Monday, 16 May, 2022
HomeOpinionIndia must counter China’s muscle-flexing with its own shock-and-awe displays

India must counter China’s muscle-flexing with its own shock-and-awe displays

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Since the goal of China’s ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ is to win, India and the free world need to find a resolve inside before expending energies outside. 

The games Beijing plays, it plays initially in the mind. A recent example highlights perfectly the mind games underway, in a classic Jekyll-and-Hyde manner.

The Chinese foreign minister sounded cosy when he declared, “The Chinese dragon and Indian elephant must not fight each other but dance with each other… If China and India are united, one plus one is not equal to two but eleven.”

Touching stuff.

Soon after, the Indian ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, in an interview to Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post, declared, “The Chinese military changed the status quo in the Doklam area and therefore India reacted to it.”

Sincere stuff, but Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying didn’t see it that way. “Donglang (Doklam) belongs to China because we have historical conventions…China’s activities there are within our sovereign rights…Last year, thanks to our concerted efforts and our wisdom, we properly resolved this issue,” she declared, not willing to even share credit for a bilateral process.

There is a background to this pattern, and it begins with recent history. The Opium Wars, 1839–1842 and 1856–1860, shattered the Chinese sense of self to a degree that it continues to carry a scar. China has internalised the European colonial encounter unlike any other country, to the extent that it has become a mission to redeem the ancestors. The Qing dynasty may have been terminally ailed by the Opium Wars, but it is now the celestial duty of the Communist Party of China to remake a 21st-century ‘Middle Kingdom’.

So, in the past days, there has been a sinister train arrival in Beijing, a 40-ship parade in disputed waters, a tariff war with the United States, redrawing boundaries in the high Himalayas, Jekyll-and-Hyde statements, and constitutional tweaks for a life-term that ended the search for an emperor.

Of course, there is the awkward case of a ‘Heavenly Palace’, Tiangong-1, the Chinese space lab falling out of the skies. But that can be ignored when all else is slowly settling into place for an anointment achingly due for more than 150 years.

The Chinese state, whether devoted to Confucius or chairman Mao, correctly analysed that in order to secure a reborn Middle Kingdom, it was critical to dominate the periphery too, not just its own citizenry. This conclusion was arrived at long before Beijing had the means to implement its security project.

Once the broad parameters of the project were designed, all energies were invested in achieving the means to implement it. The design process was, of course, first in the mind. And the efficacy of that success, in the mind, can be gauged from the supine way the world treats Beijing’s expansion.

The first explicit suggestion of the project was a book by two serving colonels of the People’s Liberation Army, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, published in 1999. The Chinese translation of its title is ‘Warfare beyond bounds’, though it is better known by its English version, ‘Unrestricted Warfare’. It is essential reading for all those interested in understanding the Chinese mind, and how it has planned its future, learning from its past. The essence of which can be grasped from the following:

“Warfare is now escaping from the boundaries of bloody massacre, and exhibiting a trend towards low casualties, or even none at all, and yet high intensity. This is information warfare, financial warfare, trade warfare, and other entirely new forms of war, new areas opened up in the domain of warfare. In this sense, there is now no domain which warfare cannot use, and there is almost no domain which does not have warfare’s offensive pattern.”

Once Beijing has decided all domains are kosher, every effort is made to operate across the spectrum, as vividly explained almost 20 years back. Steps taken over the last 60 years or so point only in one direction, of completing the project no matter how long it takes. The indulgence of the world enables success for the project, because it doesn’t understand the functioning of the Chinese mind. And the success of the project is directly proportionate to the efficiency of the mind games being played by Beijing.

In 2017, trade between India and China was worth more than $84 billion, of which about $16 billion were exports from the elephant to the dragon. Unequal certainly, but just the way Beijing would like. Any attempted discussions at correcting the balance will be met by characteristic nods, and not much else. Millennia back it was the other way, when India was exporting ideas to China, and not much was coming from that direction. Now, in the age of Xi Jinping’s ‘Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’, 14 commandments from the emperor-designate himself, goal posts will keep shifting until the new Middle Kingdom project has achieved its purpose. Since the goal of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ is to win, India and the free world need to find a resolve inside before expending energies outside.

The first of Xi’s commandments declares that the Chinese Communist Party must have leadership over all forms of work in the country, and the 10th says strengthen national security. So, muscle-flexing, whether in Doklam or the 40-ship parade in the South China Sea, is shock-and-awe, Beijing style. India and the free world need only conduct their own shock-and-awe, for a bully is ultimately weak in the mind.

Manvendra Singh is editor-in-chief of Defence & Security Alert. He is a BJP MLA in Rajasthan, and a former member of Parliament’s standing committee on defence.

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  1. All one can say is, We should be realistic, pragmatic. The 4 : 1 asymmetry in the size of the economies is a fact of life. It has developed over a forty year period, when the two countries adopted different economic orthodoxies. China’s trek to greatness started with exports of garments, shoes, toys, which we reserved for the small scale sector. Unsurprising that China now spends four times as much on defence as well, although its rivalry is really with the US. It has apparently only two brigades based in Tibet. 2. Ms Jyoti Malhotra carried a sobering column recently. A senior diplomat told her, India’s sphere of influence in South Asia is now history. SAARC is lying comatose, due to India – Pakistan hostility. It may not be a bad idea to invite China to join it and to attempt a more harmonious reset, what some have called the forging of a new new modus vivendi. 3. One lacks the distinguished columnist’s expertise in strategic matters. Difficult to judge if China wants to conquer the world. India has both nuclear and conventional deterrence in place, so it is not that we would place our vital interests at risk by engaging more constructively with China. Whether it was the tense standoff at Dokalam or talk of fighting – and winning – a two and a half front war, that is not the way forward.

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