China and the emerging world order
“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, was a comment by Churchill on Russia. However, in today’s world this would more aptly apply to China. Enigma it is. It revels in remaining mysterious. It shrouds itself in secrecy.
When, in 1971, Kissinger paved the diplomatic path to China for Nixon’s visit the next year, no one gave much of a chance of China being a success. It’s achievements and rise in the last 40 years has proved ‘pundits’ of all hues wrong in their assessments.
The collapse of the USSR came as a shock to Chinese leadership. One of Xi’s guiding principles is: “A strong country must have a strong army.” Xi’s efforts is to revive the “Red Army spirit” in the PLA amid global geopolitical shifts. An approach to fuse the Party to the military on the philosophy “the Party controls the gun”. This stems from Mao’s idea of “political power flows from the barrel of a gun”.
In one of the lessons learnt by China from the Soviet collapse was “a top-down and unified command system is a military must. The Soviet Communist Party’s decision to abolish political education is one of the key factors that led to its collapse”. Xi has stated in no uncertain terms that loyalty to the Party is paramount. He also feels that the Soviets had converted the army into a national army from it being an army of the Communist Party which led to its inevitable collapse. As a consequence, he has clearly enunciated that the PLA is the Communist Party of China’s army first and last. To ensure this he has reinforced the political commissar system. Xi has removed a number of senior military officers in purging the military of corruption.
As Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), Xi has the power to command all China’s armed forces, decide their strategy and courses of action and manage their development, personnel, equipment, funding, and assets. In his report to the 20th National Congress on 16th October 2022, Xi said: “The use of military power needs to be normalized and used in diverse ways…..we need to be able to stage military operations readily, create a secure environment, deter and control risks and conflicts and win regional wars.”
Based on this thought it can be assessed that the Galwan clash has its origins in the Doklam stand-off. Post Doklam, in January 2018, the CMC issued its first Training Mobilisation Order (TMO) signed by Xi’s and released in an elaborate ceremony, wherein forces of all theatre commands were moblised for training. Large number of troops and equipment were inducted into Tibet for this so called training purposes in the summer of that year. Training in high altitude areas, assaults in deep snow and live fire exercises with tanks, artillery, armed helicopters and air support were carried out. These were prominently highlighted in the State controlled media. Again in 2019 a TMO was issued in the first week of January and similar exercises were carried out in summer. A pattern was set. Therefore, when a similar TMO was issued in January 2020 it was probably taken as routine. The enhanced scope with additional forces and equipment was not known or not taken cognizance of if known. It resulted in the aggressive proactive Chinese action in Eastern Ladakh which India had least expected.
Whenever the India-China boundary issue is put on the back-burner, China has used that opportunity to extensively develop infrastructure in Tibet. It has built a rail link from Lhasa to Nyingchi in the east opposite Arunachal Pradesh, Shigatse in the center north of the Chumbi valley and now proposes to extend it opposite Nepal.It is also building a rail link from Chendgu to Lhasa. The obstacles and difficulties imposed by terrain and geography do not seem to hinder their projects.
Today’s geopolitical headwinds have a muscular China not just competing with the US but challenging it as well as the rest of the world. But it seems that even after 70 years China is still not secure with its presence in Tibet. Some scholars in the west had said that China poses an “existential threat” to India!! They had under estimated India political resolve and will of India.
First published in The Tribune on 03 Dec 2022.