In an interview to the media, the army commander of Eastern Command, Lt Gen Manoj Pande, stated that Chinese exercises in the region have increased as also has troop density. Its infrastructure development continues at a fast pace so are its construction of border villages. There was a Chinese intrusion in the disputed region of Barahoti in the central sector recently. Talks on disengagement in Eastern Ladakh have come to a standstill, with China refusing to discuss current standoff points. China continues to blame India for Ladakh.
In recent days, information warfare, in terms of releasing fake and morphed photographs of the Galwan clash and its aftermath have begun doing the rounds. These are being released by Chinese handles based in Pakistan claiming them being downloaded from Weibo, China’s microblogging website, to which logically they have no access. The frequency of release gained pace after the Tawang incident where Chinese troops were temporarily detained. Pakistan, now confident after installing a puppet regime in Kabul, would turn towards closer cooperation with China against India.
Simultaneously China blames India for cyber-attacks on its networks. The Global Times in a recent article stated, ‘China has been victim of cyber attacks for many years and the rising attacks from India once again revealed the severity of the situation.’ It quoted Shen Yi, deputy director of the Fudan University Cyberspace Research Centre, ‘India conducted numerous cooperation with the US in cybersecurity and it is reasonable to speculate that behind the hacker groups there is intelligence sharing between India and the US.’ China continues to be concerned on the growing proximity between India and the US, as also the cooperation with other QUAD members.
Internally, the Chinese economy is stagnating, its large companies are facing a financial crunch and unable to clear loans. Evergrande is just one of them. Anger against failing construction companies, in which most common Chinese invest, has led to mass protests within China. As per ANI, 19 out of 40 cities in mainland China have reported over 30% vacancy rate in office buildings. Many who had invested in homes in these companies are left in the lurch.
Global companies are leaving China. Gartner, a research organization, stated that a third of supply chain leaders had plans to move at least some of their manufacturing out of China before 2023. It further added that COVID linked supply chain disruption, poor sales and rising production costs are reasons. There are major power cuts and food shortages in the country adding to dissatisfaction amongst the population. Recently, there were multiple blasts spread across China which were hushed up.
Internally too, there are problems within China’s CCP. Xi Jinping has not left the country for over 700 days citing COVID. He has gained an unprecedented statement almost assuring his third term in the recently concluded plenary. Yet, reports continue of crackdowns on dissenters, business personalities and opponents, as Xi seeks to remove all competition.
China honouring its Galwan casualties and regularly referring to them, including introducing the clash in history books, appears to be an intention to build national spirit and shift mindset away from internal concerns and shortcomings towards India. The Global Times reported last week that China has nominated five Galwan clash participants as the country’s ethical role models. It continues to hide its true casualty figures.
The Chinese Government’s call to its population for stocking up supplies led to panic buying. Many linked it to growing cases of COVID within the country, leading to possible lockdowns. Few considered it as a sign of shortfalls in food stocks, as China remains the world’s largest importer of agricultural products. Some stated it could be a precaution for a war with Taiwan whom China has been threatening for some time, especially as the current Taiwanese government claims independence.
China is aware that Taiwan is the focal point for global micro-chip manufacture. An editorial in the New York Times of Dec 2020 stated, ‘The new Cold War, between the United States and China, is increasingly focused on access to just one industry in one place: computer chips made in Taiwan.’ In addition, is the presence of US forces within Taiwan implying China could draw the US and Japan into the conflict, an action China is still not prepared for. The US has openly warned China against invading Taiwan. It would therefore need to choose another adversary.
India continues to insist that normalization of bilateral relations would be dependent on resolution of the current standoff along the LAC. There has been no dialogue between Xi and Modi. It is the only nation with whom China has major borders yet to be settled. Further, pushing India down would imply compelling the rest of Asia to accept its diktat. A major incident with India could also impact the QUAD grouping. Finally, companies leaving China would be heading to India. Hence, India is an opponent.
In Ladakh, the camping season is coming to an end. The onset of winters prohibits large scale operations and hampers India’s offensive capabilities. However, it opens doors to non-contact warfare. For China, contact warfare with a strong, well trained and battle-hardened Indian army, chances of success and achieving desired goals appear limited. Hence, China would prefer non-contact warfare. It is currently building a scenario for the same.
By blaming India for cyber-attacks, China is creating grounds for a retaliation. It has been launching cyber-attacks on India in the past but would now operate jointly with Pakistan. Alongside this could be limited intrusions into Arunachal and/or Sikkim. It may not consider employing missiles at this stage as India could retaliate in a similar manner. The intention would be to bring India’s financial, power and other major sectors to a standstill compelling India to talk on its terms. As an ultimate option it could consider the launch of missiles onto India’s military and strategic targets, hoping India would capitulate, rather than respond. It will never seek to move beyond the conventional as global response could be devastating.
For India, options are limited. China only responds to power and force. Backing down once, will send the message that India can be cowed down. It would need to respond with similar vigour and strikes. Unless it adopts tit for tat, it will be the loser. It needs to be prepared backed by strong political will.