Home » international news » China and Pak just finished an air drill in Tibet; what are the lessons for India?

China and Pak just finished an air drill in Tibet; what are the lessons for India?

Pushan Das | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:54 IST

Sino-Pak ties

  • Pakistani, Chinese air forces just finished an air exercise in Tibet
  • Pakistan gained the experience of working with Sukhoi jets, India\'s mainstay

India vs China

  • China has been increasing its military tie-ups in south Asia
  • India\'s military engagement with its neighbour are disappointing

More in the story

  • How will India be affected by China\'s growing presence
  • What should our course be

This week India and China will start 'Hand In Hand', a joint counter-terrorism exercise at Kunming Military Academy, Yunnan. From India, 350 Naga Regiment personnel will join the People's Liberation Army's 14th Group Army. The 11-day exercise will focus on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.

This will be the fifth such exercise in a series started in 2007. The drills are part of confidence-building measures put in place by both countries to address mistrust sprouting from regular standoffs along the disputed Line of Actual Control between India and China.

China, however, is not playing war games with India alone. The Indian media largely missed the story about the recent Sino-Pakistani air exercise, dubbed Shaheen IV. In contrast to its confidence-building engagement with India, China held one the biggest and most complex air exercises inside the Tibet Autonomous Region

As Beijing and Islamabad strengthen their relationship, New Delhi must consider the security implications of a greater Chinese influence in south Asia.

The first Shaheen excercise was held in Pakistan in March 2011 while the second in China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in September 2013. The third episode again was in Pakistan - in its Punjab province - in May last year.

This year, it is Tibet. The location has political signals, given India's asylum to the Dalai Lama and India's increasing co-operation in the Indian Ocean Region with the United States, Japan and Australia.

There is little information in the public domain about the type of air exercises that were conducted. According to Pakistani daily 'Dawn', three different types of fighter aircraft from Pakistan participated.

There also have been information indicating up to six Pakistan Air force (PAF) squadrons were involved in Shaheen IV. Pakistan reportedly didn't deploy its US-made F-16s to prevent negative reactions from the United States. The exercises also saw the use of airborne early warning and control aircraft.

The Shaheen exercises have never been on such a scale. It gave the PAF access to Russian-made aircraft similar to the Indian Air Force's (IAF) Sukhoi 30 MKI. Training against Chinese Sukhoi 27 SK and Shenyang J-11 (Chinese-made Sukhoi 27) will help the PAF draw up tactics to effectively counter the IAF's mainstay Sukhoi 30 MKI.

China's relation with Pakistan has become one of the most comprehensive one that Beijing has with any country. The strategic imperatives of developing Pakistan as a bulwark against India has been among Beijing's overriding objectives in influencing the balance of power in South Asia.

China will build 4 submarines in Karachi; is that a ploy to tie Indian Navy to Arabian Sea?

Over the years, China has helped Pakistan enhance its military and nuclear capabilities with the objective of keeping India engaged and focused on threats emanating from Pakistan.

According to recent reports, Beijing will be delivering eight Yuan-class submarine to Pakistan. Four of those will be built in Karachi. As a result, the Indian Navy's depleted submarine fleet and anti-submarine warfare assets will be further tied down in the Arabian Sea as New Delhi tries to modernize its Navy to be able to check Beijing's growing penetration of the Indian Ocean Region.

A steady and regular sighting of Chinese submarines in ports surrounding India over the last few years has created a cause for concern in New Delhi.

Chinese exercises with Pakistan aside, Beijing has held exercises with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal at regular intervals in the recent past. China was also Pakistan's biggest arms supplier between 2010 and 2014, accounting for 51% of Pakistani weapons imports.

It was also the source of 82 percent of Bangladesh's arms purchases (2009-2013), according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, making Dhaka one of the top three buyers of Chinese weapons in the world. Sri Lanka, too, has been a substantial recipient of Chinese arms, but the conclusion of the civil war in 2009 has reduced this trend.

India's engagement with the region is pale in comparison. There has been little military-to-military engagement with Bangladesh. Engagements with Sri Lanka and Nepal, too, have been limited in scope and sometimes very infrequent.

Not a single naval exercise was held by Sri Lanka and India for six years (2005-2011) and again none since 2013 due to objections emanating from Tamil Nadu. In contrast to the Indian Navy's limited engagements with neighbouring countries, its ships have visited more than 40 countries and conducted numerous exercises in the past one year.

This week's annual Indo-US Malabar naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal has been turned into a trilateral with the inclusion of Japan. However, the reported lack of enthusiasm in increasing the number participating ships and aircraft by the Indian Navy reflects the susceptibility of the Indian establishment to cave in to the prospect of Chinese opposition.

China's core interests in its military engagement with Pakistan and other South Asian countries are to balance its relations with the United States and India. New Delhi urgently needs to proactively shape its security environment. Military engagements with far flung nations across the globe need to be limited in favour of proactive regional engagements that bear strategic and security dividends.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

First published: 14 October 2015, 2:44 IST
Pushan Das @Pushan3012

Pushan Das works at Observer Research Foundation under the security studies programme.He completed his Masters in International Security from the School of Global studies at the University of Sussex . Pushan has previously worked for the India Today Group as a Correspondent.

He is interested in the security architecture of the Indian Ocean Region, Military Policymaking and Defence Planning.