The Dragon is in a ‘Tailspin’

China’s aggression is rooted in its past. Source: yajoop.com

China’s peculiar ‘cocoon mentality’ can be traced to centuries of invasions, perpetual humiliating defeats, and no glorious history of fearless resistance or retaliation. The Dragon is probably the only beast to have caged itself inside the so called ‘Great Wall of China’ for protection and survival.

China waited – almost hid itself – in the wings, a wounded humiliated animal licking its own wounds and nursing paranoia, for an opportune time to rise. It even sensed its time correctly, but by then, had lost the majestic qualities required to deal with modern times, to coexist, and to effectively claim its leadership position in the current world.

Following the arrival of Communism in mid-20th century which massacred millions of its own people and severed most of its roots, China started its economic growth with a new, shady banking system and state-owned and non-transparent enterprises. Since late 1980s all the way to the 2000s, it successfully built industrial infrastructure with debt-supported financing and attracted international industry, becoming a global manufacturing hub and monopolizing global supply chains.

China freely provided its cowed down cheap labour, not to mention its minorities – almost bonded labour – and even child labour to industry, while the West conveniently looked the other way. Once an economic power, China/CPC (Communist Party of China) began dreaming of being a global superpower. It started modernizing the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) rapidly, acquiring defence technology and military know-how by all means, legal and illegal, possible, and began to flex its military muscle.

China had been deprived of power for centuries now, and that made it so thirsty and impatient for power that it resorted to coercion, bullying, deceit, cheating, intimidation, debt-traps, and neo-colonization.

Yet it remained completely oblivious to the ‘soft power’ component, and at times has been brutal towards its own unarmed citizens. This ultimately has culminated into the current anti-China/anti-CPC sentiment being the highest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Once it acquired economic and military prowess, CPC and PLA began to secure their trade routes, namely the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) in the North and the South China Sea, Malacca and Sunda straits, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea in the South. Both these routes are tedious, inconvenient, expensive, and time-consuming.

An easier, cheaper, and hassle-free route would have been from China to Nepal to India’s coastlines. However, China’s historical blunder of waging the 1962 war against an unsuspecting, then-friendly India with a dreamy, listless leadership, embittered and alienated the Indian psyche and deprived China of that golden option for half a century. Strategically, China achieved almost nothing out of the 1962 war and had to vacate most of the occupied Indian territory except parts of Tibet & Aksai Chin, only to face defeat at the hands of a resurgent Indian army at Nathu La and Cho La in 1967.

In the 21st century, China, with its scarred, crooked, and warped psyche and its geostrategic disadvantages, has managed to create a hostilities in its neighbourhood and across the world. China has 14 neighbours and bitter boundary disputes with 18 nations (including maritime boundary disputes). China’s only true allies are Pakistan, its vassal, and North Korea. The Covid-19 pandemic is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Notwithstanding the USA, the pandemic has earned China many disgruntled, if not sworn, enemies, especially in the EU and Asia.

Japan, Australia and littoral countries of the South China Sea have been antagonized by PLA build up, naval aggressions, and fictitious claims in international waters with total disrespect for international maritime ethics, rules and laws, thus seriously compromising freedom of navigation. China’s congenital anomaly, Taiwan, and Hongkong’s mainly pro-democracy population serve as another hot front for CPC.

To China’s west is no rosy picture either. Neither the CARs (Central Asian Republics) nor Afghanistan are on fully friendly terms with China. The BRI originates in Kashgar, Xinjiang, formerly called East Turkistan before it was forcibly annexed by China. Xinjiang’s population has been totally alienated and is subject to extreme brutalities the way any religious minority is typically treated in a Communist regime.

The population of Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of the Indian region of Jammu & Kashmir illegally held by Pakistan and through which the CPEC runs, is hostile to China, Pakistan and CPEC. The exit point of CPEC, Gwadar port, lies in Balochistan, an independent country forcefully annexed by Pakistan in 1948. Balochs continue to struggle for independence from Pakistan and against their economic exploitation under the CPEC.

This backdrop gives a context to China’s erratic behavioural pattern vis-à-vis India and the world. In its myopic, inward-looking, selfish and blurred vision and delusions of grandeur, the CPC has miserably failed to comprehend that there is enough space for a peaceful rise of China along with other Asian powers such as Japan, South Korea and India.

Going by ‘The Art of War’ written by Sun Tzu, the CPC has studied India, the USA and others deeply, but has failed to grasp the mindset of new generation world leaders such as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe and Benjamin Netanyahu.

China was shocked when Shinzo Abe briskly turned the Japan Self-Defence Forces into a formidable military force. Similarly, it should have grasped the current Indian leadership in the context of its inherent cultural and historic strengths and the Indian Army’s history, and quickly accommodated India. Yet, the CPC didn’t and after its quest at Doklam failed miserably, it is now trying, unsuccessfully, to intimidate the battle-hardened Indian army.

China’s distraction tactics with respect to India aren’t working either. India has already established a formidable tri-command in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. It has recently concluded a Mutual Logistic Agreement with Australia, securing its presence on Australia’s Cocos Islands, and thus occupying positions on either side of the Malacca and Sunda Straits.

India already has logistical agreements with the US, Singapore, South Korea, and France; it will soon have a similar arrangement with Japan which will open South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean for the Indian Navy. India has loosened many beads of China’s ‘String of Pearls’, including Hambantota in Sri Lanka (where India has leased an airfield close to the port), Darwin in Australia and Haifa in Israel.

The Indian Navy is better trained and more experienced than the inexperienced and clumsy PLA-N which, along with ill-acquired technology, has too many operational gaps, and its vessels have not been battle-tested.

Meanwhile, the Indian Army directly looks upon the Karakoram Highway and CPEC running parallel for a long stretch from Saltoro range/Siachen glacier which it has been manning successfully for decades.

India has built infrastructure up to Daulat Beg Oldi (Eastern Ladakh) from where it can catch Karakoram/CEPC in crosshairs. Indian Army’s newly raised Mountain Division and its Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) are already being equipped with Ultralight M-777 Howitzers, Globe Masters C-17s, upgraded T72s, high altitude drones etc. Sooner or later, India might recapture Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Dragon is just trying to intimidate, pressurize and distract India while testing its resolve. Strategically, an incursion of a few kilometres on either side of the border does not mean much. Can China afford to confront India at a point when it has already opened hostilities on so many fronts?

Global anti-China sentiment is at its peak, China’s exports and economy are falling, international industries and investments are leaving its shores and 80 million Chinese have lost jobs. It is left with Pakistan, a single, worthless ally not in a position to handle discontent within its own territory and protect the CPEC.

A war will pull China back by about five to ten years, and even farther from its dream to be a superpower. For all these years, a flourishing economy has been the only thing keeping China together. With China’s ambitions spiralling out of control, the economy is likely to be hit even further. And if that happens, China may even implode.

Dr Anant Bhagwat

Dr Anant Bhagwat is a Pune-based radiologist who also runs an NGO named वैश्विक सामरिक नीति प्रतिष्ठान पुणे/ Global Strategic Policy Foundation Pune (GSPFP).

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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