Later this year, the Chinese armed forces are to launch their largest round of military manoeuvres in recent years. Code-named Kuayue (stride), for two months, 60,000 vehicles will be mobilised over some 50,000 sq km. For the last 20 years, the Chinese have been holding massive manoeuvres each year to rehearse their projected invasion of Taiwan. What is new — and disturbing — is the radical change in pattern in Exercise Kuayue. For the first time, these are not directed at rehearsing an amphibious assault on Taiwan but are focused on the South China Sea instead.
The likely ‘target’ is Vietnam, with whom China has an ongoing dispute over the Spratley Islands, and oil exploration sites in the South China Sea. Last year, the Chinese had warned India’s ONGC not to take up oil exploration in the Dai Hong oil field of Vietnam.
Deng Xiaoping’s phase of ‘Hide your capabilities and bide your time’ is now over. China is aggressively showcasing its military capabilities and its willingness to use them. The test of its anti-satellite rocket had sent shock waves across the world in 2007. This year during its Naval Exposition held on April 23-25, China showcased its naval might to the whole world. In November this year, the Chinese Air Force will hold a similar exposition to flaunt its capabilities.
Over the last decade, China-Taiwan relations have improved vastly with the Kuomintang government led by Ma Ying Jao. This improvement in ties has rendered surplus a vast amount of Chinese military expeditionary capability. Chinese military doctrine speaks of the concept of ‘Zaoshi’. This includes posturing of military force for intimidation. Such displays of capabilities and overt deployments seek to signal the Chinese capability and resolve to use military force.
The 2006 Chinese White Paper on defence had clearly articulated a perspective roadmap to superpower status in three clear stages:
n First Stage (By 2010): Create a modern force capable of defeating a moderate-sized adversary — namely Taiwan, India or Vietnam. This stage now seems complete a year ahead of schedule. The recent Chinese show of military muscle seems designed to highlight the actualisation of this capability.
n Second Stage (By 2020): Catch up with second-tier world powers like Russia, Europe and Japan.
n Third Stage (By 2050): Become a full-fledged superpower on par with the United States.
The current change in China’s military profile is clearly indicative of an acceleration of the Chinese pace of military transformation. India’s military modernisation, on the other hand, is lagging far behind schedule, by almost a decade. There is an urgent need to speed up our weapons’ acquisition and military modernisation process. China’s Exercise Kuayue may well turn out to be a long overdue wake-up call.
G.D. Bakshi is a defence analyst and former major general with the Indian Army.
The views expressed by the author are personal.