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China-ready test for military

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 17.02.11
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New Delhi, Feb. 16: Defence minister A.K. Antony today called for “a comprehensive review” of military readiness because China’s armed forces were developing rapidly.

“We are not unduly concerned about China’s military modernisation, but we need to carry out a comprehensive review of our defence preparedness and remain vigilant at all times,” he said at a two-day Asian Security Conference organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis.

Asked later if the “comprehensive review” he has called for would be a structured exercise, Antony said: “It is constant, it is an ongoing process”.

“We have to always assess the modernisation and preparedness around us. Every now and then we have to review our modernisation and preparedness. Wherever we feel there is a gap, we have to fill up that gap. That process is going on,” he said.

The call for a review comes even as New Delhi believes it is following a multi-pronged engagement with China. In a speech released today, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao referred at length to Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of a “civilisational relationship” with China. But she pointed to the border disputes and the freeze on friendly military exchanges with China as indicators of the underlying tension in the relationship. The foreign secretary gave the speech on February 12 in New York.

Reflecting the concern in New Delhi about China’s military readiness, Rao wondered aloud if the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was increasingly more assertive and whether it was shaping China’s neighbourhood policies. She said “there is a desire to slowly expand (friendly military) exchanges (but) there have been limits to the process” since China’s denial of a visa to the Indian northern army commander for an official visit.

Antony said India has now started emphasising on the development of infrastructure along the frontier with China. A large part of the infrastructure development is aimed at enabling troops and military supplies to move faster through difficult terrain.

“We must also increase our capabilities and strengthen our infrastructure. That, now, we are doing. The Indian government is also modernising its armed forces to meet any challenge from any quarters.”

Antony said “we believe the border dispute with China can be settled only through dialogue and discussion”.

In New York, Rao said: “The absence of a solution to the (border) question is not due to lack of effort; instead it arises from the difficulty of the question itself.” Despite the disputes, she said, the India-China boundary is “one of the most peaceful of all borders”.