NEW DELHI • India has redirected at least 50,000 additional troops to its border with China in a historic shift towards an offensive military posture against the world’s second-biggest economy.
Over the past few months, India has moved troops and fighter jet squadrons to three distinct areas along its border with China, according to four people familiar with the matter. In all, India now has roughly 200,000 troops focused on the border, an increase of more than 40 per cent from last year.
Whereas previously India’s military presence was aimed at blocking Chinese moves, the redeployment will allow Indian commanders more options to attack and seize territory in China if necessary in a strategy known as “offensive defence”.
While it is unclear how many troops China has on the border, India detected that the People’s Liberation Army recently moved additional forces from Tibet to the Xinjiang Military Command, which is responsible for patrolling disputed areas along the Himalayas.
“The current situation on the border between China and India is generally stable, and the two sides are negotiating to resolve relevant border issues,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing in Beijing yesterday.
“The words, deeds and military deployments of relevant military and political leaders should help ease the situation and increase mutual trust between the two sides, not the other way around.”
The fear now is that a miscalculation could lead to an even deadlier conflict. Several recent rounds of military-diplomatic talks with China have made minimal progress towards a return to the quiet status quo that had prevailed along the border for decades.
“Having so many soldiers on either side is risky when border management protocols have broken down,” said Mr D.S. Hooda, a former Northern Army commander in India. “Both sides are likely to patrol the disputed border aggressively. A small local incident could spiral out of control with unintended consequences.”
The northern region of Ladakh has seen the largest increase in troop levels, with an estimated 20,000 soldiers including those once engaged in anti-terrorism operations against Pakistan.
India has also obtained an offensive capability along the southern Tibetan plateau. In that more populated area, regular soldiers outfitted with machine guns have joined lightly armed paramilitary officers.
The Indian Navy is also putting more warships along key sea lanes for longer durations. Its efforts include studying energy and trade flows in and out of China, according to an Indian Navy official who asked not to be identified.
The manoeuvring follows a period of relative calm after fighting last year that saw India lose control over about 300 sq km of land along the disputed mountainous terrain. The worst clash left 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead.
For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the shift comes as India is stepping up security cooperation with fellow Quad partners – the United States, Japan and Australia – to gain leverage against China.