On 2nd October 2020, Takshashila Institution hosted the sixth #DeepWebinar in the China Challenge Series in partnership with Hudson Institute. The session focused on China’s military might and how India and US can counter it. It included Lt. Gen.(Dr.) Prakash Menon(Retd.), Director, Strategic Studies at Takshashila Institution and Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute as panellists. Aparna Pande, Director, Initiative on the future of India and South Asia at Hudson Institute, anchored the discussion as the host. Dinakar Peri(Defence Correspondent , The Hindu), Shibani Mehta(Research Analyst, Carnegi India) and Yusuf Unjhawala(Editor, Defence Forum India) joined the #DeepWebinar as discussants, posing thoughtful questions and providing insightful comments.
The conversation began with deliberation on the need to counter China’s military might and how India and US can do it by cooperating.
First of the panellists to speak Lt. Gen. Menon, stated that China’s military rise is impressive in terms of material and numbers. China tries to convey a sense of absolute strength with its photogenic military hardware. However, military power is always relational to other factors such as geography, morale and resolve. China cannot bring to bear its entire military power against India either since it has a lot of other things to deal with on its Eastern Seaboard including Taiwan and the South China Sea. Lt. Gen. Menon further elaborated that India can hold its own on its northern border against China and the claim that China can bring 44 divisions of the PLA across the Himalayas as suggested by some, is nothing more than military fiction. Since it will be an impossible task to supply and support those divisions with logistics.
The second panellist Bryan Clark in response to a question by the host said that the US military response to China’s growing military might wasn’t slow. However, as the US courted China during the Obama years in order to isolate North Korea, China’s growing military power was only overlooked by certain people in the US Govt. The US Congress demanding a China power report and the policy work in the US think-tank world is indicative of this.
He further elaborated that in the Trump administration there have been failures to exploit opportunities presented to the US Government, such as the trade war between US and China has been ham handedly dealt with and its focus is less on containing china but instead it is more focused on domestic constituencies. Bryan Clark further highlighted that Semiconductor tech export restrictions could be a strong element of containing china militarily.
In response to a question by the host Lt. Gen. Menon remarked that China wishes to confine India to the subcontinent, using the northern borders to do so, however the future of India’s international military cooperation lies in the maritime domain and forums like Quad are an important avenue for this.
Bryan Clark further said that the PLA Navy is not optimized for open ocean combat, as the majority of its ships with their small missile magazines are designed to operate under the cover of land based aircraft and missiles. Therefore, the Quad’s maritime partnership becomes important as together the US, Indian, Japanese and Australian Navies can bring to bear a formidable force that is designed for high endurance open ocean combat operations.
In response to the question posed by the first discussant Shibani Mehta about which other partnerships India and the US must focus on to counter China, Bryan Clark remarked that in addition to the Quad, there are options for cooperation in Eastern Africa, where there has been extensive Chinese investment.
In response to a question by the second discussant Dinakar Peri about how India can balance China on the Northern Border Lt. Gen. Menon remarked the high-altitude terrain along the northern border is in India’s favour, as its military, unlike that of China, is acclimatised to the extreme weather conditions.
Responding to the third discussant Yusuf Unjhawala about the need for an economic component to the Quad to counter BRI Lt. Gen. Meon said that as a whole BRI is not a direct military threat and only the seaports under BRI that can serve as dual use military ports is the concern and under this lens, the CPEC is the primary and closest concern for India.
Towards the end of the session In response to an audience question about the role of Russia in countering China’s military might, Lt. Gen. Menon remarked that Russia is an unwilling partner for China since it is not comfortable with Central Asia Nations being influenced by China, since Russia views Central Asia as being its backyard and under its sphere of influence.
About the Takshashila Institution
The Takshashila Institution is an independent center for research and education in public policy. It is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates the values of freedom, openness, tolerance, pluralism and responsible citizenship. The Takshashila Institution seeks to transform India through better public policies, bridging the governance gap by developing better public servants, civil society leaders, professionals and informed citizens.
About Hudson Institute
Founded in 1961 by strategist Herman Kahn, Hudson Institute challenges conventional thinking and helps manage strategic transitions to the future through interdisciplinary studies in defense, international relations, economics, health care, technology, culture, and law. Hudson guides public policymakers and global leaders in government and business through a vigorous program of publications, conferences, policy briefings, and recommendations. The video of the #DeepWebinar can be assessed on Takshashila Institution’s Youtube Channel.