Unchallenged Xi Jinping with renewed mandate by CCP, during his conversation with President Joe Biden has tried to create an impression of bipolar world order in existence, although the rest of the world amidst Covid-19 pandemic continues its rebalancing between 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 sole superpower at global stage and have China centric Asia at regional stage, for which sub-ordination of India is considered essential. To achieve that the containment plus encirclement (concirclement) of India is a strategic necessity to be able to coerce it to China centric alignment, preferably without undertaking contact warfare.
Chanakya wisdom that a neighbour with unsettled border can never be a friend, seems to have been realised by New Delhi, which has been consistently involved in talkathon with China for decades hoping to have friendly neighbour. India needs to work out options in all domains, in fragile international environment, to undertake China challenge to avoid concirclement, preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity, besides continuing its own march towards becoming a strong pole in global order.
Multidimensional Concirclement of India by China
In absence of any border treaty between Independent India and China and non-demarcated LAC, the standoffs will continue. The present one in Eastern Ladakh seems to have run into stalemate, to India’s disadvantage, especially due to shortage of leverages, although India refuses to be coerced to resume business as usual side-lining border/LAC issue and insists on further pull back of PLA from all friction points to lead to de-escalation. China wants to avoid further pull back as it continues building additional infrastructure to upgrade its encroachment into areas, which it was not supposed to occupy as per Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), as permanent settlements. Chinese aim is to label it as settlement of border issue, somewhat in consonance with its 1960 claim line which includes these strategically important areas in Eastern Ladakh. With occasional intrusions in other areas along LAC, China is trying to increase the economic cost of deployment for India by forcing a round the year deployment hoping to stretch out the Indian Military to seek a favourable Sino-centric solution.
The ‘Containment Strategy’ of China includes planned construction of 628 dual use, border defence villages along its own perception of LAC to provide permanency to its claim, enhance its ISR capabilities (some of which have already been made), providing it infrastructure like fibre optic connection, akin to outposts. China can claim that its Land Borders Law passed last month by National People’s Congress is applicable to all countries, but the timing suggests it to be part of containment of India. The law improves coordination between agencies and power to defend increasingly claimed land under garb of national integrity. China’s recent MOU with Bhutan for resolving border issues bilaterally, and allurement of Nepal are also steps towards containment of India. A possible Chinese gain at Doklam through a land swap with Bhutan from other areas can be a serious concern for India due to its proximity to Siliguri Corridor. China has also encroached to make villages in both these countries.
The aggressiveness in ‘Encirclement Strategy’ is evident from China delivering – most advanced frigates/warships to Pakistan. Labelled as gift, India must take it as cover plan for deployment of its PLAN combat ships in Pakistan territorial water/Arabian sea, perhaps under Pakistan flag, adding another pearl to its ongoing ‘String of Pearl Strategy’. Gwadar port as part of CPEC, CMEC leading to Bay of Bengal and foothold in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are part of overall encirclement plan of India.
part of concern for India is Chinese encroachment in non-contact warfare domain. Chinese increasing economic, technological and digital offensive against India and other countries have made them so dependent on China, denting their self-reliance, so that the responses to Chinese unethical encroachment get muted. Chinese strategy of ‘Three Warfare’ namely employing media or public opinion, psychological warfare, and legal warfare through display of arsenal, exercises and buying opinions seems to be finding some traction in politically active democracies, election oriented segments in India to settle their political scores.
Options for India
A serious push in capacity building and infrastructure build up along towards LAC to take on China challenge in 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 capacity to encroach into sensitive areas of China, and inflict punitive cost, as China has assumed freedom to encroach anywhere, at will. The asymmetry in CNP 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 in adopting unethical proactive proxy war against India under nuclear hangover. India also has 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), prioritise 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 widening of strategic roads or railways dragging feet to construct strategic railway lines in Arunachal due to lack of commercial viability. Surely part of NSS in open domain may improve sensitivity of all agencies to national security needs, once specified. India should also pass equivalent of Border Defence Law in some form, like strategic infrastructure along border to have different yardstick for speedy clearance by local, regional and central authorities to avoid incidents like environment ministry obstructing many such constructions in past.
In response to Chinese build-up of villages to incrementally change the ground position, it is recommended that States/UT along LAC should allot concessional land to security forces like regional SCOUTS, ITBP, SSB, and families hailing from that area (on son of soil concept), ready to settle in villages so constructed, along own perception of LAC. This will improve inclusive growth, integration, besides proof of our claims on the border, to ward off ‘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 defence manufacturing. It may sound unpleasant to few profit making importers, but will reduce our dependencies and concerns of economic coercion to great extent in long term. It’s absurd to notice India’s trade surplus with China growing beyond its defence budget during standoff period.
Collective naval posturing with like-minded democracies to create multifront situation for China in Indo-Pacific is essential to check Chinese expansionism challenging global order and threatening global commons with steps like China centric Coast Guard Law and Maritime Traffic Safety Law. There is a need for alternative supply chain, trade and technological eco system, independent of China for which some initial steps taken by Quad countries need to be pursued. An alternate infrastructure architecture in the form of B3W, Blue Dot Network and Friendship Highways are essential to save fragile economies getting into debt trap of China through BRI. Collective response against cyber, space, biological threats and nuclear expansion need to be worked out.
India needs to develop its strategic culture with professional strategists, as diplomacy driven patch ups and talkathon have not worked so far. The overall strategic approach has to be proactive at all levels, in all dimensions of warfare.