China has deployed more troops and enhanced its military capabilities along the border with India even as it moves to set up logistics hubs in friendly countries such as Pakistan to bolster long-range naval deployments, the US has said.
In an annual report to the Congress on military and security developments in China, the US department of defense noted that tensions remained along disputed portions of the Sino-Indian border and that Beijing is continuing with the trend of “conducting submarine deployments to the Indian Ocean”
“And as the report details, we have noticed an increase in capability and force posture by the Chinese military in areas close to the border with India,” Abraham M Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, told a news conference held in Washington on Friday after the 2016 report was submitted to Congress.
As China expands its access to foreign ports to “pre-position the necessary logistics support to regularise and sustain deployments in the ‘far seas’”, it will seek to set up logistics hubs in friendly countries, including Pakistan, because its current logistics footprint in the Indian Ocean is “unable to support major combat operations in South Asia”, the report said.
“China most likely will seek to establish additional naval logistics hubs in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and a precedent for hosting foreign militaries,” it said.
The report explained a logistics facility would “represent an arrangement in which China leases out portions of a commercial port solely” for logistics operations by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Beijing’s expanding global economic interests are increasing demands for the PLAN to operate in distant seas to protect sea lines of communication, Chinese citizens and investments.
China has not constructed US-style overseas military bases in the Indian Ocean and the country’s leaders might instead opt for a mix of “preferred access to overseas commercial ports and a limited number of exclusive PLAN logistic facilities—probably collocated with commercial ports”.
The report further noted that “India’s nuclear force is an additional driver behind China’s nuclear force modernisation”.
Denmark acknowledged it was difficult to determine how much of China’s military decision-making is influenced by the border dispute with India and resultant tensions.
“It is difficult to say how much of this is driven by internal considerations to maintain internal stability, and how much of it is an external consideration,” he said.
The report noted that tensions remained between China and India along their 4,057-km border over Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims is part of Tibet, and the Askai Chin region despite an increase in bilateral political and economic ties.
“Tensions remain along disputed portions of the Sino-Indian border, where both sides patrol with armed forces,” it said. “After a five-day military standoff in September 2015 at Burtse in Northern Ladakh, China and India held a senior-level flag-officer meeting, agreed to maintain peace, and retreated to positions mutually acceptable to both sides,” it said.
The report said China had continued to conduct submarine deployments to the Indian Ocean in 2015, “ostensibly in support of its counter-piracy patrols”. A Han-class nuclear-powered attack submarine operated in the Indian Ocean in the winter of 2014-15 and a Yuan-class attack submarine conducted a lengthy patrol from March 2015. The Yuan-class submarine conducted the first foreign port call by a PLAN submarine to Karachi.
The Department of defense contended the submarines were probably “conducting area familiarisation, and demonstrating an emerging capability both to protect China’s SLOCs and to increase China’s power projection into the Indian Ocean”.