China's defence budget has always been a matter of great interest, as well as concern. India's northern neighbour, China shares with India about 4,000 km of international border, which is characterised by regular intrusion within the Indian territory by the Chinese troops. Indian soldiers have to maintain a strict vigil on the entire stretch of the border. India also witnesses hostile firing and shelling from Pakistan, which supports international jihadi elements in their terrorist activities extended into India. If India needs to raise its defence budget, there is a sound logic in it. But, if China or Pakistan raises their defence budget, there is both concern and curiosity about their real, veiled intention.
China's growing defence outlay
China, on Monday, announced a staggering $175 billion defence budget for 2018-19. This is 8.1 per cent higher than last year's defence budget of $151.4 billion. It is also three times the Indian defence budget of $45 billion ($42 billion last year). The Pentagon has requested a budget of $686 billion in 2019, up $80 billion from 2017. The Pakistan defence budget was $8.7 billion in 2017–18.
China defends its staggering defence budget on the need to modernise its military outfit and secure its borders. But, the Chinese defence budget, which is three times the size of the Indian defence outlay, makes India nervous. The other two countries which feel rather more nervous are Japan and Taiwan. An increased Chinese defence outlay indicates a hardening of stance on the South China Sea and a modernisation of the military, which means more sophisticated military infrastructure at places like Doklam. As per the latest reports, China is building a helipad beside augmenting its modern military infrastructure in Doklam.
India, which needs to counter Chinese intrusion along the long border stretch, needs money to deploy and maintain its troops along with its modern technology to keep a full-proof watch on the movements of the Chinese troops along the line of control. While China develops most of its military hardware indigenously, India needs to procure them from different sources across the world. Though Beijing routinely says that India does not need to fear China, its intrusion in Doklam and subsequent reinforcement of forces indicate that China cannot be trusted on border issues. The presence of Chinese troops in Doklam clearly suggests that it has its eyes set on the northeastern region which is connected with India through a narrow patch of land. The Doklam problem is not what the Chinese are suggesting. It is not an innocuous random walk of the Chinese soldiers through their territory. The Chinese army knows it well that from Doklam they can launch an easy attack on the Indian side and India would need sufficient time to augment its forces and defend its territory. Once such strategic spots are identified, the military reinforces their presence with more men and hardware. In Doklam, the Chinese are hell-bent on building a military road so that the military supplies can reach them close to the Indian border. A higher defence budget means that Doklam will receive all the money, military hardware, technology and a stronger will to dominate the region with their presence.
With a higher defence budget, China aims to develop more naval air bases across the world. It also aims to build two more aircraft carriers besides the one being in service already. It is also working ambitiously to build a separate squadron of stealth fighter aircraft. Some of these initiatives have caused concern in Japan and Taiwan, which have to constantly ward off expansionist China's roving eyes. India cannot outdo China as far as the latter's defence outlay is concerned. But, it can certainly upgrade its capability to defend its borders from Chinese intrusion. When the Indian defence budget of $45 billion was announced, reactions from Pakistan said that India was investing way too much in its defence sector. But more than China, India needs to remain wary of Pakistan – which not only routinely violates ceasefire along the line of control but also sends trained and armed militants to create nuisance in India. A higher Indian defence outlay ensures that India is able to respond effectively to Pakistan's provocations.