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it's long been believed but on Monday India's Navy Chief Adm. Sureesh Mehta, chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, clearly spelt it out: that India is no match for China, should a conflict arise between the two Asian giants.

Pointing out that "it would be foolhardy to compare India and China as equals", Adm. Mehta said: "In military terms, both conventional and non-conventional, we have neither the capability nor the intention to match China, force by force." He went on to add that these were "sobering thoughts... therefore our strategy to deal with China would need to be in consonance with these realities."

India and China fought a border war in 1962, which resulted in a crushing defeat for India. "Common sense indicates that cooperation with China would be preferable to competition or conflict as it would be foolhardy to compare India and China as equals," he said.

The Navy Chief was delivering a lecture on "National Security Challenges" at a conference organised by the National Maritime Foundation on Monday evening. The comments assume added significance given the recent talks between the two countries to resolve the boundary dispute. Incidentally, Adm. Mehta is due to retire from service on August 31.

"It is quite evident that coping with China will certainly be one of our primary challenges in the years ahead. China is in the process of consolidating its comprehensive national power and creating formidable military capabilities. One it is done, China is likely to be more assertive on its claims, especially in the immediate neighbourhood. Our trust deficit with China can never be liquidated unless our boundary problems are resolved," the Navy Chief said.

Adm. Mehta pointed out that "China's GDP is more than thrice of ours", and added that "India's annual defence expenditure (approx $30 billion for 2008-09) is less than half of what China spends on defence." He added: "China's official (defence expenditure) figure is under $40 billion, but it is widely believed China actually spends more than twice as much."

Adm. Mehta further said: "On the military front, our strategy to deal with China must include reducing the military gap and countering the growing Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean region. The traditional approach of matching division for division must give way to harnessing modern technology ... for creating a reliable stand-off deterrent."

Adm. Mehta also listed "resolution of the border problem, autonomy of Tibet, China-Pakistan connection, competition for strategic space in the Indian Ocean" as among the "prime causative factors" for any potential tension with China. "China's known propensity for 'intervention in space' and 'cyber-warfare' would also be major planning considerations in our strategic and operational thinking," he said.

Ironically, the comments came on a day when Chinese ambassador Zhang Yan along with top officers of the Chinese PLA Navy met India's Southern Naval Command chief, Vice-Admiral Sunil Damle, on the occasion of a "goodwill" visit by a Chinese naval ship to Kochi.

The core of the Sino-Indian border dispute lies in the demarcation of the boundary, referred to as the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control (LAC). China regards Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory while India maintains that Arunachal is an integral part of India. China had invaded Tibet about six decades ago and annexed it, much to the dismay of India. China is also in illegal possession of thousands of square kilometres of Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir. Land border transgressions still continue by the Chinese PLA despite the fact that peace and tranquillity has largely been maintained on the LAC.


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