By Manmohan Bahadur
The ongoing ‘skirmishes’ in the Doklam plateau have been engaging India’s attention as a behaviour that is ‘different from normal’ on part of the Chinese – assertive, provocative and obdurate. That a third party, Bhutan, is involved adds to the murkiness. A closer look, however, shows it as no different from Sun Tzu’s principle of strategic deception.
In 1999, two colonels of the People’s Liberation Army, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, wrote in their book, Unrestricted Warfare, how China should prosecute future wars. Stating that “the first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules, with nothing forbidden,” they suggested a multi-pronged approach to attack the target country’s vitals in all spheres – diplomatic, political, social and of course military.
That this got an official sanction of sorts got indicated by the decision of the central military commission in 2003 to have a three warfare concept – psychological, media and legal; a development conveyed to the US Congress by their defence department in a 2011 report. It was further analysed and expanded to mean warfare in multiple spheres – like financial, ecological, technological, trade, media, economic aid and international law. Did this gameplan play out at Chumar and Depsang earlier, and is it now driving events in Dokalam?
The Depsang intrusions took place before the Indian foreign minister was to attend the ministerial conference on Afghanistan at Almaty, Kazakhstan. Thereafter, ever since an assertive government took office in Delhi, one can discern continuation of this trend to keep it occupied with multiple pin pricks.
The Chumar intrusions happened while President Xi Jinping was with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad. Reportedly, the Chinese withdrew after having achieved two objectives: first, a message that they would rake up the border issue as and when it suits them to keep our diplomatic and military establishments embroiled in expending energies and second, the intrusions played on India’s sensitivities of the 1962 debacle to put a lingering doubt in the general public’s mind – all to psychologically dilute the muscular approach of the government in Delhi.
The Doklam incident is following a similar pattern as earlier: create a controversy by an intrusion and milk the brouhaha created in the raucous Indian media to strike the general national mood through psychological warfare – that it has coincided with the PM’s trips to the US and Israel is also no coincidence.
A new first has been added this time with the Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, stating that “Beijing should reconsider its stance over the Sikkim issue” and “although China recognised India’s annexation in 2003, it can readjust its stance on the matter.” This has introduced a new element of subversive warfare as the editorial further adds that, “since some Chinese support Sikkim’s independence, the voices will spread and fuel pro-independence appeals in Sikkim.”
This could represent an escalation showing intent but may not necessarily be true. However, a new front may have opened, and even if the Doklam situation gets diffused, this is an argument that the Chinese can reopen any time and address us through their three warfare concept – psychological, media and legal.
China has fished in India’s troubled northeast since long and our internal governance has not helped matters. With the Gorkha agitation having restarted in the hills of Darjeeling, next door to Sikkim, the ‘Sikkim-independence’ statement by China should not be ignored. It also confirms the unrestricted warfare strategy of China to engage with an adversary in myriad forms of warfare listed earlier.
So, as China tries to apply the geo-political squeeze by its strategy of drowning our neighbours through ‘loan warfare’ (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, with Nepal to follow) and making them indebted to it, India’s political establishment has its work cut out.
The defence minister has stated that we are not in 1962, and for sure we are militarily strong, but Doklam style events must be acknowledged for their long term effects and a ‘whole of government’ approach adopted – this involves planning at the strategic level and a coordinated implementation of an action plan by all arms of the government. A piecemeal approach, and feeling happy on termination of each individual crisis, would only be detrimental to India’s long term strategic interests.
Times of India, July 8, 2017