China's military modernization and warfare strategy: Will 2024 be a watershed year for the Indo-Pacific and global geopolitics?

Keeping the warfare history and strategic culture of China in the Indo-Pacific region in perspective,  chances are high that there could be more short-term military clashes in the near future with India which will be more intense by nature, especially before India’s general elections in 2024, in order to influence India's political landscape and change the politico-and security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region. 

Deepak Kumar Apr 11, 2023
China's military

In 1962, India fought a war with China and suffered a humiliating defeat and lost a big chunk of its territory in Aksai Chin in Ladakh in eastern Jammu and Kashmir[1]. In 1967, a series of short-term and intense military conflicts started when the Chinese PLA launched an attack on Indian posts at Nathu La, from September 11-14, 1967 and at Chao La on October 1, 1967[2]According to Sino-Indian experts, the Indian Army completely subdued the Chinese PLA. The infrastructure developed by the Chinese PLA was devastated by the Indian Army and compelled Chinese soldiers to go back to their territory[3]. In 1986-87, bloodless clashes took place between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA’s ground force at Sumdorong Chu, Tawang District of Arunachal Pradesh[4]. In 2017, at Doklam, a military standoff occurred when China tried to construct a road in a disputed trijunction between India, China and Bhutan[5].

On June 15, 2020, a violent and one of the most intense but short-term military brawls after the Sino-India War, 1962 took place  at Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley[6]. Territorial expansion by building infrastructure in Indian territory coupled with the domination over the resources-rich Lake Pangong Tso was the hidden agenda of China[7]. Very recently, a short-term military standoff occurred at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. In this clash, combative Indian soldiers compelled intruding Chinese soldiers to return to their territory.

Through these short-term military conflicts across the border, China is strategically influencing the domestic politics of India as these are seen to threaten India’s national security. Therefore, it has become a frequent point of debate and discussion in political circles and across news channels and hence is shaping public opinion.  More importantly, attention should be paid to the timing of these military standoffs – they always take place just before the beginning of the Indian parliament sessions[8].

Chinese finetuned military strategy

It has become an integral part of Chinese warfare strategy to influence the domestic politics of its neighboring and strategically located countries in the Indo-Pacific region by reconfiguring it to suit its geopolitical and economic interests. Taiwan is the best example of this strategy.[9] Another dimension of these short-term conflicts is to form a very dominating, aggressive, and assertive image or perception of its foreign policy all over the globe and, most importantly,  “it was a show of the strength for China amidst of COVID-19 pandemic which had damaged the Chinese economy and its international reputation”[10]. In fact, these provocative gestures are an integral component of its salami-slicing strategy[11]. This strategy comprises small provocative gestures that in segregation achieve little but cumulatively produce a much larger impact in China’s favor that helps in building up a very strong perception of its foreign policy all over the globe.

Very importantly, it incorporates various dimensions such as strategic amalgamation of hard and soft power for coercive diplomacy, territorial claims on neighboring nations, economic coercion through debt trap diplomacy, technological acquisition through lawful and unlawful actions, and most importantly lobbying to influence the functional mechanism of foreign nations and international organizations such as World Health Organization (WHO) for setting their agenda according to China’s interests[12].

By employing salami tactics, China secured control of Aksai Chin from India in the 1950s to 1960s, slow but steady acquisition of much of the South China Sea, Parcel Islands in 1974, Johnson Reef in 1988 from the Philippines and Vietnam, Mischief Reef in 1995 from the Philippines and Taiwan, and Scarborough Shoal in 2012[13]. The biggest advantage of this shrewd tactic is that it proffers only two options to the adversary: One, is just to tolerate highly aggressive and provocative military clashes that psychologically weakens the adversary nation, which in turn, compels the nation, ultimately, to leave the disputed territory; another option is to engage in a very expensive and highly dangerous war with China[14].The current border clashes are the consequence of India’s changing the constitutional status of Kashmir[15]. Furthermore, by blurring the line between war and peace in accordance with the current regime’s official strategy namely, ‘Three Warfares’ that incorporates lawfare, psychological warfare, and most importantly public-opinion warfare by influencing foreign media, China is single-mindedly seeking to carve out a China-centric world order[16]. 

By employing these tactics, China is advancing its expansionism without firing a shot and its bulletless aggression is proving to be a game changer in Asia. Recently, China, to justify its Himalayan transgression, has passed the Land Borders Law to support its territorial revisionism[17]. In the same way, China has passed Coast Guard Law and Maritime Traffic Safety Law for territorial reclamation in the South and East China Sea[18].

Keeping the warfare history and strategic culture of China in the Indo-Pacific region in perspective,  chances are high that there could be more short-term military clashes in the near future with India which will be more intense by nature, especially before India’s general elections in 2024, in order to influence India's political landscape and change the politico-and security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region. 

The hidden motive behind these strategies is the strategic ambition of China to stitch a China-oriented world order by demeaning the role and dominant position of Western powers, especially the US. In fact, this is the political psyche of a revisionist power’that has very high strategic and political  ambitions, – to transform the current system by disrupting the dominance of a particular state in order to claim systemic leadership[19] – what Robert Gilpin, an American Political Scientist and Professor at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Relations called ‘hegemonic wars’[20].

Revisionist tendencies are the consequence of the ‘status-quo’ regime dominated by one state and its allies that set the rules, regulations, and norms of the world order. A revisionist state is dissatisfied with the distribution of power in the international system of the states and therefore, has a high desire to alter it for acquiring more power and the ability to set standards in accordance with its strategic interests and priorities[21].

Very often, revisionist states, due to high hatred for their potential competitors, employ military force in order to restructure the world order beneficial to status-quo powers. Another dominant characteristic of these revisionist states is that these states are always aiming to modernize and enhance their military force including nuclear warfare capabilities[22].

China's nuclear modernisation and build-up

China is constantly modernizing and enhancing its nuclear stockpiles in order to deter its potential adversaries, India and the US, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. China is constantly infringing its policy of maintaining a minimal deterrent. As per US experts, China is constructing more than 200 new missile silos that could enhance its total silo-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) higher than the 20 that it maintained over a long period of time[23].

In addition, China is also building up its arsenal with more road-based ICBMs and strategic nuclear submarines. In accordance with the US Department of Defense,  “China’s nuclear warhead numbers may be as high as 700, ready for delivery by 2027, and potentially 1,000 warheads by 2030.”[24] It is also modernizing its nuclear force by relinquishing older, transportable, liquid-fuel, slow-launching missiles and adopting long-range, road-mobile, solid-fuel, quick-launching missiles[25].

China’s PLAN also improved its Nuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN), Type 094 to Type 094A which has highly advanced features. China has commissioned these submarines into its navy in April 2020. These submarines can carry 12 to 16 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Type 096 which is very large and heavy compared to Type 094 is also being developed by China. The fleet of China can potentially carry JL-2 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) having a range of 7,200km and its new variant makes it capable of having second-strike ability[26].

The modernization program of China to hone its nuclear warfare capabilities fuels the already growing concern of its potential adversaries like the US due to the fear of employing nuclear weapons in settling border disputes, territorial reclamations, and transforming the world order for making China its epicenter. Suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) by the US and Russia in 2019; highly irrational and assertive nuclear aggression of North Korea; and most importantly, the lack of efforts by the US and Russia for nuclear disarmament in providing the necessary impetus to all nations[27], especially India whose strategic interests and priorities are being relentlessly threatened to review its nuclear doctrine.

India and China’s military balance

In Asia, India, Pakistan, and China are the only three nuclear states that are bordered by each other. In fact, India’s location between Pakistan and China has very high strategic importance in India’s national security strategy. From this perspective, India has to design its strategies by keeping the military strength and the warfare capabilities of both countries in mind. The ratio of the size of India's and Pakistan's armed forces is 3.9:1 and the ratio between China's and Indian armed forces is 1:3.1[28].

It gives the impression that there is an approximate parity between the size of India and China’s  ground forces while Chinese naval forces are 3.8 times larger and the Chinese Air Force enjoys a numerical superiority of 2.5 times.[29] Though India’s armed forces are highly superior in comparison to Pakistan's armed forces China’s constant support to Pakistan in developing its warfare, and especially nuclear capabilities, has exacerbated India’s concern for safeguarding itself from cross-border terrorism and other illegal activities such as constant destabilizing efforts committed by Pakistan in many dimensions. In fact, this scenario becomes grimmer in a two-front war situation.

China is already manufacturing eight Yuan-class (Type 039-A) conventional AIP (air-independent propulsion) submarines under the contract that it signed with Pakistan[30]. In addition, Pakistan is likely to acquire the Chinese Navy nuclear-powered attack submarine ‘Shang’ has the capability to displace 7,000 tonnes when it operates underwater, and, more importantly; it is armed with six torpedo tubes and also has the capability to launch Babur missiles. The acquisition of Shang by Pakistan will disturb the naval balance that is skewed in the favor of India at present[31].

Seeking to influence geopolitical environment

A crucial factor that plays a highly strategic role in China’s nuclear doctrine is the geopolitical environment and the threat perception[32] that China has developed over a long period of time. Accordingly, China preferred the word "self-defense" rather than the word "deterrence" as its rationale for developing its nuclear strategy ‘without mentioning its scope and conditions of applicability’[33]. Lack of transparency in its functional culture and high opaqueness in its dealing with other nations coupled with its ‘strategic culture’ dictates the nations especially India for strategizing its national security by opening all options including reviewing its nuclear doctrine.

The year 2024 will be a watershed year with an expected paradigmatic shift in international political architecture and the Indo- Pacific region will be the theater for the power tussle between China and the US and its allies. The reason is Taiwan presidential elections, India’s general elections and, most importantly, the US presidential elections. Another highly important reason for this paradigmatic shift is  that the Chinese economy is losing momentum as per IMF forecasting for the year 2023 which shows very sluggish growth prospects for China in comparison to other countries, especially India. China will leave no stone unturned to influence the forthcoming elections in its potential adversary states due to its strategic ambition to change the status quo in the international order.

(The author is a geopolitical Risk Analyst who worked with Wikistrat Inc. He specializes in India’s national security and its foreign policy. He can be reached at




[1]  Sudha Ramchandran, “The Long Shadow of the 1962 War and the China-India Border Dispute”, The Jamestown FoundationNovember 18, 2022, . Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[2] Dipanjan Roy Chaudhary, “China should stop ratcheting up1962, remember 1967 Nathu La battle”, The Economic Times July12,2018 , Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[3]   Ibid.

[4]  Russell Goldman, “Indo-China Border Dispute: A Conflict Explained”, The New York Times, June 17, 2020, Accessed on February 2, 2023. 

[5]   Ibid.                                                                                                                         

[6]   Ibid.

[7] G G Diwedi, “Why is China building bridges over Pangong Tso: the genesis and ramifications”,The Indian Express,May27,2022, Accessed on February 2, 2023. 

[8]  Harsh V. Pant and Viany Kaura, “China factor in domestic politics”, Observer Research Foundation, June 26, 2020, Accessed on February 2, 2023. 

[9]  Tzu-Chieh Hung and Tzu-Wei Hung, “How China’s Cognitive Warfare Works: A Frontline Perspective of Taiwan’sAnti-DisinformationWars”,JournalofGlobalSecurityStudies,7,4(2022):1-18, Accessed on February 2, 2023.       

[10] M. Taylor Fravel, “Why are China and India skirmishing at their border? Here’s 4 things to know”,The WashingtonPost,June2,2020, . Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[11] Sumana Ghosal, “China’s salami - slicing tactics going wrong?”, WION, August 24, 2022, Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Brahma Chellaney, “China’s salami-slice strategy”, The Japan Times, July 25, 2013, . Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[14] Ibid.

[15]  Ananth Krishnan, “Beijing think-tank links scrapping of Art. 370to LAC tensions”, The Hindu, June 12, 2020, . Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[16]  Brahma Chellaney, “China’s Global Hybrid War”, Project Syndicate, December 8, 2021, Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Nichole Ballawar, “China – A Revisionist Power?”, The Kootneeti, April 6, 2020, Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[20] Robert Gilpin, “Theory of Hegemonic War”, Policy Tensor, February 25,2013, Accessed on February 2, 2023

[21] Jonathan M. DiCicco, “Power Transition Theory and Essence of Revisionism”, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics (2017):1-39, Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Pulkit Mohan, “China’s Nuclear Ambitions, the Implications for India, and the Future of Global Disarmament”, Observer Research Foundation, July 7, 2022, Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] A M Sabnis, “Nuclear Deterrence in the Context of Sino-Indian Border Standoff”, Indian Naval Dispatch (2021): 47-54. Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Franz-Stefan Gady, “China Confirms Export of 8 Submarines to Pakistan”, The Diplomat, October 19, 2016, Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[31] Vishnu Som, “Pakistan Likely to Acquire Chinese Nuclear Attack Submarines”, NDTV, January 10,2017, Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[32] Liping Xia, “China’s Nuclear Doctrine: Debates and Evolution”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 20, 2016, Accessed on February 2, 2023.

[33] Ibid.

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