wholly indigenous defence industrial sector? Thats something not even the US can boast (even America imports some weapons and components)and it probably isnt achievable for China either But keep in mind thateven with all the advanced programmes just describedChina is barely breaking a sweat This is not the Soviet Union were talking aboutwhich tried to build a military force to match the US with an economy that was barely half the size China has been smarterfocusing first and foremost on growth and developmentwith military spending remaining a second-order priority For Indiawhat compounds the challenge of Chinas maritime ascendancy is the fact that India itself remains a largely continental power India sees maritime capability as the means by which it can truly manifest its status as a global powerbut the troubles and tensions on its borders act as a constant break on such ambitions Indias parlous relations with Pakistan and Chinaand to a lesser extent Myanmar and Bangladeshrequire constant diplomatic attention and military investmentparticularly in landair and nuclear forces An ocean-going navy is simply less relevant to these cases Yetfears coming from some quarters in India of Chinese encirclement are exaggerated For one thingthere is little evidence to support the so-called string of pearls theoryin which China is supposed to be dotting the Indian Ocean with naval bases in friendly countries such as Myanmar and Pakistan And remember that Chinese naval capability is coming off a very low base The PLA Navy has years of learning ahead of it before it can operate consistently and effectively away from home waters LastChinas priority remains the Asia Pacificnot the Indian Ocean It has territorial disputes and historical grievances with many of its neighbourswhich will keep its maritime planners preoccupied for years to come Nor does China have the global ideological and military ambitions that the Soviet Union did NeverthelessChinas progress has been stunning Since the collapse of the Soviet Unionthe second place in the global ranking of maritime power has effectively been unoccupied China is now set to take that mantle in the coming decade It is unlikely to build a fleet that challenges the US globallybut it will shift the balance of power in the entire Indo-Pacific region The writera former senior strategic analyst in Australias Office of National Assessmentsis the editor of The Interpreter.

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