Asia's security environment is changing and India's armed forces lag far behind China

Armed Forces displaying their skills during Army Day 2019BCCL

  • Asia’s security environment is changing as China’s influence in the region is increasing.
  • There is a large disparity in defence spending between China and India.
  • This is illustrated through the difference in their military might.
  • China is also developing defence indigenously, exporting more arms than in import.
  • India’s exports dwindle below 1%, while its imports outweigh China’s.
  • The upcoming Union Budget 2020 will determine whether the Indian government is looking to catch up to its Asian rival.
India and China have complex geopolitical relations. Although they share the same continent and are both emerging economies, they’re also caught in a tussle for power — especially when it comes to the Indian Ocean.

China has rapidly been increasing its presence in the South China Sea and inching closer to other bordering waters.

Beyond the ocean, India and China share borders as well. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two nations extends from the western line of control in Jammu and Kashmir — bordering Aksai Chin — to the disputed MacMohan Line in the east.

And, the difference between China and India’s defence budget has been present for a long time — only now it’s getting even wider.

India’s budget includes expenditure towards Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) projects like the anti-satellite test that the Department of Defence conducted last year.

However, China’s official expenditure doesn’t include its investment in R&D, nuclear weapons, and space weapons. According to SIPRI’s estimates, China’s actual defence expenditure could be as high at $278 billion.

The difference in defence expenditure can be illustrated by comparing their military might.

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The expanding gap between the two sides isn’t just about national security. As China grows its armed forces, its domestic defence industry also gets a boost as the government continues to modernise.

However, India’s indigenous capabilities continue to remain stagnant. And, the difference can be seen if we compare China and India’s arms exports and imports.

India’s imports far outweigh China’s imports indicating a dependency on foreign nations for its defence equipment needs.

On the other hand, China has been continuously developing its weapon-making capabilities. Its aggressively been exporting its products, which were mostly small arms in the part, but now include aircraft, ships and even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Asia’s security environment is changing, and India’s going to have to do a lot more in order to counter China’s growing influence — especially in the Indian Ocean region.

Currently, the Indian Air Force needs to reinforce its structure, the Indian Navy’s ship-building and submarine-building programmes have been subject to multiple delays and the Indian Army is in massive need of upgrades.

As of now, India’s main strength is that the US is its ally, and it has a similar interest to control China’s influence. Both countries have conducted multiple bilateral exercises in the Indo-Pacific and Malabar.

However, in order to be effective, they need the firepower to back it up. The upcoming Union Budget 2020 will determine if India has any hopes of catching up its Asian frenemy.

See also:
Budget 2020: Five charts that explain what you can expect from India’s defence expenditure this year

India’s ready to spend on defence — just not on modernisation

Here's how the budget allocation for Armed Forces in India stacks up on the global scale


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