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Modi must look at Xi’s military modernisation in last 8 yrs to understand Galwan aggression

Under Xi, not only has the PLA been given modern equipment, but there is also focus on creating smaller units – away from the 'top-heavy command structure'.

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Following the deadly clashes between the Indian and Chinese soldiers at the Galwan Valley, there is a growing perception that behind China’s assertiveness, lies an increasing power differential between Beijing and New Delhi. While this line of reasoning is correct, it masks the means through which China has managed to amass such hard military power.

It is the difference between the comprehensive military reforms carried out in China under President Xi Jinping and the rather shallow ones under Prime Minister Narendra Modi that explains why China today feels confident to deploy forces across multiple fronts at the LAC, and demonstrate the kind of aggression not seen since the 1960s.

Since coming to power in 2012, Xi Jinping has managed to usher in large-scale military modernisation and fundamentally transform the organisational structure and governance of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In comparison, the military reforms carried out under PM Modi have not only been meagre, but Indian military has also seen the gulf between its intent and capabilities widen like never before. Under Xi, the Chinese military has grown substantially more powerful than its Indian counterpart.

The perception that China’s authoritarian character makes reforms easier, doesn’t really apply to matters of the military. If in India, Modi has struggled to trim down the size of the Army, because increasingly, more soldiers hail from electorally vital states such as Uttar Pradesh (Army and Nation by Steven I. Wilkinson), in authoritarian China, the very regime depends on the military for its survival.

Yet, unlike Modi, Xi decided to bite the bullet and purge all the vested interest groups in the military establishment that had been restricting reforms. While Xi matched his words with actions, Modi decided to settle for electoral success backing on ‘muscular’ rhetoric. Genuine hard power and a sustainable military strategy requires spending money, and today, India’s somewhat territorial capitulation to China stems from Modi not acknowledging that basic fact.

Also read: India likely to review rules of engagement at LAC after Galwan Valley clash

Military reforms are hard in China

Authoritarian governments rely on their armies to stay in power. And in China, if the Communist Party general secretary and the President – the de facto head of the country – fails to reign in the military, then he will be held hostage to those who exercise control over it. This was evident during the tenure of previous Chinese President Hu Jintao’s term (2002-12), where it is said that his predecessor Jiang Zemin (1992-2002) essentially managed the military – making Hu a mere figurehead.

“Having observed Hu’s fate, Xi moved to purge the military of Jiang’s remaining influence using the anti-corruption campaign, and bring the PLA more fully under his control,” writes Don Tse, chief executive officer and co-founder of SinoInsider Consulting LLC.

Xi is unique because he is the first leader after Deng Xiaoping to actually head the Central Military Commission (CMC) – the country’s top-defence decision-making body – giving him complete control over military affairs, making him a “paramount leader”.

Also read: India shifts China diplomacy strategy to high gear after Galwan clash, military-level talks on

China’s military modernisation under Xi

In 2015, at a summit of the CMC, Xi announced his intent, “With China currently being at the crucial stage of progressing from a large country to a strong power, the building of national defence and the military is at a new historical starting point.”

What followed were a series of comprehensive military reforms. “Xi has focused on making big, structural changes. Among his most significant reforms are new joint theater commands, deep personnel cuts, and improvements to military-civilian collaboration. He is pushing to transform the PLA from a largely territorial force into a major maritime power,” notes a report by Council on Foreign Relations.

Some of Xi’s reforms are worth recounting.

First, the very structure of CMC was dismantled. Its four general departments were replaced by 15 smaller ones, thus ending the control of existing interest groups in the military complex. Until then, these four departments clumsily ran China’s military, but they were now going to come under the direct command of CMC chairman – Xi.

Second, separate operational and administrative commands were established. Five new joint Theatre Commands replaced the seven existing Military Regions (MRs). Here, unlike the Military Regions – which had jurisdiction over mostly the army – the Theatre Commands enjoyed operational autonomy over all the three services. A Joint Logistics Support Force was also created to aid the Theatre Commands. Now, the sole responsibility of these Theatre Commands was to command joint operations during combat, leaving training and administrative work to the respective service headquarters.

In terms of specific services, the PLA has undergone major transformation. Xi’s goal to turn China’s military, from a quantity-based force to a quality-based one, has meant that the size of the army has shrunk by nearly 1 million troops, according to International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Moreover, not only has the army been given more modern equipment, but there is also focus on creating smaller units – away from the “top-heavy command structure”.

The Chinese navy under Xi has expanded at an unprecedented rate, making it the largest naval force in the world. In 2016, Chinese navy commissioned 18 ships as compared to five by the US. According to Rand Corporation, about 70 per cent of Chinese fleet could be considered “modern” in 2017, compared to less than 50 per cent in 2010.

More reforms involved the upgrading of Rocket Force – which manages the country’s conventional and nuclear missiles – to an independent service, and creating a Strategic Support Force that now manages China’s electronic, cyber, and psychological operations.

Also read: After clash with India, PLA says China always had sovereignty over Galwan Valley region

India’s military reforms under Modi

When it comes to military policy, Modi’s leadership over the past six years has had three significant features.

First, India’s defence spending as a share of the GDP has fallen over the past 20 years, a trend that has continued during Modi’s tenure, regardless of his pro-national security image.

Second has been the execution of politically rewarding, but fiscally disastrous, One Rank One Pension policy. As security researcher Abhijnan Rej notes, this has led to a “preponderance of unproductive military allocations on salaries and such over productive ones as new weapons and platforms.” Thus, as salaries and pensions continue to rise, the defence budget increasingly has lesser space to spend on modernisation. Contrast this with China trimming down its military by nearly a million.

Third has been the creation of Chief of Defence staff, which though a landmark reform by itself, pales in comparison to the kind of fundamental shifts that have been taken in China.

The main problem with India’s military has been the inability of the political leadership to cut the size of the Army and use those resources for modernisation. Often, a shift from status quo is politically tedious—but so is the situation up in the Himalayas. And if Modi genuinely wants a long-term solution to the China problem, he might actually benefit by looking at the Xi playbook.

Views are personal.

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  1. Agree here. Past governments also didnt focus on the military modernisation but they not very keen to use military as political tool. This govt is using military but doing nothing for modernization. I know that we can’t match Chinese plane with a plane – but we are not doing even what we can do. Except those 72k SIG rifles( Negev were order just 2 months back so not counting them), even infantry is in bad shape.

  2. Writer or author is an Idiot. Why you want to undermine the capabilities of our army and put it on internet for the world to know. The Print is absolutely anti-India. No doubt about it. You write anything and everything against the interest of our country and in the end write that the views are personal. What rubbish? Scrap your bloody theprint.in

  3. Are you forgetting UPA standstill under A.K.Anthony.
    Are u also trying to demoralize our Army establishment where govt has spent billions unlike UPA?
    It appears u are playing into the hands of enemy.

  4. Useless and baseless article with no facts. Easy to blame everything on Modi. It’s because of Modi then we are facing china – as an eye for an eye other wise your masters have always given India on the plate to China. why only 1962, why don’t you say about the period 2005 to 2012 when India lost lands to China and nobody came to even know about it because your Antonia has personal relations with Chinese CPC. And now when India is standing against China then instead of standing with the country you are finding fault. How pathetic and spineless you guys are….. Jai Hind.

  5. Problem: 1: Modi is an ignorant low IQ person with no understanding of geopolitics………….Did he not realize once he made the Aug 5 Kashmir blunder, then any party can make any changes in the disputed territory………..which China is now doing in Ladakh.

    Problem 2: CDS who is more political than politicians !!!

    Problem 3 : Army Chief …weak as a hen and totally dominated by CDS…………………….hence daily kicks by Chinese military !!!!

  6. Great and genuine analysis of current scenario of military powers of China & India. Hopefully our government takes a leaf out of the page and work towards it.

  7. Chinese forces have killed 20 soldiers using iron rods. Just like radical Hindus of RSS kill Indian Muslims using this favourite weapon of Hindus. Karma

  8. It is surprising that not of the many civil or army experts in Indian print or online media mention Graham Allison’s book “Destined for War” the Part One of which is titled “Rise of China”. Without going into detail it suffices to mention that in 1985 PPP GDP of China and India was exactly equal i.e. $645,565 and $645.568 million respectively (Nominal GDP was $312 and $237 million respectively). Today PPP GDP of China and India is $28 trillion and $11 trillion respectively (Nominal GDP is $14 trillion and $3 trillion respectively).The difference of $17 trillion in PPP GDP by which China exceeds India is a HUGE difference. It is no wonder that India in spite of having a lopsided budget which allocates Rs 700,000 crores to defense and just Rs 69000 crores to healthcare is unable to equal China in armaments. China has hyper sonic missiles while we still trumpet every launch of Agni. According to Allison GDP ” provides the substructure of national power”.
    It would be a great service if someone would translate Part One of Allison’s book into regional languages and distribute it among the general public for then the people will understand that there are more important things than Hindutva ,Article 370, 35-A, Gau Raksha , Surgical Strikes, Balakot, CAA, Citizenship register , Ram Temple etc ,etc which need to be mentioned by Politicians in their election rallies so that people can vote judiciously.
    People also need to be told about recent genetic work by David Reich which shows that every upper caste Brahaman has Shudar genes and every lower caste Shudar has Brahaman genes. People need to be told about a recent Paper which predicts that in just 50 years from now India will become hot like the Sahara and one billion persons will either die or migrate providing a pathetic solution to not only the population problem but also all other problems that beset India at present be it the Pakistan problem, the China Problem the Kashmir Problem or any other problem.

  9. After indo chinese war when usa threatened to use nukes on china , china themselves developed nuclear missiles.
    This led to heavy sanctions on china. China then realised it has to trim its dependency on other countires to minimal level. Since hook or crook all defence equipments use in china have been made in china. They applied the same tactic to civilian world. Now chinese are almost a super powere.
    Lets see when does india realise this

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