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China’s 21st Century Emperor and its Implications for India
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Dr Subhash Kapila | Date:10 May , 2016 0 Comments
Dr Subhash Kapila
is a graduate of Royal British Army Staff College Camberley and combines a rich & varied professional experience in Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat and diplomatic/official assignments in USA, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan.

China’s 21st Century Emperor emerges in the persona of President Xi Jinping who unprecedently in a short time-span has assumed total control of all Chinese military organs which create implications for Indian security.

Historically, an essential tenet of a nation’s threat assessments emanating from its military adversary was an estimation of the character and personality traits of its Commander-in-Chief controlling the military forces. In case of China which figures as India’s prime military threat, where President Xi Jinping is both the ‘king’ and China’s Commander-in-Chief of China’s vast military machine spreading its tentacles wider than before, it is essential to size-up President Xi Jinping’s personality traits and an overall assessment of what direction China follows under his leadership essentially against India.

China’s past two powerful political leaders presiding over China’s destiny, namely Chairman Mao and Deng Xiao Peng had not achieved such centralisation of military power in their hands structurally as President Xi Jinping has been able to achieve in a short span of time.

President Xi JinPing has in recent times in well-orchestrated sequential steps re-structured China’s military set-up by transforming China’s seven Military Regions into five geographical Military Theatre Battle Commands, all modernised as integrated joint theatre commands. Notably, the largest and most militarily powerful Military Theatre Command is the Western Theatre Battle Command which faces India all along its Northern Himalayan borders.

The fact that President Xi Jinping has combined the military forces and assets of the earlier two Military Regions into a single integrated Western Theatre Battle Command indicates that China’s main thrust in the 21st Century is to militarily tie-down India with a pronounced military threat. The second subsidiary aim is to ensure that with India tied down with such a pronounced China Threat, the Indian military threat to China’s concubinage military client Pakistan is that much more diluted.

Superimposed over the modernised Military Theatre Battle Commands, President Xi Ping has placed the Headquarters, Joint Military Battle Command.

President Xi Jinping then designated himself as the C-in-C, Joint Military Battle Command, even though he heads the all-powerful Central Military Commission and in that capacity controls the vast Chinese military machine. More significantly, President Xi Jinping on assuming command as C-in-C, Headquarters Joint Forces Battle Command visited the Headquarters in full military combat fatigues. Did President Xi Jinping in such a dramatic visual gesture flashed in the global media was indulging in some political or military signalling? Even Chairman Mao as the most powerful Chinese leader so far never deigned to appear in military combat fatigues. Further, contemporarily, Russian President Putin as China’s strategic ally and equally powerful in an authoritarian regime has so far not resorted to such a dramatic military gesture of appearing in military combat fatigues.

President Xi Jinping can rightfully be now designated as “China’s 21st Century Emperor” when taking into account that he wears nearly seven powerful hats in the Chinese political and military hierarchical power structure. He is General Secretary (read presiding deity) of the Chinese Communist Party; China’s President; China’s Head of State; Chairman, Central Military Commission; and ex-officio member of Politburo Standing Committee. He has also recently indulged in a political propaganda offensive to be designated and referred as China’s “Core Leader.”

To this add his new hat as C-in-C Headquarters Joint Forces Command which signals that he has superimposed himself over his Chairmanship  of the Central Military Commission, which would imply that as not as a ‘Commission’ , President Xi Jinping would singularly assume ‘direct control’  of China’s new five Joint Theatre Battle Commands.

President Xi Jinping has therefore over-centralised all political and military power in his hands making him the most powerful Chinese President since 1949.

Since political analyses of President Xi Jinping’s abound abundantly in the global media, the attempt in this Paper would be to analyse the military implications of President Xi Jinping’s concentration of political and military power in his hands, both as Chairman, Central Military Commission and now as C-in-C, Headquarters Joint Forces Battle Command in relation to implications for Indian security.

Sizing-up President Xi Jinping’s personality traits and character, as gleaned from global media reports he is reputed to be ‘audacious in decision-making’; ‘loathes dissent’; ‘demands absolute loyalty’ and finally ruthless in the realisation of his goals, objectives and power-aspirations. His restructuring of the military organisational structures can be attributed not only to streamline the Chinese military machine but also as a personal desire to place in command of the new Theatre Battle Commands, military generals personally loyal to him

With such personality traits, India would be faced with a Chinese President in power who can be expected not only to be a hard-line adversary to deal with but also ruthless in indulging in military brinkmanship on its peripheries. This is already in evidence that on his ascension to power China has indulged in aggressive brinkmanship in the South China Sea but also in terms of deep incursions into Indian Territory on India’s Northern Frontiers bordering Tibet under Chinese military occupation.

In terms of implications for Indian security, this needs to be analysed in two different but inter-related dimensions of ‘Politico-Strategic Implications’ and the ‘Military Implications.’

In terms of ‘Politico-Strategic Implications’ the more salient factors that come to the forefront centre on China’s policy inclinations on the vexatious and critically significant China-India  territorial dispute; the evolving China-India geopolitical power tussle; and the China-Pakistan Axis.

The entire examination of the above dimensions stand covered in detail in my latest book “China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives.” But some salient highlights need emphasis in brief for those who have not read that book.

China so far has not displayed any attitudinal inclinations in the genuine resolution of the China-India territorial disputes and under President Xi Jinping’s command, India should not expect any further movement on this contentious issue. On the contrary, other than rhetorical flourishes and sanctimonious protestations on China-India peace by China, India should expect hardening of stances especially on the most important issue for India and that is of the ground demarcation of the Line of Control between China and India.

The evolving China-India geopolitical tussle is likely to get more intense under the stewardship of President Xi Jinping. China under his leadership has global power ambitions and President Xi Jinping can be expected to audaciously and ruthlessly drive China in emerging as the second pole in a bipolar world. In President Xi Jinping’s strategic calculations, India is of no consequence and even if India does so in tilting towards the United States, President Xi Jinping has the option of resorting to a ‘Limited War’ on India’s Northern Borders to stifle India’s geopolitical ambitions.

President Xi Jinping last year audaciously and ruthlessly committed China to Pakistan’s side over-riding all Indian protests on the implementation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor since it traversed the disputed territory of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. China under President Xi Jinping can be expected to indulge in more provocative diplomacy against India in the years to come on this strategic investment project in Pakistan.

In terms of ‘Military Implications’ that accrue working against India under President Xi Jinping’s regime the salient factors that come to mind comprise the impact of Theatre Battle Commands on India’s ‘design of battle’ to meet Chinese military adventurism; China’s Higher Direction of War in case of hostilities with India; and once again the military coming into play of the China-Pakistan Military Axis in case of China-India hostilities breaking out.

The restructuring of China’s Theatre Battle Commands and particularly creating the Western Theatre Battle Command encompassing the entire India’s Northern Borders under a single Western Theatre Battle Command carries a host of military implications for India. An Integrated Western Theatre Battle Command unifying all Chinese military components on the Tibetan Plateau significantly contributes to enhancing China’s ‘war waging’ military capabilities against India. India may have to counter this with a similar integration of the Indian Armed Forces, including placing India’s strategic assets under such an integrated command to ensure swift responses against China’s military brinkmanship

India needs to seriously consider its civil-military relations template to combat effectively the swift ness of China’s Higher Direction of War so emanating from the Chinese Western Theatre Battle Command in launching military aggression against India. India has far too many filters and firewalls interposed in its Higher Direction of War set-up imposing unacceptable delays in military decision-making.

The impact of the China-Pakistan Axis in terms of military implications, both in terms of a ‘Dual Military Threat’ to India and Pakistan’s likely military moves in the event of Chinese aggression against India, stands analysed in detail in Chapter 8 of my Book referred above. Chapter 8 stands entitled as “Pakistan: China’s Force Multiplier in the China-India military Confrontation,” and covers the various facets of the China-Pakistan Dual Military Threat to India.

Lastly, another dimension which should worry the Indian security establishment is that since China’s 21st Century Emperor’s authoritarian rule is likely to be politically challenged from within at some stage, coupled with economic stagnation, the Chinese President in that dire eventuality may resort to whipping up “Chinese Hypernationalsm” to divert domestic political attention. Its most significant manifestation would assume the form of a military misadventure against India. Therefore, India’s military planners in terms of Threat Assessments of China would not only have to scrutinise military indicators but also China’s domestic political indicators of a surge of political dissent against President Xi Jinping. Forewarned is forearmed.

In conclusion, what needs to be stressed is that India’s political and security establishment needs to view China under China’s 21st Century Emperor through the prism of ‘realpolitik’ and not be swayed away from such realities by Indian academics and strategic analysts preaching woolly-headed sermons of peace on India’s Northern Borders and on imperatives of appeasing China for another ten years at least. Indian political leadership too has to emerge as more audacious and robust in its policy formulations and dealings with China and its pronounced military brinkmanship that is likely to ensue in the coming years. The ‘China Threat’ to India is real and should politically never be underplayed or de-emphasised as it was done during the period 2004-2014.


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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.

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