If focused upon systematically, China will be auto contained. So far the world has chosen to overlook them. We fell for ‘One China’ when there was none. We fell for ‘One China Two Systems’ when it was promised and violated. Time to change equations.
When Indian and Tibetan flags were waved at the funeral of Company Leader Nyima Tenzin of Special Frontier Force who died during the Kailash Range operations, there was widespread belief that ‘Tibet’ issue will be leveraged. It was short-lived due to haziness in Indian thinking, absolute clarity in China and a return to resigned helplessness amongst Tibetans worldwide. The issue has morphed significantly from the last century and needs deep understanding of new issues and must be played with finesse. Undue military action or rebellious violence will end any action being snuffed out like the Khampa Rebellion in the 1950s. Relevant issues pertaining to India, China and Tibet need to be brought into focus for India to chart out a future course of action. In the first part we examined the legality of Tibet being part of China and Chinese designs in Tibet. In the second part various facets of Tibet were examined. In this third and concluding part we will see what India needs to do.
China poses the most potent threat to India since Independence due to many reasons. China wants to settle the border by force on its terms. It is ramping up PLA to put India in its place and show ‘Who is the Boss’. It wants to strangulate India by ‘Insidious and Indirect’ moves through our neighbourhood and interfering in our local affairs. It is playing a high stake expansionist game for global domination by ambushing the US from the top and hammering down Indian rise. Lastly it is now posing a major environmental and ecological threat to India through dams on Brahmaputra in Tibet. Solidification of Tibet is now a stated programme which will have a spillover effect in India. Indian sovereignty is under multiple threat. Can it get worse?
It is no brainer that China has to be made to look inward to rein it in. It is also well-known that Tibet can tie up PRC and the PLA in knots. To do that India must take the lead. India has not done so for many reasons. Initially it was weak. Later, the post 62 trauma. Further down we made a peace from a position of weakness of with China to fend off Pakistan. Then we fooled ourselves like the rest of the world that China will play fair and square. We have now reached a stage that unless we show China its place; we are in very deep trouble. As a nation we need to stop dithering. We also need to realise that our armed forces need greater leverage to keep China at bay. The normal holier than thou supine Indian approach will not work anymore.
Sensible idiocy indicates that if we have to stand up to China as a nation our political class has to get its act together. That is primary. The Prime Minister must exhibit statesmanship to build a political consensus to take on China through Tibet. While many political parties might not agree on other reforms or the farm laws with the government, they do not have a choice in not going together to fight a national enemy at a time of dire crisis. Political parties cannot throw India’s ace of spades to the wolves anymore. Conversely, if we are to play this deck smart – now is the opportune time when the world opinion is against China. If our political leadership cannot get together, and grasp the moment, they will have failed India.
Fundamentally we need to do a double bluff on China as China has done to the world. When China was growing economically, everyone expected it to change and adhere to international norms. It repeatedly kept saying that it will not change. It has expected everyone to play by its rules. Everyone thought China was bluffing. How wrong were we! It is time to let China know that there are red cards. If it does not heed the signal, serve the red cards and force it to back off. All this will require a slow build up. It will not happen overnight. Everything need not be done immediately. It will be a long haul for India. It should be a slow bleed for China.
Strength respects strength. China respects strength. China has tested Indian strength in Doklam and in eastern Ladakh. Despite its initial, bluster and threats, it has been militarily stymied. Our military pushback has been followed by economic and digital strikes with more stonewalling in the offing. The message that India will not back off is unambiguous. Very importantly India has made some significant diplomatic moves regionally and globally. We have also said No Thank You to BRI and RCEP despite an open invitation to join the bandwagon at any time of our choosing. This is much more than anyone else has said or did to China. We just need to remember that Obama’s US blinked and looked the other way when China was building artificial islands in the South China Sea. Incidentally, China recognises that India is cocking a snook at it. An antagonistic rising power along its border is not in China’s best interest just as an aggressive one is not in ours. The Chinese diplomatic, media, political and military responses to India are far more subdued and different from earlier days. Even Global Time has toned down! Their article ‘India changes attitude toward multilateral mechanisms for its global ambition’ conveys a lot.
It is the political, diplomatic and socio cultural issues which will make China look inward in Tibet and elsewhere. Economic issues come later and military issues last. The spear head of any action against China is to show political intent. Tibet opens the path to many Chinese sensitivities: “One China’, ‘One China Two Systems’, Illegal usurpation, human rights, Religious matters, Democracy, water, environmental issues, and labour camps to mention a few. Other political issues which create cacophony are the Wuhan virus, prestigious events (like the Olympic games), negating Chinese high ticket initiatives and so on. When all these issues are questioned and suitable narratives built, the legitimacy of CCP gets questioned. It will have serious ramifications to the hyper ambitious leadership of Xi Jinping and his cohorts. They will react insensibly, make mistakes and give openings. Mutatis mutandis, the tip of the spear head will be Influence Operations. If Influence Operations commence, issues like untrustworthiness, corruption and et al will add to the weight. Alongside Influence Operations, there is a need for a good feedback system and intelligence operations. It can be done.
The Dalai Lama, the Central Tibet Authority (CTA), Tibetans and, their diaspora—all together form the centre of gravity. Together they have to dominate the hearts and minds of each other, the cities and the country side to make the Han and PRC unwelcome. They are the foci to enable networking with other instabilities and fissures in China. There are many methods and avenues to do so and not many of them have to be violent. In fact the spiritual strength of religion gives Tibetans the same power of ahimsa and satyagraha. Mobilisation of people will be the key factor. Their role in building public and world-wide opinion will be critical. They have the potential of flying under the PRC censorship radar. In the recent past India has side-lined Tibetans due to strange and myopic geopolitical calculations. Those have been proven to be false. The CTA will be the main pathway to take the issue into the guts of Tibet and beyond. A major issue of political consequence in future will be the Dalai lama succession which needs to be pre-empted with a plan.
India must adopt a ‘Needles in Haystacks’ policy. Build needles in the haystack called Tibet. Roll this haystack with other haystacks—Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. Team up with like-minded countries to build more needles into other haystacks. Ensure these needles move between haystacks. China can keep searching for all the needles in all the haystacks while getting a continuous acupuncture. India has good access to three critical haystacks—Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang. Some needles can be sent into the mainland through religion. Others through democracy and other means. However, India cannot play this game alone. Tibet alone cannot deliver. It will take a collective effort through all instabilities to contain China. At the same time, without India and Tibet nothing can be achieved. The collective effort could be based along with US, Australia, Japan, the Quad or the EU. It is not a grand coalition against China that is needed but simple coordinated action such that all vulnerabilities are poked in the eye simultaneously.
The standard thinking is that anything related to Tibet is military action. While there will be an undeniable necessity of military action, it is not needed to be overt all the time. Gray zone hybrid actions should be considered. These activities must be in depth. Care should be taken to ensure that border areas destabilisation is avoided. If Afghanistan was the ‘Bear Trap’ for USSR, Tibet and other instabilities must be the ‘Dragon Trap’ for China. At the same time there needs to be shift in conventional thinking from being defensive in own territory to being defensive in PLA held territory. The battle field needs to be deepened into the PLA rear. A very important part of keeping India’s adversaries in check is targeting CPEC. I have always been of the opinion that CPEC is the third front of Pakistan. It should be targeted unequivocally in POK and elsewhere. After all whatever China and Pakistan are doing in Gilgit and Baltistan and the rest of POK is being done in our territory. Legally we are at full liberty to drive out intruders. We must also do everything in our capacity to stop China from undertaking environmentally destabilising projects.
The US has already appointed a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues to protect the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of Tibetans; and to press for their human rights to be respected. He is to engage Tibetan leaders and international partners and experts to address these issues. The US has enacted the Tibetan Policy and Support Act to reaffirm the right of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. This should be built upon. India should start coordination with the US on Tibet and other issues regarding PRC as part of India-US strategic partnership. In my opinion, India and the US should be the leads in the ‘Needles in Haystacks’ policy outlined earlier. The outcomes will be significant.
Very specifically what should India do to set the ball rolling? Just give more “bhaav” (importance) to Dalai Lama and the entire Tibetan diaspora. Things will get rolling from there. Add a dash of cartography by publishing maps which exclude Tibet from PRC. If PRC can claim Arunachal Pradesh as south Tibet, based on religious issues, India must claim entire Mansarovar Lake area as western Uttarakhand. In addition international and national conferences, dialogues, academic discussions and papers questioning PRC occupation of Tibet and Mansarovar Lakes being Indian in respected national and international platforms, even if it is in an individual capacity will also help in spurring the government. India has not used the power of Bodh Gaya and the world Buddhist community. A major part of signalling will be building up ‘Tibet Specific’ conventional and non-conventional military capability. Overall, actions should speak louder than words. It will not be India which will tame the PRC and CCP but Indians who can do it. In the same breadth, it should not be the Chinese people who are the target but the diabolic Chinese system which is proving to be a threat beyond imagination to humanity. Just for information, China’s combative nationalists see a world turning their way as per a New York Times article. So let us not be blinkered. It will be a tough and long haul. So be it.
Lastly, issues highlighted in this article are not the be all and end all of thinking. In fact they are only the beginning. The methods out lined are only indicative. One can get more imaginative. The major issue is that we need to girdle up and start looking at a national reality. India should not be a chicken with closed eyes to wish the fox away.
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. His other articles can be read on www.gunnersshot.com.
What should India do to set the ball rolling? Just give more “bhaav” (importance) to Dalai Lama and the entire Tibetan diaspora. Things will get rolling from there. Add a dash of cartography by publishing maps which exclude Tibet from PRC. If PRC can claim Arunachal Pradesh as south Tibet, based on religious issues, India must claim the entire Mansarovar Lake area as western Uttarakhand.