by M Panging Pao

India and China have had a tense relationship over the last 60 years. Chinese forces entered deep into India during the Sino-India war of 1962. There have been frequent clashes along the India-China border, ending with the recent violent conflict in Galwan Valley in June which resulted in 20 Indians soldiers and 40 plus Chinese soldiers killed. There are also cases of China arm-twisting downstream countries by suddenly releasing water or restricting the water flow of the rivers originating in Tibet, like the Yarlung Tsangpo or the Siang.

China is a major world power with the largest military in the world and is the second largest economy in the world. China’s defence budget is four times India’s defence budget, and military infrastructure is better developed on the Chinese side.

How should India tackle China in the long term? The first step would be for India to become economically strong with a robust indigenous manufacturing sector, including defence manufacturing. To boost the local economy, entrepreneurship, startups and ease of doing business must be strictly promoted, supported in letter and spirit. Clearances and permissions for industries and services must be simplified and fast-tracked. The need of the hour is a truly single-window clearance system. Presently there are numerous windows and a complex system of clearances and permissions. There should be a separate ministry for ease of doing business at the Centre and in the states.

A lead has been taken with innovative policies like ‘Start Up India’, ‘Stand Up India’, ‘Make In India’, etc. These innovative schemes need to be strengthened and implementation monitored at the ground level. The other ways of boosting indigenous manufacturing is by investing in research and development to match contemporary technology. Another is to introduce easing parameters like tax holidays, power connections, power/transport subsidies, etc. An additional way of supporting indigenous manufacturing is by a policy of preferential pricing and preferential buying, as announced recently as ‘Vocal for local’. In must be made compulsory for all government departments and government-supported institutions to procure from local manufacturers.

No nation can aspire to become a superpower without producing its own weapons and weapon platforms. India must open up defence production to the private sector. Presently, most weapons and weapon platforms are imported from other countries. India must aim to manufacture its own fighter aircraft, tanks, ships, rifles, bombs, missiles, etc.

In the meantime, critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, railways and airports must be developed along the border areas. These will allow rapid mobilisation whenever required. The other critical infrastructures include hardened aircraft shelters at air bases, underground command and control posts, and ammunition depots and petroleum depots at key areas.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Galwan Valley conflict are major lessons for India. India must focus on becoming a major economic power and manufacturing hub in the next few years and decades. This may be the only guaranteed way of tackling China or any other hostile power in the near future. Do you agree?

The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force