Modified version published in Free Press Journal on 27 July 2020 : https://epaper.freepressjournal.in/c/53760473
- Sun Weidong, the Chinese Ambassador to India on July 11, 2020 called for the two countries to have strategic dialogue, enhance mutual trust and shun suspicion and friction in bilateral relations. It reminds of the carrot being dangled post the stick in the form of Galwan incident. Several days have passed since this statement was made but we are yet to see any substantial progress in the disengagement process. The Indian Army is preparing for a long haul and hot winter and rightly so as the mutual trust between the two countries has plummeted to a level from where retrieving the situation will need dramatic reciprocity by China. Once bitten twice shy, India can ill afford to once again fall in to the trap of the dragon. Lack of significant progress in the disengagement and de-induction process has left us with no choice but to work with friendly countries of the region, US, Japan, and Australia to deter the Chinese challenge. The era of neutrality is passé. Cut to the statement of our External Affairs Minister of July 23, 2020 during the India Ideas Summit with US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, “The US must go beyond the alliances it has been familiar with and work in a multipolar world. …. India and the US are the oldest and most prosperous democracies with common stakes in the Indo – Pacific.” Probably it is the first time when an Indian Foreign Minister has been so explicit in his orchestration of taking sides with the US.
- China is known to think in concentric circles. The current Chinese activity is clearly aimed to expands its concentric circle to encompass the East China Sea and South China Sea and in the west along the coasts of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Iran. The recent agreement with Iran is an attempt to expand this concentric circle of influence and power to the world’s most strategic maritime choke point, the Gulf of Hormuz. The partnership, detailed in an 18-page proposed agreement, would vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. The deal would make way for about $400 billion worth of Chinese investments into Iran’s key sectors, such as energy and infrastructure, over the next 25 years. In return China will get unhindered access to cheaper Iranian oil to satiate its burgeoning demand for energy and base facilities in Chabahar which till recently was going to be the gateway for India to secure its interests in Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian Republics. In one stroke China has killed two birds with one stone. It has severely restricted the Indian design of a secure connectivity with Afghanistan as also reduced the influence of the US in the region which till recently enjoyed monopoly in the Persian Gulf. The grand design of isolating Iran by US has taken a severe blow by the China – Iran agreement. So the emerging geo-political space appears China centric with seamless partnership of nations from east to west. The central land mass of the world comprising Pakistan – Central Asian Republics – a China leaning Russia (although reluctantly) – Pakistan and now Iran are all acquiescing to the wishes of China. If we add to this geo-political picture the growing extra regional influence of the Chinese in African, European and South American continents through its economic investments the outlook becomes even more formidable. Is China putting into place a geo – strategy of great geo-political thinker Mac Kinder which states that power flows from the centre of the earth by adopting strategies enunciated by Sun Tzu. The ancient scholar of warfare has stated that “The supreme art of war is to win it without fighting.” The BRI and money power appear to be the primary tools of economic cum military coercive diplomacy to force nations to fall in line with China and its interests.
- On the other hand we have Japan, South Korea, to some extent Philippines (a vacillating US partner), Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, pro US countries in the ME and Israel forced to go on the defensive to contain the belligerence of China. The anti – China alignment is still looking for ways and means to collaborate with each other. The QUAD remains an on paper grouping without teeth. It needs to be militarized to make any significant impact on an ever increasing belligerent China under Xi Jinping. NATO seems to be going nowhere with Turkey virtually out of it and most of the European Nations under the Chinese influence barring UK and France appearing to be reluctant partners militarily. In fact if we were to read between the lines from its recent activities Turkey may well be contemplating its options of joining the Chinese bandwagon.
- In such a scenario certain lessons standout for India. First the Galwan crisis has proved that in a border confrontation with China international support will remain restricted to statements and promises. Implying that we have to fight our own war. Second, the nuclear backdrop will probably not restrict the space for conventional war fighting. The Chinese will engage in creeping strategy on a periodic basis and keep realizing their claim lines. Third India was strategically surprised by the Chinese in Dokalm in the initial phases due to intelligence failure and was once again surprised in Ladakh in the Galwan – Pagang-so region. We have not seen the end of it. We have to be better prepared in the future as we are likely to see more of such border confrontations with the threshold of conflict being such that it does not escalate into a full blown war. Fourth the dragon appears in a hurry to celebrate its centenary of communist party rule by announcing to the world that it is now the rising sun over the global landscape. It is brow beating its competition through whatever means it can muster; diplomacy – money power, military power and orchestrating dissension internally or externally. (Sam – Dam – Dand – Bhed).
- So what are the options for India? In the short term the military capability gap between India and China cannot be bridged. Therefore, we have no other options but to build alliances. First, we need to wean away Russia from the Chinese influence. A window of opportunity has been provided following a celebration by the Russian embassy on Weibo to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the founding of the Port City of Vladivostok. Chinese diplomats, journalists and nationalists took to the internet to assert claims over the Russian city of Vladivostok formerly part of the Qing dynasty. Vladivostok means “ruler of the east” in Russian. Such instances of differences between Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China have to be exploited through information warfare and diplomatic maneuvers. Second, we need to realise that strategic balancing will not serve our purpose anymore. Instead we need to be decisive and select our partners in a multipolar world without any ambiguity. The EAM’s statement at the India Ideas Summit comes as a breath of fresh air and must be taken to its logical conclusion. Third, India must start maneuvering towards seeking a permanent membership of UNSC. For this it must gainfully utilize its tenure of temporary membership of UNSC. Fourth, if Iran does not respond to Indian interests then we need to boldly develop our relationship with countries in Arab World which are favourably disposed to us such as UAE, Iraq, even Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. But this in no way must compromise our relationship with Israel. If Western Countries can simultaneously manage their relations with Israel and Arab countries why can’t we? We must stop linking everything to domestic politics. If we are to adopt realist theory in geo-politics to shape our International Relations then we need to be prepared for some unpleasant decisions as well. Chankya’s suggestion that your enemy’s enemy is your friend rings true at this stage for India. Finally QUAD has to be militarized to ensure that China is diverted on multiple fronts thereby easing the pressure on India especially along our land borders. But for this to happen QUAD needs to get militarized. Implying that our maritime capability should be enhanced for us to be counted as a significant power in the grouping.
- While at the strategic level India is recasting its geo – political posturing, the government should simultaneously undertake rapid military capability development to meet the twin threats posed by China and Pakistan. Unless we enhance our hard power, no amount of diplomatic measures will deter our enemy. Coupled with military capability, our border road infrastructure needs urgent attention. The current Director General Border Roads has been extremely proactive in pushing this effort despite the lack of labour due to COVID 19. We need to maintain this pressure even when he moves out from his current assignment as E – in – C. Hopefully as the overall head of all military engineering effort, he will continue to steer this movement to build roads in border areas. Linked to our border infrastructure is our border management. This needs a serious overhaul. The Chinese respond and react well because their border regiments come under the Western Theatre Commander whereas in our case there are plethora of forces and agencies reporting up the chain in their SILOS. A situation that is not only inefficient but is asking for trouble. Unsettled borders must remain firmly under the control of the Army. Lesson is clear redefine our geo-political playing field, ramp up our military capability with a decisive push in the maritime domain and revise our border management. The days of vacillation and balancing will not pay any dividends against an enemy which is looking to seek its place of glory on the earth. If Xi Jinping wants to become the Mao of Modern China then we have to take hard decisions on alliances, partnerships and military capabilities.
- I will be very happy to receive any comments. Feel Free to express for or against the article.