The danger of a short-swift conflict with China exists not only in Ladakh but also elsewhere along the India-Tibet border and even through Bhutan, along with some action at sea, writes Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (retd) for South Asia Monitor
Chinese President Xi Jinping has officially accumulated total power unto himself to the maximum possible extent. Improving the combat power of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on land, sea, air, space, cyber and electromagnetic spheres are at a feverish pitch. Within the ambit of ‘unrestricted warfare,” China practices the strategy of ‘deep coalitions’ that may include multiple nation-states, civil society organizations, drug mafias, private corporations whose interest are at stake, individual speculator (s), and other components involving players at different levels of the multi-dimensional system; with all groups operating all the time, in a continuous flow - multiplying, fissioning, then fusing into others, and so on. This game China plays with impunity across the world to further its national interests.
The effectiveness of deep coalitions can be seen by Beijing’s influence over United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) despite genocide in Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, and over the World Health Organization (WHO) despite being the original place where the deadly coronavirus began. Aside from debt-trapping countries with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s deep coalitions have successfully broken the cohesion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in China’s favor, made some Quad members join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the recent economic investment deal with EU and similar one announced by the South Korean President despite thousands dead, millions infected and economies punctured with the coronavirus.
Xi’s China dream
China’s war preparations since Xi became President have been conspicuous, as are China’s threats and actions. It is naïve to think Xi has mellowed down with global pressure. Xi recently purged billionaire Jack Ma for his comment about ‘borrowing billions from banks’ though he did not mention any political connivance; a phenomenon witnessed the world over. Is Xi ushering a new ‘cultural revolution’ in China? As Xi moves to realize his China dream, none understands China better than the Russians. Even in the Soviet era of the 1970s, the USSR Ministry of Defense view in military textbooks read: ``The Beijing leadership considers a new world war to be the shortest path to the establishment of world domination of China.” That would explain why he may want to advance the erstwhile Chinese aim of integrating Taiwan by 2025.
Iran has given the incoming President-elect Joe Biden administration in the US notice to lift sanctions unconditionally failing which Iran will scrap all nuclear safeguards and expel International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. The Biden administration will have its hands full with the pandemic and reviving the economy. Moreover, with Yemen’s Houthis designated terrorists by the US and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo elaborating on Iran-Houthi and Iran-Al Qaeda links, Biden will be in a bind to lift economic sanctions on Iran so early without negotiations. Is Iran bringing the issue to a head on its own or prompted by China?
On the other hand having reveled in the spotlight with President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calls America the number one enemy and has ordered expansion of North Korea’s nuclear program with higher yield nukes, advanced MIRV missiles, and nuclear-powered submarines.
North Korea was always the nuclear talon of the Chinese dragon, other being Pakistan, but the timing of Kim’s proclamation is important. North Korea could be used to ignite the SCS and threaten American allies-bases.
The China-Turkey-Pakistan axis has enough potential for igniting Afghanistan further, beyond Beijing paying the Taliban to kill Americans. Similarly, links of this trio with the Islamic State can create new hotspots in the Middle East under Beijing’s sponsorship, even as Yemen remains aflame with Iranian support to Houthis.
On the India front much is being made of China stalemated in Eastern Ladakh and some PLA troops moving back from depth areas which are nothing more than the rotation of troops or reducing maintenance effort in extreme winters. China perhaps did not expect massive redeployment of Indian troops but it will not forgo the intrusions it has managed especially the advantage in the Depsang Plains.
Xi has exercised the PLA on a life-sized land model of Ladakh inside Tibet since 2014 and trained the PLA in high-altitude winter warfare in Canada, Pakistan and in Tibet with Pakistani instructors. Therefore, the danger of a short-swift conflict with China exists not only in Ladakh but also elsewhere along the India-Tibet border and even through Bhutan, along with some action at sea. China has occupied the bulk of the Doklam Plateau with a purpose in 2017-2018. Multiple fronts against India are what Xi may be planning for making India tow Beijing’s line.
But the subjugation of India would not be the only issue on Xi’s mind. If he wants to achieve global domination, he must eventually fight the US but going ahead means catastrophe for both. Therefore, Xi would like multiple conflicts to engage the US on foreign soil, till China’s coup de main to invade Taiwan when the US is perceived sufficiently weakened. He may want to be acknowledged as the 21st century Hitler on July 1 - the centenary of China’s Communist Party. This may appear illogical to many but drunk with power, Adolf Hitler was hardly logical.
The important thing is that if Xi considers a new world war to be the shortest path to the establishment of world domination of China, and what better time to ignite the fuse when the world is battling coronavirus? This may be the reason Xi is stressing the PLA to be combat-ready on a second’s notice.
(The author is an Indian Army veteran. The views expressed are personal)