Putting up a front
Recent acts of Chinese aggression against India could be no more than attempts to buy time as the CCP faces growing tensions, both on the domestic front and the international one
Despite the eyeball to eyeball confrontation on the LAC, there appears to be a stalemate. But it is an uneasy silence. Confronted by initiatives of Indian troops occupying ridges on the South Bank in the vicinity of the PangTso lake, the PLA troops have seemingly backed off. That is puzzling considering they have fortifications in the rear along with the tanks and field artillery. This is as if they do not wish to enlarge the conflagration and they are quite content with the area captured afresh all along the LAC. They have in any case successfully altered the LAC by nibbling at territory under our control. And now the Chinese Foreign Minister has adopted a conciliatory tone and hints at the onset of the severe winter, inhibiting operations. He was speaking to Indian Foreign Minister during the high-level meeting in Moscow on September 10, 2020. Apparently, there is a conscious awareness within the Chinese military establishment that surviving at those altitudes and climatic conditions are one matter but fighting a war yet another. They obviously did not bargain for this. And they are cognisant of experiences of the Indian Army having honed that art. Therefore, the essence of the talk, however, remained only about disengaging and not about going back to the status quo. Obviously, they want to wait it out and acclimatise; the weather being the bigger enemy.
It is now certain that the Chinese regime used the abrogation of Article 370 as a handle to commence their misadventure in Ladakh. Especially the rhetorical assertions of the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah during the linked debate in Lok Sabha in December 2019 that Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Aksai Chin are part of Jammu and Kashmir. His statement that "we are ready to give our lives for it", was enough to contemplate a retaliatory scheme. These measures were launched in May 2020 when Xi Jinping in his capacity as the Chairman of China's Central Military Commission told the Peoples' Liberation Army to 'Prepare for war'. Several reasons were cited for this exhortation which among other issues included clashes with Indian and Chinese troops along the border. Although there is no record of such clashes in the immediately preceding period except for allusion by India's HM in December 2019. An equally important reason was the explosion of the pandemic in Europe and the USA and for which the Xi Jinping regime was being cornered. One would strongly believe that a military campaign against India, a well set nuclear power would be adequately able to divert attention from the rising crescendo of demands for a full-scale investigation into reasons and handling of the pandemic.
The regime has also unleashed a war of words with the scholars as mouthpieces. Professor Deepak of the Jawaharlal University brings out this anachronism quite adroitly. He quotes, " Two, Chinese scholars have maintained that India has been "nibbling Chinese territory" all along. China has been portrayed as a victim, the one exercising restraint, and never crossing the LAC. Conversely, India has been blamed for her so-called "assertiveness" and "frequent cross-border provocations." Such views are reflected by Long Xingchun of China West Normal University, Lin Minwang of Fudan University, Liu Zongyi of Shanghai Institute of International Studies and many others. Huang Hanchneg, Editor in Chief of 'Trigger Trend' pronounced the same as India's 'wolfish nature' (langzi yexin) and 'obsession' (zhinian) with Chinese territory. However, he rebuts his own words when he says 'Whoever controls Tibet can control the subcontinent.' In fact, India 'nibbling Chinese territory' is an old narrative propounded by China's political class as well as older generation scholarship like Wang Hongwei, Yang Gongsu, Wang Dehua etc., and inherited by the present scholarship".
Indicating a sinister tone Deepak adds " though most of the writings do have a threatening tone, however, they also advocate that rather than confronting India directly, the game must start from the small countries around India. China must initiate strategic thinking of 'aligning with smaller countries to stabilise the big' (hexiao wenda). For example, strengthening strategic cooperation with countries such as Nepal and Pakistan will help to counterbalance India's tough posture against China. This certainly has been part of China's pivot to South Asia for quite some time, however, it remains to be seen if China would be successful in converting some of them into pivot states in the line of Pakistan".
Apparently, all this pervasive tirade has remained confined to the Chinese Mainland largely to overcome the anti-regime stance deepening within its people. Any anti-state campaign in China would inevitably be ruthlessly nipped in the bud. We must not ever forget that it is a totalitarian regime with pretensions of economic pluralism.
These factors are comprehended by the West German Government of Angela Markel and influenced their policy about Asia. In a major diplomatic jolt to China, Germany has decided to focus on maintaining stronger partnerships with democratic countries, which led to an inclusive Indo-Pacific strategy espoused by West Germany and also endorsed by other countries including India, Japan, Australia and ASEAN members. "We want a global order that is based on rules and international cooperation, not on the law of the strong," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had amplified on September 2.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and a strategic affairs commentator. Views expressed are personal