand since China had advanced claims
to Indian territories on the basis of Tibetan documents.

Those documents became valid for China only after India
recognised Chinese claims over Tibet. As a result, India's
territorial integrity is now being questioned by China, which
does not recognise Arunachal Pradesh or Sikkim as states of the
Man union.

Third, China is a full-fledged nuclear power on India's northern
frontiers with nuclear weapons aimed at all major Indian cities
from the Indo-Tibetan borders. Its status as permanent member of
the Security Council accords it immense power over security
issues and veto power to project it from any outside decisions
unacceptable to it.

Fourth, China is rapidly developing its blue water navy that can
threaten India's maritime interests. It is known to all, except
Chinese scholars, that Beijing is developing naval and electronic
surveillance facilities on the Coco Island south of Myanmar. From
here, China can directly threaten eastern Indian states and the
Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the northern point of which is only
40 km away.

The growing arrogance of Chinese leaders towards India was
underscored by its defence minister's assertion about a year ago.
When asked about the Chinese navy's activities in the Indian
Ocean, he retorted, "It is Indian Ocean and not India's ocean".

Fifth, there is growing collaboration between China and Pakistan,
on the basis of an "enemy's enemy is a friend". Apart from past
collaboration in Pakistan's efforts to develop a clandestine
nuclear capability, China is the sole collaborator in Pakistan's
acquiring and developing missile capability despite US efforts to
restrain Beijing through the Missile Technology Control Regime

Even if Pakistan's recently test-fired Ghauri missile is not of
Chinese but North Korean origin, the latter can only be a conduit
for Chinese aid to Pakistan. Beijing has also provided M-11
ballistic missiles to Pakistan and is setting up a missile
assembly plant there, a fact testified by US Senator Joseph Biden
after his visit to China last July.

A corroborative fact is that recently, Chinese authorities
declined to formally accede to the MTCR, which they been
promising the US since '91. It is hence obvious that China wants
to complete some of the unfinished tasks of collaboration with

Sixth, China believes that territorial expansion is an index of a
great power status. As it claims Indian territory, it has already
converted South China Sea into a China Lake. It has captured
Paracel Islands which are in the territorial waters of Vietnam
and now claims the Spratley Islands which are over a 1,000 km
away. In '92, China passed a law establishing its sovereignty
over them.

However, it is not merely a greed for more territory. Since 1996
China has become a net importer of oil and natural gas. It is
estimated that there is at least 35 billion tons of oil and gas
in the South China Sea. If and when China's claims over these
islands are forced to be accepted by nations of South East Asia,
China's maritime borders will increase from the present 370,000
sq km to 3 million sq km.

It is in this context that George Fernandes's statement has to be

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