India upgrades military to match China

Two nations compete in Indian Ocean region

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NEW DELHI India has decided to buy 126 fighter jets from France, taken delivery of a nuclear-powered submarine from Russia and prepared for its first aircraft carrier in recent weeks as it modernizes its military to match China’s.

Relations between India and China have been tense since a 1962 border war, and New Delhi has watched with dismay in recent years as Beijing has increased its influence in the Indian Ocean.

China has financed the development of ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and its recent effort to get access in the Seychelles prodded New Delhi to renew its own outreach to the Indian Ocean island state off western India.

With its recent purchases, running into tens of billions of dollars, India is working to counter what it sees as aggressive incursions into a region India has long dominated.

“The Indian military is strengthening its forces in preparation to fight a limited conflict along the disputed border, and is working to balance Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean,” James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee last week.

India has created new infantry mountain divisions, and plans to raise a strike corps aimed at countering aggression by China. Their border still has not been set despite 15 rounds of talks, and patrols frequently face off on the ground.

Analysts say that although the probability of a conflict between the two Asian giants is remote, a short, sharp conflict in the disputed Himalayans can’t be ruled out.

“Over the last couple of years, the Chinese have been acting more and more aggressively in the political, diplomatic and military arena,” said retired Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal, director of the Indian army-funded Center for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi.

Indian leaders and defense strategists have fretted as China modernized its forces and extended its military advantage over India. For some in India, countering China is taking precedence even over checking longtime rival Pakistan.

“Of late, there has been a realization [in India] that China is the real danger of the future,” Brig. Kanwal said.

The drive to modernize Indian forces was long overdue as much of the equipment was obsolete Soviet-era weapons, and the orders for fighter jets, naval frigates, helicopters and armaments have made India the world’s largest importer of arms. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said India accounted for 9 percent of all the world’s weapon imports in 2010, the latest year for which figures were available.

India may be worrying over China’s overtures to its neighbors, but New Delhi is reaching out to the Southeast Asian and East Asian countries in Beijing’s backyard as well.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been actively pursuing a “Look East” policy, engaging the leaders of South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, among others. The policy has resulted in a troupe of high-level visits to India, bolstering trade and economic cooperation.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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