Indian carrier hints at regionally dangerous military buildup

By Liu Zongyi Source:Global Times Published: 2013-8-21 0:54:00

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

India unveiled its first indigenous aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, at the Cochin Shipyard in the state of Kerala on August 12, just a few days after the launch of Japan's light carrier Izumo. The Indian media hailed the successful launch, which symbols that the nation has joined the world's aircraft carrier club, becoming the fifth country to build such warships.

Some Western media link the launch to China, claiming that the INS Vikrant means India has defeated its regional rival in building aircraft carriers on its own.

The launch of India's home-built aircraft carrier is indeed worth celebrating, because it marks a firm stride toward the indigenization of arms. The triumphant launch of the hull demonstrated India's progress in building giant surface carriers.

In particular, many Indian experts mentioned that the country made breakthroughs in special steel manufacturing and welding technologies, representing a milestone in the development of the shipbuilding industry.

The launch also shows that the Indian government has had preliminary success in localizing arms production. The government has invested billions of dollars in the construction, research and development of domestic shipbuilding.

Two days before the launch of the aircraft carrier, India announced the activation of the reactor on its domestically built nuclear submarine INS Arihant. The two pieces of news were released in turn. While helping boost the ruling Congress Party's election chances next year, they do mark India's achievements in localizing arms production.

Some Chinese scholars emphasize that India has yet to grasp the key technologies of the carrier and that it will rely on other countries to maintain and upgrade the carrier.

But it is also a fact that many countries are supporting India in developing advanced weaponry, not only for profit but also to balance China's power.

And India is well aware of the intention of the Western countries. Some politicians and media outlets in Indian deliberately stress the role of India's military buildup in containing China so as to please those traditional powers.

An aircraft carrier, in particular a defensive one like the INS Vikrant, will not cause drastic changes in Asia-Pacific strategic scenario, but it raises questions.

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once pointed out that no genuine Asia-Pacific century or Asian century can come until China, India and other neighboring countries are developed. According to Deng, such development mainly refers to economic growth and cooperation. Arms races and regional tensions will destroy these bright prospects.

While China's rise is mainly an economic one, India's emergence is more prominent in the military sphere.

According to a report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India has been the largest weapons importer ever since 2011. There are doubts over the necessity of military buildup in a country with 40 percent of its population living in poverty and with insufficient infrastructure acting as a bottleneck in economic development.

The so-called external threats may serve as an excuse for engaging in military expansion as well as corruption, which has been endemic in India's scandal-ridden weaponry development in recent years.

Military buildup should be compatible with a country's economic power and national interests.

China has no intention to provoke an arms race. But China's national and overseas interests have been sabotaged from time to time due to changes in its surrounding areas. And there are voices calling for cutting off channels for China's overseas trade and energy to curb the Asian power.

China should continue developing maritime power while consolidating land power to better safeguard its national interests. While India's launching of the Vikrant is hailed by Western media, the test flights of China's aircraft carrier should not be used as evidence of the so-called China threat.

Peace in the Asia-Pacific region must be guaranteed by military balance. The launches of the two carriers in Japan and India serve as a warning for China: A country, no matter how large it is, will perish if it has a warlike mentality, but we cannot forget the existence of war even in a peaceful world.

The author is an assistant research fellow with the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

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