|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
As per media reports, Defence Minister Mohan Parrikar will address the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) scheduled in Singapore in first week June. This is an annual dialogue organized by the Singapore International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS). For the Shangri-La Dialogue 2015, Prime Minister Modi had been invited to deliver an address, which could not be accommodated in PM Modi's tight schedule and already committed engagement. But trust critics penning the reason as India being intimidated by China's overbearing posture, which was laughable with Modi having transformed India's 'Look East' policy to 'Act East'. Singapore's IISS holds this dialogue as a Track One inter-governmental security forum ever since the first such meet in 2002.
It is attended by defence ministers, military chiefs and heads of some other ministries of 28 Asia-Pacific countries. Though primarily an inter-governmental meeting to cultivate collective policy making, the summit is also attended by legislators, academic experts, distinguished journalists and business delegates. The summit also provides opportunities of bilateral dialogues on the sidelines with other nations. The SLD has become increasingly important with China's aggressive stance on the global stage especially in Asia-Pacific directly by herself and through her protégé North Korea. During Deng Xiaoping's regime, the policy adopted by China was that if rogue communist and radical Muslim countries are given nuclear weapons and they use them on western countries that do not get traced back to China, this would be good. That is how China gave nuclear technology to Pakistan and North Korea, which became the nuclear talons of the Chinese dragon. North Korea has been threatening indiscriminate attacks on the US, Japan and South Korea, periodically testing missiles and nuclear devices. This year, North Korea claimed to have conducted tests of a 'hydrogen' bomb followed by a 'submarine launched ballistic missile' test on April 24, albeit the efficacy of these weapons remains suspect.
All this suits China who want the US and allies out of her way to bulldoze the way to execute her illegal claims in her quest to become a global power any which way. China would very much want North Korea to fire a nuclear weapon at the US, Japan or North Korea, to break the monopoly of the US as the sole country having fired a nuclear weapon. But that is only one part of China's grand strategy. In the Asia-Pacific, China has not only extended her EEZ arbitrarily, she claims entire South China Sea (SCS); claiming disputed islands, reefs and shoals and converting them into military bases. China has deployed more advanced J-11BH/BHS fighter aircraft on Woody Island which is largest of the Paracel Islands in SCS. Surface-to-air missile batteries have appeared last month in the Paracels, more than 300 miles to the north, and satellite photos show powerful radar facilities, potentially extending the kill zone of missiles on the Chinese mainland that are devised to sink aircraft carriers. Farther south of Woody Island, China is building air bases and port facilities in Spratly Islands. These include Zhubi Reef, Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross, adding air strips, hangars, weapon storage facilities and fuel storage tanks. Beijing's claim to Zhubi reef is illegal since it is outside the parameters laid down by UNCLOS. Chinese build-up in SCS has been incremental but very swift. Tensions have gone up more because the International Court of Arbitration is to shortly give its judgment on the petition filed by Philippines against China encroaching on her territory.
China has indicated she is not bothered about international arbitration, under pretext this is a bilateral issue between China and Philippines. More significantly, China is preparing to seize Scarborough Shoal to pre-empt any action even if the International Court of Arbitration passes judgment in favour of Philippines. What is happening in Asia-Pacific is precursor to what China plans in the IOR, having planned 18 military bases here, of which Gwadar and Djibouti are already being developed. China has identified the first quarter of 21st Century as a period of 'strategic opportunity' and the next for 'strategic expansion' for becoming a 'Great Power". China's scant regard to international law, norms, UNCLOS, global commons and even environment makes her a hegemonic, hungry nation that the world would need to confront at some stage in the future. Moreover, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been named in the Panama Papers and appears facing dissent within the CCP, which may lend to possible Chinese action in order to deflect attention. The SLD 2016 is significant in this backdrop.