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HomeDEFENCETaming the 'Bull' in China's shop

Taming the ‘Bull’ in China’s shop

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China Z9 attack helicopters
A cluster of Z-9 attack helicopters lift off simultaneously for a flight training mission

There has been a flurry of visits to the LAC by members of the top military hierarchy, including Ladakh and Arunachal. Such forays amidst the ongoing border crisis, besides raising the morale of troops on the ground, enable review of preparedness. The latter assumes greater relevance as there is considerable apprehension about the possible Chinese strategy after winter.

It is rather risky to forecast the Dragon’s moves, especially when it has embarked on a very unpredictable course. Chinese misadventures would have made the great statesman and wise Deng Xiaoping turn in his grave.

Why should China have adopted the aggressive and ‘bull in China’ shop stance, when by all accounts, two more decades of peaceful rise, prescribed by Deng, would have put her in a commanding position? In the process, it has destroyed its limited soft power capital and disconnected with a generation of Millennials.

For others, it has indeed been a rude wake-up call for an introspective analysis of the degree of dependencies on China, triggering de-coupling of manufacturing chains and economies. China is also being seen as a knowledge pirate and shunned from collaborative research. Ambitious projects like BRI and Digital Silk Road (Huawei lead 5G) are stalled and need to be reworked.

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The world is turning towards ‘gated-globalism’ with fading trust and enhanced verification protocols. In this new normal, China is the Dragon and has been forced to explore its own version of ‘Atmanirbhar’, dubbed as ‘Dual-circulation’ with an increased focus on domestic demand.

The new jargon notwithstanding, the writing on the wall is clear, demand is drying up. The only saving grace for Beijing has been the Health Silk road with the supply of equipment to developing countries, especially Africa.

Another supportive distraction has been the antics of Trump, presenting a stark choice between two irresponsible global hegemons. China has failed to fulfil even basic obligations, as a responsible leading power, by covering up on the Wuhan virus and gross violation of agreed treaties and protocols with smaller neighbours.

The moot questions are will China allow its insecurities to drive more irrational responses or will we have the respite of dealing with a chastened China? The urgency to show gains and meet targets in the centenary year of CCP in 2021 and PLA in 2027 has already catalysed the ‘aggressive China’ policy. Major rollback is unlikely and will require Quad and many more collaborative endeavours to stymie the Chinese juggernaut, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

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In the Indian context, despite an over-kill by strategic experts, there is no clarity on the real aims of Chinese misadventures. Politically, it was probably to push down India in the Asian hierarchical order, where Chinese accept the next incumbent couple of pegs below them. In order to achieve such a hiatus, the aspiring claimant has to be administered regular doses of humiliation.

Unfortunately, China misread India respecting Chinese sensitivities, articulated in the Shangri-la dialogue by PM Modi, where he espoused the concept of a shared Pacific as weakness. China perceived Indian reticence on Quad and Wuhan spirit as signs of capitulation.

Militarily, it was diabolic exploitation of the ancient Chinese tack of ‘loot the house on fire.’ The pandemic aided timing, as even limited operations in high-altitude areas require preparation and logistical build-up. The truth is that sustained erosion of our dissuasion capability due to inadequate funding emboldened PLA. Another contributory factor has been the misplaced belief that China will remain focused on the economic build-up for another decade. This promoted the ‘Pak first’ policy, where also there has been an excessive reliance on the security domain with tardiness on other critical sociopolitical and economic drivers.

It is to the credit of the government that infrastructure projects in the border areas got enhanced impetus. However, new connectivities coupled with avoidable rhetoric on reclaiming Aksai Chin heightened Chinese anxieties. Bold rejection of BRI and RCEP fuelled Chinese angst and desire to teach India another lesson after 1962. Like Pakistan in 1965, China also probably surmised that with narrowing asymmetries, the window of opportunity is fast closing.

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Operationally, it was attempted application of Sun Tzu’s maxim of conquering without fighting. The process started with creeping incursions (described as transgressions), starting with Depsang (2013), Chumar (2014) and Doklam in 2017. It will be interesting to analyse the role of Gen Zhao Zhongqui, erstwhile Western Theatre Commander, who probably wanted to reorder LAC as a defining feather in his cap. Alas, the obstinate General didn’t foresee Indian resoluteness, making it a tragic swan song.

PLA utilised the familiar ploy of the diversionary fracas in Naqu La, in inconsequential Muguthang Valley (Sikkim). Coupled with physical incursions, Chinese unleashed multi-dimensional intimidation as part of three warfares. The hype on techno-asymmetry replete with swarms of drones, microwave oven and barbaric weapons has been part of this sinister plot.

It is to the credit of the current hierarchy, that hesitancy on overdue rebalancing, to Northern borders by repositioning 1 Corps and other formations have been overcome. It has spurred much-needed modernisation and initiatives in the Atmanirbhar defence production.

Indian tactical defiance at Galwan, operational brilliance in pre-emptive deployment on the Kailash range and unveiling of Tibetan (SFF) card has defined the current stalemate.

The Chinese will have to either find a face-saving exit or attempt another limited foray, maybe in the North East. Stalemate amounts to loss for the aggressor. The current reorganisation will further limit options in the kinetic domain.

While fiscal penalties for Indians are considerable, the transition from roving LAC management with minimum force to fixed deployment translates into similar costs for the PLA. It is time for the Chinese to realise that teaching lessons to aspiring and resolute India, is no longer possible. The sensible way forward is reasonable dialogue.

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Lt. Gen. K J Singh, PVSM, AVSM & Bar
Lt. Gen. K J Singh, PVSM, AVSM & Bar
Lt. Gen. K. J. Singh commanded the coveted Western Command one of Indian Army’s most active formations that positioned along the Pakistan and China borders besides being involved in counter terrorist operations. He was GOC of Sikkim Corps and also commanded Armored Division & first T-90 Brigade. He has served in counter insurgency areas of NE, J&K & Punjab and UN Peacekeeping in Angola. Gen K J Singh has been cited for bravery in Angola & commended by COAS and by the Eastern Army Commander (twice). After retiring from the Army Lt Gen K J Singh, served as Advisor, Government of Haryana; and is presently State Information Commissioner Haryana.


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