China has outfoxed India when it comes to defence diplomacy in the Indian subcontinent, as a stuttering Indian defence industry could muster little to offer these countries, including Bangladesh, seeking to modernise their armed forces.
Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to come to India in April, but New Delhi has nothing in its kitty to match the spectacular deal that China inked with the supply of two submarines in 2016. “The defence deals are expected on the lines of cross-border cooperation between the two countries’ agencies. Any agreement with respect to supply of defence equipment is highly unlikely,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sources told The Sunday Standard. The officials added that India is likely to extend a line-of-credit for the purchase of military equipments.
Bangladesh has recently acquired two Chinese Ming-class diesel electric submarines, catapulting it in the club of Asian maritime powers with under-water combat capability. India immediately rushed its then defence minister Manohar Parrikar to Dhaka and as the initial shock ebbed offered to train its crew in operating the under-water vessel. But, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has trained a small Bangladesh crew at its Hainan submarine facility.
According to the 2014 report of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China has emerged as one of the biggest arms suppliers in the world claiming 40 per cent share in total world arms sale in 2012.
Bangladesh has imported seven percent of China’s military equipment and a whopping 80 percent of its military inventory is ‘Made in China’. Bangladesh is flanked by India on three sides and its forces often train with India being depicted as the enemy.
Experts deplore that India does not have the military diplomacy capability or intent that China currently has and that this “growing gap in China’s favour will have a bearing on India’s profile and contested strategic space in South Asia”.
“To my mind what is more regrettable is that to the extent Beijing and its top political leadership has prioritised defence diplomacy. New Delhi and Ministry of Defence appear oblivious to the potential of military diplomacy and this has become an MEA-led endeavour,” Commodore Uday Bhaskar, a former naval officer and defence expert, opined.
He rues that while China has embarked upon providing military hardware to India’s neighbours—Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, India does not even have the indigenous capacity to design and manufacture a personal weapon.
“When was the last time the Cabinet Committee on Security or Parliament actually deliberated upon military diplomacy?” he asks pointedly.