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Taking on Goliath
— Armor-and-Shield vs. Staff-and-Sling
by H.N. Bali Bookmark and Share

Continued from “Kill a Chicken to Scare the Monkeys”

China’s Bid to Redefine World Order Part - V

Mythology is a sort of magic realism in the sense that there is some realism and a lot of fantasy woven in the fabric of mythology, embellished with legends of the past. However, mythology does show the motivating beliefs in a nation’s psyche.

Take, first, Indian mythology. It tells us about the Ashvamedha (“horse sacrifice”) − one of the important royal rituals as described in the Yajurveda. It used to be conducted by ambitious kings. Its object was acquisition of more power and glory, by acquiring sovereignty over neighboring kingdoms.

The selected horse to be sacrificed was set loose to roam around wherever it chose to go, for the period of one year. If the horse wandered into neighboring territory not under the king’s rule, it must be subjugated.

With China reemerging as a dominating economic and military power in the world, some Chinese scholars have wistfully harkened back to another era, about the 5th century BC, when under a virtuous and benign Confucian emperor, all was well under heaven. The implicit suggestion in this historical retrospective – under a virtuous China one could return to the golden age.

There is a legend among the Chinese, similar to our Ashvamedha. It’s called Tianxia as per which a benign emperor ruled the entire geographical world or the metaphysical realm of mortals. This was symbolized by the tribute system, under which rulers of lands surrounding the Celestial Kingdom visited the imperial court, performed ketou, or obeisance, and presented gifts of local produce. In return, their legitimacy as rulers was affirmed. The result was, what’s called in Chinese, datong, or great harmony.

Today, the Ashvamedha is just a historical memory. However, with China re-emerging as a dominating economic and military power in the world, some Chinese scholars have wistfully harkened back to Tianxia.

Chinese Imperialism

After 1949, when the Communists took over, Middle Kingdom or Mandarin Zhongguo − the Chinese name for China − the country was officially named as Zhonghua renmin gongheguo − middle glorious people's republican country. The surrounding world now may not be entirely inhabited by barbarians but they must, the Chinese leadership believes, be subservient to the over lord of the Middle Kingdom.

Today, China is keen to expand its territories all across its borders. And China shares its borders with as many as fourteen countries. And it is acting like a big bully and flexing its muscles because it has now besides acquiring formidable military prowess, become an economic super-power as well.

Perhaps the best exposition of what Chinese imperialism is up to is outlined in The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy by American military strategist, Edward N. Luttwak. He explains “the Chinese web like approach to counterbalancing as one of the most fundamental reflexes in the realm of strategy.” It appears China’s political elite under Xi Jinping, an unusually assertive new leader, has crossed a line similar to the one that the German elite did a century ago.

Claims vis-à-vis India

What are China’s real and declared intentions towards India and its short and long-term plans to achieve the same, is a sixty-four-dollar question. Each China expert has his own version, and there are plenty of them.

The LAC between India and China, implying de facto control after the 1962 war, is yet to be physically demarcated on the ground and delineated on military maps. So far, neither has been accomplished. Doesn’t it reflect adversely on the efficiency and seriousness on our part to address ourselves in dead earnest to a festering problem? No wonder it has assumed proportions of a major destabilizing factor that leads to frequent transgressions. Both sides send their patrols up to what they deem their ‘perception’ of the LAC. Patrol face-offs are common and have an element of tension built into them though both sides usually exercise restraint. Major incidents in the recent past include those at Depsang near Daulat Beg Oldie in April-May 2013; and, Chumar and Demchok in September 2014. There was an armed clash at Nathu La in 1967 and a prolonged standoff at Wang Dung in 1986. Hence, though the probability of conflict is low, its possibility can by no means be ruled out.

Most crucially, the military gap between Indian and China is growing steadily as the PLA is modernizing at a rapid pace and India’s military modernization plans remain –thanks to our bureaucracy − mired in red tape. China is also steadily upgrading the military infrastructure, particularly in Tibet to enable rapid deployment. It is in China’s interests to stall resolution of the territorial dispute till it is in a much stronger position in terms of comprehensive national strength so as to be able to dictate terms. It is in our interest to strive for early resolution of the territorial dispute.

Over the years, Chinese intrusions into the so-called disputed border are increasing alarmingly. That’s not all. Chinese leaders start screaming as and when our politicians travel to Arunachal Pradesh to remind us that it is a part of China.

Indeed, the British bequeathed us an un-demarcated border. They had in fact no need to define it as China till then didn’t matter as an international entity. After the Chinese Communists took over in 1949 the situation changed dramatically. It shows the myopic vision of Jawaharlal Nehru to never have given a thought to the border issue when it could perhaps have been amicably settled, particularly when the Chinese were prepared to accept the McMahon line if India acquiesced into the Chinese takeover of Aksai Chin.

Arunachal − and it is crucially important fact − is more integrated with India than most other north eastern states. Its people speak Hindi as a link language for one thing. And even otherwise they have a strong Indian identity. In their assembly elections their voter turnout is invariably higher than the national average. In fact, people of Arunachal are willing to fight and give up their lives to keep China out. They know that joining China means complete obliteration of their indigenous culture. The trouble China will face if it ever − God forbid the day! − annexes Arunachal will be much more than what they are experiencing in Tibet.

China knows this, and with their present problems with the Uighurs in Xinjiang and in Tibet, the last thing they want is more violence. It is very likely China’s Arunachal Pradesh hysteria is a part of their long term strategy of using it as a bargaining chip in the final settlement.

Our Strategy

India’s strategy to deal with China must thus incorporated, among other tactical maneuvers, the following half a dozen elements.

  • One, faster economic growth simultaneous with significant improvements in military capability to hit back, if attacked.
  • Two, ongoing diplomatic parleys on the border and other disputes with China. This is to prevent avoidable misunderstandings leading to military skirmishes.
  • Three, work towards building a China containment coalition with all affected Asian countries, particularly with Japan and Vietnam.
  • Four, steady projection of India’s soft power in the west and south-east Asia to counter China.
  • Five, evolving internal unity by avoiding needless diversionary disputes and unnecessary divisive issues.
  • Six, keep trading with China backed by ongoing effort to close the trade gap.

The Chinese capitalize on the fact that Indians have not traditionally been strategic thinkers. The challenge before us is prove them wrong.

The blatant pushiness of China resembles the arrogance of modern-day Goliath. It has commanded the attention of almost all Asian Davids. Particularly vulnerable among them are India, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and even Indonesian and Malaya. Some of them have begun to think in terms of a partnerships with the common interest in mind: how to restrain Beijing’s overvaulting territorial ambitions. In the fast-shifting scenario, Vietnam seems the most vulnerable.

New Delhi thus has a crucial stake in Vietnamese preparedness to stand up to China. India has already agreed to train Vietnamese sailors in submarine warfare and has offered a $100 million line of credit to Hanoi to buy military equipment, including maritime patrol vessels. Compared to the standards of regional military spending, this doesn’t add up to much. However, it is a first step.

This is also in consonance with the American strategy of strengthening the web among China’s wary neighbors, who have a shared interest in keeping China from using force to upset the existing order. Except Japan, none of these countries has any prospect of countering Chinese imperial designs on its own. In concert, however, even if not in outright alliance, they may be able to effectively tie down the giant and constrain it to a mutually acceptable set of international rules.

In any event, as the India-Vietnam example shows, China’s neighbors are not exactly waiting for the United States to show them the way. Japan is contributing enthusiastically to a maritime defense buildup in both Vietnam and the Philippines. Even South Korea, usually among the most solicitous of China’s neighbors, is now readily an arms exporter to the Philippines.

Ultimately, intra-regional balancing on the above lines probably offers the best prospect for avoiding a direct face-off with China.


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Comment Following my ''kill the dinosaurs to scare the Chinese'' (tailored to the traditional maxim) comment, I can only add that the world, and we in it, has been created to give the impression of sufficient duration as would appear ''world without end''. This scale of unending, despite the evidence of it on planet earth being nothing short of a delusion, permeates our world of politics where entities are virtually absolute. Yes, there is a sane admission of cataclysm as the earth has suffered many a time, but the conviction of a sustained future where everything resolves itself into days of sunshine compels nations to take the latter seriously - after all, there would be no winners in the apocalyptic scenario. However, as your narrative proves, all entities are perceived as absolutes, and absolutes have a curious way of eliminating rationality. What we are left with is a surreal world of conceptualised reality that is based on the absolutes of perception. It is the former that makes up the future and that compels present action according as to how it will be determined.

12/30/2014 08:02 AM

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