Thursday, 18 August, 2022
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Xi Jinping wants to be another Mao. He thinks conflict with India-US will boost his image

Instead of focusing on China's failing economy, Xi's strategy is to challenge the strongest global player (the US) and the strongest regional adversary (India).

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China appears determined to seek conflict with its two challengers — India at the regional level and the US at the global level. And it has been alternating between the two for the past few months.

China recently fired a number of medium-range ballistic missiles into the South China Sea, close to the Spratlys disputed islands, to challenge the United States’ supremacy in the Indo-Pacific. At the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, tensions with India prevail and both sides continue to engage in politico-military talks, which are not making any significant progress. If the confrontation continues, a military option cannot be ruled out as is evident from Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat’s recent statement.

And what’s driving China is its president Xi Jinping’s personal ambitions.

Xi is hoping to become another Mao. There were rumours recently of attempts to replace Xi. So, he appears to be a man in a hurry. There are reports that he may be reviving the old post of Mao, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). If this comes through, then he will formally don the fourth hat, that of Chairman CCP – portraying himself as the modern day Mao in the eyes of his people. It will help him in rooting out any opposition to his rule.

But to do so, XI Jinping must also be able to project himself as the undisputed global leader in the eyes of his people. To achieve that, Xi has embarked on a strategy to challenge the strongest global player (the US) and the strongest regional adversary (India).


Also read: IAF is key to India’s ‘deterrence by punishment’ plan against China. Now to wait for winter


Alternating between US and India

Instead of focusing on China’s falling economy and the well-being of its people as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Xi diverted his attention towards the Western theatre to extend his expansionist designs over India. Another reason could have been the lack of support to China by India in the row over the origin of the novel coronavirus and the unilateral action of abrogating Articles 370 and 35A that gave some autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. It undertook multiple encroachments in Eastern Ladakh in finger areas along the Pangong Tso, Hot Springs and Galwan by surreptitiously amassing troops in the garb of military exercise.

In April–May, following a row over the origin of the Covid-19 virus with the Trump administration, Xi Jinping had started fishing into the troubled waters of the South China Sea by undertaking a series of military actions.

First, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) conducted a 36-hour endurance exercise off the coast of Taiwan in April. The exercise was followed by PLA Navy’s aircraft carrier Liaoning and a convoy of five warships passing through the Miyako Strait. Taiwan responded by scrambling jets and warships to thwart the Chinese manoeuvers. During March 2020, there were reports of the PLAAF’s first-ever night mission.

Second, according to US defence secretary Mark Esper, China threatened a Philippine Navy ship, sank a Vietnamese fishing boat and intimidated other nations in the region from fishing and engaging in offshore oil and gas development. The US responded with two back-to-back freedom of navigation operations (FNOPS) in the South China Sea to boost the confidence of countries in the region. Another reason for Xi to undertake these operations was probably to divert the attention of the international community from the Hong Kong agitations against the Chinese imposition of national security law over Hong Kong.


Also read: The truth of Galwan must come out, unlike the 1965 battle with Pakistan in Khemkaran


Both US and India responded in kind

As has been the customary response, face-offs took place between Indian and Chinese troops but this time the Chinese violated standing border management agreements between the two countries. China launched an unprovoked attack on Indian troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed in action. According to the Indian government, the Chinese suffered “more than double” the number of Indian casualties.

By firing into the South China Sea DF 21 D and DF 26, the two medium-range ballistic missiles capable of destroying large aircraft carriers, Beijing is trying to convey a strategic message to the US to lay off from China’s competing claims over the disputed islands in the South China Sea and Taiwan.

On 31 August, the 3rd Fleet of the Indo-Pacific Command concluded its biannual military exercises. Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Scott D. Conn has said that the US will not be deterred by Chinese actions because it has 38 ships on sail in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the South China Sea. In a show of further resolve to deter Xi, the US administration has also banned 24 Chinese companies from doing business in the US on the grounds that they had contributed to China’s controversial island development in the South China Sea.


Also read: What really matters to China when it comes to the Quad. It’s not the security pacts


A united front is needed

At the global level, China is the undisputed number two power and seems to be testing the resolve of the US. It wishes to extend its claim up to the nine-dash line and thereby diminish American influence and subdue regional players such as Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia as also assimilate Taiwan, which it considers as its own territory. Similarly, if it subdues India, it unequivocally conveys to the countries in the region to tow the Chinese line.

Who and what can play the spoilsport for Xi? The axis powers led by China and supported by North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Russia (?) and a few smaller countries in the African continent have to be confronted with a united global alliance of like-minded countries with common international interest preferably led by the US and supported by Japan, Australia, India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel, France, the UK, Malaysia, Philippines and Malaysia. Militarisation of a QUAD-like organisation will become a necessity if the current behaviour of the Chinese continues.

A swing factor in the above calculus is Russia. As of now, it appears heavily leaning towards the Chinese side. It needs to be either won over by India to safeguard its interests or at least requested to remain neutral. Suffice it to say that Russia needs to be managed delicately.


Also read: India’s electronic warfare units are archaic, but camouflage, concealment can blunt PLA


What needs to be done

India needs a powerful maritime force. In order to be a significant player in this new international formulation, the Indian armed forces must be able to respond from Malacca Strait to the Horn of Africa. But to do so, our maritime capability has to be enhanced and upgraded at the earliest. Two aircraft carriers with strong strategic triad in place would be essential. This will require resources and time, both of which are at premium as far as India is concerned, indicating the need for strategic partners with active intervention commitment.

There is also a need for an anti-China global economic cooperation. Economically, too, various countries in the blocs opposed to China must cooperate to offset the over-dependence on China. It is easier said than done but not impossible. Certain resources such as rare earths are only found in abundance in China. We need to do a detailed economic study to make this alternate alignment possible under a reorganised global grouping. The United Nations may need to be reorganised and revamped.

India’s strategic autonomy is unlikely to be compromised. The steps suggested here may, at some level, appear to weaken our diplomatic policy of strategic autonomy but if articulated carefully, we may be able to manoeuvre through it without compromising our sovereignty. Also, these steps must be taken contingent to Chinese actions, which lack  accommodation of other countries’ national interests and disregard rule-based international order. A big question mark in the suggested approach is the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election. Hence, we need to see through the results of the US election to firm in on any future national security strategy.

Lt Gen Dushyant Singh, PVSM, AVSM (Retd) is former Commandant Army War College, former GOC 11 Corps, former Chief of Staff Eastern Command (Kolkata), and former IG (Ops) National Security Guard. Views are personal.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Indians are good in talking and bullshit on TV which cannot resolve any real world problem. India is economically bankrupt and it has zero support from any neighbour. Its time Indian try to think and introspect a bit. Number of people doesn’t matter if you don’t have quality. India with its current racist and uneducated bjp is responsible for this crisis. And its lesson that if you put idiots and assholes at the top,you will suffer and face misery

    • Agree with you fully.

      Indians over estimate their ability, for face saving. Many are delusional. The BJP is indeed responsible for this crisis.

  2. I am neutral observer from South East Asia.what I am seeing is india trying to take advantage of china and trumps usa INFIGHTING.

    • ‘india trying to take advantage of china and trumps usa INFIGHTING.’

      India today is run by delusional ‘Hindu nationalists’ called the BJP who are more into infighting within India. They are into creating Hindu-Muslim conflict to win elections.

      They are not clever enough to take advantage of ‘China and trumps usa INFIGHTING.’

  3. I am neutral observer from South East Asia.what I am seeing is opportunistic india trying to take advantage of china and trumps usa INFIGHTING.

  4. If to take on China effectively, what is required is strong will by India. And that is lacking. Suppose if there is war between China and US, Japan may side US, Russia may be neutral. But I doubt if India has the guts to join US led front. At the most we will preach restrain from both sides.

    • There will be no war between the US and China – both are nuclear powers. The US fights only weaker powers.

  5. It wasn’t just the Congress. Who met Xi 16 times in 4 years hoping to get investments from CHina ?
    Modi made the same mistakes as all the others.
    As far as aggressive moves go, UPA was just as active as BJP:
    Guess when the 4 forward airfields in Ladakh were operationalised ? Between 2008 and 2013
    Guess when the Atal tunnel under the Rohtang Pass was started ? 2010.
    Guess when the Daulet Beg Oldie road construction started ? before 2013
    Guess when two Mountain Dvns for NE were raised with 30000 fighters ? Between 2008 and 2011.
    Guess when SU 30 fighters were deployed at forward airfields in NE ? Before 2013.
    But guess who is taking the credit for all this?
    You guessed right.

  6. Finally some sense is dawning in India on how to handle China with a muscular policy and diplomacy. Sucessive congress governments in the centre was prostrating before Chinese praising their civilization looking for peanuts to be thrown across the border in the name of foreign investment for producing cheap diapers, toys and other useless chinese goods that was only draining the small and medium sector companies in India. Instead of developing local talent and resources for such items the lazy bunch of economic crooks were importing everything strengthing china and weakening India in the process. I can understand if you are importing high value sophisticated items but for that you have to go to USA or Russia or Europe not China. We do not need toys, ganapati idols imported from China. Shame on you India if you don’t buy your own products and then complain we have enemy staring at the border. Better late than never India should learn this lesson that India China is not bhai-bhai and Nehru idea is wrong and obsolete. Stand up and stand tall or perish. If you allow Chinese to come in they will be near the TN border soon and there won’t be a country to keep.

    • ‘Sucessive congress governments in the centre was prostrating before Chinese praising their civilization looking for peanuts to be thrown across the border in the name of foreign investment for producing cheap diapers, toys and other useless chinese goods that was only draining the small and medium sector companies in India.’

      Modi was touching Xi’s feet, he visited China 16 times, he stood with folded hands for FDI (for Gujarat). Modi coined the cringeworthy acronym ‘STREANH’ (he meant STRENGTH) to describe Indo-China relationship.

      Whether it is Congress or BJP, it is clear Hindus cannot compete with China. You can fight within India against minorities, but that does not help you with China.

  7. All the 5 Security Council permanent members, America, England, France, Russia n China have a plan to Finish India, Economically n Militarily. America n China Trade War or Biological War is nothing but indirectly Finishing India totally, America being the Friend n China being the Enemy. Modiji should have been Neutral in International Affairs not siding fully with America, India should tilt towards China n Russia will really support us. Modiji n Jaishankar’s foreign policy has failed. It will cost India dearly.

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