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Mythical Dragon, real China

After the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, China has constantly tried to project itself as a
superpower but is it really powerful? Or, is it wearing a mythical Dragon‘s mask to intimidate others?

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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Myths and Reality

Xi’s Call: China is real. The dragon is mythical. However we will stick to the real China in this analysis. In May, Xi Jinping called on the PLA to be prepared for wars. He signalled what he was up to and conveyed it. We did not heed to his intent. How wrong were we?   Similarly When Xi Jinping, spoke to scientists  it was one such moment when a vista was revealed. Two significant aspects of that talk stuck a chord in me. He spoke of the ‘deep and complex’ changes that China faced in the domestic and international environment. He also spoke of the big  problems that were ‘choking’ and ‘strangling’ China. These included lack of advanced agricultural technology and reliance on imported seed, critical component shortcoming in core manufacturing technology, dependence on overseas oil supplies, pollution, poor distribution of water resources and an ageing population which needed improvements in pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. These issues are underlying and permanent to China. They are largely pre virus. The chemistry of ‘deep’ complex’ with ‘chokers and stranglers’ needs better appreciation to get to realism.

The World According to Xi: China is modernising. Its economy, power and influence have grown. It is set to overtake USA shortly. However the Wuhan virus has changed things. Issues and events are panning out in a manner that forces a rethink. In the last six months China has alienated major powers of the Indo Pacific – India, Japan and Australia. All other countries of the region feel threatened.  t has also managed to alienate USA, Canada and Europe. It has got into a military conflict with India and USA; when it was really not needed. It is shaking up the entire global order. It is trying to impose its vision on the whole world. When we see and read commentaries on China , they are one dimensional and often magnify China to  proportions of a mythical dragon all set to conquer the world. It appears that China is unstoppable. The world according to Xi looks forbidding. However the reality is far different. There are logical opinions which suggest that China has peaked and will actually decline from hereon. The Wuhan Virus only hastens the process. There are many discordant issues in China which will inhibit and eventually cap China’s rise. That is what Xi Jinping had on his mind when he spoke what he did. In India, we need to get a handle on the entirety of China to deal with it squarely. This analysis presents the large canvas of China.  

Jekyll and Hyde Cycle: Step back into history. Ever since  the CCP came into the scene a century back, China has had periodic convulsions. Mao unleashed ‘The Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution’. In four decades China was taking ‘The Great Leap Backwards’.  China talks of a ‘Century of Humiliation’. However the CCP wreaked half of that humiliation through the greatest man made famine in which 35-45 million people died and were reduced to cannibalism. In the 70s, China adopted the ‘One Child Policy’. It  appeared to be the greatest of social reforms of that era. Half a century later it is one of the greatest disasters in Chinese and human history.  Mao spoke of  ‘Conquest of Nature’ and Deng Xiao Ping felt that ‘To Become Rich is Glorious’ when he kickstarted the four modernizations. Their successors ‘Conquered Nature’ mercilessly and ‘Made China Rich’ through dizzy economic growth. Four decades later China seeks glory but is entering a decline, seeded at the start itself. The Jekyll and Hyde cycle of the CCP is discernible  –revolutionary idea, electrifying start, great promise and seemingly impressive progress to disastrous ends due to unsustainability, unpredictability and unintended outcomes. 

Freedom Vs Prosperity: CCP and Xi Jinping view national economic growth and power as commodities fungible with people. The transaction being – ‘you give up your freedoms and we will give you prosperity’. From an economic point of view, China is already a superpower. However growth has to be for the people. Their perspective tells a different story. Discrepancies  have surfaced ever since the Wuhan Virus has struck the world. Some  instability is discernible in the Chinese monolith. India needs to be cognisant of this.  Whether China is a superpower or not,  India has to live with it as a neighbour. Realism will enable us to deal with it better. Historically an unstable China has been troublesome – to India and the world at large.

Pre Virus Economic Growth: China has clocked stupendous economic growth. It  was poised to overtake USA. Its future trajectory up to 2050 indicates that it will continue to rise. (see table). All set to achieve the ‘China Dream’ through prosperity, collective effort, socialism, and national glory. The  great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is imminent. The Chinese aim is to be a ‘moderately well-off society’  by 2021 and a ‘fully developed nation’ by 2050. Inherent in this is to be the sole superpower on earth. Herein lies the rub. The ‘chokers and stranglers’ of Xi Jinping are lying in ambush.

Chokers’

Aging Choker: An aging population is the main ‘Choker’. The one child policy reduced birth rates drastically. As against the standard replacement rate of 2.1, the birth rates fell to 1.18. Despite lifting the one child policy in 2015, the birth rates will not cross 1.7. People  are not marrying or having a second child. Reasons include rising prosperity, opportunities for single women,  young couples opting for single child and gender imbalance.  As a result the population is expected to peak at 1.4 billion around 2030 and decline thereafter (see graph). The population will reduce to about 1 billion by 2100. 

Child population (0-15) and dependency is expected to be around 20%. Simultaneously the share of the aged (65+) is set to steeply grow due to increasing lifespans (see graph). China is the fastest aging country in history. Overall, Child and Old-aged dependency will keep increasing. This has manifold implications. Some are highlighted. One. The working population will keep decreasing. A smaller number of  workers will have to take care of an increasing number of old and young people. The overall standards of life will correspondingly decrease. Two. As  population ages, additional resources are needed to meet the needs of the elderly – medical, energy, housing, food. China has a very weak social welfare system for the aged. An estimated 23 % of the old-aged cannot take care of themselves. The aged also represent a shrinking tax base.  Overall, the government revenues will be strained. Three. The percentage of unmarried men in their late 30’s will quintuple by 2030. This will have adverse societal impacts. Four. When the work force declines, wages increase, productivity goes down and profits go down. Lesser workers means lesser consumption spending.  China has no choice but to export. However most consuming countries are also aging. Their consumption will go down.  The overall economy will dip. The key to Chinese prosperity lies in countries capable of consuming in the future like India, Indonesia and Nigeria. The prediction is that in the period 2020-30 the economy will start shrinking. Five. An aging society and increased urbanisation reduces availability of farmers. It brings up the issue of food security. Six.  The one child condition, limited youth and urbanisation will have an adverse impact on the availability of the right material for armed forces (see graph). There are other unforeseeable issues which will vector themselves in as China  goes along. 

Food Problems: Currently China is facing a food crisis. It is likely to have domestic and geopolitical fallouts. This brings focus on to an issue which has been choking China historically. Chinese history is full of famines. However, ever since Mao’s policies induced the Great Famine, China has not really faced a food crisis. In fact China has carried out vast agriculture reforms. Today China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of agricultural products. Recent developments have however raised concerns about its food security. China  has 19% of the global population but only 7% of arable land and freshwater resources. Both  are diminishing. There are questions of sustainable development due to environmental degradation, pollution, climate change, disease, urbanisation, industrial growth and demography.  More than 40% of China’s arable land is degraded seriously. Food production is reducing. Demand for agricultural products has grown due to a burgeoning population, growing industrial economy, and expanding consumerism.  Believe it or not, China has the maximum  obese people in the world. China became a net food importer in 2004. Its import dependence is irreversible. It will face a domestic grain supply gap of about 130 million tonnes by the end of 2025. It continues to import seeds due to lack of technology. Wheat, corn and rice are the main ingredients of the Chinese food basket. These crops have been threatened by floods, typhoons and draughts – all in one season. Climate change might also be playing its part. Pork is the main meat. However availability of pork has been affected badly due to the African Swine Flu for the past three years. Corruption/inefficiency in logistics and storage as also insect infestation threaten its inventory. About one-sixth of the total grain produced in China is wasted annually in the production, processing and transportation cycle.    China might not run out of food but prices are rising and there are creases of economic worry.

Unprecedented Chokers: China has faced unprecedented rainfall, floods, typhoons and droughts this year. Diseases specific to this year include the Wuhan Virus and Brucellosis (an infectious disease caused by bacteria from livestock which can also infect humans and leave men infertile). African Swine Flu, Plague, Yellow Fever, Polio, Avian Influenza, SARs are recurring diseases in the recent past. It raises a lot of issues. Is it due to pollution, environmental degradation, climate change or all? In any case the effect of this continued disease and pestilence is only going to get more serious as China ages. This budding superpower is unhealthy.

Stranglers – Pollution and Environmental  Degradation

Overview: Environmental degradation and pollution are serial stranglers. Environmental degradation began with Mao’s ‘conquest of nature’ idea. The Chinese economy and severe environmental degradation took off together five decades back. China embraced industrialisation and economic progress unhesitatingly. Quick time centralised decision making without due checks and balances was the norm. Polluting industry was, in fact, enabled. Environmental regulation was blindsided. As China’s economy and geopolitical power grew, the negative consequences were on food, water and health securities. China has faced  three-fold environmental degradation. One. Developing  an overpopulated and underdeveloped society, at frenetic pace has induced ecological stresses of land and water shortage, deforestation, and desertification. Two. Its gigantic industrialisation and rapidly increasing urbanisation in a globalised economy has resulted in huge pollution including generation of marine and toxic wastes. Three. Climate change has started to make its presence felt . At some stage the economy will be impacted, slow down and start shrinking.

Dammed Degradation: Since the 1950s, the Chinese have built around  22000 dams  which are more than 15 meters tall. It is roughly half the world’s total. More than 16 million Chinese have been relocated to make way for these hydro projects. They have over 125 mega dams with heights more than 100m. These mega-dams, block the flow of rivers, create floods, affect agriculture and fisheries, increase the chances of earthquakes, and destroy environments. To quote a view ‘rather than benefiting populations with non-polluting power, China’s dam builders are making a Faustian bargain with nature, selling their country’s soul in their drive for economic growth’. Extreme view? It was recently borne out by the massive flooding of the Yangtze basin in the course of which it was feared that the Three Gorges Dam, the biggest dam in the world, would collapse. It is so massive that it has the capacity to slow the earth’s rotation, It is now internationally recognised that the entire exercise has been a huge environmental disaster. The sheer number of dams has created so many water bodies that it has induced local climate change whose effect is being felt within China. The larger issue of global climate change will wreak greater disasters. To illustrate the argument,  the analysed complexity of issues surrounding the Three Gorges Dam is reproduced ‘Factors are color-coded whereby green factors signify ecological issues and blue ones signify sociological issues. Beginning with the left, the Three Gorges Dam project has causing forced migration of many people both directly due to Chinese government policy as well as indirectly through landslides and erosion. Furthermore, forced migrants put pressure on urban centres insofar as they need housing and jobs that may not necessarily be available. This in turn affected the standard of living by contributing to poverty, among other things. All of this acted to erode social stability, which is itself a form of latent conflict and which is requisite for violent of overt conflict. On the right hand side we see that the dam disturbs fault lines and causes watershed erosion, both of which negatively affect ecological stability. Furthermore, the dam is believed to be connected to earthquakes in the area due to its massive size. All of these disruptions signal the potential for grave ecological problems such as ecological collapse, biodiversity loss, erosion, etc.’

Kingdom of Rare Earths: China is the ‘Kingdom of Rare Earths’ with a market share of 80-90% in the past two decades. Rare earths are used in semiconductors and energy saving devices (see graphic). China’s rare earth map is shown below. Rare earth mining has a parallel and thriving huge black market. It is extremely polluting and contaminating to the extent that ‘cancer villages’ have sprung/springing up near mines. Rare earth mining is a contamination time bomb for the Yellow River in the North. In the South,  China’s mega-cities  like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong may have already been affected by the radioactive  toxicity related to uranium. It is no more a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’. Water for agriculture and drinking in all rare earth mining areas and in downstream areas is heavily contaminated by excessive amounts of ammonia, nitrogen, cadmium, lead and its compounds. Remuneration from rare earths is inadequate to offset costs in health and environmental cleaning. Take another case of Titanium. China is the dominant player in the international market. Titanium mines destroy nature and habitat. The extracted ore is refined with Chlorine which is a huge environmental hazard. It is another saga of pollution and contamination. Sichuan, Hubei, Yunnan, Hainan, Guangxi and Guangdong have Titanium deposits.  Sichuan has the largest deposits. Incidentally, India has huge reserves of Titanium. However its extraction will defoliate the Deccan. Not an option and that is why we have not gone for it. A similar pollution / degradation story repeats with every form of resource extraction in China. The ‘Cancer Village’ map , which is result of all such pollution, can be seen below. Presently,  more than 50% of China’s surface water is not fit for human consumption. 60% of the groundwater under Chinese cities is considered to be ‘severely polluted’. The World Bank (2007) estimated that the health cost of cancers and diarrhoea associated with water pollution reached approximately US$8 billion in 2003 in rural areas of China. Today it must be many times more. Resource extraction will extract more from China than imaginable. The damage has already been done and that too in its prosperous coastal belt.

Other Stranglers: There are other environmental degradation, pollution  and contamination examples. Approximately 70% of the electronic waste generated worldwide used to be  processed in China. It poses substantial risk to health and the environment (Ni and Zeng 2009). Small-scale rural factories known as ‘township and village enterprises’ contribute significantly to China’s growing rural pollution problems. China is world’s largest manufacturer, trader and fossil fuel consumer. It is responsible for 47% of the world’s coal burning, which is more than all other countries in the world combined. The list is endless.

Energy: China’s energy demand is likely to peak between 2035 and 2040 (see graphs). Its oil demand is expected to peak in 2030. However its petrochemical and  gas demand will increase till 2050.  China’s import dependence on oil and gas will continue to be around 50%. Coal is set to lose ground to renewables. However it is still expected to account for 40% of power generation in 2035. The share of coal in China’s primary energy mix is expected to fall as shown in the graph. Renewables, oil and gas combined will overtake coal’s share of primary energy consumption by 2050. Having said all that coal will still remain the single largest supply source through to 2050. If one analyses this data , a few things stand out:-

China will continue to be energy dependant and vulnerable. It will never attain energy security. Coal based energy will not vanish. Its effect on pollution will endure. Overall CO2 emissions are expected to fall only after 2035. China has committed to Carbon neutrality by 2060. By then it might be too late. Per capita requirement and consumption of  energy will continue to increase as China modernises. China will continue to extract rare earths. Rare earths are extensively used in magnets for wind generation. Hence reduction in pollution due to renewables will be offset by pollution due to rare earths. Pollution will not decrease. China, in all likelihood, will enter into a state of energy  entropy.

Deep And Complex’ Problems

Deep Isolation: China is facing ‘deep’ isolation in the international environment. It started with the cover up of the Wuhan Virus and its aggressive and assertive expansionism. The expansionism found military expression in the China Seas and Eastern Ladakh. Political expansionism spread to Hong Kong when the National Security Law was imposed in contravention to international agreements. The idea of gobbling up Taiwan is an eternal Chinese and CCP obsession. Future  expansionist plans include parts of Bhutan, Nepal, CARs and Russia. After the initial gains, there has been a military push back notably by USA and India. Both of them have stopped the Chinese juggernaut in its tracks. The physical isolation imposed by the virus has been followed by geopolitical, diplomatic, technological, and  isolation. It is now heading into trade and economic trimming. The real test of character is how an individual or a system behaves under stress. When put under stress by the Wuhan Virus, the true ‘Chinese Character’ revealed itself. A ‘what is mine is mine  and what is yours is also mine’ kind of a greedy China emerged. China’s callousness in allowing the Virus to spread and then taking advantage of it at the cost of people at large has not been accepted.   What the world saw was China displaying a sense of being ordained to rule the world; whose time had come with the Virus. They also witnessed total Chinese disregard for the international rules based order, attempt to gain control over governments through debt traps,  influence operations,  social media surveillance, intelligence collection and plain coercion. Chinese characteristics which came through were IPR theft, wolf warrior diplomacy and  weaponization of the virus through health and mask diplomacy. Key motives which have emerged are unbridled profits and geopolitical control. It emerged that China also weaponizes public opinion by manipulation, misinformation, sowing dissent, and discord in democratic societies. The legal loopholes of democracies are exploited. It shapes domestic and international public opinion blatantly through media, military experts, and political parties portraying itself as a victim. It provides legal justification, through mythical history. Target countries are left with no choice with but to accept the Chinese fait accompli. Chinese narratives were being built through pliant politicians, media, officials, international institutions, think tanks, academic institutions, workers unions, industry, and even foreign governments to influence thought and decision. The intrusive and pervasive extent of Chinese seepage into the international environment and respective domestic environments has been exposed. It needs to be stopped. That is what all countries are doing.  

Military Incapability: The effectiveness of a global power lies in its ability to win wars. The USA, USSR, and the United Kingdom proved that a superpower must shed blood – own and that of your enemy’s. Unless China is prepared to fight and win or seen to be winning it is simply not a superpower. One can talk endlessly of unrestricted warfare or multi domain warfare or all other kinds of warfare but wars have to be ultimately won on ground. After all we are humans. We are not birds, fish, space creatures or electronic chips. Currently China is outmanoeuvred by India in Ladakh and boxed in by USA in the China Seas. The PLA has turned up short on this  score. China’s strategy of ‘Belligerent War Avoidance’ has not worked. If PLA can not militarily enforce and achieve the CCPs political aims, China will not succeed. Very importantly, the military state of affairs indicates that China is not yet capable of protecting its overseas economic interests. In fact it is vulnerable on this count. The Chinese stress has been on development of Comprehensive National Power which might get you a seat on the UN Security Council but not a military victory. The drawbacks of PLA are evident in China’s White Paper on Defence. It is  an overtly political paper. The focus is on organisation, mechanization, informationization and of all things micro-corruption! If a nation has to talk of rooting out micro-corruption from its armed forces in an international document, then it is admittance of incompetence.  When there is no mention of improving combat effectiveness at cutting edge levels in such a paper, then it is some sort of an expectation that your enemy will roll over due to sheer bluster. The PLA might bully small nations with weak forces. When arraigned against professional and strong-armed forces it is being found out. PLA is an inexperienced force under transition. Neither fit for continental nor overseas engagements. When the transition is complete and if it gains experience , it might be different. That is an IF. In the current situation ‘if’ it cannot prevail over India it will be a total loss of face. The military future of China is not very rosy – politicized leadership, unproven manpower, unproven weaponry, unproven capabilities.

Minority Fracture: China is a diverse nation composed of 56 ethnic groups. Han Chinese account for 91.59% and the other 55 make up the remaining 8.41% . Among the non-Han ethnic groups , 44 ethnicities  occupy their own autonomous regions, or counties. The largest ethnic minority groups in China are the Zhuang (16 million), Manchu (10 million), Hui (9 million), Miao (  8 million), Uyghurs ( 7 million), Yi (7 million), Tujia (5.75 million), Mongols (5 million), Tibetan (5 million), Buyei (3 million), and Koreans (2 million). The degree of integration of ethnic minorities varies. Uyghurs and  Tibetans are not integrated with the Han or CCP or China. Off late, this is spreading to Mongols also. The Government does dot trust theses minorities.  They are under strict state regulation. Religious autonomy is restricted. At various points of time these minorities have had major problems. Any signs of resistance from these ethnic minorities, is  interpreted as separatism and draws severe repression. These minorities occupy around 50% of the total area. They are not well off as compared to the Han. Han migration is encouraged into these areas through development and construction projects. Chinese government sees economic development as the main solution for ethnic dissent.  However these areas are being kept less developed inexplicably. The CCP wants to integrate them forcefully into the mainstream through side-lining ethnic languages, religion and customs. Tibetan and Uygur minority language schools are  closed since 2017 and replaced by Mandarin Chinese instruction. The same is being done now in Mongol areas. They are discriminated in the job market.  Their populations are  not being allowed to expand through forced sterilisation. 1.3 million Uyghurs on average per year have been put through ‘vocational training’ internment camps from 2014 to 2019. They have now put 500,000 Tibetans into forced-labour camps for militarized vocational training aimed to reform ‘backward thinking’ and improve ‘work discipline’. Forced integration of Tibetans into the system is a recent phenomenon. There is clear fracture with Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongols which is enlarging. The Hong Kong democracy undercurrent will not vanish. Chinese preoccupation with Taiwan will not evaporate. If things deteriorate other minorities might also raise a flag. The implication is that the ‘Westwards Development’ agenda and the ‘Dual Circulation’ strategy which are to rescue the Chinese economy are at further risk. China will have to constantly invest considerable political, economic and military effort to keep these rimland areas under control and survive as a single entity. It will have to keep looking inwards. The international environment will also not respond favourably to China till such time it discriminates with its own people. This will inhibit their superpower drive. 

Post Virus Economy: The high flying Chinese economy has been brought down to earth by the virus. There is no doubt that it is recovering. Notwithstanding propaganda, the economic recovery has been found to be patchy and overhyped. In the short term things will look normal. In fact Xi Jinping has reiterated that the Marxist political economic model will be the bedrock for China’s  growth. Further he was only partially right when he said that the situation was ‘deep and complex’. It is actually beyond that. With  Germany  joining the Indo Pacific Club, most of the big economies and rich nations are now ranged against China . That is going to be a big blow to China. What does it mean? The Made in China 2025 plan is  facing stiff problems due to lack of ‘Core Technology’  as mentioned by Xi Jinping himself. Its Military Civil Fusion methodologies have been found out and exposed. They are being culled. China is being placed in a technology denial system. China does not have the technological ability to overcome all those barriers which Xi Jinping spoke of. As much as China has progressed in some fields, it has stagnated in others. Hence its economy will have a limiting factor at some stage. The BRI and its flag ship CPEC have run into economic, political, and strategic rough weather.  The BRI model  is no longer sustainable. China has not managed macroeconomic risk well. It has not given adequate attention to building political capital. Its choice of weak nations and debt trap diplomacy has led to a BRI backlash. BRI is being now subjected to a higher level of audit.  Renegotiation is on the cards in many cases. There is also a reluctance on the part of countries to commence new projects. China will have to settle for far less geopolitical/economic dividends than it had set out to reap.  Most importantly, the decoupling initiative of all the big economies  will hit China hard. Economic shrinkage is a matter of time and that will be permanent. On that there is no doubt. The Dual Circulation model has not got much traction. It is contingent on the success of three things. One. Internal consumption has to go up. In the short term, Chinese are simply refusing to consume. In the long term an aging China cannot consume.  Two. The Go West Policy can only succeed if Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia  and Western regions prosper. That looks unlikely due to political and ethnic factors. Three. Exports must increase but are going to reduce. The current enhanced expenditure on the Military situation will take its economic toll.  The overall outlook for the Chinese economy does not bode well. Some one sensible has to do the maths.

Analysis

All the issues highlighted and analysed are issues common to any country. What is special here?  The difference is that China has an overbalanced and rigid polity which is driving the country to an unrealistic destiny. China is fixated with overtaking USA. Its thinking is that others including India are hand maidens in that journey. The White Paper on Defence 2019 actually spells that without saying so. On the other hand the Chinese nation is imbalanced at this point of time – economically, militarily,  diplomatically, environmentally and ethnically. The Nation and the Government are at odds with each other. At the same time, Indian resistance is something new and totally unexpected. Currently, China is flummoxed  as to how to contend that. Hence it will gather itself and come back at us with vengeance.

So how do we deal with China?  We deal with facts and how they are presented to us. There are too many amongst us who predict that China will come breathing fury and fire of a mythical dragon. It won’t happen because it can’t happen. Very clearly the facts show that China is not the behemoth it is being made to be. In any case till such time the CCP is in power, India has to deal with an inimical China. It will do us well to remember that after USA, India is enemy Number 2 hereafter. Their strategists, analysts and ‘Global Times’ will attribute their failures to us. Also, China has become habituated to the fact of blaming others for its own faults and deficiencies. Its leaders will externalise failure and the needle will swing to India. Hence, the lesser of China in our society the better it will be. The importance of Atma Nirbhar Bharat lies in the fact that we should consume to make our economy thrive and not consume to make the China Dream happen!  

When soldiers march in step on a bridge it tends to collapse. Why? Resonance! If even some issues facing China resonate then there will be a major change. To recap, the issues are – diseases, aging, ethnic disparity, pollution, agriculture, degradation, climate change, diplomatic isolation, military limitation and economic trimming. China is a society without a check. It will continue on its improbable path at breakneck speed. Many of these factors are resonating and if the cadence is strong enough, we will see political change without fail. The Chernobyl factor is at work. Make no mistake about that. We should be prepared for a fallout of that change. From a long term perspective, it will be prudent to catalyse the change.  

The next standard question is will it lead to a China collapse? The simple answer is it will not. Will China become a superpower? The chances are no. What will happen? The economy was all set to shrink in the forthcoming decade anyway. It will get accelerated. Currently the world will consume what China produces and it will appear that the Chinese economy is still booming.  However  in a couple of years when Chinese mega projects bottom out, organised decoupling takes effect, pollution takes effect, and aging progresses, the shrink will be visible. We will then see the Chinese economy right sizing. Accordingly the polity will change. 

This analysis is a ‘man without a dog’ effort. There could be short comings and it is probably full of holes. I concede. However it is based on facts. It is not an exercise in wish listing. The facts reveal a vulnerable China. We need to do a holistic fusion analysis based on multiple inputs from institutional experts. It will enable us to then handle China in a realistic manner. From the analysis, writings and commentaries in public, it is evident that we are obsessed with Pakistan which is such a waste of time. For long, India has let the Ministry of External Affairs and some traders handle China exclusively. They have built an unrealistic image of China and allowed it to seep into our society. It is time that we study China and handle it with better understanding rather than the illiterate manner we have so far adopted. That is why we see a dragon instead of a eeny weenie Chinaman who is sitting on a nuclear reactor about to go critical.

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Lt Gen PR Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the Modernization and Indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www.gunnersshot.com

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Defence

Resetting India -Nepal relations needed to offset Chinese threats

Mukesh Ambani has added a feather to India’s cap by figuring among the richest in the world.

Lt Gen A.K. Bhatt (Retd) & Brig Narender Kumar (Retd)

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No bilateral relations between nations can be built on sentiment—whether it is based on faith, ideology or inheritance. Only those rooted in shared interests will endure. Relations will not remain everlasting if the interests of the people and nations are not renegotiated. The relations with Nepal were driven for long on shared culture, religion and geographical realities. The problem thus far has been a sense of “everlasting friendship” between India and Nepal without incorporating suitable changes to the historical treaties to accommodate new political, social and economic realities. The border dispute is a manifestation of multiple factors including new found competitive nationalism among the political parties of Nepal, structural changes unfolding in the external and internal context of the bilateral relationship and Nepal asserting strategic autonomy to renegotiate the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. New political elites of Nepal feel that relations with India cannot be frozen in time due to a treaty that has lived its utility.

When the founder of the modern Nepali state, Prithvi Narayan Shah, described Nepal as a “yam between two rocks”, he in fact hinted at the geo-strategic significance of Nepal and need for maintaining strategic autonomy and neutrality with India and China. In order to look ahead and repair, revise and revive the bilateral relationship, India must first understand why and how the territorial dispute has flared up. It may be tempting to start on a clean slate, but future visions will remain void if both sides don’t learn from past mistakes.

A POLITICAL CONFLICT TRAP

Nepal’s claim of approximately 372 sq km of Indian Territory in Kalapani area has caused considerable fissures in bilateral relations between the two countries. Kalapani issue has become a huge rallying point amongst the opposition parties in Nepal and it is now very difficult for the Nepalese Government or even the opposition parties to back off from their claim. It came at a time when India was engaged with China in a standoff along the Line of Actual Control. It gave new lease of life to the current Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and he rode the competitive nationalism to tide over the current political crisis. The claim and subsequent issue of map has given birth to a permanent and long-term territorial dispute that is difficult to resolve and thus creating a conflict trap that will keep rising whenever the relations between two states take a turn to the South. Till now the political leadership of both countries were keeping this conflict under wraps, but now it has been unleashed and will remain on the prowl till a mechanism is worked out to set this conflict to rest. 

The question comes up, could India prevent the constitutional amendment of the map if Indian government had kept their ears to the ground? It is difficult to answer in “yes or no” but the fact of the matter is that India needs to have a new road map to engage with Nepal post changed political realities in Nepal. To control the damage, Nepalese leadership should ensure that Nationalism is not distorted to an anti-Indian feeling. Because that will narrow down the options to resolve this dispute in future. Let this dispute not become a pivot for China to exploit Nepalese sentiment.

THE CHINA ANGLE

If the relations are not reset and Nepal continues to drift away, it will become a major peril of corridor especially due to China- Pak nexus and manifestation of Three Warfares (3Ws) and Irregular Warfare against India. The open and porous border facilitates an active non-contact warfare by China and Pakistan to destabilise the heartland India. It gives an opportunity to inimical forces to exploit this porous border for smuggling of arms, drugs and fake Indian currency to give impetus to instability and also support Left Wing Extremists who have ideological and organisational linkages with Maoists of Nepal. Dr PV Ramana posits that the Maoist insurgents and PWG have formed the Indo-Nepal Border Regional Committee (INBRC) “to coordinate their activities” in Bihar. The bottom-line is that ideological and organisational linkages do exist and it can be exploited by China by extending material and weapon support to the LWE through Nepalese Maoists. Bigger threat is political and information warfare that can penetrate deep inside India’s heartland. China Study Centers especially along the India- Nepal borders are a greater threat that can cause instability in Gangetic Plains and disrupt East- West strategic lines of communication. Only way this threat can be managed is by restoring ties with Nepal and building resolute military to military relation between two armies.

INDIA, A NATURAL ALLY

Nepal has been embracing a policy of strategic diversification to reduce its dependence on India and enhance its non-aligned autonomy. In response India’s perceived economic blockade of 2015 was seen by Nepal as a right to deny and insulate Nepal from the outside world. That had caused major upheaval against India among the Nepalese youth and common citizens. India should consider Nepal as co-equal and develop relations not as a “protectorate but as a partner”. Because strategic space if abdicated by India will be encroached upon by China and that will become difficult for India to reclaim. India cannot blame China’s political interference in Nepal as a major factor for deteriorating relations between the two states. India not paying adequate attention to reset the road map for building relations is also a factor. It is very natural that two neighbours sharing a border of more than 1,800 km are bound to have some differences but these differences should not become disputes or else a third party will take advantage of it.

Both nations today have to realise that apart from the strong historical relations guided by a common culture, religion and similar language is also supported by Geography. The Indian ports and transit access, protected by special trade and transit treaties is a commitment which needs to be honoured by India. Even though China has provided…special trade and transit facilities by way of dry ports and roads, the long distance from the eastern coast of China to Nepal via Tibet, approximately 4000 kms is just not a cost-effective option. Initially China may subsidize services and goods passing through this long corridor as it meets the objectives of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative. However, if Nepal has to take a cue from Sri Lanka’s experience let it be clear that a decade later it is the people of Nepal who will pay the price for their political miscalculation. Many countries in the African continent today are suffering because of the free largess initially offered by China in the form of soft loans for development of infrastructure. Is this the future which Nepal is looking at? According to a report by the Survey Department of Agriculture Ministry of Nepal, China has illegally occupied Nepal’s land in several places spreading over seven bordering districts. Unfortunately the Oli Government has kept silent over this land grab. China believes in debt slavery and Nepal could be forced to surrender its strategic autonomy if it allows China to continue to make economic, political and cultural inroads in Nepal. Though there is a vocal anti-India lobby in Nepal, but the people with this new development along the Northern borders are equally resentful of China.

Nepal shares a long and open border with India the special privileges which are given to all citizens of Nepal are unique. In fact, a citizen of Nepal can work anywhere in India including the Armed forces as well as reside in any part of India. These privileges are not reciprocal for Indian citizens which is quite understandable because of the size of Nepal. Apart from the Army there is a large population of unskilled workers from Nepal working in the industrial and agriculture sector. Nepal will never have an ally that offers its citizens free access for work, education, health services, tourism, travel, religious pilgrimage and business. Such a facility has been extended by India to the Nepalese citizens without reciprocation from Nepal. Closing down the border and treating Nepalese citizens as per diplomatic protocol followed globally will harm the interests of the people of Nepal. Therefore, Nepal must exercise caution and restrain not to burn the bridges that may become difficult to rebuild in future.

MILITARY DIPLOMACY A BRIDGE TO INITIATE THE DIALOGUE

India has been shy of using military diplomacy with its neighbours, whereas there are special relations and close ties between Indian Army and Nepal Army that has been rarely exploited to reset the ties between two nations. After long hiatus of nearly more than four months, relations between India and Nepal could be set in motion, the visit of Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane to Nepal, where he will be conferred with the title of the honorary Chief of the Nepalese Army is a much-needed initiative for stabilisation of relations between the two close neighbours. This special tradition of bestowing the title of honorary Chief on each other’s Army Chief dates back to the period of Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw who was proud enough to change his name to Sam Bahadur as a homage to his brave Gorkha brethren. This military tradition has helped in strengthening military to military relations between the two Armies. Fortunately, this tradition has continued despite some occasional ups and downs in the relation between the two nations. It is a good initiative that the leaders of both the nations have taken a pause and allowed military to military engagement to take place to kick-start the dialogue between two neighbours. It is a positive step that the Indian Government has sent their Army Chief and the Nepalese Government by willingly receiving him and honouring him. The President of Nepal bestowing the honorary General’s rank and the PM of Nepal meeting him in the capacity of Defence minister needs to be understood in a positive manner. It is pertinent to mention that Nepal Army has always acted as a permanent ambassador of India in Nepal due to their long association with the Indian Army. However, off late India has neglected this aspect and it must be given impetus by building bridges with the Nepalese Army and police.

Both the Governments need to take this visit as a trigger for a new beginning, an opportunity to reset our relationship to the current strategic realities, the recommendations of the Eminent People’s Committees report which is available with the Government could be a guideline. A very important part is that the relations between the two strategic neighbours should not be taken hostage by irresponsible media or local domestic political considerations in either of the nations.

WAY FORWARD

Most crucial aspect is building bridges with the people. The strong connect India maintains with the ex-servicemen of Gorkha regiments in Nepal needs to be consolidated. India still remains an economic destination for the people of Nepal. In fact, citizens of Nepal should be granted access to utilise the health care, education institutions along the borders for the common good of the citizens of the border areas of both countries. Villagers living along the Kali River should be allowed to use the road Dharchula-Kalapani for movement ‘to and from’ Dharchula. India needs to send a message that this road is built for collective good of India and border citizens of Nepal.

One visit by the Chief of the Army Staff may not be sufficient and thus there is a need to have a permanent presence of Indian military leader in Kathmandu either by way of posting a Gorkha Regiment General as an Ambassador or Special Envoy to Nepal. This engagement must remain unbroken and resilient. Nepalese Army and even the civil bureaucracy are more comfortable in dealing with a Nepalese speaking Army envoy who understands their language and ethos better than a diplomat who has lesser linkages with the people on the ground. The tenure of late Lt Gen S.K. Sinha as an ambassador is a proof of it.

India should guarantee unobstructed access to the port and dry docks. However, Nepalese government should be made accountable to ensure that the access will be unconditional if Nepal does not work against the strategic interest and national security of India.

India should be open to renegotiate the Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950. The Eminent Peoples Committee Report could also be examined to give a new direction to the India-Nepal relations.

India must invest in upgrading its cross-border infrastructure and economic assistance to Nepal: There are now new rail and road links, an electronic cargo system for Nepali goods to transit via Indian ports, inland waterway navigation plans, and a new cross-border pipeline for petroleum products. These projects must be pursued at fast pace because it will bring economic benefits to both nations.

Lt Gen A.K. Bhatt (Retd) is an Infantry Officer from 9th Gorkha Rifles. He is a former DGMO, GOC 15 Corps, and Military Secretary of the Indian Army. Brig Narender Kumar (Retd) is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and former Distinguished Fellow, USI (New Delhi). The views expressed and suggestions made in the article are solely of the authors in their personal capacity and do not have any official endorsement.

Most crucial aspect is building bridges with the people. The strong connect India maintains with the ex-servicemen of Gorkha regiments in Nepal needs to be consolidated. India still remains an economic destination for the people of Nepal. In fact, citizens of Nepal should be granted access to utilise the healthcare and educational institutions along the borders.

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Maiden Indian navy-MDL cup begins in Mumbai

Ashish Singh

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The Indian Naval Watermanship Training Centre (INWTC), Mumbai is organising the commencement of sailing activities in Mumbai harbour with the Maiden IN-MDL Cup, National Yachting Championship. At the behest of the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Karambir Singh, as Patron of the Indian Naval Sailing Association, the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) has stepped up to sponsor an annual IN-MDL Cup to promote sailing in the country. The maiden IN-MDL Cup 2020 is being conducted under the aegis of the Yachting Association of India (YAI) for all Senior Olympic classes as the YAI Senior National 2020. The regatta will be a ranking event and will be conducted from 22- 27 Nov 20 near the Sunk Rock lighthouse. After the pandemic, this regatta will once again fill up the skyline of Mumbai harbour with vibrant sails vying for top honours in keenly contested races.

The IN-MDL Cup will see participation from 12 sailing clubs from across India. INWTC(MBI), INWTC(Goa), INWTC (Hamla), Army Yachting Node, EMESC(Bhopal), EMESA, CESC, Tamil Nadu Sailing Association, GYA, National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, NSS Bhopal and NSN Bhopal. The regatta will be held in four basic classes of boats namely the 49er Skiff, 470, Laser and the RS:X class windsurfer. It will be the first time in the history of Senior Nationals where 470 mixed class will participate and compete in the race. Of particular note is the sizeable number of young girls and women participants, which hopefully will be a motivating factor for future aspirants and level out the playing field. The races will be sailed in the following classes of sail boats: Laser Standard(Men), Laser Radial(Women), 470 (Men/women/mixed), 49er(Men), 49er FX(women), RS: X(Men/Women), Finn. The event was declared open by the Flag Officer Maharashtra Area at INWTC, Colaba, Mumbai yesterday.

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INS Shivaji discusses ‘management of structure borne noise’

Ashish Singh

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A Webinar on the subject of “Management of Structure Borne Noise” was conducted by INS Shivajil last week under the aegis of Distinguished Chair, Centre of Excellence, Marine Engineering. The Webinar saw participation from over 300 participants comprising Flag Officers, Senior Naval Officers, Veteran Officers and Officers from all branches of Indian Navy. The one-day Webinar commenced with the welcome address by Commodore Ravnish Seth, Commanding Officer, INS Shivaji. The Inaugural Address was delivered by Vice Admiral IC Rao, (r), Distinguished Chair, Centre of Excellence (Marine Engineering). VAdm AK Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command delivered the Keynote Address and emphasised on maintenance of platform to near design conditions to ensure optimal acoustic signatures of ships and submarines. He also urged the industry, academia and shipbuilding industry to seamlessly collaborate with Indian Navy, through strategic programmes by the GoI such as ‘Make-in-India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, to ensure better designs for quieter ships.

Papers on various aspects including measurement, prediction and mitigation of Structure Borne Noise were delivered by subject matter experts from various R&D labs such as NSTL Visakhapatnam, NPOL Kochi, IRS Mumbai, NIOT Chennai, Shipbuilders such as Mazagon Docks and Shipbuilders limited, Design Directorates of IHQ MoD (N) and the Naval Underwater Ranges, Goa. The Webinar witnessed wholehearted and active participation from all attendees towards enhancing the domain awareness in the subject of Structure Borne Noise and its management for all personnel. VAdm SR Sarma, Chief of Materiel, delivered the closing address and emphasized on the life cycle maintenance of machinery onboard ships and submarines. Incorporation of new technologies into design was given a special mention during the Closing Address. The Vote of Thanks was delivered by RAdm CS Baburaj, (D&R). Active participation from all stakeholders during the discussions lead to detailed inputs from the speakers towards enhancement of awareness of Structure Borne Noise and its management.

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Defence

NCC celebrates its 72nd Raising Day

Ashish Singh

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National Cadet Corps (NCC), the largest uniformed youth organisation in the world, celebrated its 72nd Raising Day on 22 November. The raising day function was marked by paying homage, at the National War Memorial, to the fallen heroes, who made the supreme sacrifice of their lives. The Defence Secretary Dr. Ajay Kumar and DG NCC Lt Gen Rajeev Chopra laid wreaths on behalf of the entire NCC fraternity.

Defence Secretary said, during the current year, the NCC cadets have contributed, by participating selflessly during the Covid-19 pandemic, through Ex ‘NCC Yogdaan’ as Corona warriors to spread awareness about measures to fight against the pandemic. The cadets and Associate NCC Officers, led by example in activities such as ‘Ek Bharat Shresht Bharat’, ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Fit India’. The cadets participated wholeheartedly in ‘Swachhta Abhiyan’, ‘Mega Pollution Pakhwada’ and played a pivotal role in spreading awareness about various government initiatives like ‘Digital Literacy’, ‘International Day of Yoga’, ‘Tree Plantation’ and immunisation programs etc. A scheme for expansion of National Cadet Corps coverage, in Border and Coastal regions of the country was announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 August 2020. A total increase of one lakh additional cadet strength in all three streams of Army, Navy and Air Force is planned, focusing on the border districts, coastal taluks and taluks housing Air Force Stations.

Defence Secretary Dr. Ajay Kumar after laying wreath said, expansion of NCC in our border and coastal districts will motivate the youth from these areas to join the armed forces. The nation looks forward to NCC, to inculcate the values of fraternity, discipline, national unity and selfless service amongst our youth. The multifaceted activities and varied curriculum of the NCC, provides unique opportunities to the youth for self-development. Many cadets have done the Nation and the organisation proud by their remarkable achievements in the field of sports and adventure. The NCC continues its relentless efforts, towards moulding the present day youth into responsible citizens of tomorrow. The NCC raising day, was also celebrated all over India, with cadets participating in blood donation camps and social development programmes.

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Valedictory function of IOFS Officers at National Academy of Defence Production

Ashish Singh

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The National Academy of Defence Production (NADP) is one of the premier national academies and Central Training Institute (CTI) of DOP&T, mandated to groom officers of Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS) in various techno-managerial domains of defence production. The Academy conducts 52 weeks training programme (Probationers Training Course) wherein comprehensive and intensive induction training is provided to probationary officers selected through prestigious Civil Services as well as Engineering Services Examination. During this induction training, the IOFS officer trainees are groomed to take up the role of leadership in the organisation. The 2019 batch consists of 34 IOFS probationers, out of which 32 are from Indian Engineering Service and two (2) are from Civil Services.

NADP organised the Valedictory Function of IOFS probationers (2019 Batch) on Saturday. C.S. Viswakarma, DG, Ordnance Factory & Chairman, Ordnance Factory Board, was the chief guest on the occasion and the function was attended by Mr. M K Garg, Sr. Principal Director, C.L. Maurya, GM-OFAJ, S. Srivastava, DDG- OFB amongst others. S.K. Pattanayak, Principal Director presided over the function.

The valedictory function at NADP premises started in the evening. During the ceremony, an e-magazine called ‘Samarthya’, that contained thought provoking articles by the probationers, was also released by the Chief Guest. Aman Harlalka was adjudged the Best Probationer and Priayam Singh came second. They received awards and trophies from the Chief Guest. Different awards were also given in various fields to other probationers who excelled in those fields.

In his valedictory address, the Chief Guest, C.S. Viswakarma, DGOF & Chairman brought out the challenges before the organization and emphasised that the young probationers have to gear up to meet those challenges successfully. He lauded the Academy for conducting the training programme successfully despite the Covid-19 pandemic through both online as well as offline platform. He expressed confidence that with the talent that they possess and the comprehensive training that they have received from the Academy, they would rise up to the occasion and take on leadership roles in the organization with confidence.

The probationary officers were extremely happy that the head of the family of Ordnance Factory organisation, the DGOF and Chairman attended the function despite all the Covid restrictions. In the times of pandemic, the function was planned with limited participation with strict compliance of social distancing norms and Covid -19 protocol and other precautionary measures.

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Defence

Anticipating pressure from Biden, Pakistan accuses India of sponsoring terror

As Islamabad is cornered internationally over sponsoring terrorism in forums like FATF and the incumbent Biden administration is likely to tweak the US-Taliban deal putting in a small contingent of US troops, a visibly worried Pakistan is making such claims.

Aveek Sen

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Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar, in a joint media conference, on Saturday accused India of sabotaging the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and sponsoring supporting terrorism in Pakistan. “The first objective is to disrupt Pakistan’s path towards peace and for the same, sub-nationalism is being promoted in Gilgit-Baltistan, erstwhile FATA and Balochistan,” Qureshi said. The second objective is to disrupt Pakistan’s economy and the third objective is to create political instability in Pakistan, he said. Qureshi added that India has spent Rs. 22 billion for the purpose of carrying out acts of terror in Pakistan.

“India is sabotaging CPEC as they know the project’s success can be an economic game-changer for Pakistan. There are also reports that India has established a 700-strong militia to target CPEC projects,” he added. “[Indian intelligence agency] RAW transferred Rs55,581 through a bank, whereas, $0.82 million had been transferred to TTP commanders besides raising a militia of 700 terrorists by spending $60 million. $23.5 million funds were used creating anarchy in Balochistan. Altaf Hussain group had been given $3.23 million. India has been found involved in disrupting peace in Pakistan by assistant different organisations. In the terrorist attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in Karachi, Indian explosive material and suicide jackets had been used by the attackers. RAW dispatched Rs22 million funds for upscaling terrorism in Pakistan, whereas, its handlers had kept meeting TTP representatives,” they said. “Arms worth $0.26 million had been given to Altaf Hussain group, whereas, India is running 87 terrorist camps. A former Indian diplomat and military general had visited a terrorist camp in Hajigak, whereas, $30 million was dispatched for establishing a camp in [Afghanistan’s] Kandahar. Four terrorist camps had been established for Altaf Hussain group where 40 terrorists received training,” they added.

At a time when the military establishment is facing pro-democracy protests from the PDM and increased protests by Baloch and Pashtuns over human rights violations, this is a diversionary tactic. Also, sections in the US are showing irritation at increased violence in Afghanistan by the Pakistan-backed Taliban. Pakistan aims to drag India’s name into sponsoring terrorism to get a clean chit from FATF and also aim these claims towards the incumbent Biden administration. Hence this attempt at creating equivalence between Pakistan and India over sponsoring terrorism is made at this point. Afghanistan has rejected these claims and proposed a UN commission to investigate. Pakistan’s military establishment is also worried about the recent bonhomie between MQM(L) led by Altaf Hussain, who ruled the roost over vital port-city Karachi and Hyderabad once, and separatist Sindhi groups like Shafi Burfat led JSMM (Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz). Mohajir and Sindhi groups, even non-separarist, have typically been at loggerheads fighting pitched street battles.

The coming together and unity between such diverse forces has spooked Pakistan. Pakistan’s military establishment is bringing back former MQM leaders to form a new minus-Altaf Grand Mohajir Alliance like it did with PSP and the MQM-Haqiqi faction in the past. They have offered them amnesty, permission to reopen sealed businesses and money in return. Haider Abbas Rizvi has already reached Pakistan. Nadeem Nusrat and Wasey Jalil in US are in contact with them and planning to go back soon. Pakistan’s military establishment is trying to gather them all on one platform against Altaf Hussain and playing Mohajir card as Altaf Hussain plays the Sindhudesh card.

As Pakistan is cornered internationally over sponsoring terrorism in forums like FATF and the incumbent Biden administration is likely to tweak the US-Taliban deal putting in a small contingent of US troops, a visibly worried Pakistan is making such claims. When it sees that it may face pressure over increased Taliban attacks, it tries to deflect the blame by trying to create a false equivalence with India over sponsoring terrorism. Claims of India supporting separatist Baloch armed groups and terrorist groups like TTP and ISIS are nothing new. It is the timing again that should be noted though.

Aveek Sen is an independent journalist working on cybersecurity and the geopolitics of India’s neighborhood, focusing on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Bangladesh. His Twitter handle : @aveeksen

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