On a craggy, treeless Himalayan ridge, hundreds of Chinese and Indian soldiers shove each other, shout insults, and throw punches. A video posted on YouTube shows two Chinese soldiers rushing past the Indian guards and breaking into Indian territory. To calm the tension, an Indian commander shouts “Take it easy!” while his Chinese counterpart offers a cigarette to the Indians that no one accepts. Both sides keep their guns tucked safely away, but their video cameras out, to record any infraction by the other.
Thousands of miles to the south, an Indian fisherman in a tiny village near Chennai recently received an electronic tracking device. It will make him part of the eyes and ears of the Indian coast guard and navy. India is worried about terrorism from Pakistan and China’s increasing assertive- ness in the Indian Ocean, so it is issuing these devices to two hundred thousand fishing boats. From a central command center, the Indian coast guard will use these censors to distinguish Indian vessels from intruders, such as the boats that carried terrorists to Mumbai in 2009. Although they do not acknowledge it publicly, Indian naval officers also hope it will help them find the brand-new Chinese submarines and naval ships that increasingly creep past India’s shores on their way to Sri Lanka or Pakistan. Military tensions between India and China are high.
Chinese fishing boats are also getting into the act in a way that worries the United States and others. In March 2009, two Chinese trawlers nearly rammed a U.S. Navy surveillance ship, the Impeccable, south of China’s Hainan Island. They waved Chinese flags and yelled at the U.S. sailors to leave. When the Americans sprayed water at the ship, the Chinese bizarrely stripped down to their underwear and got even closer. Even as the Americans tried to leave the area, the trawlers dropped pieces of wood in the Impeccable’s path to stop it and tried to grab its sonar instruments. These types of incidents are becoming disturbingly common.
How will the two giants project military might? In spite of their mostly cooperative economic relations, the United States, India, and China are engaged in a gradual, great power military escalation that no one really wants. India is nervous about China’s moves into its traditional spheres of influence. China’s new submarines cruise the Indian Ocean, new border fortifications encroach on land India claims as its own in the Himalayas, and a series of new ports in South Asia will allow Chinese ships to rest and to push even closer to India’s shores.
In response, India is dramatically increasing its defense budget and stepping up military cooperation with Japan, Australia, the United States, and others. The Chinese interpret this as encirclement. It is a classic security dilemma.