Dragon in the COVID Era
By Lt Gen Ashok Bhim Shivane, PVSM, AVSM, VSM
The post Corona geopolitics has focused on China as the likely villain of the pandemic, both domestically and globally. Internally Chinese citizens are more than outraged and demanding increased accountability after the mysterious death of a coronavirus whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang, the shuffle of appointments in the Ministry of Public Security and measures to crack down on activities that endanger the so-called political security of the country. China’s culpability of the origin and spread of this pandemic and subsequent aggressive overtone have resulted in economic distancing and global backlash. Many world economies are offering firms relocation subsidies as an incentive to shift production out of China. Certainly, the crisis has made the world aware of threats of China’s grip on global economies and supply chain, and the need to loosen that control. Further, the incremental expansionist policy and unlawful claims in the South China Sea, China’s policing the waters off the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands as also having established two new administrative districts in the South China Sea, besides sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat, are all under the world scanner. These have all created insecurities and given rise to irrational aggressive behavior. China has stepped up its incursions and other activities in the Himalayas, for strategic messaging of its coercive power aimed to cause embarrassment. China has also indulged in the pushing to enact a national security law in Hong Kong that broadens its authority in the territory. President Trump in response has indicated pulling back special trade and financial privileges which would impact both Hong Kong and China, as Hong Kong serves as a bridge between the Chinese economy and the rest of the world. In addition to display dissent and economic reprisal against Australia, for initiating the idea of an international coronavirus inquiry, the Chinese government cut off key imports and exports to Australia. Such aggressive behavior is not indicative of a mature global power and is bound to diminish its image and impede the rise of China on the global stage. Chinese leadership views the current global crisis as an opportunity to grip power through spreading disinformation, exercising economic leverage, flexing military muscle, and hostile diplomacy. However, the reality is the Dragon has a daunting task of economic revival, managing domestic upheaval, and addressing world resentment. Further, its GDP growth is likely to nose dive and with the debt to GDP ratio soaring high, the economic holocaust is real. China thus faces economic challenges, global isolation, internal turmoil, damaging its image. Indeed a pandemic that originated in China and its hostile behavior post its spread, may well have a backlash, weakening the nation and stymieing its elusive “Chinese Dream”.
Dragon’s Strike in the Himalayas
Dragon’s strategic security objectives in South Asia aims to leverage keeping alive the boundary dispute to psychologically coerce India and Bhutan and seek concessions to promote China’s interests. It also periodically plays the card of upper riparian state to message water wars. Economically, it aims at ensuring the energy supply and security of SLOCs and alternate bypassing routes like CPEC to mitigate the Malacca dilemma. It constantly endures generating gravitational pull to wean away smaller south Asian States from the traditional Indian sphere of influence. Adding fuel to fire, it builds Pakistan as a countervail to restrain India in South Asia Orbit.
China see’s India as not only a regional competitor but a major geostrategic player in the Indo-Pacific and a global anchor meant to stymie its “Chinese Dream”. Amid war of words between Washington and Beijing over multiple issues, Republican Senator from Texas John Cornyn tweeted that “A wealthy, powerful and democratic India would help frustrate China’s hegemonic ambitions.” The recent US Ambassador’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, United States Congressman Scott Perry’s introduction of a bill in the House of Representatives that would recognize the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) to be a “separate country” on May 19, 2020, Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of the USA and President Trump’s offer to mediate in the Indo-China standoff, have all been viewed with suspicion and mistrust by China. This has been further aggravated by growing strategic convergence between India and the US and formulations such as ‘Quad’ and Indo-Pacific, seen by China as part of the containment strategy. While India’s inclusive approach has been on multilateral cooperation and bilateral partnerships, China views India from the lenses of the US enabled strategic competitor stymieing its global ascendancy.
Three irritants seem instant catalysts to the Chinese recent escalatory aggressive posturing in the Himalayas. Firstly, abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A on 5 Aug 2019 by India, through which entire Ladakh became a union territory. Secondly, India recently revised its foreign investment policy to tighten investment rules for companies sharing a land border with India. Thirdly, India supposedly announced developing a land pool twice the size of Luxembourg to host companies leaving China. India was perceived as openly challenging China’s territorial integrity and setting itself up as a commercial rival. This possibly triggered China to use its military power to strategically message its western neighbour, from making decisions contrary to its territorial and economic interests, or face embarrassment at the politico-military level. China cannot also fathom India’s rise at the global stage, with lead roles like Chairperson of BRICS 2021, hosting G20 in 2022, and being nominated non-permanent member of UN Security Council for two years 2021-22 and leadership role in WHO for the next two years. India’s proposal on “Global Electric Grid” project, based on “One Sun, One World, One Grid” and anticipatory participation in the US-led, “Blue Dot Network”, is perceived as counters to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, albeit in field of renewable energy and infrastructure development respectively. China also perceives a USA-India rejuvenated relationship, especially last year’s military pact “Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement” as aimed to curtail the Dragon. These strategic insecurities perceived as threatening its rise triggered the dragon to spit venom by its aggressive overtones as part of its strategic messaging, only to counter a firm and resolute Indian response in the Himalayas. However, the latest Himalayan shrewdly timed incursions have escalated the Dragons misadventure to a new level. This is indicative of Chinese intentions and merits a review of the policy framework by India in dealing with the Dragon.
Whether China will succeed in its quest to become a regional hegemon and a world pre-eminent power is debatable. Chinese leadership views the current global pandemic crisis as an opportunity to grip power through spreading disinformation, exercising economic leverage, flexing military muscle, and hostile diplomacy. However, the reality is China has a daunting task of economic revival, managing domestic upheaval, and facing world isolation cum decoupling. Further, the Chinese GDP growth is likely to nose dive and with the debt to GDP ratio soaring high, the economic holocaust is real. With an aging population and significant amounts of debt, China’s economy is in severe strain. China thus faces the economic challenges, global isolation, internal turmoil, damaging its image, and elusive ambitions of becoming the next superpower. The latest Himalayan misadventure has thus only put another nail on its coffin.
The Dragon must also realise India is no walkover today, politically, diplomatically, economically, or militarily. India with its military might is at number four in the world, just after China who is number three in the GFP (Global Firepower Index) 2020. GFP ranking is based on each nation’s potential war-making capability across the land, sea, and air fought by conventional means. The results incorporate values related to manpower, equipment, natural resources, finances, and geography represented by 50+ individual factors used in formulating the finalised GFP ranks, which provide an interesting glimpse into an increasingly volatile global landscape where war seems all but inevitability. Besides, India has an edge in battle-hardened leadership, motivated soldiers, and excellent high altitude training, which are war-winning intangibles. Even Huang Guozhi, a senior editor in China, recognises India as the world’s largest and experiences country with plateau and mountain troops. Thus, the present reality is that neither nation can achieve their politico-military aims through conflict. So the Dragon must take cognisance of what their revered Sun Tzu said in the historic Art of War – “He who wishes to fight must first count the cost”. India must take cognisance of Dragon’s intent, capabilities, and unpredictability, to review its foreign and defence policy. Certainly, the “Wuhan or Mamallapuram Bonhomie” or “1993 to 2013 Arrangements”, for border peace and professed tranquillity have not worked, and only seem to be buying time for yet another Dragon Strike.
(To be continued)
Lt Gen Ashok Bhim Shivane, PVSM, AVSM, VSM Commissioned in the 7th Light Cavalry, Lt Gen A. B. Shivane was General OfficerCommanding of an elite Strike Corps under the aegis of Army’s south western command at Mathura before taking over as DG, Mechanized Forces in Oct 2015. The views expressed are his own
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Courtesy: Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS)