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World superpowers and China

China does not have the grandeur of the Romans, the military machine of the Mongols, the ideology of the erstwhile USSR, the Navy of the British or the unassailable expanse and contribution to mankind of the US.




We have seen many civilisations: Greek, Persian, Chinese, Indus Valley, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Roman, Islamic, Mayan, Inca and more. Similarly, many great empires have risen and fallen—the Ottoman, Persian, Spanish, Hapsburgs, Arab, Mauryan, Mughal, the Tang dynasty. However, the world has seen only five superpowers. Mongol and Roman empires in ancient times. The British empire, the USSR and the US in modern times. What is a superpower? The term is contextually used with different meanings. Holistically, superpowers possess military, technological and economic might, vastly superior to others. They have global capacities to steer, influence and shape events. Their power projection could be simultaneous in multiple locations. The power could be economic, military, technological or “soft” (diplomatic, political and cultural). A superpower should be able to dominate other countries and ward off challenges. It cannot be ignored on the world stage. Without its cooperation no world problem can be solved.

The Emerging Competition: The US is striving to retain superpower status. China is striving to surpass the US. The Pandemic has parachuted into this competition to throw a spanner in the works. In this context it is necessary to evaluate if China can realize its ambitions? What are the threats and opportunities? These questions will trouble us; particularly in India.  An overview of superpowers – past and present indicates where China is heading. 

 Past Superpowers

The Roman Empire. It was the first superpower. It was founded in 27 BC and lasted five centuries (probably the longest superpower). Illustrious emperors/ dictators like Caesar, Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius’ and decadent ones like Nero, Caligula and Tiberius ruled it. It held sway over the Middle East and Europe, ruling most major population centres and contemporary civilizations including Greece, Egypt, the Levant, Carthage, Anatolia and Italy. Its footprint covered over 60 million people. Roman legions, famed for military dominance, laid  the foundations of the Empire.  Persia, the only real competitor of the time, was repeatedly ravaged. The Roman Empire was distinguished for many intellectual accomplishments – Law, City Planning, Architecture and Roads. Roads promoted commerce, agriculture, mail delivery, pedestrian traffic, and military movements. City planning was all about hygiene with plumbing, sewage disposal, dams, and aqueducts. Roman architecture is still famed for its lavishness and planning. The period is also significant for the birth of two major religions – Christianity and Islam. One within the Roman Empire and other on its periphery.  Rome ultimately fell due to internal factors like civil war and economic depredations.

The Mongol Empire. It was the world’s largest land empire. Just a million Mongols conquered vastly larger populations and empires. It was not a unitary empire as normally envisaged but a vast agglomeration of widely different territories held together by military domination. Military prowess propelled it to superpower status. Its all-conquering military machine was based on outstanding tactics, mobility, utilization of the technology of the conquered peoples and logistics. As each state along the Silk Road was conquered, the empire expanded.  The Silk Road was the economic backbone of the Mongols.  From 1206 till about 1294, Genghis Khan and his heirs ruled an empire that included most of Eurasia, much of the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe, China and Russia. At its peak it stretched from the Danube to the Sea of Japan  and from the Arctic to Camboja, covering over 22% of the Earth’s land area. It held sway over 100 million people. It is often referred to as the” Mongol World Empire”.

The British Empire.  The first modern day superpower where economic, military and soft power were equal constituents. It was founded on colonies and trading posts established in the 16th/17th centuries. The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by UK. Its political, linguistic and cultural legacy still e n d u r e s t h r o u g h t h e Commonwealth.  It was the largest empire and foremost global power for over a century. In 1922, it controlled 1/4th the world’s population over 1/4th of Earth’s landmass. In the  empire there was sunlight throughout at some place or the other. That is why the “sun never set” in the British Empire. It had the largest military of all times. Its military power was based on a powerful Navy with which it could strike and control strategic chokepoints—Suez, Malacca, Aden, Hormuz, Gibraltar. It enabled unfettered trade and made UK enormously wealthy. In 1870, it had the largest percentage of world GDP (35.9%).  In 1938, it still had the second largest GDP after the USA. It was insulated and unassailable by continental powers with the Atlantic on one side and the English Channel on the other. WW1 heralded the collapse of the British Empire. It was completed by WW2.  

 The Soviet Union. USSR was the briefest superpower. It was founded on the erstwhile Russian Empire. It rose to be a superpower at the end of the WW2. It disintegrated due to the Cold War with USA. The intervening four decades witnessed global bipolarity whose poles were capitalism and communism. USSR was huge and difficult to knock out as Napoleon and Hitler discovered. The expansive resource-rich landmass fulfilled Mackinder’s Heartland Theory – whoever controlled the Eurasian heartland could control Eurasia and thus the world. It rivalled the US militarily, technologically, economically and in soft power. Communism, its defining ideology,  propelled it to superpower status and ultimately caused its demise. Communist ideology propagated by USSR was global and included China also. Russia, its successor state inherited USSR’s global influence.  Russia is still a power but falls short of being a superpower since it could not reinvent itself as the US has repeatedly done.  

 Present Superpower

USA is the current superpower. It has a huge population,  an enormous continental-sized resourcerich territory located on two oceans.    It has been unassailable barring two brief times — Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and 9/11 strikes on Twin Towers. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has enjoyed conventional military dominance in air, sea or land. Its Navy can control all the world’s major sea routes and choke points. It operates 516 military installations in 41 countries around the world, including 42 that are large or medium-size bases. It has extensive alliances including the NATO, Anzus Pact, bilateral military agreements with Japan and South Korea, and the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance between the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Economically it is very strong and is home to a significant proportion of the world’s GDP. Its currency is the reserve currency of the world. It has the trust of most rich and affluent nations. That makes its economic power non-finite and non-territorial. The US has leveraged technology in every walk of life as a currency of power. Its forays into space, nuclear and information spaces are pioneering. Technology turned it from an energy-neutral to an energy surplus nation. It wields enormous soft power which it projects it through its culture, educational system, political affiliations, aid programs, overseas bases, Hollywood and its huge network of MNCs. Most importantly it has been able to reinvent itself after every setback to emerge stronger: Be it economic setbacks like depression of the 1930s or the global meltdown of 2008 or military setbacks like the Pearl Harbour or Twin Tower attacks. It has been able to ward off competition from the USSR and emerge bigger. It is currently in a debilitated state economically due to the corona virus and is under severe threat from China. Will it stage a recovery as it has always done?  One thing for sure even if does stage a recovery, its economic dominance would have eroded. The other thing for sure is that its military, diplomacy and technology power are still intact. These could leverage its economy back to dominance. Do not count it out.


China’s ambition is to be the undisputed No. 1 superpower. The Chinese were expected to overtake the US as the world No. 1 power by 2050. However, coronavirus has put in sharp focus a number of issues. Let us take see them.

  China has an unfavourable Military Geography—continental size, poor resources, assailable from all directions (The Great Wall is testimony) with constricted ocean access. Its military must defend the nation, prop the Party up, parry competitors and control international choke points and gates. China needs an outsized military with international presence. The past few months revealed two things. One. Chinese military power has serious limitations. It does not have superpower capabilities. Two. Core military power still counts to become a superpower. Power flows from the barrel of a gun. Did Mao not say that? India has stopped it in its tracks in Ladakh and the US has bottled it in South China Sea. All its military gambits have strategically failed. Its reach lies exposed. Outposts are vulnerable. Internal issues like Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan are termites. Its military needs greater teeth to be a superpower. Bridging the chasm demands huge investment.  

 China is betting on its economy to attain superpower status. Despite a high GDP, per-capita GDP is low. Population is aging. The state must guarantee prosperity to people in return for sacrificed freedoms. All superpower populations had affluent lifestyles (barring the USSR which collapsed). China needs huge revenues internally. BRI is its gambit to control international trade, expand the economic footprint, develop dependencies and achieve world domination. It is a mega combination of the US’ foreign aid programs, the Mongol Empire’s Silk Route and the British Empire model of establishing trading posts prior to colonisation. However, the Virus has paralysed the BRI and exposed its noxious underbelly—usurious loans, debt traps, one sided projects et al. Overall being a superpower is an expensive business with huge external expenditure. The economy will have to generate lot of cash.  In the current environment of relocation of manufacturing, unacceptability of Chinese financial systems, longevity of the Virus and the overall geopolitical developments, there are severe headwinds ahead.  

To adjudicate on international matters China needs to generate trust. However, it is emerging as the root cause in many disputes. Its reputation on IPR theft and technology transfer is horrendous. China displays selfishness with no concept of ‘Global Commons’. It has blatantly repudiated international treaties, law and a rules based order (South China Sea and in Hong Kong) and not lived up to promises. More than alienation it has generated hate in many countries.

Overall, when one sees it in the backdrop of history, China does not have the grandeur of Romans, the military machine of the Mongols, the ideology of the erstwhile USSR, the Navy of the British or the unassailable expanse and contribution to mankind of the US. They might be aiming to better everyone. They might achieve many things but seem unable to scale their symbol of pride: The Great Wall of China. It has fostered psychological isolation- Mao’s self-imposed international isolation, the current regime’s Great Internet and Information Firewall, diplomatically created geopolitical isolation and the Han exclusion of other Chinese ethnicities. A psychologically isolated superpower without allies or friends (historically) is difficult to imagine.

China must have phenomenal economic growth to become a superpower. It appears to be recovering well despite the pandemic. However it is early days. The huge variables are the Virus, Unprecedented floods in its core industrial belt, drought and food shortages, job losses due to industry closures, global determination in decoupling/relocation and geopolitical isolation—all reported by Chinese media. The chances of economic dominance do not look bright.

Net Outcomes

It would be fair to say that the days of a unipolar world are over. We are entering a world of multi-polarity. The US will be a large pole which will strive to recover its economic mojo while everything else intact. China might be a large economic pole striving for everything else. There will be budding poles like EU, India, Japan and ASEAN. All one can say—the Global Pivot is to the East and the competition is on!

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation 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.


BrahMos featuring indigenous booster successfully flight tested

Ashish Singh



The BrahMos surface-to-surface supersonic cruise missile featuring indigenous booster and airframe section along with many other ‘Made in India’ sub-systems was successfully flight tested for designated range on Wednesday from ITR, Balasore in Odisha. It is one more major step in enhancing the indigenous content. 

The BrahMos Land-Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) was cruising at a top speed of Mach 2.8.Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh congratulated all the personnel of DRDO and team BrahMos for the spectacular mission. Dr G Satheesh Reddy, Secretary DD R&D and Chairman DRDO congratulated the scientific community and industry for this feat. The successful launch has paved the way for the serial production of the indigenous booster and other indigenous components of the powerful BrahMos weapon system realising ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ pledge.

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19th meeting of WMCC on India-China standoff held

Ashish Singh



The 19th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was held on Wednesday. The Indian delegation was led by Joint Secretary (East Asia) from the Ministry of External Affairs. The Director General of the Boundary & Oceanic Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs led the Chinese delegation. 

The two sides reviewed the current situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China border areas and had frank and detailed discussions on the developments since the last meeting of the WMCC on 20 August, 2020. The two sides attached importance to the meetings between the two Defence Ministers and the two Foreign Ministers held earlier this month. They also noted that the agreement between the two Foreign Ministers should be sincerely implemented to ensure disengagement at all the friction points along the LAC.

 In this regard, the two sides positively evaluated the outcome of the 6th Senior Commanders meeting on 21 September. They emphasised the need to implement the steps outlined in the joint press release issued after the last meeting of the senior commanders so as to avoid misunderstandings and to maintain stability on the ground. In this context, the need to strengthen communication, especially between the ground commanders, was emphasized by both sides.

 Both sides agreed to continue to maintain close consultations at the diplomatic and military level. In this regard, they agreed that the next (7th) round of the meeting of Senior Commanders should be held at an early date so that both sides can work towards early and complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC in accordance with the existing bilateral agreement and protocols, and fully restore peace and tranquility.

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300th ALH-Dhruv rolls out from HAL h

Ashish Singh



In yet another major fillip to indigenous programme, 300th Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH-Dhruv) rolled out from HAL hangar on Tuesday. The roll-out certificate of the 300th helicopter was handed over to G.V.S. Bhaskar, Chief Executive Officer, Helicopter Complex, by Y.K. Sharma, Additional Director General (South Zone), Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA) at a programme held at HAL’s Helicopter Division.

 Speaking on the occasion, R. Madhavan, CMD, HAL, said, “ALH never looked back from the day when the prototype took its maiden flight on August 30, 1992 and has evolved into a world class helicopter with its unparalleled performance.” “The evolution from ALH Mark-I to Mark-IV has been phenomenal and is a boost to the indigenous design and development of helicopters”, he added. Bhaskar said, “Rollingout of 300th ALH is a testimony to the capabilities HAL has built over the years with concerted efforts of employees and customer support”. 

He emphasised, “With more ALH getting inducted into the services our focus on customer support is ever increasing. With over 2,80,000 flying hours ALH has proven to be a multirole helicopter for Any Mission, Any Place, Any Time.” Currently, HAL is producing 73 ALHs contracted for Army (41), Indian Navy (16) and Indian Coast Guard (16). Out of this, 38 ALHs have already been produced and the remaining will be completed by 2022. LCH Ground Run: On this occasion the ‘Ground Run’ of the first Limited Series Production (LSP) of Light Combat HelicopterLimited Series Production (LCH-LSP) was carried out. 

This project has been taken up by the Company proactively while the order from Services on HAL is in process. The LCH was piloted by Gp Capt (Retd) Hari Krishnan Nair S., Chief Test Pilot and Gp Capt (Retd) C.G. Narasimha Prasad, Senior Flight Test Engineer of Flight Operations, Rotary Wing. S. Anbuvelan, Executive Director, Helicopter Division, Wg Cdr (Retd) Unni Pillai, Executive Director (Flight Operations-Rotary Wing), V. Sivasubramanian, General Manager, Helicopter Division and others were present on the occasion.

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Coast Guard ship Kanaklata Barua commissioned in Kolkata

Ashish Singh



Coast Guard

The Indian Coast Guard Ship Kanaklata Barua was commissioned in Kolkata by Jiwesh Nandan, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Defence (MoD), on Tuesday via video conferencing in the presence of DG K. Natarajan, Director General of Indian Coast Guard, Rear Admiral (Retd) V.K. Saxena, Chairman & Managing Director of GRSE Ltd, IG A.K. Harbola, Commander, Coast Guard Region (NE), and other MoD officials. This is the second time in the annals of Indian maritime history that Coast Guard ships are commissioned through digital medium, maintaining the strict protocol of social distancing in the backdrop of Covid-19.

 Indian Coast Guard ship Kanaklata Barua, the last in the series of five Fast Patrol Vessels (FPVs), has been designed and built indigenously by Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) Ltd, Kolkata, a fine example of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ and is fitted with state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment, sensor and machinery. The 49m ship displaces about 310 tonnes, propelled by three MTU 4000 Series engines designed to attain a maximum speed of 35 knots. The ship is designed to carry one RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) high speed boats and one Gemini boat for swift boarding and Search & Rescue operations. 

The ship is named in honour of Kanaklata Barua, a freedom fighter who was martyred while leading a procession carrying the Indian national flag during the 1942 Quit India movement. ICGS Kanaklata Barua is replacement of a similar named vessel which was in commission from 1997 to 2018. The ship is commanded by Commandant (JG) Subhash Kapoor.

 The ship, on joining the Coast Guard fleet, will be deployed extensively for EEZ surveillance, Coastal Security and other duties as enshrined in the Coast Guard charter of duties, to safeguard the maritime interests of the Nation. With the commissioning of this ship, Indian Coast Guard has 151 ships and boats and 62 aircraft. Further, 40 ships are at various stages of construction at different Indian shipyards and 16 Advanced Light Helicopters are under production at HAL, Bengaluru, which will provide the added strength to the surveillance capabilities of ICG to deal with the ever-dynamic maritime challenges. 

The Indian Coast Guard has been a pioneer in inducting indigenous assets. In continuation of efforts to maximise the indigenous content in new assets, ICG is proud to state that the ship commissioned today, has about 70% indigenous content, thus providing the necessary fillip to the Indian shipbuilding industry. True to its motto “Vayam Rakshamah” meaning “We Protect”, ICG has to its credit of saving about 9,750 lives at sea, 12,500 lives as part of assistance rendered to civil authorities and undertook 384 medical evacuations, which works out to one life saved every two days. 

The deterrence created by the ICG is not limited to the Indian waters, but collaboration with friendly littoral states as per provisions of bilateral cooperation agreements resulted in successful apprehension and seizure of drugs in Indian Ocean Region (IOR).The real time information sharing, close coordination and understanding between ICG and other agencies has been the key success of these operations. The hawk eye vigil by the ICG of the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has ensured seizure of about Rs 7,000 crore contraband, 1,600 foreign fishing vessels with 13,000 miscreants were apprehended for fishing illegally in Indian waters, during the same period. ICG remains committed to ensure ‘Safe, Secure and Clean seas’ around the Indian subcontinent.

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Rajnath Singh launches Defence India Startup Challenge-4

iDEX4Fauji is a first-of-its-kind initiative, launched to support innovations identified by members
of the Indian armed forces and bolster frugal ideas from soldiers and field formations.

Ashish Singh



Defence Minister Rajnath Singh launched the Defence India Startup Challenge 4 (DISC-4) during the iDEX event, featuring the initiatives aimed at expanding the horizons of Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) ecosystem in New Delhi on Tuesday. iDEX4Fauji initiative and Product Management Approach (PMA) guidelines were also launched by the minister during the event. Each of these initiatives is expected to facilitate iDEX-DIO to scale up the programme qualitatively and quantitatively. 

iDEX4Fauji is a first-ofits-kind initiative, launched to support innovations identified by members of the Indian armed forces and will bolster frugal innovation ideas from soldiers/field formations. There are more than 13 lakh service personnel working in the field and on borders, handling extreme conditions and equipment and would be having many ideas and innovations to improve such equipment. There was no mechanism to support such innovations. iDEX4Fauji would open this window and allow our soldiers to become part of the innovation process and get recognised and rewarded. Services Headquarters will provide support to the soldiers and field formations all over the country to ensure maximum participation.

 Speaking on the occasion, Rajnath Singh said that the iDEX initiative stands out as one of the most effective and well-executed defence startup ecosystem created in our country and it would be a decisive step towards achieving self-reliance in the spirit of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign. Singh said, “For the first time, an atmosphere has been created in the country when different stakeholders have been brought together to push for innovations in the defence sector. In order to further strengthen our defence system and make it self- reliant the participation of private sector is also crucial. For this we have taken certain steps like partnerships with private sector, technology transfer, 74 % FDI through automatic route and the recently released negative list of 101 items for import ban after a stipulated period.”

 The defence Minister also mentioned, “that only yesterday the government launched Defence Acquisition procedure 2020 which seeks to encourage the private industry to participate in the defence sector. Raksha Mantri also exhorted the Armed Forces to make full use of the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) platform to meet their technological requirements and the Indian Startups to use this opportunity to become an integral part of our Defence enablers.” The launch was addressed among others by MoS Defence Shripad Yesso Naik, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and Secretary, Department of Defence Production, Rajkumar. Under Defence India Startup Challenge 4 (DISC4), eleven challenges from armed forces, OFB and DPSUs were thrown open to prospective startups, innovators, MSMEs alike to provide their innovative ideas on technologies which find their application in the defence sector. The challenges are as follows: 

i. Autonomous Underwater Swarm Drones 

ii. Predictive, Preventive & Prescriptive Machine Monitoring

 iii. Super Resolution for Improving Spatial Resolution

 iv. AI based Satellite Image Analysis 

v. Prediction and forecasting of atmospheric visibility

 vi. Computer Generated Targets for Virtual Training 

vii. Remote Real Time InFlight Health Monitoring of Aircrew

 viii. MF-TDMA based Wideband SATCOM Modem ix. Foliage Penetration Radar

 x. Reduction of RCS of Naval Warships 

xi. Target Detection in Chaff Environment In order to develop a ‘right product and the product right’, DIO has adopted the Product Management Approach to steer the prototype development to a market ready product. These guidelines are first of their kind and their release by the Defence Minister is intended to monitor product development milestones achieved by iDEX winners against the requirements set by the Services/DPSUs/ OFB. The iDEX initiative of the Department of Defence Production was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2018 with the objective to encourage and nurture innovations in the Indian defence sector and create an ecosystem where startups, MSMEs and individual innovators could interact easily with the Indian defence establishment and provide the latest technological innovations for specific challenges experienced in operational environments through co-development and co-production of innovative solutions. The iDEX initiatives are executed by Defence Innovation Organisation, a Section 8 company of DPSUs BEL and HAL. DIO has evolved and expanded the magnitude of its activities since inception in 2018:

 a) iDEX-DIO has launched three rounds of Defence India Startup Challenge (DISC) with 18 problem statements from Armed Forces, DPSUs & OFB and identified 55+ start-ups/ individuals to receive innovation grants in technological areas through the Prototype funding guidelines called “Support for Prototype and Research Kickstart” (SPARK), which entail provisioning of grants up to Rs 1.5 crore to the Startups on the basis of milestones through multiple tranches, for prototype development. 

b) DIO has entered into strategic partnership with leading incubators of the country and undergone international collaborations especially with Defence Innovation Unit (DIU) in US. 

c) For efficaciously taking forward the activities, DIO is hiring manpower, doing outreach, launched own website ( & portal, launched 2 cycles of open challenge for supporting suo motu innovations, SPARK II guidelines and an internship programme, etc, along with promulgating elaborate guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures.

 d) DDP has 9 defence PSUs as pillars of defence production in the country and iDEX has enabled capacity building in DPSUs by seeding a culture of innovation and Research and Development. 

The iDEX event successfully brought together the iDEX stakeholders on a single platform i.e. Ministry of Defence (MoD), iDEX selected startups, partner incubators, Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO), nodal agencies (Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Air Force), NITI Aayog, DRDO, DPSUs, OFB, think tanks, private industry and Industry associations. More than 500 startups and innovators participated in the event through video conference.

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It is time that we study China and handle it with better understanding. Building an unrealistic image of that nation will defeat the purpose of taming the Dragon.




China’s callousness in allowing the virus to spread and then taking advantage of it at the cost of people at large have not been accepted. What the world saw was Beijing displaying a sense of being ordained to rule the world; whose time had come with the virus.

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.

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 weaponisation of the virus through health and mask diplomacy. Key motives which have emerged are unbridled profits and geopolitical control.

 It emerged that China also weaponises 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 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 US, the erstwhile 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 the 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 the PLA cannot 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, mechanisation, informationisation 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 an 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 — politicised 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. Of late, this is spreading to Mongols also. The Government does dot trust these 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 are 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 have been closed since 2017 and replaced by Mandarin Chinese instruction. The same is being done now in Mongol areas. They are discriminated against 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 a 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 flagship 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 now being 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. Someone sensible has to do the maths.


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 the USA. Its thinking is that others including India are handmaidens 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 ethically. 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 the US, 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 Aatmanirbhar 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 the 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 shortcomings 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 teeny weenie Chinaman who is sitting on a nuclear reactor about to go critical.

 Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation 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

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