China Unleashes an “Indian Spring”!!
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Issue Vol. 36.4, Oct-Dec 2021 | Date : 15 Dec , 2021

Indian Army and Chinese officers at a meeting in the Pangong Lake region. (Indian Army via AP)

The surrogate of the 21st century is an adjunct in a growing tool box within the full-spectrum, hybrid conflicts where kinetic action is just one of many levers power protagonists employ to achieve political ends in contemporary globalised, privatised, securitised and mediatised conflicts. They can thus disrupt the battlespace kinetically, the information space subversively, and the willpower of the adversary psychologically — all without a major combat operation. — Jean-Mark Rickli

History has recorded some 28 Colour Revolutions’ since the late 1980’s. These Revolutions’ relate to protests against election results in targeted countries or were aimed at a regime change there. The countries affected either had an entrenched authoritarian head of a state making no pretense of favouring any form of democracy or a governance system which was a façade of a democracy.

A large percentage of these revolutions occurred in countries which had been under the former Soviet regime and later under Russian influence. The Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974 was the only one in Europe – and it was a peaceful one. Five revolutions occurred in Asia – Yellow in Philippines (1986), Coconut in Papua New Guinea (1900-1998), Saffron in Myanmar (2007-2008), Jasmine in China (2011), Yellow Rally in Malaysia (2015) and Umbrella in Hong Kong (2014) which evolved into a pro-democracy movement that was quashed by China last year. Twenty-three of the revolutions occurred in Eastern Europe, Central Asian Republics, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and West Asia. The October Revolution in Lebanon which started on 19 October 2019 is ongoing as also is the Slipper Revolution in Belarus, which began on 24 May 2020. According to Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Russian military leaders view the “colour revolutions” as a “new US and European approach to warfare that focuses on creating destabilizing revolutions in other states as a means of serving their security interests at low cost and with minimal casualties.”

These revolutions are evidently an ongoing phase of the Cold War, wherein US-led democratic governments, mainly, European countries, was weaning away the erstwhile Soviet bloc countries. They did this by igniting a spark for democracy and instigating the population to oust the existing regimes by forcing them to seek the peoples’ mandate and thereby ushering in democracy by other means. The two main protagonists of the Cold War, the US and Soviets (now Russia), are continuing their ideological war probably with more vigour. The Soviet Union had been a conglomeration of different ethnic societies bound only by an ideology, ultimately, broke up largely based on these ethnic entities. Post the Soviet ignominious exit from Afghanistan in 1989, ethnic cohesion gave way in what had been a multi-ethnic union of states. The US’s equally discreditable slithering out of Afghanistan has seen a rise in racism in a country that pretended to be the bastion of a liberal free democratic society.

Five revolutions occurred in Asia – Yellow in Philippines (1986), Coconut in Papua New Guinea (1900-1998), Saffron in Myanmar (2007-2008), Jasmine in China (2011), Yellow Rally in Malaysia (2015) and Umbrella in Hong Kong (2014)…

The “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space were initially understood to mean the Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004) and Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005). The one feature common to these events is the non-violent nature of the regime change following mass protests. However, there is no precise definition of the concept of the “Arab Spring,” which is usually thought to include the mass upheaval and protests, more often not peaceful that led (or did not lead) to regime change in a number of countries of the Arab world starting in late 2010.

The main concern of governments today is that problems are not being resolved within the framework of a constitution and existing laws but rather through revolutions and “street democracy.” Employing non-parliamentary methods of waging the struggle is subverting the governmental structures and legal systems and is thus counter-intuitive to the fundamental requirement of a democratic process.

The analysis of certain international geopolitics scholars is that “Moscow and Beijing share almost indistinguishable views on the potential domestic and international security threats posed by colored revolutions, and both nations view these revolutionary movements as being orchestrated by the United States and its Western democratic partners to advance geopolitical ambitions.”

Russia, has characterized colour revolutions as externally-fuelled acts with a clear goal to influence the internal affairs that destabilize the economy, conflict with the law and represent a new form of warfare. Stating that Russia must prevent such colour revolutions, President Vladimir Putin said: “We see what tragic consequences the wave of so-called colour revolutions led to. For us, this is a lesson and a warning. We should do everything necessary so that nothing similar ever happens in Russia”. The 2015 presidential decree called The Russian Federation’s National Security Strategy cites «foreign-sponsored regime change» among «main threats to public and national security”:–

“including the activities of radical public associations and groups using nationalist and religious extremist ideology, foreign and international non-governmental organizations, and financial and economic structures, and also individuals, focused on destroying the unity and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, destabilizing the domestic political and social situation — including through inciting “color revolutions” — and destroying traditional Russian religious and moral values.”

…the 2015 policy white paper “China’s Military Strategy” by the State Council Information Office said that anti-China forces have never given up their attempt to instigate a color revolution in this country.

Echoing this, the 2015 policy white paper “China’s Military Strategy” by the State Council Information Office said that anti-China forces have never given up their attempt to instigate a ‹color revolution› in this country. China with its 57 minorities dominated by the Hans, is uneasy with its reality.

Now with that much said and done regarding the threats to Russia and China, the question that arises: Is China really an innocent victim or is it brandishing every tool in its arsenal of insidious thuggery in this so called ‘hybrid war’ that it is waging against India? As the old dictum goes; all is fair in love and war. The Mumbai power outage of October 13, 2020 bringing to a halt all activities in the country’s business and financial hub was its strategic signaling of its cyber intrusion and hacking prowess. India has no dearth of ‘Jaichand’s’ embedded in numerious think tanks, scholars of all hues, Universities, media, amongst the so called liberals and in non-government organisations receiving funds from dubious sources. It would be politically and strategically naive to think that it is not using every tool and trick to ‘save face’.

War is waged against a country or more appropriately the political entity of the government. The military only responds on behalf of the government. The aggressor aims to subdue the political leadership of the opponent so that it gives in to its demands. The militaries are the physical manifestation of the hard power possessed by the country which the political entity must be clear how to employ to achieve the desired political end state. War, therefore, is an ‘all of government’ exercise. If a government cannot synchronise and orchestrate all elements of national power and resources to counter the aggressor it will stare at abject defeat and will be forced to make compromises in its national interests. David Keen, a theorist of contemporary conflict, analyses as to why many contemporary conflicts last so long, especially given that often one side holds a significant military advantage. He opines that winning wars in the military sense frequently takes a secondary priority to simply waging them for economic, political, or even psychological reasons. He goes on to state: “I want to stress that winning is only one part of war (and sometimes a surprisingly small part)”. Therefore, to expect China to be pussy-footing around in Eastern Ladakh is akin to an ostrich burying its head in sand to ‘unsight’ danger!! They are there for a long haul and it is all a plan to keep India tied down in the region and be politically embroiled with volatile internal issues. With the ultimate hope of forcing an end state favourable to Chinese interests.

Sun Tzu advocates that the highest realisation of warfare is attacking the enemy’s plans, next is to disrupt alliances, then to attack their army, and last is to attack cities, which must be pursued as a last resort. Today, China is following its old theories – unabashedly strangulating India with its own systems. The much talked of ‘hybrid war’ also includes subversion of the population and employing surrogates of all hues. India prides itself of its free press, freedom of expression, ethnic diversity, right to protest, liberal attitude, rule of law, and protection of individual privacy… etc. There are its vulnerabilities – polarization in a caste ridden society, extreme poverty, regionalism, cultural and language sentiments, a weak central control of the states, internal armed unrest…etc. These very systems and vulnerabilities are being exploited to buy off individuals and groups to undermine the country in every sphere by these surrogate flunkies.

China is following its old theories – unabashedly strangulating India with its own systems. The much talked of ‘hybrid war’ also includes subversion of the population and employing surrogates of all hues.

China’s binary vision of this world classifies every nation in it as either allies, (or more appropriately as minions), who do just as they are told to, who can be preyed upon and taken advantage of. Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, weak and corrupt governments and dictatorships in Africa, smaller nations of Central Asia, all fall in this category. The others are adversaries who need to be vanquished or bullied and heckled whenever the opportunity presents itself. India distinctly falls into this second category.

As a dissident Chinese blogger observes, that the Chinese government has through its embassy in India, been regularly funding left-leaning foundations, political parties and anti-India organizations to raise protests and create chaos against policies of the Indian government. The anti-CAA protests across India were a stark example of such psychological attacks where the Chinese government made substantial investments. Those protests were picked up and amplified in the international arena by left leaning media such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, The Guardian… making India in general and the government in particular look like villains painted in black. Social media has been exploited to the hilt to spread fake news and ‘alternate truths’. China’s machinations were exposed when in February 2020, WHO refused to name China as the source of the Corona Virus. The World Bank in an internal report found data irregularities in its 2018 and 2020 ‘Doing Business’ reports which, purportedly, showed China in favourable light. It is widely accepted that these reports were manipulated by China to garner foreign investments. It is also a fact that China has ‘bought’ professors in leading universities and research institutes in the US and Britain. That it has not done so in India is myth.

The Chinese government regularly provides financial incentives to journalists and media houses that follow leftist ideologies, prompting them to consistently attack the Indian government on its policy decisions. China has cultivated a number of Indian journalists who would be more than willing to write a poorly researched, one-sided narrative, laden with anti-India bias and prejudice, damning their own country, bad-mouthing their own government and in the process selling their soul, for a mere US $500.

That is not all, on July 27, 2021 (the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party), according to a media release issued by the Chinese embassy in India, India’s CPM general secretary, CPI’s Lok Sabha MP, DMK parliamentarian and All India Forward Bloc central committee secretary participated in the online seminar hosted by the Chinese ambassador and CPC’s international department counsellor Du Xiaolin. These Indians partook in the proceedings to mark the centenary of the CCP, at a time when the country is at war with China!! While India stood ashamed and was collectively withering, the Chinese must be contemptuously laughing away in the wings at the humiliation it inflicted on India by Indians!

These Indians partook in the proceedings to mark the centenary of the CCP, at a time when the country is at war with China!! While India stood ashamed and was collectively withering, the Chinese must be contemptuously laughing away in the wings at the humiliation it inflicted on India by Indians!

China controls all media in its jurisdiction. The English language media, mainly comprising – The Global Times, Xinhua, PLA Daily… etc, are all government mouth pieces. Their news is exactly what the government wants to convey through diverse channels. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson issues statements and the others amplify it in the print/e-newspapers. Thus all statements emerging from China will always be critical of India in the prevailing circumstances. No other view ever finds space in any Chinese media. On the contrary, in their exuberance for objective reporting, most of the Indian media generally consider that objectivity is basically being critical of the powers that be. This peculiar penchant of the Indian media scene suitably benefits China and it would be foolish not to exploit this as an ideal propaganda tool in the liberal environment that exists in this country.

The Indian government finds itself in a Catch 22 situation. To act against the media would be seen as being undemocratic and suppression of fundamental rights. By not acting it only feeds the system which blows up an issue generating more fake news and embarrassing the government further. As a consequence the government does its best to ignore it and to contain and limit the adverse impact while it waits to wear it out in time or till another more reverting ‘expose’ overshadows the previous one. Not all protests are as resilient and able to sustain themselves for long periods as the protesting farmers around the Capital. Colour revolutions and the Arab Springs were similarly stage-managed to bring down elected governments by cornering them for their mistakes. In such a contingency, the opposition prefers “street democracy” to the parliamentary process as it captures more eyeballs on the national and international stage.

Recently, the Indian media has been agog with the Chinese Land Border Law passed by the National People’s Congress on October 23, 2021 and to come into force from January 1, 2022. The Law has been enacted for – “The PRC’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacred and inviolable and the state shall take measures to safeguard them.” It creates a legal framework for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and the border defence units to counter any invasion, encroachment, infiltration or provocation across its land borders.

As a former Indian Foreign Secretary and National Security Adviser, Shiv Shanker Menon says that “China is ruled by law, not a rule of law. Laws in China are an instrument of state policy to reward or punish”. So what is the big deal about the Chinese Land Border Law? Does this Law, in way, demarcate the land boundary with India on a map? Without this law was the PLA not active on the LAC and coming into confrontation with the Indian Army? Does this Law strengthen any of its claims on the India-Tibet border areas? Does the Law dictate any terms to India? Will this Law make China more intransigent on the issue of the boundary question than what it has been since 1959? Is it of any consequence, legally, in any international forum or in the ICJ? It is a law in China for the Chinese. It is for their government on how they interpret. It is more like Indian document – “The Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961” – a set of constitutional guidelines for the details of the functions of all government machinery. Therefore, beyond any blithering doubt, it has no consequential effect on the current situation on the LAC for India. It is a Chinese propaganda gimmick and merely an exercise in “Lawfare” under aegis of their concept of “Three Warfares”. The Indian media should stop getting overly hyper and treat this as the trash it is and not become loudspeakers in their propaganda.

To expect ITBP to perform the same task sans the combat and service support is making them cannon fodder for the enemy. The ITBP will end up being neither a police force nor an Infantry battalion.

However, what may be worth noting is the mention of PLA, PAP and Border Defence Units in this decree. First, the Border Defence Units, though under the Ministry of Public Security, are directly under command and full control of the PLA. Second, PLA, PAP, China’s Militia, the Ministry of State Security are centrally controlled by the CMC. The Ministry of Public Security is controlled by Xi’s Core Administration since 2017. With the huge network of facial recognition and surveillance cameras in China, up from 176 million in 2017 to up to 626 million in 2020, the Chinese government has to control and regulate this huge sensitive data. Consequently, the command and control structure needs to be unambiguous and clearly enunciated – which, today is all in Beijing.

In comparison, India has allowed a fundamentally fractured command and control system to continue along the active borders – Line of Control (LC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC) endlessly. The political hierarchy has been apprised of the matter umpteen times over the years. But in their “wisdom” they do not see any operational necessity for a ‘single point control’ of all forces deployed on active borders. Also, it is a profoundly ill-advised move to equip the ITBP as an Infantry battalion and continue to call it a Police Force! Infantry fights with a host of supporting combat arms and services, as also the Air Force/Navy (as the case be) that go on to augment its ability to secure and hold ground and also give it the staying power. To expect ITBP to perform the same task sans the combat and service support is making them cannon fodder for the enemy. The ITBP will end up being neither a police force nor an Infantry battalion. It certainly is evidence of a case of shameful Military-Civil rivalry and general political apathy.

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China claims that it had controlled the Corona pandemic more successfully than the developed capitalist western democracies. It is today, confidently, boasting of its system of governance being superior to democracy. This reinforced by its earlier successful intervention during the global financial crisis of 2008, and the trumpeted success of the BRI project has been an elixir giving heady mix to challenge the fading western powers. Beijing repeatedly portrays itself as superior to India and as very close to surpassing the US as the next global superpower. But, such raucous growling and chest thumping from the pulpits of its Great Wall, betrays a deep-seated insecurity that is a chronic ailment, endemic to most authoritarian regimes, as is for the Chinese Communist Party. India and its hyperbolic media and ungrounded strategists should not make pygmies into giants ten feet tall.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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One thought on “China Unleashes an “Indian Spring”!!

  1. China exploits Indias liberal and democratic way of governance. Similarly India needs to exploit China’s dictatorial and oppressive governance. It doesn’t need great deal of funds but skills in cyber domain which we have in plenty to penetrate Chinese social fabric. Right thinking persons to synergies the existing potential.Selection of such persons is critical and will have to be above political favoritism and beyond regional considerations.

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