“Pace of its military investments may destabilise regional military balances”

China has substituted liquid-fuelled, nuclear-capable missiles with “more advanced and survivable solid-fuelled” rocket systems, and this has been explicitly aimed at “[strengthening] its deterrent posture relative to India,” according to an annual report on the developments within the Chinese military, authored by the United States Pentagon.

In its report to the U.S. Congress, the Pentagon warned that the People's Liberation Army had replaced the CSS-2 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles with its CSS-5 Medium Range Ballistic Missile systems. It also emphasised that China was further investing in road development along the Sino-Indian border that could “support PLA border defence operations.”

While the report was principally focused on the rapid step-up in Chinese military investments in recent years, including its aircraft carrier programme, cyber-warfare capabilities, anti-satellite missiles and the top-secret J-20 next-generation stealth fighter, the report also commented on India's concern at some of these regional developments.

Pointing out that India was also improving its infrastructure along its north-eastern border, the report said: “New Delhi remains concerned by China's close military relationship with Pakistan and Beijing's growing footprint in the Indian Ocean, Central Asia, and Africa.”

Despite burgeoning defence rapprochement manifested in the Sino-Indian Annual Defence Dialogue established in 2007, India had pulled out of high-level military exchanges following China's denial of a visa to a senior Indian general in 2010, the Pentagon report said.

Although Premier Wen Jiabao attempted to mend fences during his December 2010 visit to New Delhi “he did not address serious irritants... [and] a high degree of mistrust continues to strain the bilateral relationship,” the report added.

Regional tensions

Discussing the main findings of the Pentagon report, Michael Schiffer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for East Asia, expressed alarm that the pace and scope of China's military investments were, overall, “potentially destabilising to regional military balances, increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties.”

The report also warned of maritime implications for regional powers like India. In the context of the continuing tensions in the South China Sea, Mr. Schiffer said, in addition to planning for Taiwan contingencies, China placed a high priority on asserting and strengthening its maritime territorial claims.

“An increased PLA naval presence in the region, including surface, subsurface and airborne platforms and possibly one or more of China's future aircraft carriers, would provide the PLA with an enhanced extended-range power projection capability, with all the implications for regional rivalries and power dynamics that that implies,” Mr. Schiffer added.

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