China, while seeking global hegemony, must support military expansionism and an aging population, with a contracting economy, in a deglobalising environment of falling exports, withering manufacturing, collapsing BRI and weak internal consumption. It portends an authoritarian China rapidly reverting to revisionism. Simultaneously, the Pakistan Army will continue to own a failed and bankrupt state whose existential identity of “Not Being India” constantly reinforces revisionism. A democratic India is destined to live with its revisionist neighbours in a friendless relationship. The India-Pakistan relationship is along known curves and slopes. However, a dramatic reappraisal is needed for the new Sino-Indian situation. With this in view a SWOT analysis of China was carried out in the first part of ‘Chini Kam’.
If the Wuhan virus is a watershed in global geopolitics, the Galwan incident is a watershed in Sino-Indian ties. In this environment, India should be prepared to handle China on its own. It has the military capability in the Himalayas and IOR as well as comprehensive potential otherwise to hold its own. Simultaneously, India must not hesitate to form alliances/relationships with other nations to deal with China, which is grossly violating a rules-based world order after dropping its “Invisibility Cloak” of peace. India must put its interests first and do what is best for its people in all cases. There is a need to stop appeasing China and deal with it firmly in a calculated manner.
Contrary to cultivated myths, Chinese history indicates cycles of rise and decline over the past century and a half. An aging China has peaked. It is now set to decline, hastened by its own virus. Isolation followed by decline is inevitable in the coming decade. Historically, an isolated China has always been troublesome. The stigma of the Wuhan virus and the grouse of perceived denial of its rightful place will invigorate its trouble-making capability. While the current crisis is foremost in everyone’s view, it will not end soon. It is just a starting point of a long haul ahead with “gloves off”. India needs to plan for this tectonic shift. Very importantly, the loss of face for China is going to be proportional to the length of this confrontation. Options being suggested here are for the inevitable long term. However some immediate action and pushback must be taken to ward off the bull from the China shop. We must also not lose sight of the fact that giving a bloody nose and stalemating China is a victory for India. Gun for that. Anything more is a bonanza.
China has embarked on this misadventure with a relativity logic. China may have weakened, but others have weakened more. That logic is slowly unravelling. Two key shifts are taking place. As per Der Spiegel, “Beijing is ruthlessly expanding its power. But resistance is growing around the world — and Germany will soon play a key role.” As per South China Morning Post, “ASEAN leaders are wary of putting all their eggs in the Chinese basket.” This adds to the stances of the US, UK, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and India. The degree of isolation is increasing. Continued confrontation with India will only enhance it. Reappearance/persistence of the virus anywhere will reinforce it. The military is in a two-front situation. It is with this background that we must consider the options. However, we must never forget that China, despite everything, remains a formidable opponent.
Internal: India has already conveyed that it will not back down. This signal must be continually reinforced and demonstrated. Dealing with China requires internal political consensus and unity. So far it is superficial. Unless internal solidarity is achieved, a unitary China will undermine us politically. Exposing proximity to China/ CCP competitively by political parties is its harbinger. A singular message to all political parties is – decide who is the enemy. Each other or across the Himalayas? In this connection I think the ruling party has the onus to take everyone along. The media has a role to play to develop this harmony. As of now selfgoals are being presided over by a TRP-driven media. India is underutilising the proven nuisance value of the Indian Media. It can get under the skin of the Chinese amazingly fast. Weaponise this potential. It will do well to whittle down Chinese influence, deflate their hyped-up image, and build positive national sentiment through influence ops. The Virus is great firepower against the Chinese. We are softpedalling it. We also need to develop internal stability by controlling the virus to revive our economy. Somehow that seems to have gone off the boil.
Tibet, Xinjiang, Gilgit and Baltistan: If China can use Pakistan and Nepal as catspaws and develop a string of pearls, why can we not return the compliment? High time we did so. Historically, China exercised suzerainty over Tibet and not sovereignty. The Tibet buffer separated our civilisations. If China can claim Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet which never existed even in imagination till 2006 and lay claim on the entire Galwan Valley now, India can revive Tibet and East Turkistan. There are many ways of doing it. Develop the old silk route. Raise the Uighur factor. An outreach to Gilgit and Baltistan will target three birds with one stone. Religion worries China. All it needs is political clarity and will. Start small but start. Combine it with Hong Kong and Taiwan, the potential is nuclear.
Civil Military Fusion: There is a dire necessity to develop civil military fusion. That is how the US developed into a superpower. That is what China is attempting to do. This needs political initiative. It is beyond the Indian military which cannot even procure weapons for itself. It must be an inter-ministerial thrust where the military is integrated with our space, nuclear and disruptive technology research, and development. As China relies more on 5G systems, we need to enhance our cyber capabilities as part of civil military fusion. The pity is that Indian talent is being exploited by the Western societies.
Soft Power: India has a huge reservoir of soft power — democracy, religion, culture, diversity, tourism et al. For unfathomable reasons we have underutilised it. The projection of Indian soft power has been ‘soft’. Often, we have used it against ourselves! It is time to deploy it in a planned and methodical manner.
Tactical Options: The Indian Army should continue to be firm and show clear offensive intent in dealing with the Chinese. It has the option of executing a quid pro quo incursion at a time and place of its own choosing since China does not have any major defenses constructed along the LAC. The fight can also be taken into the Chinese rear. Their buildup of mechanized forces leaves their tail vulnerable in Aksai Chin especially with the onset of winter. A lot of infrastructure in depth is on permafrost. A simple temperature inversion will put spokes in wheels. Innovation is the name of the game. Use General Winter intelligently. Overall we should not put pressure on field commanders as to what to do. Let them do their tasks and they will deliver.
Influence and Media Ops: Influence ops and media need synergy. For example, Chinese soldiers are conscripts who join the Army for post-service prospects. They lack combat experience. Exploit it. Their mental state will be weak. After Galwan it will be worse. Nothing like old-fashioned propaganda operations. Target their political commissars. Target families of PLA and increase anxiety levels. Penetrate Weibo and WeChat through Taiwan and Hong Kong. We need to expand our thinking.
CPEC: China has high stakes in the CPEC. I have always maintained that the CPEC is the third and weakest front of Pakistan. It can be targeted easily. It is two birds with one stone.
Capability Development: Infrastructure development must continue ceaselessly. In the Himalayas, the main fighting capability is Air Force, infantry, artillery, special forces and ISR with armour in a few areas. Focus on development of these capabilities to reach well into Tibet and be able to interdict the highways at a place of own choosing. A well-defined and publicised programme to dominate the IOR should be embarked upon. This includes regular exercises to be effective at choke points, enhancing capabilities on the A&N Islands, enhancing anti-submarine capabilities and so on. In the short term, pose a threat to China’s energy security and maritime trade unambiguously. There is angst that the Mountain Strike Corps raising has been stalled. However we have the capability to convert the existing strike corps into mountain capable reserves by a simple re-organisation of shedding the mechanised elements to pivot corps and equipping the balance with mountain capable artillery and infantry. It is internal and at no cost. Let us start thinking differently and not reinforce a costly planning failure.
Refocus on East Ladakh: In my opinion, India and the US should develop operational synergy wherein, India should focus on eastern Ladakh and the US should focus on western Pacific. A lot of lessons can be drawn from the present crisis for future implementation. A hammer and anvil approach will leave China at strategic X roads. If this idea is the core of the QUAD, then China is in real trouble. This strategy can be synergised today. It needs reciprocal visits by high-level military officials to PACOM and HQ CIDSS.
If we aim to be a global power, our diplomacy has a lot of work ahead. We need to redefine our narratives. ‘One China’ should remain a dream. Turfs to exploit are many — Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. In addition, leverage G7 plus, QUAD, India-Australia, US, Vietnam, and Japan ties. Cash in on the wariness of ASEAN. Develop defence and cooperation ties with South Korea. Stir up GilgitBaltistan. Revamp ties with Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Enhance military diplomacy quotient with our immediate neighbours. Nepal needs special attention. Regain Africa where we have traditionally deep ties. Limit Chinese influence in the UN and WHO. Pakistan needs special focus as always. Diplomatically raise issues concerning CPEC and the new Diamer Bhasha Project. Our diplomats have done an excellent job without being “Wolf Warriors”. Expand the diplomatic corps.
Principle: If the Chinese economy shrinks by an X percent, its focus will remain internal. While it is difficult to predict that X, India can contribute to it individually or as part of a group.
Leveraging Markets: India has the capability to leverage markets and weaponise trade. China is doing it blatantly with Australia. However it needs to be done sensibly. Some knee jerk reactions and public anger are good to convey a point. Such emotional responses have limits. Without viable alternatives, boycotting is only sloganeering. There are many aspects to leveraging trade. Imports from China must be reviewed holistically to reduce them with a layered approach on a need basis. For imports/ FMCG goods of other countries, local sourcing/ non-China sourcing can be made mandatory. In critical sectors like software apps and communications, Chinese goods must be excluded. All Chinese contracts can be reviewed. At an individual level, if I can buy one Chinese item less that is my contribution for the overall X. Every reduced penny counts.
Decoupling Benefit: 30% global decoupling from China in five years is realistic. India must derive its benefit. It will not happen unless a special drive is undertaken at state and national levels. This is the “1991 moment” for India again with a difference. Every business set up here is that much less for China. We have the knowhow to rope in businesses exiting China. After all, software and automotive majors have huge Indian hubs here for global markets. We need to leverage our own models and make a concerted effort. Go in for the big ones. Aim high.
Aatmanirbharta Abhiyan: Clear policy initiatives and directions to include ways, means and ends must be put in place with execution and monitoring mechanisms. Otherwise it will go the Make in India way to remain a slogan. This must be coupled with a concerted effort to close the Sino-Indian technology gap on a mission mode. Local industry bodies, economic and technology forums will have a huge role to play in all economic options and must be tapped. The bottom line is clear thinking and sustained execution.
The options outlined above are not original but a broad range which are available. They can be varied and expanded situationally. Some can start now some later. However the Galwan action has taught us a lesson. The Chinese can be beaten if we stand together and believe in ourselves not as Biharis, Punjabis, Sikhs or Thambis but as Indians. Let us do that. United as Indians.
Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology.