Do not trouble the trouble until the trouble troubles you. This is common sense and not Sun Tzu. I suppose that is why the Chinese have not heard of it. At Galwan they did trouble the trouble and they have ended up with more trouble than they have bargained for. Despite all their lies, deception, attempting to change facts on ground, disregard for a rules-based order, presenting themselves as an injured party and more, no one believes them since everyone knows the truth. They have got a taste of what India can mete out to them. They will get more if they continue to ask for it. Ladakh is not South China Sea and India is not a Vietnamese fishing boat which can just be run over.
I will not get into the intricacies of the face-off incident at Galwan. There is an overload of information about that. There is live action going on. The situation is tense between two nuclear powers at loggerheads. This is a wider assessment of how the Chinese cards are stacked. At the outset, China has miscalculated at each step and achieved results just opposite to what it set out to do. In this sequence, the Galwan clash is a watershed event. If corona was the Chinese Chernobyl, the Galwan incident is like inserting enriched Uranium rods into the reactor. From here to criticality is a matter of time. After that, who knows?
The situation on the Indian front is ugly. While there were plenty of reasons for China to undertake a premeditated widespread offensive against India from Sikkim to Ladakh using Pakistan and Nepal as its catspaws, it has played a high-stake hand. Fundamentally it has attempted to shut its far Western ‘Rear Door’ in a preemptive offensive when the sea facing Eastern ‘Front Door’ is still intact due to weakness in the US and incoherent global strategic response. It planned this misadventure in late April. China embarked on it on 5-6 May as a low-cost low threshold, muscle flexing, demonstrative and non-tactical operation. Its strategy was Belligerent War Avoidance using classic inner lines. It has not worked. It has hit the Indian Wall. As matters stand tensions have heightened and thresholds are fast rising. This is no longer a low-cost affair. There are heavy casualties on both sides. China has not disclosed the numbers in its typical secretive manner. When it does, it will like its virus numbers — vastly underreported. Its attempt to obfuscate and alter facts has fallen flat. Both armies have mobilized and built up. Suddenly, China is in a situation that it cannot militarily force the issue across the Himalayas. It does not have the strength to do so. Any reinforcements to ratchet up the stakes must come from the mainland. It will be equally matched by India. That will open the East Coast! More importantly China might have to dip into reserves which are meant for internal control. This rod is highly enriched.
The flareup with India will remain heightened and long drawn. In attempting to tie India down on its land borders China will achieve the opposite effect. It will force India to relook at this dormant border through a different lens. China has unlocked its vulnerable rear door inadvertently. Xinjiang, Tibet, Shaksgam Valley and CPEC are waiting to be exploited in the long term. This line action can start alongside the present situation. Incidentally, the longer this situation, the greater the problem for China. Its troops are not available for other situations. By the way have you noticed — all that ‘Wolf Warriorism’ has suddenly disappeared from Chinese Diplomacy! They are playing things down.
What is the situation in the South China Sea? Three US aircraft carriers have entered the area. They are going to pivot around Taiwan, which in my opinion is the fourth unsinkable aircraft carrier. Against this formidable force the Chinese have one recently operationalised aircraft carrier and a yet to be operational carrier. Total outmatch. Despite this, the Chinese are still carrying out some aggressively dicey air manoeuvres. One of these days an incident will occur, and they will get their comeuppance in the East Coast also. Regionally, there is no succour for China. Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Singapore, and S Korea are all victims of Chinese aggression and Salami Slicing tactics. They will push back at the slightest opportunity. Indications from them point that way. Taiwan and Hong Kong are hot thorns in the Chinese flesh. Any day the front door might go on fire. One is seeing a hammer and anvil at play. Where is the hammer and where is the anvil? Ladakh or South China Sea? Take your pick. This rod is getting enriched as days go by.
Where is our Chinese virus? It has either jumped from Wuhan to Beijing through Norwegian salmon or taken the direct route. Does not matter. It has hit Beijing and forced the typical draconian Chinese lockdown in large parts of the city and countryside. There is a pattern emerging. We will continue to see an outbreak of about a hundred odd cases in some part of the country. China, like a cat on a hot tin roof will jump and stomp that outbreak by extensive testing and draconian lockdowns. Then another outbreak will start somewhere. Another cycle will begin. There will be a perpetual lockdown somewhere or the other. Compare this with other countries. They might have suffered but have learnt to live with the virus and continue life. They will eventually recover faster and stronger. China has used draconian communist methods against a very democratic and bipartisan Virus, which does not differentiate its masters from others. It will extract its pound of Chinese flesh over a longer period at greater expense. I have said earlier that the longer this virus lasts, the more difficult it will be for China and its economy, internal politics, geopolitics, and diplomacy to recover. My views are reinforced. The longer the virus lasts, the longer the world will remember Wuhan and Chinese bungling, complicity, delayed response, aggression, censorship, greedy mask diplomacy, wet markets, pangolins, and bats. This stigma is for life. This rod is weapon grade and highly enriched. It could push China into super criticality.
Who wants Chinese global leadership? Barring some parts of Africa, South America, Serbia, Pakistan, North Korea and some parts of Italy, the China story is unraveled. One sees Russia also being evasively neutral. The G7 Plus, QUAD, Five Eyes Intelligence etc are bad news for China and they are gaining strength. The sentiment in the US is steely across the board and it is anti-Chinese. In the forthcoming presidential election there is a good chance that President Trump and the Democratic contender Joe Biden will outdo each other in their anti-China plans. Let us also not forget that the US is putting in place a denial regime encompassing educational opportunities for Chinese, operation of Chinese firms, technology control, banning flights from China, restricting access to financial systems, visa restrictions on Chinese and many more measures to hurt China. US resolve and ability to bounce back from disasters is phenomenal. History has shown that every time the US is hit by a disaster it has come back stronger. Analyze the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, attack on World Trade Center and Lehman’s Brothers initiated global meltdown. Counting out the US post this pandemic will only be foolish by China and many more. Where does China stand geopolitically? Isolated. Fourth rod under fast enrichment.
Economically things are not exactly rosy. Exports are under shock therapy. Imports are down indicating low consumption. Growth is staring at negative zones. Factories are losing orders. CPEC and BRI? Almost collapsing. The alternate Health and Digital Silk Roads are merely sops. The Made in China 2025 plan stands derailed. Yuan as international tender? Even Cambodia, a Chinese beneficiary has continued with the US Dollar and said no to Yuan! Mask industry? Collapsed. Unemployment and job situation are grim. People are working even at ¼th of their original salaries. Internal consumption — weak and going down. There is another reality. DeGlobalisation, decoupling and relocation of industry and supply chains will happen. It could be around 30% or more in the next five years. The Indian push back will be especially hard. Take any index. It is down. If China had displayed a better attitude and been less predatory, there could have been a huge surplus dividend. China has killed its own dream. China might not collapse. However as things stand and with the current trajectory, Chinese economy might not overwhelm as hitherto fore. This fifth rod is unpredictable but might catalyse other rods in enriching them.
The overall picture is that China has a Navy which is hemmed in the South China Sea. PLA cannot force the issue against India. The Virus is active in the center. Its geopolitics and diplomacy are not working. Its economy is misfiring. Internal tensions could surface and spill over soon. The Chinese are stretched and under pressure. If this continues, they will reach criticality faster than anticipated. If they do not, there will be loss of face internally.
So where does it leave the current Sino Indian Equation? Our PM has made a clear statement. We will not blink. The Galwan incident is overshadowing the limited disengagement which was underway. The mobilsed forces have even staged forward. Will we see de-escalation or escalation? Depends on the next few days. However my feeling is that we are in for the long haul. In this period we must expect Chinese Propaganda, Threats, Psychological Warfare, Twisted Legalities, Violation of Agreements, Altering Facts, Lies and Deceit. China has played its hand and it is our turn now. We need to leverage to get back to status quo ante as of 04 May. That must be led politically. Our response must be politically firm since China has been conducting this entire operation politically. A whole nation approach is the need of the hour. The Indian Armed Forces, in the vanguard, have upheld the honour nation repeatedly. I have full faith that they will deliver again. India does not want armed conflict with China. However if it is thrust on us, China will get more than a bloody nose.
What are the options available to India? In my last article I did mention some options. The gallant and brave action of 16 Bihar and the nearby Gunners at Galwan have opened our options further. What is the worstcase option for China? India opening the old silk route with all its insidious implications and a resurgent US establishing an Island base in South China Sea. That is now on the table and could be a reality in the long term. If we do not do that it will be a wasted sacrifice by Col Babu and all those who laid down their lives at Galwan defending India. We owe it to them. We owe it to them to also to weaponise ourselves. If each of us spend a rupee less in buying Chinese items that will be a rupee well saved to honour our gallant soldiers. It is up to us – the people of India to push back against China. In between these options there are a range of options in the political, diplomatic, military, and economic spheres. That will come in my next article.
In conclusion, there is something fundamental. Everyone says that China takes a long term civilisational view and is always strategic in approach. That is a myth. In the past century there are four distinct periods where China has changed course from Chiang kai Shek’s Nationalism, to Mao’s Revolutionism, to Deng’s Consolidation to Xi’s Revisionist Expansionism. There is no evidence that China derives its strategy from the Middle Kingdom. Which civilisation are we talking of? The last generation Chinese Communists led by Mao revised and jettisoned every facet of Chinese civilisation. The current generation communists have not revitalized the Chinese civilisation which was inclusive. They have done exactly the opposite by incarcerating minorities and promoting Han nationalism. They have simply been overtaken by myopic greed to become a superpower at any cost ever. Ever since the corona has made its appearance in Wuhan, they are in some illusion that this is a golden opportunity to attain their dreams in double quick time ignoring the world or a rules-based order. All they have achieved is to put themselves in a nuclear reactor about to go critical. Why are the Chinese committing strategic hara kiri? Ask the Chinese! They are suddenly realising that they were never ten feet tall.
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