China has remained a mystery ever since we gained independence from the British in 1947. In the past century, China has been influenced in its ideological thinking and formulation of its strategy by its four leaders- Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Zedong, Deng XioPeng and its present leader Xi JinPing. Historically, China has faced struggles and oppressive regimes which helped it to push its strategic culture and strengthen its belief in the middle kingdom. Consequently, Communism as a way of life was easily accepted by its masses ruthlessly driven by the Central Military Commission (CMC) which pushed the country toward modernisation. The areas which the Chinese leadership prioritised were towards Agriculture, Industry, Military and Technology. A road map with definite timelines was set for each of these areas.
With this aim in mind, the Chinese converted their seven military regions into five theatre commands namely, North, South, East, West and the middle combat zones. To augment their military prowess, they embarked upon technological upgradation of their weapon systems with specific emphasis on their ballistic missile programme. The Chinese leadership clearly understood that future conflicts will revolve itself around cyber, media and legal domains and therefore, gigantic strides were made by them in all these spheres with an aim to complete the entire modernisation process by the year 2035.
Today, in the entire region opposite Eastern Ladakh, the Chinese have created a huge infrastructure of habitat, roads, railways and rivers which facilitate them to mobilise their Army in real time. They have also embarked upon massive projects to build dams on all major rivers which flow from the Himalayas towards India, Pakistan, Nepal, and other countries. They are building massive dams on the Indus and Brahmaputra rivers which whenever required can cut off the water flow of these rivers to India and can lead to either flooding or severe drought conditions depending upon the season prevailing. India apart from protesting has not been able to stem the progress of the construction of these dams, many of them already in the final stages of commissioning.
In the past one month, India-China relations have gone into a tailspin. The Chinese PLA has made three significant intrusions into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). These intrusions were followed by an aggression from the PLA which led to injuries to soldiers of both the sides. This attempt clearly appeared to open up the boundary dispute by challenging the sovereignty of our country. Thereafter, there were further attempts by the PLA to augment its presence in these areas by moving up its airborne brigade as well as Artillery guns and tanks. On the Indian side a similar build up was noticed with the formations of 17 Mountain Strike Corps being moved up.
The situation was brought under control by both the nations. Parleys both at diplomatic and military level were held at the Lieutenant General level by both the sides. This defused the situation to some extent with both sides agreeing to moving back their forces a few kilometres in depth from the existing lines of deployment. However, status quo ante is yet to be achieved.
It is therefore imperative for all of us to understand the motivation behind this aggressive and provocative behaviour. A wide range of views on this have been authored by many military thinkers and analysts. The reading of the situation to my mind could be attributed to the following four major reasons.
Take advantage of the post COVID 19 situation. This is in line with the thinking of one of the Chinese leaders Mao Zedong who once said “When everything under the Heaven is in a state of utter chaos-the situation is excellent”.
Forge a strategic alliance with the United States of America by shaping an Indo-Pacific treaty. Further the quadrangle of nations coming together i.e. USA, Japan, and Australia
Reduce Chinese influence in the South China Sea – making China uneasy
Abrogation of Article 370 and declaration of Ladakh as a Union Territory by India has not been viewed kindly by China for the simple reason that China has economic interests in the Gilgit Baltistan region and therefore any intention by India to rake up the POK issue has its ramifications for China.
As per Chinese perception there is a massive power asymmetry and the Indian military capability does not stand a chance against the PLA. This is the reason why PLA has been daring to occupy areas along the LAC whenever they get a chance. The Chinese do not want a resolution of the LAC as this gives them the leverage to time and again show their aggressive intent towards India, knowing fully well that there will be least retaliation from the Indian side.
As would be evident from above, China has adopted a strategy of “Deterrence through Intimidation” and has achieved their objective without firing a single shot. The Chinese desire to keep the LAC issue alive also stems from their strategy to divert India’s attention from the Indian Ocean and commit its forces on ground in the Eastern Ladakh and Sikkim regions. Chinese are not yearning for War but only showing their intent to be taken seriously. China clearly wants India to follow the Wuhan Consensus Declaration 2018, wherein both countries agreed to cooperate and not be rivals.
Today China has a lot to gain from India by way of trade. The India-China bilateral trade last year touched a historic high of $95.54 billion, raising hopes that the trade this year could cross the historic $100 billion mark. The trade deficit in 2018, according to Chinese official data, climbed to $57.86 billion from $51.72 billion in 2017. According to the Indian Commerce Minister, China would soon become India’s largest trade partner within the next 2-3 years, after the US and Singapore. The principal items of Indian exports to China are Ores, Slag and Ash, Iron and Steel, Plastics, Organic chemicals, and Cotton. Therefore, China has huge stakes to maintain harmonious relations with India.
In the overall perspective, there is a very little likelihood of an Indo-Chinese conflict. The Chinese will continue with their strategy of arm twisting India whenever they feel India has transgressed their laid down “Lakshman Rekha”. A message has been sent by them to India that it must review its strategic shift towards the US. These are ominous signs for India as Chinese expansionistic tendencies would continue and will react very strongly whenever any strategic shift in the balance of power will take place.
China is preparing itself in controlling the narrative in Ladakh, Tibet autonomous region, South China Sea and Nepal by strengthening its conquest of the control of river waters, technology, cyber domains and the like. To that extent the Chinese have already erected 5G towers at the base camp of the Himalayas, thereby laying its claim also there. China’s intention can be gauged by the fact by its recent announcement of increasing its defence budget from 6.5% of the GDP to 8.1%. The gross asymmetry with India is evident when the Indian defence budget is just 1.58% of its GDP (the lowest since 1962).
It should be evident to India now that in case it desires to counter balance the Chinese superiority and influence in the Indian sub-continent, it would need to bolster its defence preparedness. The unfinished agenda of completing the orbat of the 17 Mountain Strike Corps must be done post haste. It would also need to reinforce the infrastructure along the LAC as well as bolster its electronic surveillance systems to be able to react to any Chinese misadventure in real time. At the same time, a diplomatic blitzkrieg must be undertaken with all nations to expose the hegemonistic tendencies of the Chinese. The strategic alliance initiative already undertaken with Australia, Japan and the USA would need to be formalised to act as a deterrent for any further Chinese endeavours to disturb the status quo of our borders. The path towards the future has to be tread with utmost care and caution.
As Sun Tzu said “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”