Xi Jinping’s ambition to make China an undisputed global superpower has changed the entire geo-political dynamics. The phenomenal rise to power of Xi Jinping has made China more belligerent and aggressive. He has emerged as the most powerful leader of China after Mao Zedong. Born in a politically influential family in 1953, he witnessed the Mao era very closely. He has also seen the ruthless face of Mao when his father was purged and jailed during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Though his father was rehabilitated later but only after the death of Mao, these events have left a long lasting impression on his young mind which got further hardened during his initial struggle within the Communist Party which he joined in 1974. He simultaneously pursued his chemical engineering degree, as a “Worker Peasant Soldier Student”.
Xi spent decades working his way up party and government ranks, but his consolidation of power since becoming the General Secretary, head of the party, in 2012 has been unprecedented. In 2013, he also became the President of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC), thus assuming charge of all the three most coveted posts in the party and government. He represents the new generation of Chinese because he is the first General Secretary born after the establishment of the PRC. Xi today is the President of PRC without term limits. Russian President Putin has also recently followed in his footsteps.
Incidentally, he now has 12 posts that give him control and oversight over most areas of government, the economy and military. Xi, therefore, is the most authoritarian world leader today who is ruthless with any form of opposition to him at home and visualises himself as a potential supreme leader of the world.
It goes to credit of Xi that during his tenure China has grown economically and militarily to become among the best. China surpassed Japan to become the second largest economy in the world and global manufacturing hub. He resorted to large scale purge among top military leadership to put an end to corruption in the PLA followed by structural reforms to make PLA a lean and modern fighting force with emphasis on mastering the three domains of cyber, space and information to build capabilities for winning without fighting-non contact warfare.
Xi proved to be a leader who can rise to challenges. But his bitter experience of Cultural Revolution has made him an authoritarian leader who does not trust anyone. He abhors challenge to his authority or to his “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation. He has crushed with authority dissent in Hong Kong, Xinxiang and Tibet at home. In pursuance of his Middle Kingdom ambition he has refused to accept the international laws and treaties and persisted with expansionist designs in South China Sea, East China Sea while continuing with salami-slicing in the neighbourhood to include India, Nepal and Bhutan. His ambition to be global leader has led to a no holds barred conflict with the sole super power USA.
Xi is convinced that the main rival of China is USA and all others are mere pushovers and that has determined his behaviour and actions as far as the disputes in South China Sea, Sino-India border and disputes with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are concerned. The Big Bully attitude of China and its new “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy can be attributed to Xi’s complete control overChina’s belligerent foreign policy.
All was going well for Xi till the outbreak of Wuhan Virus.The ongoing trade war with USA was also tilted in its favour till the Corona pandemic spread across the world with its roots in China. All of a sudden, the man known for facing challenges, was being attacked globally as well as domestically. The strong Chinese economy began to show the signs of crumbling.
The demand for closing factories in China and relocating them became louder by the day. India was being considered a probable alternative. US seized the opportunity and led the global offensive against China accusing Xi of deliberately delaying the information regarding the outbreak of Covid leading it into a pandemic. The entire global economy was in doldrums with nation after nation resorting to prolonged lockdowns to prevent the spread of the deadly virus with most nations accusing China for its onset.
Xi’s dream of 21st century belonging to China began to crumble gradually. His immediate plan of ending poverty in China by 2020 suffered the biggest setback. Instead 2020 has emerged as his toughest year. Xi’s unchallenged status at home so far came under threat and in order to divert the growing pressure at home he began to pursue an aggressive policy to portray Chinese supremacy. He let lose his “wolf warrior” diplomats to counter the global diplomatic and political onslaught.
Simultaneously, he began to exert in South China Sea and East China Sea. He started the process of gaining complete control over Hong Kong denouncing the “One Nation Two Systems”promise. The regime change in Taiwan further annoyed Xi.
Known for accepting challenges, Xi quite brazenly began to flex muscles, bullying and threatening not only small countries but some bigger powers as well. He began to behave like a medieval king seeking battlefield glory and eager to extend frontiers. His move to simultaneously open numerous fronts was a well calculated strategic move or a gamble will only become clear after the resolution of ongoing dispute with India. Challenging India in the trans-Himalayan icy battlefield was meant to teach India a lesson for challenging the Chinese ownership of Aksai Chin.
China was convinced that India would not challenge its occupation of Aksai Chin till Indian Home Minister roared in the Parliament that his reference to Ladakh included Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksai Chin. It rattled China more than Pakistan because China could afford to lose neither of the two.
Despite China’s denial the world community noted with concern sinking of Vietnamese fishing boats in South China Sea, unilateral decision to name the new Chinese districts in the area, sanctions against Australia, browbeating Japan in East China Sea, unilateral actions in Hong Kong, Ladakh incursions, manipulation of Nepal, claims on the Sakteng Wildlife Century in Eastern Bhutan and claiming the Siberian town of Vladivostok, a worldview of China’s expansionist policy. Buoyed by the passive submission by other nations, Xi Jinping ventured to provoke India at Galwan Heights expecting a similar meek submission.
But the brawl at those icy heights broke on the night of 15 June not only took the Chinese by surprise but also put a fear of God in its soldiers about the fighting prowess of Indian soldiers. The Chinese plan to teach India a lesson not only backfired but Galwan faceoff proved the straw that broke the camel’s back. Apart from setting a new normal, it may well turn out to be nemesis of the Paramount leader Xi Jinping.
The global community acknowledged with wide eyes the new normal of standing up to the Bully and paying him back in the same coin. India followed it up with an economic offensive as well. The changed scenario had a global ripple effect. China’s victims realised that the Dragon could be tamed by standing up to it and not through meek submission.
ASEAN nations for the first time spoke in unison asking China to follow the International laws about maritime boundaries, Japan reacted offensively by deploying near the disputed islands, Bhutan vehemently asserted its claim over Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and refused to be cowed down by China, pro –democracy movements grew stronger in Hong Kong, Russia agreed to fast track arms supplies to India, US moved two air craft carrier fleets in the waters of South China Sea, Australia refused to take Chinese students and broke trade relations with China. The African nations are also having a second thought over their over dependence on China.
Chinese economy also suffered a big blow putting greater pressure on Xi. Following Indian ban of 59 Chinese Apps, cancelling contracts signed with Chinese companies in telecom sector, construction and MSEME sectors and growing demand for boycott of Chinese goods, other nations also began to ban Chinese tech companies. Leading Chinese giant Huawei has been the biggest sufferer.
Similarly, the dream project of Xi, the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), has come under severe strain with many countries either abandoning the various projects or demanding their loan agreements reviewed. The list is growing by the day adding to weakening Xi’s stature at home. China had become an economic superpower by the time Xi Jinping took power but his critics now blame him of leading the country to ruin due to his aggressive, expansionist policies and an enormous ambition.
After aggressive posturing following the Galwan faceoff China has now agreed to a negotiated settlement on the border. Xi has realised that the misadventure against India has cost him dearly apart from domestic challenge he is losing the war against the international community as well. India and China agreed that differences should not become disputes after a telephonic discussion between the Indian National Security Advisor and the Chinese Foreign Minister.
Though China has agreed to phased disengagement and de-escalation, there is a big trust deficit between the two armies after what happened at Galwan. The overwhelming opinion in India is that disengagement is not enough in order to end tensions on the LAC. They advocate no de-escalation until full return of status quo. While Xi would fight his own battle for survival, we have to ensure that it is not yet another Chinese trap.
With specific reference to India, Maj Gen Veteran Umong Sethi, a strategic thinker says, “Only lesson history teaches us that no lessons are learnt from history.” We are not only poor at recording history but even poorer at learning lessons to be better prepared for the future. History tells us that China is untrustworthy. Be it 1962, Sumdrong Chu, Depsang or Doklam. This time also we are not yet sure if the Chinese move is a tactical retreat in order to achieve its bigger strategic aim?
Hence, India should not be lulled into complacence. History tells us that our political leadership has lacked a strategic vision as far as national security is concerned. They have failed to understand the insurance provided to nation’s growth economically and diplomatically by strong armed forces. Hence, payment of annual premium to ensure that the insurance does not lapse is mandatory.
The nation has to be prepared for not only warding off physical and visible threat to nations borders but also to invisible threats like the cyber, space and information warfare. Mere diplomatic and political handling is inadequate to ensure the protection of our sovereignty.
India need not let the guard down on its borders both along the LoC and LAC. At the same time all actions taken to supplement the armoury of three services should not be halted but put on fast track to ensure that if Dragon dares to repeat the mistake it is taught a lesson forever. If needed we should be prepared to stay put even during harsh winters for which logistics and catering preparations have to begin forthwith.
In order to supress the rumour industry government needs to come out with a well thought out communication strategy to keep the nation informed of all events on the LAC and measures initiated by the government to enhance combat potential of our armed forces to counter a two-front threat.
Economic strangulation of China should continue while at the same time encouraging the friendly nations to continue the same.
On the diplomatic front apart from consolidating the Chinese isolation due to Wuhan virus, India should also consider denouncing China’s One Nation Policy and leverage numerous fault lines in China by exposing its highhandedness in grabbing the territories in its periphery. Free Tibet movement should be given an impetus in India. The democratic movement in Hong Kong and Taiwan need stronger Indian support.
If Xi is able to overcome the domestic challenge, he would emerge even stronger and become a full- fledged dictator. He is unlikely to forgive India for having challenged his supremacy, India therefore has to be prepared for a probability of reoccurrence. Having set the new normal and kindling a hope among China’s neighbours India now cannot afford to withdraw.
India has also challenged the Xi Jinping’s dream of being a sole super power in Asia with no equals. Under no circumstances we can rest with achieving status quo, we have to emerge as China’s equal. China will try its level best to lull us into complacency, it would be suicidal if we re-fall into China’s trap.