LiveFist EXCLUSIVE: Admiral Arun Prakash on the China Threat

In an ongoing interview with former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Arun Prakash, LiveFist brings you the views of one of the most articulate and admired military chiefs of our time. What follows is Part One in a series of interactions, where Admiral Prakash questions Left perceptions of China, Beijing's military intentions in the Indian Ocean Region, and how he advised the government before retiring in October 2006.

Q. Admiral, you've said before that India is unsure of China's long-term intentions in the maritime sphere given it's unbridled force expansion. Give us a perspective on how and what you advised the government about China when you were Chief of Naval Staff. Some of the finer nuances.

Admiral Prakash:
Our dilemma vis-à-vis China is two-fold. On the one hand, we need to moderate the school of thought within the political establishment (encouraged no doubt by exhortations from the Left), which focuses exclusively on China's declarations about her "peaceful rise" . Indulging in a great deal of naive self-delusion, this school points to the ongoing dialogue and the dramatic increase in bilateral Sino-Indian trade, which is pushing the US$20 billion mark, as proof of China's good intentions.

On the other hand, our strategic establishment has to make a hard headed assessment and find answers to three straight questions before we decide on the future course of Sino-Indian relations: What is the rationale behind China's "string of pearls" strategy through which she has assiduously and neatly encircled India with states which are either her clients or beholden to her for economic and weapons related assistance?

Why did China (in collusion with North Korea) evolve a sinister plan to supply Pakistan with not just the plans and technology for nuclear weapons and a family of missiles but also the hardware related to these? Such a transaction is unprecedented in international relations. The Americans denied the transfer of atomic weapon technology to their Anglo-Saxon cousins the British (who had rendered valuable scientific assistance in Project Manhattan) through the instrumentality of the 1946 McMahon Act.

Of China's 15 neighbours, why has she has settled boundary disputes with all but India, and loses no opportunity to remind us about it? The most recent and perplexing instance of this was when the Chinese Ambassador in Delhi reiterated, publicly, their claim to Arunachal Pradesh just a fortnight before President Hu Jintao's visit to India.

To the armed forces, three things are obvious:

Firstly, no matter how intense our political engagement or trade, India and China will be competing for the same strategic space in the Indian Ocean Region, extending to the shores of Africa. When such a competition between two powers is in the offing, the use of coercive force and possibility of conflict can never be ruled out.

Secondly, the Chinese have a long racial memory, and if they are convinced that Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh actually "belong" to them, they will sooner or later regurgitate their claims, and once again a show of coercive force (backed by a powerful nuclear arsenal) cannot be ruled out.

And thirdly, that the PLA Navy has every intention of moving into the Indian Ocean and flexing its muscle in their perceived national interests. However, they will do this when they are good and ready: with a reliable force of SSBNs and SSNs as well as a carrier based naval aviation arm. In the meantime, the ground is being well prepared, in Gwadar, and possibly in Hambantota , Chittagong and Sittwe.

The Navy's advice to the GoI was that, notwithstanding a late start, the only way to counter the Chinese strategy was to initiate an urgent programme of extending maritime assistance and cooperation to all our Bay of Bengal and IOR neighbours. And the good news here is that they are all eager and ready to meet us more than half way. It was also suggested that greater caution and circumspection may be necessary in making assessments about long term Chinese intentions.

(emphasis added)

(Tomorrow: Part II -- Admiral Arun Prakash on implications of the new Indo-US strategic evolution)

Almost as a coincidence, on the same day that Admiral Prakash has spoken out about Chine, the Navy today held its first ever exercise (Exercise Rajdoot) with the PLA Navy off the Chinese coast. Here's is the official statement from the Navy today:

Indian Navy Calls on Qingdao, China

IN Ships Rana and Ranjit under the command of Capt LV Sarat Babu and Captain DM Sudan respectively, visited Qingdao from 12 to 15 Apr 07 during the course of the ships Overseas Deployment (RAJDOOT 01/07) to the North Pacific Region. The ships visit to Qingdao, China coincided with the concurrent visit of INS Mysore, Jyoti and Kuthar under the operational command of Rear Admiral Ravinder Kumar Dhowan, AVSM, YSM to Yokosuka, Japan.

On arrival at Qingdao harbour the ships were welcomed by Her Excellency Mrs Nirupama Rao, Ambassadress of India to China, Vice Admiral R P Suthan, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff and Rear Admiral Su Shiliang, Commander North Sea Fleet (NSF) of PLA Navy. A first day postal cover commemorating the first visit of Indian Naval ships to Qingdao was also released on this occasion.

During the welcome address Rear Admiral Su Shiliang, Commander North Sea Fleet and H.E. Mrs Nirupama Rao, Ambassadress of India highlighted the strategic significance of Indo-China relations. These views were echoed during the formal interaction between Vice Admiral RP Suthan, Rear Admiral Shu Shiliang and the Commanding Officers of the Indian Naval ships. The Navys' role in the expanding military / diplomatic ties as well as 'Building Bridges of Freindship' between India and China was clearly evident during the ships stay in Qingdao. A reception was hosted for the PLA Navy officers and Defence Attaches of Australia, South Korea, Germany, Brazil, Japan, France and the US on board Rana on 13 Apr.

Concurrently the ships were opened for visitors. Prominent amongst those who visited the ship included the small, fledgling yet proud and reassured members of the Indian business community in Qingdao. Additionally, the response of the local populace was overwhelming. The enthusiasm and genuine happiness of these people helped breach the strong language barrier. Further consolidating on the 'Bridges of Friendship' construct, a band concert by the Indian Naval Band was conducted at 'May 4th Square'. The Naval band enthralled the audience, of more than over 2000, in a programme that lasted over two hours. Adulation was readily apparent in enthusiastic crowd participation and requests for encores.

The ships departed Qingdao at 0830 hrs on 16 Apr 07 and were led out of harbour by PLAN ship Qingdao. During the passage the ships undertook basic communication and maneuvering exercises. The PASSEX concluded with a steampast by the IN ships wherein IN – PLAN personnel manned respective ship sides.

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