Beijing made it clear in 1999 that when it went to war with the USA, it would be a new type of war. In fact, the wheels were already in motion and the Peoples Republic of China was preparing itself. Then in October 2018, Xi Jinping announced that he had begun a New ‘30 Years War’ with the USA as it positioned itself as the new superpower. China carries many chips on its shoulder, but the chief amongst them is its deep hurt over the ‘100 years of humiliation, slavery, and loss’, it suffered since the Opium Wars of 1839-1860 and subsequent rule by Great Britain, other Western powers and Japan. The British and USA remained in mainland China till 1949 and Hong Kong remained a leased UK colony till 1998. Mao brought the Red Revolution and freedom from Colonials as also the existing royalty but imposed a harsh Communist regime. Deng Xiaoping opened up China to the world in 1980, on the premise that only such modernizing measures would help build the Nation for future glory as of the Middle Kingdom. He followed Sun Tzu’s advice of ‘biding your time’ and that the “supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.
Chinese strategists believe that warfare is a sum of all powers and talk of the ‘Three Warfares Strategy’ which includes; public opinion, psychological and legal (law) warfare. This is China’s version of hybrid warfare or Total War. China appears to have clearly gauged and understood the clear weaknesses of various countries the world over. Small corrupt autocracies in Africa and Asia which suffer due to weak economies are shunned by IMF or World Bank. These countries need arms and equipment and hence can easily be brought into the Chinese camp with unencumbered loans, cheap arms, equipment, and infrastructure projects-beating global sanctions if needed. The rich Western democracies too are lessened by their need for profitable trade and low-cost goods manufactured by Western MNCs & conglomerates in the sweatshops of China. China effectively controls most of the global supply chains and is also critical rare-earth for the industry. The West has therefore for long turned a blind eye to much of the Human Rights abuses and inhuman conditions inflicted by China on its own people; minorities of Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Hong Kong, and intellectual liberals. Further, China has over the past two decades steadily stolen technology, expertise, and key methodologies to replace the West in high-end manufacturing has also gained the ability to carry out massive infrastructure projects extremely fast. Much of this advantage has emerged from the intellectual capacities of Western Universities and Centres of Excellence. They have also studied the legalities of every multilateral institution, identified loopholes, and tweaked rules to help advance their interests in the UN, World Trade Organisation, World Health Organisation, and other multilateral institutions. Using massive money power, veto power at the UN, and arm twisting, it has managed to gain leverage and control over many of these institutions. Key people and influencers, the world over, seem to have been co-opted and bought over to parrot their propaganda storyline. Media organizations of the West and even in powerful democracies like India, have been bought up or controlled through their chosen protégés. As such, what the world is witnessing today is a massive form of hybrid warfare or Total War.
The Chinese have deployed the UFWD (United Front Work Department) which is their most powerful organization dealing with infrastructure building to co-opt governments or people through influence ops and subversion. The UFWD has been active across Africa and is now the key organization deployed in Pakistan to execute the CPEC, its flagship project under the BRI. Another agency deployed by China to spread its tentacles and soft power is the ubiquitous ‘Confucius Institutes’, which are effectively used for industrial and military espionage in the garb of educational partnerships. In India, there are three Confucius Institutes at Mumbai University, Vellore Institute of Technology, and Lovely Professional University with three Confucius Centres at Kolkata, Bharathiar University, and KR Manglam University. In the immediate neighborhood, there are seven CIs in Pak, four in Nepal, four in Sri Lanka, and three in Bangladesh. All these agencies are part of their overall influence ops to shape public opinion, sponsoring of studies, paying for favorable news articles in media, and subversion activities.
The Chinese have also made good use of the soft belly of democracies, that have open media, free press, freedom of expression, liberal rules, loose control on social media, and even of cyberspace. This is part of their version of ‘law warfare’, to use the laws & rules of countries against them themselves and leverage advantages. These freedoms are utilized to spread its own propaganda and lies, with the sole aim of shaping public opinion and creating a sense of what does not exist, e.g, at the peak of the Galwan crisis last year in June 2020, a number of videos and articles showing the Chinese ‘State of the Art equipment, columns of PLA trucks speeding across open country and broad roads and training exercises of troops, appeared in our country. It was meant to convey shock and awe. Our gullible and naïve public kept forwarding these on Whatsapp and Twitter, oblivious to the narrative being built up and the impact on India’s National Will. It is only much later, that we have put in place, checks, and controls which have of course drawn the ire of liberals and activists.
The China man is not seven feet tall, as he has been made out to be by the Chinese media. However, these visuals could slowly affect our national and military leadership’s decisions. Thankfully the leadership saw through this in time and gave the Chinese a befitting reply. The war, though, is still ongoing at multiple levels and on many fronts. Total War encompasses the political, military, economic, public opinion, and legal dimensions. The Chinese are playing hardball and the world is slowly realizing it.
Despite the UNCLOS arbitration tribunal verdict of July 2016, which ruled in favor of the Philippines, in regard to the Chinese intrusions and encroachment in the South China Sea or Philippines Sea, China has not pulled back but instead grown even more belligerent. It knows that since it occupies the high seat on the UN’s P5, it holds a veto over any UN action. It realizes the weakness inherent in most of these multilateral institutions which the USA has not signed up to.
Bio Warfare and the possible use of the COVID-19 crises as they originated and spread from Wuhan in early 2020 is too much of a coincidence. The world went into lockdown while China pushed ahead in Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and Ladakh. It suddenly became the big bully, unreasonable and dangerous. The Chinese seem to have kept the USA distracted with the antics of North Korea right through 2018 and 2019. Trump became well engrossed with the possibilities of peace with Kim and North Korea and a Nobel Peace Prize.
The USA under Trump, however, showed teeth in early 2020, as the Chinese game plan became increasingly evident and began the process to corner China. This has pushed the Chinese back a few steps. The brazen crackdown on Hong Kong by China, the harsh new National Security laws of 2020, contravening the accord with the UK, and it’s now overwhelming control over Hong Kong, have seen but feeble attempts of protest by the world community at large. The continuing PLAAF incursions into Taiwan airspace and belligerent Naval exercises by PLAN have seen some response by USA and UK too.
Europe though is quiet, seemingly trapped in the Chinese spider web and conspicuous by its silence and inaction, with the exception of France and Germany. The time has come for the EU to stand with the Free World and call out China. So, where do we see this Total War being waged by China headed, and can the world tackle this ‘bully on the block’.
The QUAD is a fine example of like-minded democracies, the USA, Australia, Japan, and India, joining hands and making the right choices. However, they do not have a military alliance or clear mutual understanding. Some more countries like South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines could join up. China well anticipates that this may just be hot air and positioning. They are unlikely to be deterred easily. The time has therefore come for a NATO-type alliance in the Indo-Pacific. India must be a strong member of this grouping. Russian protests on this score can be handled since they are pragmatic and will recognize India’s compulsions. Only a fully coordinated effort, will push China back into its corner. China is very sensitive to Taiwan’s independence recognition. On the ‘One China’ principle, it is petrified of its own people who currently do not have access to open media. As such, the best counter to China is for the world to recognize Taiwan and try and spread messages of the reality of China to its common people. Economic measures of sanctions, checks, and restraints will also help tame the dragon. China’s ability to grow economically and flaunt its money to win over countries must be checked. All this will doubtless inflame the dragon who may either do something prematurely or realize its folly and makeup with the world, returning to what it does best; building roads and churning out equipment and apparel which the world needs.
The Middle Kingdom can wait for its time in the Sun. China must recognize it is better off keeping the peace with its neighbors and building better lives for its people, than chasing false ambitions and shadows.