China and India: The Cold War No One Is Watching

Richard A. Bitzinger

Key Point: China's ability to manufucture weaponry is much more efficient and advanced than India's.

“Rich nation, strong army,” was the adage that drove Japanese modernization – both civilian and military – in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today it is a rallying cry for other Asian countries seeking great-nation status. A corollary to this saying might be that great nations have great arms industries.

China and India share this outsized ambition to be a “great power” in Asia, if not the most powerful. The two countries have, respectively, the largest and second-largest militaries in Asia, as well as the highest and second-highest defense budgets. And both have huge domestic defense industries, dedicated to providing their armed forces with the best weapons possible.

Home-grown armaments and nationalism go hand-in-hand in both China and India. A country cannot consider itself to be capable of great-nation status, so the argument goes, if one’s military is dependent on foreign suppliers for its weapons. Outside sources are always subject to embargoes or other restrictions, and overseas sellers are usually loath to part with their best and most advanced military technologies.

Finally, as a matter of pride, a great power cannot conceive of itself parading another country’s military equipment. The priority, therefore, is always on securing a domestic source of advanced weaponry, as quickly as possible.

Soup-to-nuts-approaches: 

It should not be surprising to know that both nations – India since independence, and China since the founding of the People’s Republic – have given considerable importance to establishing and nurturing large domestic arms industries. In so doing, both countries took very similar routes to defense industrialization. Both countries undertook a soup-to-nuts approach to defense, manufacturing everything from small arms to nuclear weapons. Additionally, they established huge military research and development (R&D) bases so as to control every stage of armaments production, from initial idea to deployment.

The most important goal was the development and manufacture of a broad array of indigenous weapons systems. If completely indigenous production was impossible in the short run, the licensed-production of foreign-designed systems as a second-best solution, but one to be replaced by a domestic solution as soon as possible.

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