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Why Is China Building Up Airpower in Ladakh?

August 17, 2022 | By

[A write-up by Lt. Gen. Parkash Menon appeared in The Print on 17 August 2022 under title “Raising air power violation is China’s mind game. India’s challenge is to call the bluff”. A briefed/excerpted version of this writeup is published here for information of readers of Sikh Siyasat News. Link/Url to full writeup on source website may be found at the end of following text: Editor]

1996 Agreement and Recent Air Show Violations:

Concerns of air power violations in Ladakh entered the doors of military talks between India and China in early August 2022. Both sides blamed each other of violating the 1996 Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures along the Line of Actual Control.

Aircraft Show Restrictions Under 1996 Agreement:

The agreement stipulates that combat aircraft, which includes fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, military trainer, armed helicopter and other armed aircraft, shall not fly within 10 km of the LAC.

Escalation Control Mechanism:

In order to control escalation, establishing a separate hotline or leveraging existing ones is going to be explored as the way forward. However, to expect that a hotline can cope with the speed of fighter aircraft is an illusion. At best, it can serve as a mechanism to exchange information, after the incident.

India’s Concerns on Chinese Air Build-up in Ladakh:

From an Indian perspective, China’s extensive buildup of its air power capabilities in the Tibetan plateau is a major area of concern. The buildup of infrastructure and the deployment of military aircraft in large numbers have, in material terms, overcome the edge that the Indian Air Force (IAF) might have enjoyed earlier.

China’s Primary Concerns and Its’ Relative Power with India:

China’s growing military confrontation with the US and its allies in Taiwan, East Asia and South China Sea should provide a reminder to us that in Beijing’s broader strategic approach, a large-scale military confrontation with India could detract it from its primary area of strategic confrontation. India’s strategic planners may take note of the growth of China’s Comprehensive National Power in absolute terms, but they must also recognise that power, especially military power, is a relational variable that is context specific. The amount of power that China can bring against India is contingent on what it can spare, after it has catered for its primary interests. On the other hand, mainly due to its aggressive stance and arrogance, the array of nations that are coalescing against China is growing. Therefore, China’s relative power with India is being undermined.

Why is China Deploying Air Strength in Tibet?

China’s growing air power in Tibet is an ideal military tool to build an image of strength that can be utilized for continuous psychological dominance with minimum risk of provoking adverse reaction. Moreover, fighter aircraft in particular are the most photogenic in terms of conveying strength and projecting the image of power. It is ideal for intimidation and has been used extensively by China against Taiwan.
In essence, air power is more often part of a larger mind game.

China Wants to Keep India Confined to Subcontinent:

China agreeing to discuss air power violations must not only be viewed as emanating from its ploy to freeze the military confrontation on the Northern borders. The larger game is about keeping India confined to the sub-continent. Expanding the military threat on the Northern borders is what China is currently engaged in. Permanent forward deployment of its land power coupled with additional capacity of air power are the most visible manifestation of its political intentions.


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