India is studying possible responses to a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan following discreet inquiries from the US on how the country could contribute in the event of a war, according to senior government officials.
About six weeks ago, Defense Chief General Anil Chauhan – the top military commander – commissioned a study to examine the wider impact of any war over the island that also involves the US and its allies, and what action India could take in response, according to two senior Indian officials, who asked not to be named since discussions are private. The order came after the US raised the issue in several different forums, they said.
The study will assess various war scenarios and provide options for India in case a conflict breaks out, they said. Some military commanders believe that strong statements may suffice as a response in case the war is short, but ultimately that will not be enough if the conflict drags on like Russia’s war in Ukraine, the officials said.
India’s preparation for a potential war over Taiwan shows how its policy of “multi-alignment” will be tested in the event of a drastic deterioration of US-China ties. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has forged its own path on international relations, effectively hedging its bets by developing close ties to the US while refusing to join international sanctions on Russia.
Yet tensions with China have also flared along their disputed Himalayan border, contributing to a deterioration in relations that may have prompted President Xi Jinping to skip the Group of 20 summit this weekend in New Delhi. India has strengthened defense ties with the US in recent years, joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue along with Japan and Australia – a band of democracies intent on countering China’s growing influence.
One option the Indian military will study involves serving as a logistics hub to provide repair and maintenance facilities for allied warships and aircraft, as well as food, fuel and medical equipment for armies resisting China, the officials said. A more extreme scenario, they added, would assess the potential for India to get directly involved along their northern border, opening a new theater of war for China.
While no deadline has been set to complete the study, the Indian military is under orders to finish it as soon as possible, one of the officials said. The options prepared will be available for PM Modi and other political leaders to make a final call on any action should the need arise, the official said.
The Defence and Foreign ministries didn’t respond to emailed questions. The US State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“By hyping up the Taiwan question, creating tensions and provoking confrontation, the US attempts to turn the Taiwan question into an international issue,” Mao Ning, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told reporters in Beijing on Friday. “This is highly dangerous.”
India and China have mobilized thousands of troops, artillery guns, tanks and missiles closer to the unmarked border running some 3,500 km, roughly the length of the US-Mexico boundary. Diplomatic talks have yielded little, with China last month releasing a new map claiming India-controlled territory that Foreign Minister S Jaishankar described as “absurd.”
India has publicly resisted efforts to make the Quad appear like a military alliance, and remains reliant on Russia – China’s most important diplomatic partner – for weapons that would be used in any regional war. Even so, it has quietly sought better relations with Taiwan: Three former Indian military chiefs who stepped down in the past year all visited Taiwan last month.
Five years ago, India and the US signed a Logistics-Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, a foundational pact to allow refueling and replenishing of warships and aircraft, as well as access to bases when required.
Even though India is examining military options, it remains unlikely that the nation would get involved directly in a war over Taiwan, according to Lisa Curtis, senior fellow and director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Washington-based Centre for a New American Security, who earlier worked with the National Security Council, CIA and the State Department. It’s possible India may provide access to places like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands near Southeast Asia, she added.
“If there were to be some kind of conflict or crises in the Taiwan Strait, I think India’s position would be to stand back and not get militarily involved,” she said. “Even though they may support Taiwan with statements and humanitarian assistance, I think they would be very weary about providing any kind of military assistance to the United States.”
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