Geopolitics

The World after the 19th Party Congress
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Issue Vol. 32.4 Oct-Dec 2017 | Date : 05 Dec , 2017

Planet Earth, it seemed, held its breath for these seven days in October to see what emerged from the secret parleys of the 19th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Like a fragmented chip of Halley’s Comet, the fabled Congress of the CPC appears in the night sky (but due to its brightness also visible during the day, despite the smog over Beijing) once every five years. Then it is gone without a trace. However, while it lasted, ironically, it was an extravagant, elaborately choreographed ‘coronation’ ceremony, a carry forward from the Imperial Era of the Middle Kingdom.

The build-up to the grand finale started over a month earlier all around the globe; by governments, ‘think tanks’, academia, scholars of all hues, analysts and experts. Anyone who knew the language or had even visited Hong Kong and Macau on a leisure cruise, was much in demand for a byte to pepper the debate on television. But the real worth and value of the CPC Congress is succulently described by Simon Leys who had this to say, “It is the art of interpreting non-existent inscriptions written in invisible ink on a blank page.” This was a comment on a book titled – ‘The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921––1985: A Self Portrait’ by Laszlo Ladany. It would not be out of place in a way, to bracket this recent Party Congress.

However, interpreting the non-existent inscriptions written in invisible ink on blank pages has yielded some insights. One, that Xi Jinping has consolidated his position and has been declared ‘paramount leader’ or ‘core leader’ (either/or survivor) with his thoughts enshrined in the Party Charter – ‘Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’. Two, while Xi and Li Keqiang retained their place in the Politburo Standing Committee, five new members, all Xi loyalists, joined the elite group which will run China. Three, no successor of Xi was announced, giving rise to speculation that he may go on for another term on expiry of this new five-year term which ends in 2022. Four, the Communist Party of China’s internal dynamics and machinations are more intriguing than all of India’s hundreds of political parties taken together.

Xi has offered China’s version of socialism to emulate, saying that it provides an alternative model to Western democracy for countries that want to “accelerate their development while maintaining their independence”…

Initiatives that have come to define Xi’s push for China to become a powerful global force – such as military overhaul and modernisation, the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and a comprehensive anti-corruption campaign, were also indoctrinated into the Party’s Constitution. China under Xi has seen a consolidation of power. He reactivated 77,000 Party branches nationwide. He has enforced loyalty among the Party cadres as well as in the military and under the anti-corruption purge, ‘disciplined’ one million persons from all walks of life. Activists and non-conformists were either questioned or arrested. There were stricter norms tabled for Non-Government Organisations and religious activities.

This is the age of unicorns. Since the term was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee to describe start-ups valued at $1 billion or more, unicorns have multiplied with incredible speed. China’s unicorn herd account for 53 per cent of the global total and 66 per cent in terms of valuation. China has invested well in Science and Technology as also in Research and Development. Till recently, China had ten Tech Unicorns – today it has leaped to 50. The State-Owned Enterprises, though supported by Government investment, have been modernising at a steady pace. While the wealth gap between the rich and the poor has widened, Xi has doubled the allocation of funds for poverty alleviation. Interestingly, Xi turned out as an unexpected defender of globalisation at Davos and emerged as a champion of economic globalisation in contrast to the inward looking US. China was trying to give its soft power a boost. Xi has offered China’s version of socialism to emulate, saying that it provides an alternative model to Western democracy for countries that want to “accelerate their development while maintaining their independence”. The Beijing Consensus!!??

The reference echoes Beijing’s long-standing foreign policy objective to increase the voices and influence of emerging nations in global governance. It also underscores China’s confidence in its ability to provide both stability and prosperity at home as also be respected as a major, responsible power abroad.

Xi Jinping’s speech dwelled considerably on military might. To quote relevant portions, “With a view to realising the Chinese Dream and the dream of building a powerful military, we have to develop a strategy for the military under new circumstances and have made every effort to modernise national defence and the armed forces. Historic breakthroughs have been made in reforming national defence and the armed forces. A new military structure has been established with the Central Military Commission exercising overall leadership, the theatre commands responsible for military operations and the services focusing on developing capability. We have strengthened military training and war preparation, and undertaken major missions related to protection of maritime rights, countering terrorism, maintaining stability, disaster rescue and relief, international peacekeeping, escort services in the Gulf of Aden and humanitarian assistance. We stepped up weapons and equipment development and made major progress in enhanced military preparation. The people’s armed forces have taken solid strides on the path of building a powerful military with Chinese characteristics.”

Militarily, while China has not got involved in any conflict, it has been vigorously assertive in its stance…

Recently, in the first week of November 2017, Xi spoke to the border troops and exhorted them to be prepared for war. Yes, militaries are meant to fight wars but why is war a dominant theme in the Chinese government’s agenda?

Militarily, while China has not got involved in any conflict, it has been vigorously assertive in its stance. Continuing its assertive domination and ‘island construction’ in the South China Sea despite the award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration and increased frequency of naval patrols in the East China Sea, were low points in its international standing. Xi proclaimed that the process of basic mechanisation of the military would be completed by 2020. With this, the force will be capable of developing strong and effective joint operations. The military has been tasked to shoulder any mission given by the Party, emphasizing on its loyalty to the Party. This military modernisation is ingrained with Chinese characteristics. However, a fully advanced force in military thought and organisation, in personnel, weapons and equipment, would be achieved by 2035. Thereafter, by the mid twenty-first century, it aims to be a world-class force.

There have been views expressed in India that the Standing Committee is packed with hardliners, some with a bias against India. Such a view smacks of an inferiority complex and susceptibility to coercion. Certainly today, in India, the powers that be have the moral conviction to state their point forcefully and emphatically with no unnecessary histrionics and then to stand their ground. Some have even endorsed the school of thought which supports India joining the BRI now. The argument put forth is that if China rechristens that portion of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by another name, then it would have accommodated India’s main objection relating to violation of India’s sovereignty. Viola!! Then there should be no reason to stay out of BRI as India will benefit greatly. It is being projected by these supporters that it would be in India’s interest to join the BRI since such a large number of others are joining. This is an abjectly facile argument, projecting India as lacking spine and political verve. Is India politically and economically so diffident that we need to hang on to someone’s coat-tails? One media person, who has been a beneficiary of China’s sumptuous hospitality, suggested that since Vietnam decided to attend the BRI Forum despite having fought a war with China later than India did, India too should join it. Those who endorse such arguments only expose their penchant for opportunism and pitiable pusillanimity. For them, India’s pride as a nation seems to hardly matter

What should India’s strategy be to pursue its interests regionally and globally?

China’s sustained economic progress has enabled it to develop generous economic and military relations with all of India’s neighbours…

The truism that in international relations there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests, is on a slippery slope. Interests now seem to be more opportunistic oriented. Interests have an economic bias. Alignments and associations are characterised by economic orientation. Geo-economics and geo-politics are now synonymous. Ideology has taken a back seat. In the early years after Independence, India had to choose between the ideology of Western Powers and Russia. It adopted a middle, “Non-Aligned” path. Non-Alignment with ‘Indian characteristics’ had a Russian bias and an undercurrent of anti-Americanism. Admittedly, during those early years, there was an element of ethics in India’s conduct of foreign policy. While the global scene has totally, India is still reluctant to go the whole hog to bandwagon with any power, citing its retention of strategic autonomy. Internationally, ethics and moral obligations are selectively applied. It is neither a normative constant nor an interwoven sinew in the tapestry of a realist’s school of thinking.

India is emerging from the shadows of ‘non-alignment’ as also from the lack of political will and abject defensiveness of the earlier dispensation at the Centre. New Delhi has consciously taken steps to progress on the concept of quadrilateral cooperation between India, Japan, Australia and the United States (US). Australia recently expressed its affirmation to be a part of this grouping. The Japanese Prime Minister is actively consulting with the United Kingdom (UK) and France to be part of this multilateral cooperation. It is in India’s strategic interest to be an active contributing member of such a grouping. China’s unilateralism, as recently displayed during the face-off with China in Doklam, will compel smaller neighbours of China to band together and look to such groupings to reduce their strategic imbalances.

China’s sustained economic progress has enabled it to develop generous economic and military relations with all of India’s neighbours. Much like India in the global arena, these small countries also want to tread the middle path and keep both the large Asian powers at bay. China has deep pockets and executes its projects in foreign countries in a time-bound manner. The same applies to it giving military hardware to countries. In comparison, India’s record in executing projects abroad is tardy as it is in under the charge of some amorphous ghost body comprising anonymous bureaucrats in the Central Government who have nothing to do with the formulation of India’s foreign policy. Also, India is too parsimonious in giving military hardware. India cannot just pretend to help and leave these smaller neighbours in a limbo.

The development of India and China is seen as an unprecedented opportunity, for the two countries and for the whole world…

As seen during the Doklam impasse, China put to test its “Three Warfare” theory. Through an obvious central controlling agency, China directed its efforts to control the prevailing discourse and influence perceptions in a way that advances China’s interests, while compromising the capability of opponents to respond. China’s Global Television Network (CGNT) began services on December 31, 2016. Through this medium it vigorously presented its stand in Doklam, showing India in poor light. India’s Door-Darshan World (DD World) broadcasts programmes to the Indian diaspora worldwide but does not target world audiences. The propaganda department in India is controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs. What is the level of coordination, to present a coherent view, between Ministries of Information and Broadcasting, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Defence, National Intelligence Agency and National Security Advisor/Council is anyone’s guess!! It is a case of too many agencies under too many bosses, each ploughing his lone furrow.

India’s liberal and chaotic democracy makes it vulnerable to subversion. There are many individuals and groups which can be listed as highly susceptible to such Machiavellian machinations. China’s theory of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ is not some hypothetical scenario building. Media, both print and visual, as also non-government organisations and may be even some political groups, may garner funds from sources inimical to India’s strategic interests. As Tom Wheeler in an article in the Brookings web magazine observes, “The ramifications of Russian exploitation of social media exceed its potential electoral impact. It even exceeds the involvement of the Russians. The broader ramifications are how social media algorithms divide us, how those divisions can be exploited and whether there are solutions.” He further states, “Technology and capitalism have combined to deliver us to a decidedly undemocratic outcome…By fracturing society into small groups, the internet has become the antithesis of the community necessary for democratic processes to succeed.”

Even if there is not an iota of truth in the allegations of foreign interference in the US Presidential election process, India has to be wary of similar such interference in India’s parliamentary elections less than two years down the line. Any vulnerability of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) has to be looked at in detail. The EVMs should have built-in protection through some form of electronics hardening and data security to secure them from any type of electronic sabotage.

In the management of their relationship and for peace and progress in the region, both these countries need to show sensitivity and respect for each other’s core concerns and interests…

India has not formulated a national security doctrine, even though many organisations and ‘think-tanks’ have, independently, drafted such doctrines. However, a general direction and thought can be gleaned from the Prime Minister’s address at an international forum earlier this year. Some relevant extracts are listed below:

India’s transformation is not separated from its external context. India’s economic growth; welfare of the farmers; employment opportunities for youth; access to capital, technology, markets and resources; and security of the nation – all of them are deeply impacted by developments in the world. The reverse is also true.

The world needs India’s sustained rise, as much as India needs the world. India’s desire to change has an indivisible link with the external world. It is, therefore, only natural that India’s choices at home and its international priorities form part of a seamless continuum firmly anchored in India’s transformational goals.

India inhabits a strategically complex environment. In the broad sweep of history, the changing world is not necessarily a new situation. The crucial question is how do nations act in a situation where the frames of reference are shifting rapidly. The choices and actions are based on the strength of the India’s national power.

India’s strategic intent is shaped by its civilisational ethos of:

  • यथार्थवाद (realism).
  • सह-अस्तित्व (co-existence).
  • सहयोग (cooperation).
  • सहभागिता (partnership).

This finds expression in a clear and responsible articulation of its national interests. The prosperity of Indians, both at home and abroad and security of its citizens are of paramount importance. But, self interest alone is neither in India’s culture nor in its behaviour.

India’s actions and aspirations, capacities and human capital, democracy and demography and strength and success, will continue to be an anchor for all round regional and global progress. Its economic and political rise represents a regional and global opportunity of great significance. It is a force for peace, a factor for stability and an engine for regional and global prosperity.

It would indeed be a sad commentary and downright shameful if India has to fight another war and the Chief has to again resignedly declare the same hopelessness reminiscent of the 1999 conflict…

The development of India and China is seen as an unprecedented opportunity, for the two countries and for the whole world. At the same time, it is not unnatural for two large neighbouring powers to have some differences. In the management of their relationship and for peace and progress in the region, both these countries need to show sensitivity and respect for each other’s core concerns and interests.

The Indian Prime Minister’s speech is markedly pacifist and in sharp contrast to the emphasis on military power and global power projection which was the central theme of Xi in his marathon opening speech in the Party Congress. Probably the Gandhian rubric of non-violence weighs heavily on India in openly acknowledging the role of the military in the nation’s quest for a great power status!

Militarily, India’s armed forces are up to any challenge. Be it one front, two fronts or two-and-a-half front war. In 1999, during the Kargil War, the then Army Chief had no option but to resignedly declare that “We will fight with what we have”!! In reality, the situation is no different today. The ‘hollowness’, with regard to in-service equipment, is as persistent as it ever was. ‘Make in India’ has not yet fructified or delivered hardware on ground. The Infantry is not getting the 9-mm Close Quarter Battle Carbine; the 7.62mm Light Machine Gun procurement was scrapped due to a ‘single vendor’ situation; the trials for a 7.62mm multi-calibre Assault Rifle was ditched in favour of an assault rifle to be produced by the Ordinance Factory Board (OFB).

Procurement of aircraft, ships or submarines, tanks or artillery guns are eye-catching big-ticket buys; but these are all, ultimately, to support the foot soldier in the remote borderlands physically protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this Nation. If neglected, then the ancient ballad may just prove to be true, “…for want of a horseshoe nail, the kingdom was lost”. Wars are initiated by strong countries against countries with weak military forces. Consequently, if the adversary assesses that India is militarily poorly equipped and weak, it could encourage attacks on one/two/two and a half fronts. It would indeed be a sad commentary and downright shameful if India has to fight another war and the Chief has to again resignedly declare – “We will fight with what we have.” However, my countrymen, rest assured that these dauntless soldiers will stand fast and fight to the ‘last man, last round’ even though knowing fully well that they will be forgotten soon after.

Visuals and photo operations of the Raksha Mantri (Defence Minister) posing in the cockpit of a SU-30 MKI or propped up on a huge throne-like amply cushioned seat welded on top of the turret of a tank or inspecting a guard of honour on the Navy’s aircraft carrier do not contribute towards making powerful military forces. What needs more attention is in the Minister’s domain and around her in the South Block. The need, therefore, is for her to inspect and take stock of the inadequacies of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO); the inefficiency of OFB; the slow and cumbersome process of procurement and the internal machinations and intrigues of her own Ministry. These are the people who have to provide the wherewithal to the military to be in a position to fight. And, no matter how you slice it, they are definitely not doing so.

China has identified two timelines for reaching declared goals in her development:

  • 2021: Centenary of the founding of the CCP. Aim to double the per capita income of what was there in 2010.  Develop society into a moderately prosperous one with stronger economy, greater democracy, more advanced science and education, thriving culture, greater social harmony and better quality of life.
  • 2049: Centenary of the founding of PRC. Overtake the US in economic strength and military prowess. Achieve modernisation and turn China into a modern socialist country. And as Xi claimed “China is closer, more confident and more capable than ever before of making national rejuvenation a reality.”

However, of deep concern in India is China’s recalcitrance with regard to resolution of the boundary issue. It probably concerns another ‘timeline’ – the era post HH Dalai Lama!!!! And India’s response to a Dalai Lama ‘nominated’ by China.

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Sadly, no such timelines were ever identified by any dispensation in India. Regrettably, there seems to be no ‘Indian Dream’ too!! The present government did set a target of ‘Housing for All’ by 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. A similar target for the military modernisation is also needed – as a guiding benchmark, the Integrated Defence Staff’s (IDS) Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) should be adopted with a target date of 2030. But with ad hoc short-term modernisation goals being the rage, there is hardly a likelihood of any comprehensive well-thought out modernisation of the military services that can take place. The gap between India and China’s military modernisation is only set to increase.

China under Xi is in a hurry to achieve its objectives for his “Chinese Dream”. Its military might is being built up to assertively thwart any obstructions. It seems set to rewrite the global rules to suit the pursuit of China’s interest. India cannot expect the going to be easy. Objectively speaking, India’s fundamentals need major overhaul. Poverty is too heavy an anchor weighing India down. The super rich one per cent, hold more than half of India’s wealth; the upper crust of ten per cent of the population has more than 370 times the wealth of the bottom ten per cent. There is no way that India can make progress without uplifting the downtrodden. India is faced with a daunting task. Will it measure up?

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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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