Chinese President Xi Jinping, armed with his renewed, unchallenged mandate from the Communist Party of China (CPC), during his conversation with US President Joe Biden tried to create the impression of bipolar world order, although the rest of the world, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, continues to rebalance itself towards a unipolar, bipolar and multipolar global order, as per their perception. If Beijing has its way, it will use all instruments of power—ethical and unethical—to be the sole superpower on the global stage and have a China-centric Asia on the regional stage, for which subordination of India is considered essential. To achieve the containment plus encirclement— ‘concirclement’—of India is a strategic necessity to be able to coerce it to a China-centric alignment, preferably without undertaking any contact warfare.
Chanakya’s wisdom that a neighbor with an unsettled border can never be a friend seems to have been realized by New Delhi, which has been involved in a talkathon with China for decades hoping to have a friendly neighbor. India needs to work out options in all domains in the current fragile international environment, to take on the Chinese challenge, avoid ‘concirclement‘, preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity, besides continue its own march towards becoming a strong pole in the global order.
In the absence of any border treaty between independent India and China and a non-demarcated Line of Actual Control, the standoffs will continue. The present one in Eastern Ladakh seems to have run into a stalemate, to India’s disadvantage, especially due to the shortage of leverages, although India refuses to be coerced into resuming business as usual, sidelining the border-LAC issue, and is insisting on a further pullback of the PLA from all friction points to lead to de-escalation. China wants to avoid a further pullback as it continues building additional infrastructure to upgrade its encroachment into areas that it was not supposed to occupy as per confidence-building measures (CBMs), as permanent settlements. The Chinese aim is to label this as a settlement of the border issue, somewhat in consonance with its 1959-60 claim line in strategically important areas. With occasional intrusions in other areas along the LAC, China is trying to increase the economic cost of deployment for India by the ‘LOCisation’ of the LAC and stretching out the Indian military, in order to seek a Sino-centric solution.
China’s “containment strategy” includes the planned construction of 628 dual-use border defense villages along with its own perception of the LAC, provide permanency to its claim, enhancing its ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities (some of which have already been made), providing these villages with infrastructure like fiber optic connection akin to outposts. China can claim that its Land Borders Law passed last month by the National People’s Congress is applicable to all countries, but the timing suggests that it is part of the containment strategy directed against India. The law improves coordination between agencies and power to defend increasingly claimed land under the garb of national integrity. China’s recent MOU with Bhutan for resolving border issues bilaterally, and the allurement of Nepal are also steps towards containing India. A possible Chinese gain at Doklam through a land swap with Bhutan from other areas will be a serious concern for India due to the area’s proximity to the Siliguri corridor. China has also encroached on the territories of these two countries to build villages there.
The aggressiveness of the “Encirclement Strategy” is evident from China delivering the most advanced frigates/warships to Pakistan. Labeled as a gift, India must take it as a cover plan for deployment of PLAN combat ships in Pakistan’s territorial water/Arabian Sea, perhaps under the Pakistan flag, adding another pearl to China’s ongoing “string of pearl strategy”. The Gwadar port as part of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), the CMEC (China Myanmar Economic Corridor) leading to the Bay of Bengal, and a foothold in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are part of the overall plan to encircle India.
The most worrying part for India is Chinese encroachment in the non-contact warfare domain. China increasing economic, technological, and digital offensive against India and other countries have made them so dependent on China, denting their self-reliance, that the responses to Chinese unethical encroachment get muted. The Chinese strategy of “Three Warfare”, namely employing the media or public opinion, psychological warfare, and legal warfare through the display of arsenal, exercises, and buying opinions seems to be finding some traction in politically active democracies, particularly in election-oriented segments in India to settle their political scores.
OPTIONS FOR INDIA
A serious push in capacity building and infrastructure build-up towards the LAC to take on the China challenge in the recent past is encouraging. The responses have to be in all domains to include contact and non-contact warfare. India needs a change in mindset from reactive to proactive, with additional offensive capability created to demonstrate the capacity to encroach into areas sensitive to China and inflict a punitive cost, as China has assumed the freedom to encroach anywhere, at will. The asymmetry in CNP (Comprehensive National Power) between China and India is often cited as an excuse for muting proactive responses, but similar asymmetry exists between Pakistan and India, which doesn’t hesitate Pakistan from adopting an unethical, proactive proxy war against India under a nuclear hangover. India also has the nuclear triad, hence this excuse needs to be revisited. To express the intent, India could make “One China Policy” conditional to “One India Policy” as Sushma Swaraj mentioned in past.
India needs to formulate its National Security Strategy (NSS), prioritize its challenges and task required by various agencies to develop capacities avoiding different ministries working with different priorities, in silos. It’s frustrating to see PILs against broadening of strategic roads or Railways dragging feet to construct strategic railway lines in Arunachal Pradesh due to the lack of commercial viability. Surely part of the NSS in the open domain may improve the sensitivity of all agencies to national security needs, once specified. India should also pass an equivalent of the Border Defence Law in some form—like strategic infrastructure along the border will have different yardsticks for speedy clearance by local, regional, and central authorities to avoid incidents like the environment ministry obstructing many such constructions in the past.
In response to the Chinese build-up of villages to change the ground position incrementally, it is recommended that states/UTs along the LAC should allot concessional land to security forces like regional SCOUTS, ITBP, SSB, and families hailing from that area (on the son of the soil concept), ready to settle in villages so constructed, along with their own perception of LAC. This will improve inclusive growth, integration, besides will be proof of our claims on the border, to ward off the Chinese strategy of incremental encroachment.
In response to economic and digital encroachment, India must increasingly draw out a negative import list of all products imported from China, which have been/can be manufactured in India, and increasingly ban their imports, as is being done to improve self-reliance in defense manufacturing. This may prove to be unpleasant to a few profit-making importers but will reduce our dependencies and concerns of economic coercion to a great extent in the long term. It’s absurd to notice India’s trade surplus with China growing beyond its defense budget during the standoff period.
The collective naval posturing with like-minded democracies to create a multifront situation for China in the Indo-Pacific is essential to check Chinese expansionism challenging the global order and threatening global commons with steps like China-centric Coast Guard Law and Maritime Traffic Safety Law. There is a need for an alternative supply chain, trade, and technological ecosystem independent of China for which some initial steps taken by the Quad countries need to be pursued. An alternate infrastructure architecture in the form of B3W, Blue Dot Network, and Friendship Highways is essential to save fragile economies falling into the Chinese debt trap through the BRI. A collective response against cyber, space, biological threats and nuclear expansion needs to be worked out. Quad Plus is the need of the hour, as Xi Jinping forces the nine-dash line on the ASEAN, lures them with an unsigned code of conduct, yet blatantly lies to say that China will not seek “hegemony”. Western powers have reason to pitch in as the economic center of gravity is rapidly shifting to the Indo-Pacific, and China is becoming increasingly bolder to tweak the global balance with ventures like the hypersonic launch vehicle.
India needs to develop its strategic culture with professional strategists, as diplomacy-driven patch-ups and talkathons have not worked so far. The overall strategic approach has to be proactive at all levels, in all dimensions of warfare.
Source: the Sunday Guardian