China in a corner at the East Asia Summit - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 18 November 2011

China in a corner at the East Asia Summit

Tensions simmer beneath the surface bonhomie at the East Asia Summit. Fear of an increasingly aggressive China provides an opportunity for India to develop the concept of the "Indo-Pacific"

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 19th Nov 11

Given China’s infrastructure building activity in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, there was more than a hint of irony in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remark this morning to his Chinese counterpart, Premier Wen Jiabao, that India’s oil and gas exploration, in partnership with Vietnam, in an offshore area claimed by China, was “purely commercial activity”. That and the PM’s remark that China’s claims over the South China Sea "should be resolved according to international law and practice" highlights a new Indian matter-of-factness in dealing with China. New Delhi’s diplomacy is increasingly unapologetic; without directly confronting Beijing, New Delhi will defend the robust pursuit of India’s national interest.

On the eve of the East Asia Summit on 19th Nov in Bali, China finds itself alone in its corner. In its unwise strategic over-reach during the preceding 18 months, Beijing has alarmed and alienated all of South East Asia by its aggressive assertion of its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Last year, Beijing made a crisis of a joint South Korea-US naval exercise planned in international waters in the Yellow Sea. The arrest of a Chinese trawler captain for illegally entering Japanese waters snowballed into a vociferous and ugly anti-Japan campaign across several Chinese cities. Vietnamese and Philippine fishing boats were regularly intimidated. And after Hillary Clinton suggested that the US had a national interest in protecting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Beijing for the first time labelled the South China Sea as a Chinese “core interest”, on par with Tibet and Taiwan.

Given the alarm bells across ASEAN, it is hardly surprising that the US was invited for the first time to the 6th East Asia Summit. To render that direct approach less offensive to China, Russia was invited too. For China, the signal is clear: the Asia-Pacific is wary of a regional order that is dominated by China.

But Beijing has continued a confrontationist approach, with the state-controlled Chinese media now threatening the Asia-Pacific states with economic retaliation. Global Times warned in a commentary on Friday: “China has more resources to oppose the US ambition of dominating the region than US has to fulfil it. As long as China is patient, there will be no room for those who choose to depend economically on China while looking to the US to guarantee their security.”

Washington has jumped in with both feet. President Obama has said twice over the last week that, “the US is a Pacific power” and made it clear that the Asia-Pacific is the new US focus. This assertive new approach contrasts with Obama’s faint-hearted G-2 proposal to China (a two-member condominium of superpowers, US and China, to oversee global matters) during his 2009 presidential visit to that country. The American withdrawal from Iraq and its ongoing disengagement from Afghanistan have freed up the strategic will and military resources to confront what America sees as a rising global challenge.

The US has begun actively confronting the expressed intention of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) for gaining overlordship over the western Pacific Ocean. The PLAN intends to hold off US aircraft carrier battle groups at a distance from the Chinese coast, using weapons like anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) and “swarm tactics”, in which masses of low-tech attack vessels overwhelm the defences of US high-tech warships. This would allow the PLA to seize Taiwan, or to physically capture disputed territory in the South China Sea.

The US strategy for dealing with this is called AirSea Battle and emphasises defence against Chinese ballistic missiles. This joint Navy-Air Force doctrine combines firepower from US Air Force fighters, bombers, and missiles; with US Navy aircraft flown from carriers and land bases; and with missiles launched from submarines and surface ships. US military bases in Japan, South Korea, and Guam will be physically strengthened to withstand Chinese missile attacks, while an “active defence” would destroy PLA aircraft and missiles, using a mix of fighter aircraft, air defence weapons, electronic warfare, and cyber operations. Nuclear war plans will also be dovetailed into the AirSea Battle concept.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will walk a fine line at Bali, where his schedule includes official meetings with both President Obama and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. US officials are conspicuously pushing the phrase, “Indo-Pacific”, to induce India to play a more visible role. New Delhi is also receiving this message with increasing clarity from the ASEAN countries. While there is little inclination to join any overt anti-Beijing grouping, New Delhi is likely to publicly support formulations like “rule-based systems in the global commons”, implicitly ruling out unilateral Chinese claims over any part of the Indo-Pacific.


  1. Since start of modern times, China has been an avowed expansionist and has by now developed its own versions of industrial landscapes like Yorkshire, Birmingham and Ruhr etc. It wants further expansion in land, sea, mineral and oil resources, that is why it is building and maintaining its forces in large numbers of both rudimentary and modernized types to tackle effectively will all kinds and variants of opponents.

    It is well known that China is no more a Communist nation, but it is yet to be understood that it has changed by now in to a Fascist Han-Nazi Institution liable to go to any extent for its own selfish business interests. This aspect is going to decide the future of the Earth.

  2. The Chinese are aggressively building up their naval capabilities. Recently Shiv Aroor posted a pic of Coco island with a chinese airstrip, are the chinese trying to replicate Diego Garcia?
    What implication does this have on India?

  3. Col. Shukla,

    I can't help wishing that you would not publish bigots spouting racial slurs like "Chinks" and such on your blog, even when what they write is correct in essence. There are other "serious defense forums" where this can be done. These slurs are kind of like the Chinese referring to us as "Yìndù ā sān".

    As for China; well, despite what the Global Times hinted at, they are putting their money where their mouth is. Please see:

    I think SE Asia will ably play the Dragon, the Elephant and the Bald Eagle quite well and to their advantage. Hopefully our policymakers will be pragmatic and with long term vision.

    Very nice article, sir.

  4. @Ajai sir

    Its good that finally India is standing up to China, with its reinvigorated military maneuvers to thwart Pak-China 'Pincer' moves along the border and diplomatic maneuvers under 'Look East' policy to counter so called Chinese 'String of Pearls' policy. Though India is playing its card well in South China sea dangers remain, e.g.

    India needs to make sure its economic interest are not harmed and this can be done by further cementing economic military relations with Burma, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Recently it was heard Vietnam wanted Indian help for submarine, aircraft training, port development and missiles. I personally believe India should whole heartedly give them what they want and offer the same to Indonesia, Malaysia as well.

    China cant object to that as its doing the same in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma (Coco isle, Hambantota, Gwadar, Coxbazaar)which are supposedly part of India backyard.

    However India's interest will be best served if we are able to wean away Burma from the Chinese, as is evident from the book Where China Meets India by Thant Myint-U of what should . A truly democratic (Suu Kyi led)Burma will serve India best. I hope finally India moves forward on the Trans-Asia Highway. Lets hope the Tiger finally wakes up from the longer slumber to take on the Dragon.


    Joydeep Ghosh

  5. These capitalist commies could be a problem for everyone in future if this is how it continues.


  6. The Chinese ironically seem to strengthen american diplomatic standing in pacific rim and south china sea..the bullying seems to have pushed these nations to look for other options most prominent being usa..and america too has grabbed this opportunity with both hands..its gonna be interesting how things turn out in near future..what i dont get is Obama administration's policy of first cosying up to the chinese with all talk about G2 bullshit and then confronting the chinese head on..guess america never puts its money anywhere near its mouth..deception or late realisation of acting like a wimp ?

  7. Regardless of the merits of contemporary Chinese foreign policy it writing that "since start of modern times, China has been an avowed expansionist" demonstrates a deep ignorance of historical facts.

    The well known down side of the otherwise welcome democratising effect of the internet is that it empowers idiots.

  8. Still anxiously waiting for your post on why the FGFA won't be a 5th gen aircraft

    Zabaan ke pakke to ap ho hi-to der kis baat ki?

  9. Dear Ajay Sir,
    Eagerly waiting for your report on MBT Arjun program--> as you have recently visited CVRDE and
    Gripen Update--> as you sat in its cockpit. Hope you didn't forget all these.

  10. The term 'Chinks' is racist and not beehooving a rationalist.

  11. I agree. Comments bearing racist terms like "chinks" will not be allowed on this blog... and the comments posted by "the terminator" have hereby been terminated.

    I'm sure a rational, well-considered argument will remain as persuasive if it relates to "the Chinese" rather than "The Chinks".

    My apologies.

  12. go ahead, talk of your ailing pet goat now, ARJUN MK2 !!!!!!!!!........please!!!

  13. as in hockey there is kind of style called... set play... once you know the intricacies of set play... like 1962... hit we took... by you know who wanted... to cut india to size... so that we don't contribute to world peace and development... instead the dragon can breath fire by... exporting terrorism... misunderstading... deviationary tactics... of all nations she comes in contact... like our unionist... commies do... tie people to hatered... not progress... well not only india... the whole world know the play by now... nothing else...

  14. Hi Ajai,

    I understand you are kept busy, but still waiting for the CVRDE and the Sabb Gripen report. Wish you post them soon.

  15. This BLOG is autocratic... where only selective comments are allowed to go in. The colonel is a fake... no spine.

  16. Mr.Ar @ 20 November 2011 18:19

    Words from the empowered politburo of the CPC!

  17. ajay what happpened to the arjun report. im egarly waiting for it

  18. Hi Ajay,

    Just want to know when was the last major joint military exercised of India Forces was held in the Eastern Sector to validate their battle concept aganuist adversary on Eastern front. The region has distincly different topogarphy and geographical features. The Eastern adversary has more advances capabilities than the one on the Western flank. So far we have only heard about major exercises of Divisionplus level taking place only in Pokharan or Rajasthan. Whether these concepts can be replicated on Eastern flank or we need similar exercises on Eastern flank or we have no plans for that sector or only a brigade level execise would suffice???

  19. Sir, eagerly awaiting your "Tanks!!" report, please share with us asap..



  20. Sir,

    I am still anxiously waiting for the three reports 1. Arjun Tank, 2. LCA update (my wishlist) and 3. Gripen visit.

    I am also interested to know the progress of PAK FA, now that they have tested the latest version T-50-3 according to BR reports.... at least if it is true or not.


  21. Dear Shuklaji, Can you also do a writeup on the IA's travails on the artillery guns issue, which probably is the achilees heel of the force. Though the Cong was hit by the HDW scam as well and a certain G name was dragged in, this didnt prevent the acquisition of scorpenes. The IAF too is getting new expensive toys. So why is the Army being stonewalled by the Govt?

  22. Wheres my tank, dude?


  23. @Anon 2:00,I think the powers that be may have objected to any info release on Arjun-2 progress and Col Saab may have spoken too soon on the matter.Still keeping my fingers crossed.


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