Part 1 – The Military Dimension
Reports have alluded to PLA transgressing the LAC and occupation of locations / heights in violation of accepted terms of the recent military agreements. One report also claimed that a clash had taken place at Galwan. There have been many reports of PLA build up and preparations in the rear areas including turn around of the formations deployed there. Reports also indicate deployment of S 400 and long-range surface to surface missiles. Further, indications are that their airfields are being improved and runways extended in Tibet besides a new one coming up opposite the Central Sector. All these reports go on to suggest that the PLA is undertaking a massive build up.…..Click here for the balance of Part 1…
If you have not read Part 1, PLEASE DO NOT GO AHEAD. Read Part 1 and then proceed. You will get the larger picture……
In Part 1 of this article I had discussed the various aspects of the present Sino Indian Logjam purely form a military point of view. However one has to see beyond the military dimension as to why China will/or not pick up a bone with India. Remember ….war is politics by other means! The geopolitical and internal scene for China is changing rapidly. New societal, geo-economic and geostrategic issues are cropping up which were not even on the horizon last year. Throughout last year, China was externally focussed, expansionist and aggressive. There is a subtle shift. China is being forced to focus internally. Many might not agree with my line of thought. Far from being a system which is taking China into superpower status, the CCP now sees clouds on the horizon which threaten its hold on power. My guess is that, at this moment, the CCP is prepared to be in power of a China which is not a superpower rather than being out of power in superpower China. This is something which we need to understand.
The Afghanistan situation is unstable. China is clearly worried about East Turkestan Independent Movement and Xinjiang. It is going to ridiculous lengths to woo Taliban. China is even trying to cull out Uighur fighters from the Taliban ranks through financial inducement and diplomatic carrots. It is also clear that the Taliban might not have the wherewithal to seize power and govern the nation peacefully despite the backing of China and Pakistan. One cannot trust Taliban to do Chinese bidding either. The Xinjiang situation has already drawn enough attention and sanctions worldwide. Overall, the recent cartoon below from one of the leading dailies of its Iron Brother explains everything. China is slowly being drawn into the cauldron of Afghanistan and it is clearly jittery. China is also experiencing major attacks on its personnel in Pakistan. It gives a major opportunity to India and USA to exploit. We should not lose sight of it. The recent move by our PM to greet Dalai Lama on his birthday and US Foreign Secretary Blinken’s outreach to Tibetans facilitated by India has also not been lost on China. New chapters in the regional situation indicate that China will think many times before escalating Sino-Indian friction at this point of time. If Xinjiang and Tibet go into a partial tail spin along with any flareup with India, the concept of ‘One China’ is endangered. There could be domino effects. The control of the CCP on China is also threatened. No wonder Xi Jinping made a surprise visit to Tibet. Surely he did not go there to admire the wonderful architecture of the Potala Palace! Their core interests are at stake!
There are other long term impacts of any serious conflagration with India. China has chosen the economic route to superpower status. If its economy has hiccups, superpower ambitions will get delayed. Chinese growth is levelling off as other major economies are reviving and coping with the pandemic. Further it is now clear that the Chinese population is rapidly ageing and declining. There will be a permanently increasing economic cost to ageing. In five years , China will have to take a call as to how militaristic it wants to be. Ageing and declining populations full of single children tend to be pacifist. Japan and Germany , the two most militaristic nations of the last century turned pacifist through ageing. They did not even have to contend with single children or a rapidly declining work force. Any flareup with India or any nation will further have an adverse impact on Chinese growth as it heads into being a graying economy with societal penalties. China will then get definitely old before it gets rich , if at all. China might lose the long term war without even winning the short term battle with India. This risk cannot be marginalised since the demographics are irreversible.
George Friedman offers an interesting thought on ‘China as a Third World Country’ . He posits that when China’s wealth is aggregated it has the ability to shape parts of the global economy as well as build a significant military capability. While its GDP, when aggregated is second only to the United States; on a per capita basis, it ranks with much poorer than Third World countries. Resultantly China is seen by him both as a world-class economic power as well as a third world country. As per him the wealthiest Chinese enjoy a status on par with the wealthiest Americans; most others live worse than someone in Guyana or Equatorial Guinea. The point is about the yawning inequity. This inequity is playing up on the people and there is disquiet. Most importantly, people are shying away from marrying and having children since the fundamental necessities like housing, food and education are getting out of the reach of the common man. The CCP is fully alive to this problem. The issue is pretty real since the South China Morning Post had run a series of six articles on the Grim Outlook for Chinese Unemployment in May 20. This year it has run another series of five articles on China’s Jobs: Inside the Worlds Biggest WorkForce. Read both the series of articles. The new series looks at how China finds jobs for close to 900 million people, of whom 350 million are migrant workers and some 10 million are new graduates each year. It was the same thing last year. One gets a sense of Déjà Vu. If anything, the job and workforce situation in China seems to have deteriorated. Questions which the current set of articles pose are 1.How does China find jobs for 900 million people? 2. Is China’ retreat from State Sector reform holding back job growth? 3. China’s factories fight to attract young migrant workers as population ages. 4. China’s working mothers find careers and children often do not go hand in hand. 5. Why are China’s fresh graduates saying no to 996 jobs? China is not a runaway economy as being made out by its propaganda machine. There are serious internal issues which will rein in its militaristic outlook.
Chinese big fintech, edutech and housing companies create the top end wealth, drive the economy and generate jobs. However they also create inequity. These have huge data. If they are listed in overseas markets, this data has to be made public. This data has the capacity to influence people and thought. So what does China do? It prohibits these companies from raising capital outside. It smashes and dismantles its fintech biggies like Alibaba, Tencent and Didi. China has also gone nuclear on its private ed-tech industry. As per reports China will target the housing sector next. CCP is busy torpedoing the Chinese boat to reduce inequity and stay in power. The yawning inequity, ageing and loss of control threaten the control of the CCP on the country. After all there can be only one boss In town – the CCP. China is turning revisionist and destroying the wealth created to maintain ‘social stability’. As per Shekar Gupta of The Print, wealth worth a Trillion $ has been destroyed by Chinese action! It will have an economic and social effect downstream. What will be the further effect on its capital markets which are crashing on a daily basis? Who will fund its overseas adventures? What will be effect on the BRI? Can the military expansion continue to be funded in the same manner without consequences? Will social stability be achieved? These questions have no immediate answers. They need analysis in depth and time.
Another phenomenon growing in popularity in China is called Tang Ping. It is a youth movement which believes in taking things easy and being laid back. The Chinese government is so afraid of the Tang Ping movement that it has been blacklisted. The Tang Ping movement threatens China’s power. Tang Ping youth decrease productivity, reduce consumption and go slow on the 9 to 9, drone like workaholic 6 day routine of Chinese society. They also refuse to marry and have children to aggravate China’s most serious problems – declining and ageing population. They favour a simpler, less ambitious lifestyle, eschewing the rat race and typical milestones of adult life like home ownership and starting a family. Tang Ping rejects materialism, consumerism, and capitalism in general. When the youth of a country adopt an attitude of this kind, there is more to watch out for. It is almost a Chinese satyagraha of doing nothing by youth! Too many cross currents are surfacing in China! These cross currents are in addition to the existent ‘Five Instabilities’ of Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Hongkong and Mongolia which I had outlined earlier. Mix in issues like food and energy security deficiencies analysed earlier. The Chinese cocktail becomes heady.
There is one major reality. The Chinese Virus is going to catch all of us. You can evade it to some extent only. Vaccination improves the chances being safe and alive. The Delta variant is rampant now. Chinese social media has started speculating about the inefficacy of Chinese vaccines against the Delta variant. Countries relying on Chinese vaccines are shifting to other jabs. The sum of all fears is that the pandemic is just beginning to play out. China is facing one of the worst outbreaks since Wuhan. They have had to seal off Nanjing. The virus has now spread to at least 13 cities including Chengdu and Beijing. Flood hit Zhengzhou has also joined the list. The Chinese economy will stutter through intermittent breakouts and lockdowns. That much is clear and was predicted. Remember, Xi Jinping had declared victory against the Virus! Loss of face and diplomatic leverage are inherent in the situation. More is in the offing without doubt.
So let us summarise. The Chines economy is going to be limited by many factors detailed above. On that, there is no doubt. It is a matter of time. An ageing China will be burdened. The Tang Ping movement is also suggestive of a youth burnout waiting to happen. There is a serious threat of loss of control of the Party over the people. The evolving geopolitical situation in Afghanistan on its Western border threatens its control over Xinjiang and Tibet which in turn threatens ‘One China’ – a core interest. There are boundaries to China’s greatness and invincibility. Under these conditions does anyone think that China will initiate any military action with India where the risk of not succeeding is very high?
Does it mean that we can remain smug? No. Not at all. We should be alive to the fact that we can never trust the Chinese. There will friction on the border. I had identified their strategy as ‘Belligerent War Avoidance’, since Galwan days. It will continue. There will be border incidents. There will be collusivity with Pakistan. We should prepare for the worst. We need to be confident and do our trick as per the situation. We could fault our system for not doing enough at speed. That is another matter. However let us not doubt that our Armed Forces will respond suitably when the time comes even if it means paying a huge price. On that I have an unshakeable faith. The question is – should we pay the price or are there better hybrid methods of sorting the Chinese out? We need to think it out. The problem essentially is internal to India. If India stands together and works together, there is no force to stop it. The question is – does it have the leadership to take it to the greatness we are capable of?
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