Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] The quest for a military footprintMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BRI

Mains level : India has to challenge China'a aggressive quest to acquire foreign bases.


In the annual report to the US Congress on Chinese military power released last week, the US Defence Department has pointed to China’s vigorous quest for foreign military bases, including in Pakistan.

India’s response

India’s response so far has developed along three axes.

1. Countering Potential Threats – One is to counter potential threats from China’s military bases in its immediate neighbourhood.

2.Military Partnerships – Second, to strengthen military partnerships with its friends and partners to balance China.

3. Emulate Beijing’s Quest  – The third is to emulate Beijing’s quest for foreign military presence.

Quest for foreign bases

1.Evolution as a modern state –

  • That China and India compete for foreign military bases is not merely an extension of their very familiar rivalry but a definitive moment in their overall political evolution as modern states.
  • While Beijing is racing ahead in the search for foreign military presence, Delhi has some catching up to do.

2. Part of anti-colonial movement – Demanding that the Western powers withdraw from their military bases in Asia and the Indian Ocean was very much part of the anti-colonial and anti-imperial framework of Chinese and Indian foreign policies.

3. Support to American Military Presence – Beijing began to justify American forward military presence necessary to counter the “Soviet social imperialism” and constrain the potential for “Japanese militarism”.

4. India’s building of alliance – India, which vigorously objected to US military alliances in Asia and Pakistan’s participation in them, eventually built an alliance-like relationship with the Soviet Union. The objective was to balance the US and Chinese alliances with Pakistan.

5. Change in Attitude – Today, China is already a great power and India is rising, slowly but certainly. One of the big changes in their strategic outlooks has been the quiet change in their attitudes towards foreign military bases.

Reasons for transformation

  1. Means and motivation –
  • As the world’s second-largest economy (aggregate GDP of $13 trillion) and the second-largest annual defence budget ($250 billion), China has both the motivation and the means to acquire foreign military bases.
  • China’s transition follows the familiar dictum that flag follows trade.
  • As the Pentagon’s annual report put it: “China’s advancement of projects such as the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative (OBOR) will probably drive military overseas basing through a perceived need to provide security for OBOR projects”

2.Strategic Interests –

  • The Pentagon report argues that “China will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests”.
  • No surprise that Pakistan fits the bill perfectly. The Pentagon notes, Pakistan has the precedent of hosting foreign military bases.
  • Pakistan is undoubtedly China’s closest political and military partner.
  • The Pakistan army’s determination to limit India’s power means there is little political opposition to hosting Chinese bases and facilities.

Delhi’s prospects

  • That Chinese warships and submarines might soon be based on a permanent basis in Karachi or Gwadar is surely part of India’s military planning for the future.
  • Limiting Chinese Scope – In other places where it has some political influence — say Sri Lanka and Maldives — India has indeed sought to contest and limit the nature and scope of Chinese military activities.
  •  Peacetime use of military Basis – After prolonged reluctance, India has signed agreements with the US and France for mutual peacetime use of military bases. It is a matter of time before it signs such agreements with other powers like Japan and Australia.
  • Access to military facilities- In the third leg of India’s strategy, Delhi is seeking access to military facilities in a number of countries.


  • India’s growing and globalised economy is now close to $3 trillion and Delhi’s political ambition is to raise it to $5 trillion in the next five years.
  • Delhi’s security imperatives are no longer limited to its borders and it needs to secure its widely dispersed interests with forward military presence in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Where Delhi lags behind Beijing is in the structuring of a purposeful policy on foreign military bases and the creation of organisational structures to implement it.
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