Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Round One to China

By Pravin Sawhney

The Chumar-Demchok military stand-off in Ladakh will end to China’s advantage. There are two reasons for this. At the strategic level, China gives far more importance to psychological victory than to military gains. The postponement of army chief, General Dalbir Singh’s Bhutan visit is indicative of the stress within the Indian establishment; the Prime Minister Office certainly does not assess the stand-off as a tactical show of strength. Hypothetically speaking, if the Chinese were to show signs of reinforcing their capability in the entire Ladakh (which given its infrastructure is no big deal), even Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be hard-pressed to reconsider his US visit.
At the operational level, Chinese would be amused at Indian generals and television experts who proclaim Indian Army’s capability to take-on PLA might. For example, recently retired Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain wrote in Indian Express (September 24): ‘Beijing would do well to realistically analyse India’s military potential, which may appear weak but, in effect, is sufficient to dent China’s image should there be a localised showdown’.
Really? Why will the PLA join a ‘localised’ conflict when for example, it can destroy India’s communication satellites with its proven Anti-Satellite capabilities, jam its cyber communications and test-fire a salvo of its ballistic missiles with conventional warheads from Tibet Autonomous Region as part of military coercion. In any case, give the shabby state of the Indian Army in terms of its capabilities, capacities, training and mind-set, does Gen. Hasnain’s claims do India any good by his pretensions? The PLA which always fights in so-called ‘self-defence’ will use this hollow bravado to its advantage. The problem with generals like these is that they mix up China with Pakistan (two adversaries as apart as day and night) and tactics with operational art of war where the PLA has mind-boggling advantages over the Indian military. Fighting a war with China is not an option for India; balancing China with a mix of politico-military means is.
Specific to Chumar-Demchok when President Xi Jinping was visiting India, experts should know two fundamental things about China: it can pursue aggression and talks simultaneously as the premium is on psychological victory rather than military (tactical) advantage. And, negotiations are never about instant gains and losses, but are a part of protracted confabulations meant to tire and frustrate the opponent so that he starts seeing advantage in Chinese’s viewpoint.
To reflect on these truisms, I recommend two books as a beginning: Qian Qichen’s ‘Ten Episodes In China’s Diplomacy,’ and Henry Kissinger’s, ‘On China.’ Qichen was Chinese foreign minister (vice minister for foreign affairs) and vice-Premier from 1988 to 2003. He was witness to two momentous events: Tiananmen Square and the demise of Soviet Union. The well-known Kissinger, probably the best western observer on China, has personally interacted with four generations of Chinese leadership before the 2012 arrival of President Xi Jinping.
In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the world came down heavily on China. Starting 5 June 1989, the US, Japan, the European community, and the G7 Economic Summit announced one after another that they would stop all bilateral high level visits, stop exporting arms for military and commercial purposes, and defer new loans to China provided by international financial institutions. Amidst all this, US President George Bush (senior), who did not want to sever all ties with China, sent his National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft on a secret mission to Beijing to assess how the damage could be minimised. What did China do?
According to Qichen, Deng Xiaoping told Prime Minister Li Peng, ‘We will talk only about principles today. We don’t care about the sanctions. We are not scared by them.’ Then, he reminded his team a Chinese saying, ‘It is up to the person who tied the knot to untie it.’ The saying, according to Qichen is ‘not an ordinary argument about the meaning of words. It is the crux of bilateral relations.’ In another context, the prescient Qichen in a lecture told Chinese student in 2002 that, ‘I believe, as long as our overall strength (political, economic and military) continues to grow, Sino-American relations will change in our favour.’
In his book, Kissinger explains the difference between western and Chinese strategies. ‘Western strategists reflect on the means to assemble superior power at the decisive point, Chinese address the means of building a dominant political and psychological position, such that the outcome of a conflict becomes a foregone conclusion. Western strategists test their maxims of victories in battles; Chinese test by victories where battles have become unnecessary.’
He further writes that, ‘They (Chinese) do not think that personal relations can affect their judgments, though they may invoke personal ties to facilitate their efforts. They have no emotional difficulty with deadlocks; they consider them the inevitable mechanism of diplomacy. They prize gestures of goodwill only if they serve a definable objective or tactic. And they patiently take the long view against impatient interlocutors, making time their ally’.

So what is the PLA up to? As a continuation of what it did in Depsang plains (Daulet Beg Oldie) in April-May 2013, the PLA is doing the following: At the tactical level, it is seeking to position itself advantageously in Chumar-Demchok area. At the operational level, it is pushing the military Line of Actual Control in Ladakh westwards to reach its 1959-1960 claim line. And, at the strategic level, it is putting psychological pressure through coercive diplomacy to remind India of its Achilles Heel.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

President Xi Jinping Checks Prime Minister Modi

By Pravin Sawhney

By PLA’s massive intrusions in Chumar (Ladakh) which were timed with President Xi Jinping’s three-day India visit beginning September 17, China managed to humble Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his home turf.
Modi who appeared totally in control on the first day in Ahmedabad and had Jinping’s ears for most of the day, was reasonably subdued in Delhi. Even in the press statements, Modi, unlike Jinping, flagged the border stand-off right in the beginning, asking for clarity on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). However, by underplaying the border issue, Jinping seems to have sent a powerful message to India’s neighbours about Beijing’s might. The latter will help Beijing get fulsome support from littoral nations in the Indian Ocean for its ambitious maritime silk route project, which could, with time, acquire military overtures.
Unfortunately, this unsaid message got lost on India’s thinking community which cannot differentiate between the two adversaries, Pakistan and China. Some experts said that the PLA, like the Pakistan Army, is a state within state and does not listen to Jinping and its own foreign office; Jinping was seen to have been embarrassed by his own troops. Others prognosticated that a humiliated Jinping had committed to resolve the border dispute at an early date. Nothing is further from the truth.
China, unlike the western nations, does not view aggression or war as an end of diplomacy. Aggression for Beijing is less about military and more about psychological victory; it is an inalienable part of its negotiating style. Moreover, China does not consider a particular negotiation, whatever its level, as a make or break event which should either show result or be dubbed failure. Negotiations are meant to frustrate and stress the opponent till he, at an opportune time, accepts Chinese viewpoint as his own. This explains why China adopts a historical and at times deceptive perspective in diplomacy till it suits it to arrive at a quick favourable conclusion.
When the Chinese fifth generation leadership under President Jinping came in office in 2012, it was confident of exploiting its enormous economic might garnered by earlier leaderships to both consolidate its territories and expand its strategic frontiers. This explains Jinping’s elevation as head of all three high offices, namely as head of the Politburo Standing Committee, Central Military Commission and government at the same time. This consolidation was done to obviate the possibility of more than one power centres in China; Beijing had clearly decided to assume the leadership role in Asia by taking on the most powerful nation in the world. During my visit to Beijing in July 2012 at PLA’s invitation, the Chinese military was vocal in naming the United States as its sole adversary; suggesting by default that it did not consider India worthy of rivalry.
Against this backdrop, India should know that let alone resolve the border dispute, or agree to a LAC, China will not even disclose its perception of the LAC. Why? Because it helps China nibble Indian territory and also keep India under great psychological pressure fearing a war where no outside country will come to its assistance. While India misleads its people on its military preparedness against China, Beijing understands the hollowness of Delhi’s claims made regularly by its political and military officers and scientific community.
Of the total 3,488km disputed border, the 1,488km in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) is most vulnerable and, by Delhi’s own admission, has been transgressed and even intruded more. This is not coincidental but is a part of Chinese strategy to encircle India where it is weakest. Unlike Arunachal Pradesh which has the McMahon Line drawn by the British in 1914, Xinjiang’s (China) border with Ladakh has historically been an open frontier till 1959, when both India and China made strong territorial claims.
In an abrupt development, which Delhi underplayed, China in December 2010 declared that its border with India was 2,000km and not 3,488km as claimed by India. Beijing had said that it did not have a border with India in Ladakh, where Indian troops are locked in a confrontation with the Pakistan Army in the Siachen glacier since May 1984. With a mere LAC, which by definition is a military line, in Ladakh, China is now pushing the frontier westwards by denying any advantages that the Indian forces have, for example, in Chumar-Demchok area.
This should tell Delhi that the border dispute is not a tactical issue. It is the sole strategic issue which unless balanced with politico-military efforts will impede India’s rise. Increased bilateral trade and commerce can surely wait.