“If you have an enemy, then learn and know your enemy, don’t just be mad at him.” — Denzel Hayes Washington (American actor, director, and producer)
Consequent to the five underground nuclear tests conducted by India on 11th and 13th May 1998, on 13th May 1998, the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, sent a letter to the President of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton, explaining the deteriorating security situation India faced in the region and specified it as being a threat that India faced from China – “I have been deeply concerned at the deteriorating security environment, specially the nuclear environment, faced by India for some years past. We have an overt nuclear weapon state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962. Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to the unresolved border problem. To add to the distrust that country has materially helped another neighbour of ours to become a covert nuclear weapons state.”
International relations will always be influenced by the respective interests of each nation. So was it in this case. It was then in the interest of the United States of America to forge better relations with China to wean it away from the erstwhile Soviet Union. The Indian Prime Minister’s letter, wondrously, served the US President’s expedient purpose – he promptly shared the letter with the Chinese President Jiang Zemin. India had officially ‘named’ its enemy and China did not take it lightly. Ironically, twenty-two years on and the text of this paragraph of the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s letter seem to so appropriately apply to the current bilateral relations existing between India and China – and, not to miss, with Pakistan persisting as the joker of the pack. The common Indian people equated this US action to its perfidious manoeuvre of 1971 when, during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, it had deployed the USS Enterprise in the Bay of Bengal. It took a long time to for India to trust US and befriend it more substantially. This ‘leak’ of the personal confidential letter by President of the US to China was indicative of India’s standing in the US schema. It did not do much to endear the US in the eyes of the common Indian citizenry. It has taken two decades to build an element of trust with the US and establish a more meaningful relationship.
It was then in the interest of the United States of America to forge better relations with China to wean it away from the erstwhile Soviet Union. The Indian Prime Minister’s letter, wondrously, served the US President’s expedient purpose – he promptly shared the letter with the Chinese President Jiang Zemin. India had officially ‘named’ its enemy and China did not take it lightly.
India can take solace in the fact that an enemy wouldn’t mess with it if it weren’t somebody. Probably China does see India’s potential as a threat to its grandiose plans in the Asian region! Apparently, in the India-China relationship, areas of confrontation seem to have expanded and unfortunately, areas of cooperation shrunk. May be also, that the capacity of both countries to solve problems or manage competing interests have atrophied. This, inspite of direct communications and series of informal summits in recent years, has not enabled India to influence how China identifies or pursues its interests leave aside the ability to generate any leverages.
Recently, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Yi, had said that – “China had made more friends in the world and had deepened friendship and cooperation with all countries, making active efforts to develop relations with major powers, achieving solid progress in building a community with a shared future with neighbours, protecting and advancing shared interests of the developing world and working for a new type of international relations…. We have not shied away from any challenge, nor fallen silent on any major issue…. We maintain that regional disputes should be addressed through dialogue and consultation.” To any Indian reading this statement, the hypocrisy, duplicity, and hollow sham will not be lost. It is obvious that what China states is rhetoric for image building, but what it implements on ground in reality is unrelated to these recorded statements for posterity.
Reverting to old friend Sun Tzu’s sagacious advice of “know your enemy…” it was taken by most in India as merely a fancy quote to be used often. However, the People’s Republic of China, with its militaristic frame of mind, was serious about it. From its inception, Chinese leadership had noted the global recognisation that the Indian leadership had got since its independence just over two years before the emergence of PRC after a debilitating civil war. Mao would have, probably, seen India as a competitor in the region for global resources, finances and influence in the region. In fact its ‘soft power’ (a term not then invented) was, globally, reasonable weighty for a newly decolonised independent nation. It did not take him long to formulate a long term coercive strategy to subdue India. The culmination of that was the war it waged on India in 1962. In the period from 1949 to 1962 China worked in many ways to know its ‘enemy’ and prepared itself to ‘teach a lesson’ to this competitor and its leaders and humiliate it in the eyes of the global community. The extent of its preparation was evident as seen in the way Chinese intelligence personnel communicated with Indian Prisoners of War, taken after the 1962 conflict, in many of Indian regional languages. Seemingly, the Chinese had prepared their personnel over quite some time to learn these regional Indian languages! That was a lesson India did not learn, as even today India does not have an adequate pool of proficient Chinese language interpreters.
To substantiate the point, there was an army veteran who was then director of the United Services Institute, had brought a load of printed material on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from his contacts with think tanks in Taiwan. Ironically, neither the Military Intelligence Directorate nor the School of Foreign Languages of the Ministry of Defence had the requisite capability to translate this vast resource available at hand. Individuals who could were asking exorbitant amounts for translating each page. As a result that precious cargo of knowledge of the enemy remained unused. Another incident that is illustrative is one consequent to India and China signing the Agreement of Peace and Tranquillity in 1993 and on Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s) in 1996. There was a requirement of having skilled Chinese language interpreters’ for the periodic Border Personnel Meetings (BPM’s) which were instituted as CBM’s in the 1996 Agreement. The army required competent interpreters’ who were well versed with military terminology and had adequate knowledge of the operational sectors along the northern borders. Incidentally, all the agreed BPM locations were in high altitude areas (12-14,000 feet) which required that the interpreters were also medically fit to carry out this task in these remote high altitude locations. Regrettably, a number of those army personnel who had pursued advanced interpretership in Chinese language were not medically fit to be moved to these locations! The lackadaisical attitude to ‘know your enemy’ was also evident in the National Defence Academy, where most of the cadets selected European languages as their choice for learning a foreign language. For a professional military officer in the making, only one of these languages – Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, Urdu, or Pashto – should have been (and should be now too) the choice for learning a foreign language and also the same given due weightage in the overall curriculum.
Ironically, neither the Military Intelligence Directorate nor the School of Foreign Languages of the Ministry of Defence had the requisite capability to translate this vast resource available at hand. Individuals who could were asking exorbitant amounts for translating each page. As a result that precious knowledge cargo remained unused.
The unexpected and dramatic deployment of massive military force in Ladakh post the winter of 2020, is a sequel of the consequences and outcome of the first Training Mobilisation Order (TMO) issued on 3rd January 2018 by Xi Jinping in his capacity as Chairman Central Military Commission. The genesis of the TMO was probably a blowback of the 73 day stand-off at Doklam in 2017. Starting from 2018, PLA forces have been scheduling such mobilisation for training to improve its ‘capability to win wars’.
On 3rd January 2018, in an elaborate ceremony held at a military training base in North China, President Xi issued instructions to the PLA in the presence of more than 7,000 PLA troops’ and 300 armoured vehicles that were participating in this ceremony. At the ceremony, Xi ordered the Chinese military to “strengthen combat readiness and put military training in a strategic position.” More than 4,000 parallel sessions were held simultaneously across China among the PLA Ground Force, Navy, Air force, Rocket Force, Strategic Support Force and the People’s Armed Police Force, where troops listened via live TV broadcast. It apparently was a decisive measure adopted to address whatever weakness that emerged in the PLA during the long stand-off at Doklam. The Indian strategic community and the intelligence agencies took this as a routine matter.
Xu Guangyu, a retired major general and senior adviser of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association commenting on this is stated to have said – “This is the first time since the founding of the country that instructions on military training have been directly issued by the chairman of the CMC, and it shows that improving combat readiness is now a strategic mission for the Chinese military.” Xu further stated that – “The core of improving combat readiness is to maintain and promote combat capability. China can’t copy the US’ measure to improve combat capability through actual combat overseas since our national defence policy is defensive rather than offensive. Therefore, military training becomes extremely important for China.” Xu Guangyu also said that these instructions emanated from Xi indicates clearly that the chairman of the CMC is the leader of all military affairs in China. This statement is significant to understand the Chinese government’s involvement in the PLA’s actions in Depsang (Ladakh) in 2013, on the eve of the visit of the Chinese Premier (14 days impasse), Chumar and Demchok (Ladakh) in 2014, on the eve of the visit of the Chinese President (23 days impasse), also Doklam (Sikkim) in 2017 (73 days impasse) and now Eastern Ladakh in 2020 (250 days impasse and counting). By that reckoning the PLA’s assertive and aggressive actions are always pre-planned, pre-meditated and directed by the CMC and Chinese government in close coordination and conjunction. To believe otherwise is strategic naivety or just being apologetic on behalf of the Chinese.
“This is the first time since the founding of the country that instructions on military training have been directly issued by the chairman of the CMC, and it shows that improving combat readiness is now a strategic mission for the Chinese military.”
The TMO signed by Xi Jinping on 3rd January 2020 asked the armed forces to “maintain a high level of readiness and step up emergency and combat training”. The order required strengthened joint command in training. It also stressed ‘integrating new forces’ into the joint operations system. It directed the PLA to strengthen Force-on-force training and the training evaluation system to be improved. India did not anticipate what was coming. The troops of Western Theatre Command and combined arms of PLA mobilised in the guise of training and conducted realistic live fire exercises in Tibet. Thereafter these forces were diverted and employed to stake their boundary claim in Ladakh with use of military force. India did not gauge the intention of the Chinese government when it mobilised forces for training. India was smug in the belief that with the numerous Agreements in place and with no military threat from India to China, the training was seen as a routine matter. That was a failing in intelligence assessment.
Xi Jinping has often stated that the world is not peaceful and crisis awareness for the military needs to be increased. In the first week of January 2021 Xi Jinping is quoted to have said that – “The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century, and China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for development… China’s armed forces must strengthen their sense of urgency and do everything they can to prepare for battle.” These statements issue as he signs the TMO for 2021.
The TMO signed on 4th January 2021, per se, urged the armed forces to “enhance training in real combat conditions to ensure combat readiness at all times”. It called for “efforts to be made for joint operations in combat and training, highlighting training under joint command, as well as training across the fields and services”. It also urged efforts to largely improve the use of technology in training and guide the training in accordance with the law. It extorts all officers and soldiers of the military to strengthen their willpower to fight, improve their skills (italics for emphasis), and resolutely accomplish the missions and tasks entrusted by the Party and the people in the new era to welcome the CPC centenary with outstanding achievement. The need to strengthen will power and improvement of skills is a likely fallout post Galwan incident. It may be assumed that there is much in the offing in the evolving situation in Eastern Ladakh come the summer of 2021.
The latest report of PLA withdrawing 10,000 troops from depth areas/training areas may just be bait. In this peak period of winter with the three main Chinese national highways to Tibet (Western G219, Central G109 and Eastern G318) remain closed and only airlift and the railway options are thus available. Deinducting 10,000 troops with their weapons and equipment will be a major exercise in itself and will go on for the next two months. If the PLA is doing so it is more due to medical and logistical problems. It may even be that the PLA is turning round units which have completed the last one year in Ladakh/Tibet with fresh forces mobilised under orders of the TMO of 2021. It surely is not any change of heart. In fact, in the first place, all the tents and accommodation that had been built up to house troops in Ladakh and western TAR may have been just empty structures with no one using them!! India should not get lulled and lower its guard. Chinese are past masters in deception, cunning and guile while Indians, in comparison, are gullible straight jacketed linear thinking ‘simpletons’! It reminds one of an astute commander’s (Napoleon) perspicacious view – ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake!!’ Is China luring India into making the mistake again?
China feels that if it has sufficient military and economic power to challenge the sole super power, then India, with its myriad internal political compulsions, not so robust or growing ‘aatm nirbhar’ economy and a military that is modernising in fits and starts and still dependent on imported military hardware, will not be able to match the Chinese ‘sharp power’….
In fact, the revised posturing of the PLA precedes the TMO episodes. The publication of the Science of Military Strategy (SMS) paper, prepared by the Academy of Military Sciences and separately also by the National Defence University, in 2001, 2013 and in 2017 are authoritative documents ushering in changes. These were the harbingers of this revision. Each new edition of the SMS is closely scrutinised by China hands in the West for the valuable insights it provides into the evolving thinking of the PLA on a range of strategically important topics. These gave ample indications of the thrust for the modernisation of the PLA. However, these have not been analytically scrutinised by the Indian strategic community and think tanks dedicated to studying China since there is no culture in India to name an enemy and study this enemy thoroughly. The existing think tanks that focus on China concentrate on its history, culture, economy, social issues, and diplomacy but deal with military issues superficially. Even the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the United Services Institute in New Delhi, has a very limited capacity for sustained detailed study and analysis of the PLA modernisation and the scrutiny of the stream of papers churned out of institutes like the Academy of Military Sciences and Chinese National Defence University. In addition to the existing Institute of Chinese Studies, in Delhi, and the recently set up Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies, which is an in-house research unit/think tank on China in the Ministry of External Affairs, have generated a more focussed approach to matters pertaining to China. However, the security strategy, military modernisation and military strategies as also intelligence aspects continue to languish more due to security reasons.
When the US published its 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defence Strategy, China did not take it lying down. It reacted by issuing a 51-page White Paper titled – “China’s National Defence in the New Era”, on 22nd July 2019. Both of these US documents effectively made China the key objective in strengthening US military forces and single it out as America’s primary strategic competitor. China’s National Defence in the New Era is a clear and detailed response to the substantive shift in US strategy from a focus on counterterrorism and extremism to competition and possible conflict with China and Russia. It flags the fact that America and China are now competing superpowers, and that China’s growing military forces are developing to the point where they will be able to challenge the United States. In this pushing and shoving for supremacy in global power equations, India’s virtual image is probably falling on the Chinese blind-spot of its vision. China feels that if it has sufficient military and economic power to challenge the sole super power, then India, with its myriad internal political compulsions, not so robust or growing ‘aatm nirbhar’ economy and a military that is modernising in fits and starts and still dependent on imported military hardware, will not be able to match the Chinese ‘sharp power’ (sharp power is the use of manipulative diplomatic policies by China to influence and undermine the political system of a target country). In due course India will be compelled to accept reality of being a subordinate power in the regional hierarchy.
The Chinese Lawfare now at work, as evident from the reports in its English language media, is that – “To a certain extent that if the previous negotiations on the western section did not involve the ownership of Ladakh, it now does as the entire Ladakh is a ‘dispute area’.
Another factor that has not been given due attention is the “Three Warfare” concept. In 2006, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and CMC concluded that the threat spectrum as assessed by the CCP was considered beyond the capability of the PLA and that the capabilities of the PLA were “incompatible with winning an informatized war” and thereby not fulfilling the “New Historic Missions” formalised by the then President of PRC and chairman of the CMC, Hu Jintao. The observation evolved, most notably, that “there are big gaps between the levels of our military modernisation compared to the requirements for national security.” Concluding that if PLA could not be relied to fend off military threats then those threats must be pre-empted in the minds of foreign policy makers who might choose to compete, contain or attack China. Victory in war or at least achieving political objectives increasingly depended on the preparations made in peace time – calling it “peacetime-wartime integration”. This led to the concept of “Three Warfare’s”. The First Warfare creates Political Power via media or public opinion warfare in which it attempts to shape public opinion both domestically and internationally. It is employed to arouse domestic nationalistic sentiment. The Second Warfare aims to influence foreign decision makers and how they approach the Chinese policy on a specific issue. The Third Warfare seeks to shape the legal context for Chinese actions; equating it to the western idea of “jus ad bellum”.
The Chinese misadventure in Ladakh has used its state controlled English language media viz, PLA Daily, Xinhua and Global Times to aggressively echo its view point. The Chinese language media had generally shunned the issue but later had to carry the stories post the Galwan clashes arousing nationalistic fervour. China has sought to establish that its action in Ladakh is justified since after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and bifurcation of J&K there is a ‘new normal’ that has altered the very status of Ladakh and it is even questioning the legality of India’s historical claim over Ladakh. Here it is trying to replicate its claim of Arunachal Pradesh being part of southern Tibet to Ladakh being part of western Tibet or southern Xinjiang!! The Chinese Lawfare now at work, as evident from the reports in its English language media, in that a researcher, Zhang Ning, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences propounds his hypothesis – “To a certain extent that if the previous negotiations on the western section did not involve the ownership of Ladakh, it now does as the entire Ladakh is a ‘dispute area’. Border demarcation negotiations will involve the ownership of entire Ladakh not just the LAC. Actual control will take a backseat and ownership debate in historical context will come to the fore.” While India may consider this as preposterous and laughable it needs to be prepared so as to cull such a ‘mischievous’ proposition firmly. India tends to become complacent when confronted by such ridiculous propositions. It happened in 1960 Officials Talks on the Boundary when India only defended its claims instead of shredding the facile claims of the boundary by China based on maps which are now emerging to be those prepared by foreign individuals not connect with the ruling dispensation allowing China to get away with such perfidy. China’s emphasis on sovereignty and internal control, especially on its territorial fringes, reflects anxiety not strength.
‘Knowing your enemy’ gives the country power to be prepared for the enemies Machiavellian machinations and allows the country to stand up proudly without kowtowing in appeasement. As Winston Churchill once said –“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last”!! Appeasement is not a virtue when it comes to national interests.