Chinese Military’s Perspective on the Indian Military Strategy


Brigadier Iqbal Singh Samyal was commissioned into the KUMAON Regiment in December 1990. He has served as India’s Defence Attaché in the Embassy of India, Beijing from October 2011 to November 2014. Presently, he is commanding an Infantry Brigade.


Since the 1990s, India and China have invested in a host of confidence-building measures, including agreements and protocols, to maintain peace along the disputed borders. The Chinese military, as an important pillar of the Chinese political structure, has considerable influence on Chinese perceptions on India. This has been borne out by the recent developments along the India-China border. In this context, understanding the Chinese military’s perspective of the Indian military strategy is an important constituent of interpreting Chinese outlook towards India.

The Science of Military Strategy or Zhanlue Xue is an influential military publication periodically published by the PLA’s Academy of Military Science (AMS) since 1987. This article is primarily based on the review of Indian military strategy carried out in the Zhanlue Xue 2013 (hereafter referred to as ZX 2013), available, as of now, only in Chinese language.

The Overall Context

The Chinese military’s perspectives of the Indian military strategy is not divorced from the overall strategic environment. Historical biases and contemporary issues, often termed as six “Ts”

1. by Chinese analysts, coalesce with the Chinese strategic assessment, in which Comprehensive National Power (CNP) plays a major role, to influence Chinese views on India. Though dated, Pillsbury (2000) contains a short review of Chinese views on India at the turn of the century. In 1990, while comparatively India figured low on the CNP index, Indian military strength was considered significant in comparison to other elements of national power. This is echoed in more contemporary analyses, with one Chinese analyst terming it as India’s “unusual enthusiasm for strengthening and upgrading its military capability. particularly in the naval and strategic fields. Apprehensions related to India being part of an Asian balance of power system to ‘contain’ China also play on the Chinese mind.

Even amongst the Chinese analysts, the defence related community is more likely to assume a hard line viewpoint4 (probably applicable to all countries) and in some opinions, in comparison the military has a greater say in the policy towards India. 5 Lastly under the current leadership, Chinese assertiveness and self-perceptions have undergone a sharp change buoyed by the rapid economic rise and the pace of military modernisation. The Chinese perspective on Indian military strategy reflected in the ZX 2013 has to be viewed in this context.

The Science of Strategy (ZX 2013) and Indian Military Strategy

The ZX 2013 briefly analyses the military strategy of the ‘contemporary world’s big countries’ namely USA, Russia, Japan and India.6 It traces the evolution of Indian military strategy since independence and then gives out the prominent characteristics of the strategy.

The ZX 2013 reviews the development of Indian military strategy in three phases from Independence till the end of the Cold War. 7 It analyses that in the first phase (1947-1960), due to the ‘economy first’ policy, the military strategy was ‘limited offensive’ (youxian jingong) towards Pakistan, as it was viewed as a direct threat, and ‘territorial expansion’ (lingtu kuozhang) towards the India–China border. The second phase (1960–1970), after the 1962 conflict, led to defence being given priority. the inflow of aid and support from both the US and USSR and improved military capability led to ‘military expansion thought’. This phase witnessed the formulation of the ‘two front expansion’ (liang xian kuozhang) policy and ‘West offensive North defensive’ (xi gong bei fang) guideline. The third phase (1970s and 1980s), after the 1971 Indo-Pak War led to the ‘pattern of Indian hegemony in South Asia becoming established’. Changes in the international situation, withdrawal of some powers from the Indian Ocean Region and with the land strategic intent being realised, the strategic orientation increased towards the Indian Ocean leading to the formulation of the military strategy of  ‘defend land control sea’ (bao lu zhi hai).