In my article Sino Indian Logjam: A Review, I had assessed that the Chinese situation is not as strong as it is being made out. They are in no position to undertake a major offensive anywhere. Their economy like others will struggle. They are not far ahead of the curve as being assessed by everyone. Virus, flooding and militarism will take its toll. China has done what it wants. It is our turn now. We should deal with the situation with patience, resolve, firmness, maintaining focus and with a plan. Even if it means waiting for a year. This is a follow-up of that article.
To put the cart before the horse — China is in a no ‘go’ position in the game which is still log-jammed. We did not have to wait for a year. Things have changed. The fact that the meeting between Defence Ministers took place at Chinese instance gave the game away. However, there should be no complacency. Still need to do more to restore equilibrium.
Military No ‘GO’
No ‘GO’ on Land: India has halted Chinese efforts to alter the LAC unilaterally in its tracks in the Chushul sector. India seems to have gained control of Karakoram Ridge line heights, South of Pangong Tso, down to Rezang La (see map). Despite extensive analysis let me reiterate. Chinese observation into our areas from Chushul to Dungti seems closed. Our observation into the Spangur Bowl has increased manifold. It closes Chinese offensive options and opens ours if the balloon were to go higher. The Fingers Area and Sirijap come under observation. Place Artillery OP officers on this ridge line and they will play havoc into the Chinese. The Spanggur Gap can now be exploited by us. In the larger picture, if China mounts any offensive further North in Depsang, it will get a bloody nose there, a riposte through Chushul and assured destruction in the Fingers Area. Necessary action has also been taken to deny the Chinese other footholds. Everyone now knows that Tibetan troops have been used. It is a huge political message.
No GO at Sea: China has carried out demonstrative missile firing in Bohai, Yellow, East China, and South China Seas (see map). Connect the dots. PLAN is hugging its shores under mainland protection. The US has continuously deployed aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, sailed a destroyer through the Taiwan Straits, flown reconnaissance aircraft and B-1B bombers over the region and sided with Southeast Asian nations. As per reports, the Indian Navy has deployed along the Malacca Straits, near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and even in the South China Sea. The Navy is also taking care of the Chinese vessels present around Djibouti and has deployed its assets in the vicinity for protecting our national interests. It is in control of IOR. Who is on the backfoot? Additionally, Japan and US defence chiefs are to shortly meet in Guam about China and Chinese missile demonstrations and their combined response. No-Go for China.
Indo US Partnership: The CDS signalled that China is a security threat to India and asserted readiness to use military force. He did it in a webinar to discuss US-India ties! China has achieved what it did not want — Indo-US operational synergy. So much for their strategic thinking. Now the US has once again said that it is ready to help resolve the dispute. By this offer the US has hyphenated India and China. That is a real downgrade.
Chinese View Point: India Today’s analysis by Antara Ghosal Singh illuminates Chinese thought. They are fuming at our audacity and think that our action is our last face-saving exit fight. Waving a Tibetan flag on the Karakoram has infuriated them. Chinese also worry about our naval presence in the South China Sea and our relationship with the US. Many want to counterattack India to prove China’s great power credentials. Some feel India is not China’s primary strategic direction, and they could be walking into an India-US trap. They want a grand strategy focusing on three key objectives (i) Ensuring that India does not regard China as its principle strategic opponent, in place of Pakistan; (ii) Ensuring India exhausts its energy and resources, causing negative impact on its economic development by worsening the security situation in Kashmir, and in overall South Asia; thereby forcing India to be back at the negotiating table (iii) Ensuring India does not openly stand in line with the United States while competing with China. Finally they want to assure the domestic Chinese populace “not to be perturbed and have complete faith in the government and PLA. Global Times is screaming blue murder and issuing all kinds of threats but worried that Chinese troops will have to spend winter there. Probably unprepared! That editor and their military guru Song Zhongping can take a walk in the Karakoram hand in hand!
Assessment: China is in a difficult two front position under pressure and worried. Winter is setting in. It cannot mount a major offensive in Ladakh. Any reinforcement in Aksai Chin will weaken its front door and open an opportunity in the South China Sea. If it does nothing, it will continue to lose face. Every military professional knows what has happened here. In my opinion, we should create a few more instabilities. If Chinese feel victory is theirs since they are a great power they can hop it. Attempts will be made to bring Pakistan into the fray. Chinese will look for an opportunity to attack us. We must be cognisant of that. We must strategically communicate that China is our principal opponent hereafter. They should also be clear that Indo-US relations are growing stronger with their actions.
Tibet: On 29 August, while speaking at the Seventh Central Symposium on Tibet Work, Xi Jinping’s words were “solidify border defences and ensure frontier security”, “form an impregnable fortress in maintaining stability”, “Tibetan Buddhism had to adapt to socialism and Chinese conditions” “protect national unity and educate the masses in the struggle against splittism”. The implications are very clear and ominous. We will see the LAC being strengthened. The Tibetans will be subjugated and ‘Reeducated’. Buddhism will be communised. Any call for Tibet autonomy will be dealt with an iron hand. Hitler’s actions will seem juvenile in comparison.
Mongolia: China wants to replace the language of instruction in Inner Mongolian schools from Mongolian to Mandarin Chinese. The plan follows a pattern. Earlier Tibetan and Uighur languages were restricted in Tibet in 2018 and Xinjiang in 2017. Thousands of ethnic Mongolians have protested against this move. They fear that Mongolian would be relegated to a foreign language as part of government plans to assimilate ethnic minorities into Chinese Han culture.Chinese have responded by using heavy force including armoured vehicles.
Xinjiang: It is now well known that China has detained more than a million Uyghur Muslims in re-education camps. Despite international pressure, China continues with the crackdown on Uyghurs’ human rights through its vocational training centres which includes forced sterilisation. A massive protest was held outside Dhaka Press Club in Bangladesh. That is interesting.
Taiwan & EU:Taiwan has changed its passport design for “easier recognition & less confusion” with China. A clear step in being distinct from China. The more interesting part was that The Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil and a delegation recently visited Taiwan. Wang Yi, China’s FM while visiting Germany said that the Czech visit was an intervention in China’s internal affairs, had crossed a red line and they will pay a heavy price. The Czechs responded by calling CCP “rude clowns”. However the response from the German Foreign Minister was telling: ‘Threats don’t fit in here’. Wang Yi had gone to Germany to mend fences with the EU and achieved the opposite! Bloomberg headline- ‘Europe Just Declared Independence From China’. The sentiment in the EU is not clearly for China.
Hong Kong: A report by South China Morning Post says ‘The national security law hasn’t brought back the old Hong Kong. Rather, it has created a new, unfamiliar place. The new law has instilled fear. Hong Kong can never be at peace with itself until the underlying causes of last summer’s uprising are addressed’. The cause of the uprising is democracy which is getting crushed on a daily basis. The US has sanctioned Hong Kong’s economy. Hong Kong as an economic conduit is passe. That is a big loss for China.
Assessment: The rimland is unstable and in trouble. For the first time in a long while,all non-Han regions are experiencing some issues. Needs to be exploited to put pressure.
Internal Economy: New Inputs
Floods: Japan Times came out with a report titled ‘The big China disaster that you’re missing’. As per that ‘the Yangtze River Economic Belt is home to more than 40% GDP.On its own, the region could be the third-largest economy in the world’. This has been disrupted due to floods. In future the flooding risk will only grow due to climate change and ‘the hundreds of thousands of levees, dikes, reservoirs and dams on its seven major river systems’. Hence future prospects are not bright.
Sub Prime Crisis: Recently, Shenzhen authorities released guidelines for consumer bankruptcy. A week earlier, China’s Supreme Court lowered the interest rate ceiling on all non-bank credit, from 24% to 15.4%.The rate cut is substantial. Bankers are still in shock. The fact is that there is a hugeshadow banking industryin China whose interest rates are usurious. Tens of millions of subprime borrowers have been exploited and will never get out of debt traps. Hopes of a consumer led economic revival in China are bleak. Chinese internal economy is not in great shape.
SCRI: The Supply Chain Resilience Initiative of Japan, India and Australia is taking shape. Things are being fast tracked. All three ‘China trade dependent’ countries want to reduce ‘dependence’. They feel — “the Indo-Pacific region is where the shape of the international order of tomorrow will be decided. We want to help shape that order — so that it is based on rules and international cooperation, not on the law of the strong”.
KRA Canal: Thailand has scrapped the KRA canal project. This has a major strategic implication. However, there is a huge economic implication also. In addition, Thailand has put a submarine deal on hold. This is due to peoples pressure despite the ruling party being keen on the deal. Significant. I
India’s Second Digital Strike: India has banned118 more Chinese apps. With this the total is224 banned Chinese apps. It includes the popular PUBG. The valuation of the parent Chinese company Tencent has gone down by 34 billion dollars. Surprising that the effect is so huge.The game is obviously deeper. For all those who feel that these digital strikes are cosmetic. Rethink please.
All glowing reports of Chinese economic indicators are suspect. Combine these issues with established facts like ageing population, export slump, food shortage and joblessness. Add the pushbacks in various international projects and the ‘Stand Still’ mode of BRI. Their diplomacy is not making headway. Everyone wants to break from ‘China Dependency’. Add the digital strikes initiated by India and now being followed up by other countries. The emerging picture is bleak. Xi Jinping has come out with the ‘Dual Circulation Plan’to revive the economy. Experts call it vague. Frankly the model is unworkable. (see graphic). It depends on internal consumption. It depends on developing the troubled Rimlands through the Go West Policy. It depends upon making asses of those nations who want to firmly decouple from China. Everyone is wise to Chinese games. Remember China has a history of exporting food grains when there was famine during their disastrous great leap forward. This forthcoming period might be their second great leap backwards. There is a requirement of experts to go into issues and make professional assessments. To my mind our China studies are being done by those bedazzled by Chinese glitter rather than hard facts on ground. Needs a hard headed reality check based on facts rather than past achievements.
The Chinese are talking big. From the beginning their strategy has been ‘Belligerent War Avoidance’. Comprehensive National Power means nothing in cold high altitude. Battles are about blood, guts and glory.
From any angle, China is not as strong as it is made out. Their influence, operations make them seem taller than the four feet they are. When we call them “Dragon” we are building them up into mythical powerful beings that they are not. They are normal people who can be defeated. However, it will do us well to remember that China will be even more troublesome hereafter. There are also indications that Xi Jinping ispurgingthe system again. Maybe some instability ahead. Time to be steady, balanced and give them a few more battle shocks. Extend the battle into the rear in their unstable rimlands.
The overall situation is tense and will remain so. However, I doubt if the situation will escalate uncontrollably. In my opinion a few firefights will actually settle the issue.To me it is confirmed that Chinese are simply not battle hardened. Will they escalate it to a higher level? Very unlikely in this current two front scenario. As I had predicted, as time passes, the Chinese will have more to lose.
A lot has been spoken and written about Multi Domain Warfare. I too have written extensively about it. However, battles are finally decided on ground. Never forget that. A lot has been made of primacy of economic power. All that is fine. When the chips are down, it is only military power that will stand tall and can defend a nation not diplomacy nor economies. We have a fine military machine which is standing tall. India should not run it down further. Already enough damage has been done by naïve politicians and rule bound bureaucrats. India must decide what is the security or insecurity it wants. China will come back harder at us in future.
A word about the twofront situation we are likely to face. Pakistan is not up to it.ThePakistani generals are busy converting CPEC into Pizza outlets in the US. I do not think their Generals are in a mood to get into a scrap with India and jeopardise their ill-gotten wealth. The Pakistani Army has survived since it has not got into a conventional war with India. Do you think it will take that jump just because some Chinese tell them to do so? They will lose all their Pizzas!
Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www. gunnersshot.com.