Dousing the Dragon
China has been spouting fire for a while now. Leave aside the semantics of the Coronavirus, the last few weeks expose a sinister approach, very dangerous intent and clinical subterfuge, write Rajeev Narayan & Jay Vikram Bakshi
Our intellectual muscle somehow seems weaker. The wiry limbs feel number. And already frail, fraught relationships seem near-decapitated. Today, India and China sit at a crossroads, waiting for the other to throw the next punch. China began this paradoxical tussle. After the onslaught of the Coronavirus in January, which recruited no apology, the next resounding inflection point was on June 15, 2020, in the Galwan Valley, Ladakh.
We are informed that 20 Indian soldiers were martyred. The Chinese? Well, they are yet to determine and convey their list of casualties, if any. For our army didn't carry logs and baseball bats studded with nails, or garrottes. And while we claim a major moral victory, China's foreign office has similar proclamations and ascendancy.
What went so wrong?
In the 1970s and 1980s, we grew up with the 'naara' 'Hindi-Chini bhai bhai'. Today's flippant social media resonates with 'India-China bye-bye'. Boycott China, recuse everything Chinese. What has gone so terribly wrong? Some would have us believe that the Chinese are miffed with our policy regime over the last year, or thereabouts. The abrogation of Article 370 and the turning of Ladakh into a Union territory sent some tough signals to a queasy China. So much so that despite 18 visits by our now head of state, in various capacities, India was disbarred in the Chinese scheme of things.
G7 to G10? No. UN Security Council? No. And finally, Ladakh belongs to India? Certainly not.
Bunkers. Helipads. Makeshift runways. They are all coming up right next to Pangong Tso, which Aamir Khan made famous as one of the '3 Idiots'. Wonderful. Especially given the fact that they will all be abandoned cometh September-October when the snow showers begin. China and India will both move back because nature will claim its own. It will be untenable to survive there after those months — leave alone secede.
And so it is that in the first week of July, one day after the American Independence Day, we are debating our right over our own land. Barely a few months into trying to figure out how to deal with a pandemic from Wuhan, the nightmare has suddenly become materially worse, with China flexing its military muscle on India's borders and getting aggressive across the board. It's not just us in India. The entire world is trying to figure out why the world's largest truculent vendor nation is treating the Year 2020 as the year of comeuppance.
The Mayan Calendar predicted the end of the world on June 21, 2020. What we had, however, was a world under lockdown and nature began its cure. Clear skies, chirping birds and animals roaming in urban areas. The dreaded pandemic that scythed through the world gave the softer species a new lease of life. The hardest species, meanwhile, us, adapted to the new normal — masks, social distancing, hand-wash routines and working from home.
The virus shall mutate
This virus shall mutate, as all viruses do, and pandemics have shown us in the past. Combined with global warming, forest fires, earthquakes, locusts and super cyclones, biblical plagues of Egypt suddenly become believable today. In such a scenario, humanity shall face a challenge of survival, one that will destroy existing beliefs and structures, known knowledge systems and hit reset. Over millennia, mankind has experienced this again. And again.
What we fail to see, though, is that this is pre-meditated, part of a larger plan to extend the hegemony of a neighbour, a giant one at that. China pretty much 'Trumped' the trade negotiations of the United States by invoking the 'force majeure' clause before the ink dried on the January agreement. And that was while Wuhan went into lockdown after COVID 19, discovered last year but transmitted since January 2020, which even the now debilitated WHO could not put a finger on.
An opening gambit?
The question that begs to be asked is whether this was just an opening gambit, because China's next steps have been to aggressively buy corporate stakes across the world, especially as COVID-19-hit markets began tanking. Even India and Australia had to put foreign investment from China under the scanner. Today, the European Union and the United States are trying to decipher the layers and cut through to the subterfuge, if any, that of selling equipment back to the home countries that donated them in the first place at the start of the pandemic.
Now, the Eastern Ladakh border has come alive. As also happenings in the South China Sea. A mild recollection of middle-school history reminds us of how Genghis Khan and his successors, including Timur the Lame, ravaged the steppes of Asia and Europe and subjugated civilisations and kingdoms all the way till Germany. They threw plague-ridden bodies over steep fort walls and waited outside for the population to succumb — a coup, near-bloodless victory.
Cut to the present. The expressways to the West-via-One-Belt Road are already in place, and the new pathways of information, health, telecom equipment and global finance and institutions have been captured, either by subversion or passive-aggressive tactics. The gambit of placing men and materials in strategic countries for building infrastructure, eventually enabling possession has been in place in almost every country that our neighbour considers vital. Vital? Yes, predominantly for sourcing rare earth minerals like lithium, other energy sources and to have easy access to land and shipping routes.
Cheap stuff, anyone?
The basic premise has been to get the world so very addicted to cheap stuff that no one will question the disaster that rages from unemployment, inability to make investments due to the ongoing financial pathos, political chaos in importing countries, and finally the pandemic. Italy is a case in point. All the above happened there, step by step by step.
Where does that leave India? Well, it doesn't. India's ancient wealth was created by adding value to imports before passing them on and over the Silk Route. At that point of time, China and the rest of the world never dared look at India because of the reputation of our ferocious war
elephants that stopped even Alexander in his tracks. Today, we live in a different India, a different world. This world outsources its entire bargain basement economy to other countries, primarily to China. From plastic toys to deities, LED lights to television sets, and ACs and refrigerators, almost everything we buy is made in China. That throws up an interesting conundrum, that this should be great for protecting us against further conflict, right?
What about the US? Russia?
Wrong! Today's China is simply fulfilling the aspirations of its people. The country's ideal plinth is the status of a 'Middle Kingdom', somewhere between heaven and earth, and that ancient myth led to the creation of the 'One China' maxim, where the race dominates, presumably the north Chinese Hans. Subsequent annexations of Manchuria, the conflicted border with Russia, Tibet, Aksai Chin and the ongoing aggression in Ladakh suddenly become real and understandable. In the Chinese scheme of things, India can be a trans-shipment and consumption hub, while the rest of the world will continue to be markets dependent and addicted to its supplies.
What about the US? Well, the most powerful seems to have effectively been neutered, for the moment. Year 2020 is one of an election, wherein Congressional permission for troop deployment overseas will not be available. What about Russia? Well, it has been an efficient arms supplier to both India and China through the years. India has received support from Russia against Pakistan, even when the US was the latter's ally. Russia remains a strong right hand for India.
Fragility is the cue
The fragility of the 'One China' story is that it simply doesn't exist. And that is the reason that Hong Kong is an arch Achilles Heel because its culture and way of life mirrors expectations of the youth from modern democratic societies. Taiwan, meanwhile, with both a robust political and economic standing, is a prickly thorn in the flesh. Clearly, the occupations of Ladakh, Tibet, the Turki-speaking Uighurs of Xinjiang and encroachments into untold land borders of neighbouring states is part of a larger plan and the existential conflict that China has been perpetuating.
Admittedly, China will rope in Pakistan to distract the world from looking inside the dragon's den, but these moves point to serious challenges inside the very command and control structures of the CPC and PLA duopolies. Quite clearly, a hungry dragon which can't feed on the world will eventually end up eating its own tail. And yes, the Indian elephant's cry of outrage and banning of China's data capture apps will echo across the world, with more countries joining in to protect their citizen's data. And their manufacturing economies…