By Mikaela Tenner
This past week, India’s government unveiled an 8 billion dollar plan to build up the country’s naval fleet. This is the priciest Indian naval expansion in more than five years, and will triple the size of India’s nuclear submarine fleet. The likely reason for this proposal is the progressively more hostile environment emerging around India, particularly from China.
In recent years, China and India have been quite competitive with one another, which is not surprising given their similar standing on the world stage. China and India feature the largest and second-largest population in the world respectively, and both have been economically successful in recent years, as seen by their rank amongst the top ten GDPs in the world. Both countries are at similar stages of economic development and industrialization, having both relatively recently moved from the status of a “developing” to a “developed” nation. Furthermore, the two countries are also considered to be among the top military powers in the world, ranking third and fourth respectively in the Global Fire Power index, a measurement of military strength.
However, despite these similarities, Indian officials have become worried because China’s military has shown signs of surging ahead. In November 2014, a Chinese submarine and warship docked in Sri Lanka, just twenty miles off of India’s southern coast. This was despite Indian officials raising concerns about the move by China. In recent years, China has been investing heavily in Sri Lanka, funding the construction and development of the nation’s transportation industries. Because India has historically had close ties with the island nation, China’s heavy investment and naval movement toward the country has made India uneasy, to say the least. If China and Sri Lanka become closer allies, a further rift may potentially form between China and India.
Moreover, the arrival of submarines in Sri Lanka no doubt worries Indian officials because China is a country that has a lot of strategic importance for India. In 1987, the two countries developed an accord that guaranteed neither country would use their land, or allow their land to be used, for any action to be taken against the other. Although China claims that the docking of the warships and submarine was not done with malevolent intentions, rising tensions between China and India have led the former to doubt such a claim. Prior to these new developments, the primary tension between China and India stemmed from a territorial dispute. For the past half-century, the two major powers have disputed the ownership of Arunachal Pradesh, a fairly large region located in the eastern part of India. On February 22, protests were held in Beijing, China against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to that territory. China’s diplomat stated that the Prime Minister “harmed China’s territorial integrity and rights,” and “went against the consensus both sides had of properly handling the border issue.”
With tensions flaring over the issue of Arunachal Pradesh, and some worry that India’s building of its military fleet could indicate a coming armed conflict between the world’s two most populous nations. However, India is home to 1.27 billion people, nearly 18 percent of the world’s population and China has approximately 1.4 billion people, almost 19 percent of the world’s population. Therefore, while India has every right to build up its naval fleet because of a very possible threat from China, an armed conflict between these two prominent nations must be avoided at all costs. Active hostilities between two nations with such enormous military strength and civilian populations could have devastating effects, not only on their own population, but on the rest of the world as well. Fortunately, because these nations both care greatly about their currently ever-growing economies, neither country will likely initiate a full-scale attack that would essentially wipe everything they’ve been working on for the past couple decades. Nevertheless, it is important for other Western powers to get involved to ensure that tensions between China and India subside, at least to some degree.