Sandeep Jain Writes: There were recent reports in newspapers about PLA raising the strength of its marine corps[i]. As per reports the strength is to be increased from 20000 to about one lakh troops out of which certain numbers will be permanently stationed at Gwadar. This is entirely in keeping with the expeditionary mind-set of the PLA as outlined in their defence white paper of 2015[ii]. This planned expansion may also have been the reason for the drawdown of forces elsewhere by 300000 as proposed in last year’s PLA reorganisation plan.
PRC is facing a slowing economy and as such has to look for greater investment opportunities outside its boundaries as enunciated through its OBOR strategy. However, this strategy necessitates greater force projection capabilities to protect the commercial interests of PRC across the globe and more importantly to provide it politico – economic leverages in other countries.
Establishing of bases in South China Sea has now secured PRC’s interests in the Western Pacific to a large extent. Acquisition of bases in Djibouti, Gwadar and Malacca besides getting equity stakes in Hambantota, rights to purchase land in Maldives etc are the pillars of its force projection strategy in the Indian Ocean. Raising of its Marine Corps strength therefore was the logical outcome. It may be noted that the Marine Corps tasking of PLA may now no more be exclusively for Taiwan but for a much larger geostrategic presence.
How does this augur for India. As is known, in 2010 Karakoram Highway got submerged by a lake created due to a landslide. The PRC thereafter went to great extent to construct number of tunnels and bridges from 2012 onwards to make sure that the highway now becomes all weather. Further widening of roads will also be undertaken as part of CPEC[iii]. Therefore, even without CPEC all-weather road connectivity today exists between Mainland PRC and Gwadar port.
In a future conflict scenario between India and Pakistan, presence of PLAN at Gwadar along with a detachment of Marines, as also the possibility of PLA inducting ground troops through Karakoram highway into Pakistan in the pretext of guarding its CPEC assets cannot be ruled out. India has to factor these possibilities in its operational plans and in the interim step up its intelligence gathering for possible PRC intentions and capabilities. India will also do well to remove the pressure point on its Northern borders by at least exchanging respective perceptions of LAC with P
[i] ‘China to Expand Marine Corps for Deployment in Gwadar – Times of India’, The Times of India, accessed 24 March 2017, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/china-to-expand-marine-corps-for-deployment-in-gwadar/articleshow/57616597.cms.
[ii] ‘Decoding China’s Military Strategy White Paper: Assessing the Maritime Implications | Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses’, accessed 24 March 2017, http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/DecodingChinasMilitaryStrategyWhitePaper_asingh_020615.
[iii] ‘Karakoram Highway’, Wikipedia, 17 March 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Karakoram_Highway&oldid=770769175.