Monday, March 14, 2011

China’s enhanced defence budget: Time to keep a closer watch

China’s foreign policy is generally believed to be motivated by its approach towards the United States, Pakistan to an extent and of course, India. Therefore, when it announced enhancing its defence budget, the eyebrows were raised across the globe obviously.

China announced last week that its defence budget would be raised to 601 billion Yuan equaling 91.5 billion US dollars recording a sharp increase of 12.7 per cent over 2010. The quantum leap in the defence budget represents about 6 per cent of the country's total budget.

Significantly, China’s return to double-digit spending in defence after quite sometime have predictably stirred off the regional unease.
The development coincides with much assertive diplomatic tone undertaken by Beijing in last two years and its continuous rows with Japan, the United States and also India in the region.
So the apprehension of a more aggressive posturing from China – equipped with higher defence allocation - is only natural. Strategic observers in the region already say that China's actual spending on its estimated 2.3 million-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA) is far higher than what the Chinese government reports.
So the obvious question is, what has provoked China to make such a high investment at a time when it is trying to give the impression of a key global player, especially in league with economies like India and Brazil, in fora like BRICS.
There are a few things which require closer scrutiny.
One understanding is that China is trying to give a clear signal to the United States that it should not try to impose its might over China.
Well, the Chinese one-upmanship is not merely confined to the American context. Its eye-catching moves in recent past, hyper active moves along Indian borders and in high sea against several countries have sparked off strong apprehensions from a host of countries like Japan, Philippines and Taiwan.
Therefore, the enhanced budget for defence spending by China has prompted greater suspicion from neighbors and also global powers.
But this posturing is one part of Chinese diplomatic approach. In the recent times, China has befriended countries like India, Russia and Brazil and has tried to give a tremendous momentum to the BRIC conglomeration.
This was given a further boost by incorporating South Africa as a new member.
But these are easier said than executed diplomatically.
China’s great motivation factor in choosing its diplomatic and strategic roadmap is decided by its strategic considerations and hardly ideological.
This makes all its co-partners’ job to handle China a difficult proposition.
China's warships are now even being deployed as far as Gulf of Aden.

Often the bi-lateral factors cloud Chinese frame of mind so much that regional grouping and even something like BRIC can be compromised.
However, in the Indian context, it has to be admitted that to China’s credit, Beijing has made it clear nevertheless that it is sincere for boundary talks with New Delhi.
A top Chinese official catering to the foreign affairs has said that Beijing is keen to “advance the negotiation process” with India on a settlement framework.
“At present, there are friendly and stable relations between China and India. This has created a good atmosphere for the two sides to resolve the boundary question through consultations,” quote unquote, he said.
The Indian government too has been stressing on the importance of a dialogue with the External Affairs minister S M Krishna telling time and again that despite the differences, New Delhi is keen to resolve the pending issues through dialogue.
Notably, the two countries have already had 14 rounds of talks.
The setting up of the Special Representatives mechanism in 2003 and the agreement on political parameters in 2005 had helped to give further momentum to the dialogues.
The Indian External Affairs minister S M Krishna has time and again maintained that New Delhi is also too keen to pursue the talks.
Reiterating New Delhi’s commitment to track a relationship of "cooperative partnership" with China, the External Affairs Minister has always asserted that India is "not a soft state", as is often made out to be.
Its true, the history of 60 years relations between the two countries cannot be simply brushed aside while at the same time, India has to remain vigilant on the borders.
A more cautious advise would suggest that India should keep in mind that China has in the past did not show its inclination as India's natural ally.
To be cautious is never a bad prescription in the running of foreign policy.


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