Introduction — Central Theme!
Recent Chinese LAC violations in Eastern Ladakh and Sikkim, in May 2020, amongst many other reasons, also spring from ongoing new Cold War between USA and China over global supremacy. China knows it can not pursue her global ambitions without subduing India or at least keep it away from aligning with USA. These incursions in Ladakh are, therefore, as part of a 'Dissuasive Strategy.' to silence India. This is the theme of this article.
US - China Rivalry and India
Sino - US trade war and COVID-19 issue has increased the chasm between otherwise sour relations of USA with China. USA has blamed China for deliberately suppressing information on COVID-19. It has even accused WHO for abetting the suppression of information on COVID-19. This is why USA has withdrawn from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
China’s activities in South China Sea (SCS) had not only annoyed USA but also five five rim states of SCS, such as Vietnam. Philippine, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. China not only is creating military facilities on the artificial islands created by it but it also claims the entire SCS region. It is denying the SCS rim states their rights in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). China is also in conflict with Taiwan and Japan in the East China Sea.
Besides, China’s Honkong Security Bill is a definite move to alter the autonomous status of the erstwhile British colony. This is not acceptable to USA and it has withdrawn special privileges accorded to Hong Kong citizens. USA has also blamed Chinese students in US universities for spying and as such it has blocked them coming to USA. It has delisted more than 600 Chinese companies from US stock exchange. Sino - US Relations are back to the stage where it were during the Korean War in 1950s.
To say the least, a Sino - US Cold War has begun and USA sees India as a perfect ally to checkmate China and it has been making many a gestures to win over India. Precisely speaking, India is the only country which can checkmate China and its global ambitions. It’s size and populations are at par with China. It is a nuclear power. What more is it’s strategic location, dominating the Indian Ocean, which makes it a comprehensive force to be reckoned with. The Indian navy does have an edge over Chinese Navy.
China’s Dissuasive Strategy Against India
Over the past few years, China has been bullying India by intruding troops into Indian territory in Ladakh. India had responded with much restraint because it was still struggling to acquire a military punch vis- a- vis China.
Thus, deliberate intrusion into Indian territory, repeatedly, almost at will, was not only to browbeat the Indian military and amuse Pakistan Army but also to divert Indian attention from growing military activities of China in Gilgit Baltistan and the Karakoram - Highway Corridor.
China knows that India was potentially a rival who is big enough to check her global ambitions. However, India is economically and militarily far behind China, though attempts are being made by present Indian regime to catch up. But with US support, it can annul it’s military disadvantage. Therefore, China is trying to dissuade India from joining hands with USA. Recent Chinese incursions in Eastern Ladakh and Sikkim are part of this 'Dissuasive Strategy.'
In an article published in the Global Times, the Chinese Government mouth piece, Global Times, has warned India on the consequences of allying with USA. As reported by News 18 TV Channel on June 01, 2020, the tone and tenor of the article said that India had more to lose than gain. It goes on to say:-
"——-India has little to gain from engaging in a US-China conflict over any topic, with more to lose than gain ——-face the new geopolitical development objectively and rationally———"
A point to be noted here is that not only India, China was threatening everyone whoever is raising voice against its acts of omission and commission. It recently threatened UK from taking any precipitative action in Hong Kong, which was once its colony. It is become a habit with China to use economic and military threats against nations who question it. Earlier, it had threatened Australia of economic fall out, if it insisted upon a full fledged inquiry on the origin of COVID-19.
India‘s Counter Move 'Modi Doctrine'
India knows its strength and weaknesses in relation to China. Economically and in offensive military capabilities, China, definitely has an edge over India. But in defensive military capabilities India is as good as China, if not better. China knows that the India of 2020 is no pushover of vintage 1962. In fact, India was upgrading its counter offensive capabilities. The Indian Navy has an edge over PLAN. However, India has been exploring allies who could enhance its military punch. And USA is more than eager to play this role.
In June 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made a hurricane visit to five nations across the globe, beginning with Afghanistan and ending up with Mexico. Most significant of these visits was his address to joint session of US Congress on June 07, 2016. There he talked of 'Democracy as the Engine of Economic Growth' and 'Incubating Terrorism' in India's neighborhood. In short, he saw a close relationship between two giants of democracy for peace and harmony in the world, besides hinting at Pakistan as the mother of Global terrorism.
At the back of this 'Modi Missive' to US Lawmakers was the growing Sino - Pak intimacy which posed a threat not only to India but also to USA. To counter this threat, it was essential for India and US to come closer. This is very significant because this has been dubbed as the 'Modi Doctrine' by Mrs Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State of USA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had further given a boost to this doctrine when in September 2019 he addressed a diaspora of over 50,000 Indians in Huston, Texas. In his address, he emphatically mentioned that the event was a signal of increasing synergy between USA and India. Some Pakistani scholars even blame President Donald Trump for having quietly allowed India to revoke Articles 370 and 35 A. It might not be true but it is true that India and USA have been inching closer ever since President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had signed a Nuclear deal and in 2020, this relationship is more strengthened.
The essence of Modi doctrine is the growing Indo - US strategic partnership in Asia - Pacific region (US has now named it as Indo- Pacific region—- So is its Asia Pacific military Command is renamed as Indo - Pacific Command) because of growing Chinese activities in this region. So far India had been responding to it in a muted fashion to Chinese aggressive activities against Indian interests. This doctrine tends to make a dynamic shift in Indian responses to Chinese unfriendly acts.
This was visible in Doka La crisis in July - August 2017 and it has shown its efficacy in Eastern Ladakh and Sikkim incidents in May June 2020. Construction of building Road infrastructure in forward areas from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh is reflective of new dimension of 'Modi Doctrine.' This is going to make paradigm shift in the strategic dynamics of the region.
Dynamics of Sino - US Cold War
In short and precise words, South Asia, South East Asia and Asia Pacific region (Now called Indo-Pacific Region) would soon turn into an arena for a Cold War between China and USA. From Persian Gulf to South China Sea, proxy soldiers of the two belligerent nations are being lined up to checkmate each other.
In this chess game of China and USA, India and Pakistan may emerge as the two front line states, each on the two opposing sides. It would definitely affect the peace and harmony of South Asia. The tension between China and USA has been growing much beyond the war of words. And after COVID-19, in 2020, it has reached its nadir. Incidents have taken place in SCS when Chinese ships had a close brush with US aircraft carrier and now Hong Kong issue is adding fuel to the fire.
In May 2016, weeks before President Obama of USA embarked on his visit to Vietnam and Japan, an American Reconnaissance plane in South China Sea was almost intercepted by two Chinese fighter aircrafts, which came within 30 feet of US plane. China does not like US intrusion into South China Sea because it claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Besides it is a known fact that South China Sea bed is rich in hydro- Carbons.
Even in 2014 and 2015, US warships in South China Sea have been threateningly confronted by China. Such close encounters, between the two, are bound to create prospects of a military conflict, which would affect the countries of the region.
In order to boost support in the region, both are sewing allies in their prospective military alliances. From the US point of view India is considered a great asset to counter China; while China thinks Pakistan can checkmate India through her so called 'Strategic Assets.'
Prospective Allies in The New Cold War
Therefore China openly throws weight behind Pakistan. China has been blindly supporting Pakistan in UNSC or any other international forums. It has been opposing Indian bids into UNSC and Nuclear Supply Group (NSG) at the behest of Pakistan. It will never allow Pakistan to mend fences with India. Karakoram highway passing through Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan to warm water port at Gwadar is very important to China for her petroleum needs. Pakistan is virtually China’s surrogate.
Besides Pakistan. China is also cultivating Turkey and Iran to create a favourable block. Further, the main motive of its BRI and OBOR projects was to rope in allies by giving them liberal loans. Some scholars call it “Debt Trap Diplomacy.” China is giving such huge loans to smaller countries in Afro - Asian region that these loans were more than 50% GDP of these smaller countries. This is a new colonialism practised by China to create Coercively world opinion in her favour.
On the other hand, USA was trying hard to woo India to her side. USA passed a National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) -2017, which sought to provide military aid to India at par with NATO countries. The aim and purpose is to equip India military so as to allow it to stand up to Chinese expansionism in the region.. With India as the pivot, USA is building a military coalition in the South East Asia, and Indo - Pacific region so as to contain growing Chinese influence.
The countries, who are likely to be in this coalition besides India are Australia, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. Not to be left out is Philippines, which has continuing feud with China on the Spratly and Paracel islands of South China Sea.
In May 2016, US President, Barack Obama visited Vietnam to renew US - Vietnam relations, severed since late seventies of last Century. First act of President Obama on reaching Vietnam was to lift Arms embargo on Vietnam. With this Vietnam can now acquire sophisticated arms from USA. Thus, from South Korea- Japan through Vietnam and Taipei to India- Australia, USA is trying to build a military coalition to checkmate China's growing expansion in the Asia Pacific region.
Bone of Contention in Asia
What is worrisome for USA was Chinese aggression in mineral rich South China Sea, where it has been going beyond its territorial waters to build airports on man made islands out of coral reef. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
More recently, China has built artificial islands with military runways in the South China Sea just 300 miles from the Vietnamese coast. It posts a direct threat to Vietnam. A US report accuses China of acquiring 3200 acres of land in islands in South China Sea for military purposes.
As a counter, USA is fishing for access to Cam Ranh Bay, of Vietnam, where the Vietnamese have built a new international port which was another strategic reason for USA to lift the arms ban. It may be noted that a US presence there would allow US forces to use the port on the western edge of the South China Sea, thus linking up with US facilities in the Philippines on the Eastern edge of South China Sea.
This would entail an attempt to checkmate China in the South China Sea. Attempts are also on to enroll Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, who find their territorial waters sovereignty being breached by China through her hegemonist acts in the region.
A Trilogy of China - India - Pakistan
Now let us look at what China has been trying to do in the region. In Indian military analysis, certain acts of China are seriously unfriendly. They include Chinese support to insurgency in the North East to Maoist movement in the Central and South India. China's repeated incursions across the line of Control in Ladakh, also make India uncomfortable. Increased military activities in Tibet and building activities in Nepal do ring alarm bells in India.
Besides, China's open support to Pakistan invariably upsets India. It would be foolish to think that India was not concerned about such Chinese activities. It therefore seeks to counter such moves of China and what better way to do so by aligning with obliging USA.
In July 2015, China signed China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) pact with Pakistan. With this pact China has committed some $46 billion, (later increased to $ 62Billion) for the development of Pakistan's tribal Areas falling in Baluchistan and KPK provinces, through which 3000 km long Karakoram Highway runs from Sinkang (Jinjiang) province of Western China to Pakistan's warm water port at Gawador on the Persian Gulf. This has provided a much needed access to sea routes, near oil rich region, to China for her commercial activities.
Gwadar port provides China an alternative route for her petroleum needs. It is important to note that, so far, 82% of China's oil needs and 25% of its Liquified Natural Gas requirements were carried from Persian Gulf through the sea routes, passing through Malacca Strait and South China Sea. The sea routes can be choked and thus not only derail Chinese economy but also affect its military capabilities.
Therefore, Gwadar port in the Gulf of Oman, near the Middle East oil rich region, attains significance because it provides a safe land route to China through Karakoram Highway. China is building a exclusive Chinese city in Gwadar for its workers over an area of 3 lakhs Square feet.
In May 2016, while visiting China, Pakistan then Army's chief, General Raheel Sharief, assured China that Pakistan military would protect Chinese interests in this corridor at all costs. He also promised to raise a force of 3,000 men to protect this corridor. It is estimated some 17,000 Pakistan's military troops are currently guarding Chinese engineers and workers in Pakistan.
It may also be noted that there had been reports of the presence of 10,000 to 15,000 Chinese troops in the Gilgit - Hunza area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Pakistan sees this intimate Sino - Pakistan relationship as a counter weight to India's growing military power in the region. In fact, both Pakistan and China, are using each other to checkmate India.
China Can Never be Indian Friend
Come what may, China considers India as a major stumbling block in her race to global supremacy. In spite of all the theatrics of peace and harmony between India and China, there are conflicting economic, political, military and strategical interests of the two Asian Giants.
Militarily and economically, China has taken a march ahead of India and it can never accept Indian equality. There are historical reasons too for this Chinese hostility towards India. Dalai Lama and Tibet are key pillars of this hostility. It is this reason which will never diminish trust - deficit in Sino - Indian relations. Even India can not accept Chinese hand of friendship as true after what happened in 1962.
What must be noted is the fact that China is using Pakistan to contain India. Therefore, besides Pakistan Military, it is China, too, which would not allow friendly relations between India and Pakistan.
In order to keep Pakistan Military amused, China had made deft move to block India's membership of Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). What was more pleasing to Pakistan military was use of four times veto power by China in the UN Security Council, to stop declaration of Azhar Masood of Pakistan, head of Jamait-ur-dawa,(JuD) as a wanted international terrorist. But he was finally declared a wanted terrorist by UNSC in 2019.
India holds Azhar Mashood as a mastermind behind Mumbai 26/11 and Pathankot Air Base (2/1/2016) attacks. Despite foolproof evidences, Pakistan does not relent and China goes out to support Pakistan's viewpoint in UN Security Council (UNSC). This certainly is not a friendly act towards India.
Sino - Indian Trust Deficit
Truly speaking, given the geo- strategic, political, economic and ideological differences, India can not trust China. This also seeds the mutual animosity between the two, though apparent thaw in their relationship since 1962.
China, along with laying claims to Arunachal Pradesh of India in the East, has been in occupation of approximately, some 42,600/- square km of Indian Territory in the Aksai Chin region of Jammu and Kashmir state of India. This also includes 5180 square km ceded by Pakistan to China since 1963. In addition, it's string of pearls policy around the Indian Ocean, aims at encirclement of India.
Thus, China’s over all Military Strategy against India would be Five Pronged:
(a) Contain and isolate India by making her neighbors hostile and unfriendly. Make Nepal, Bhutan , Bangla Desh and Myanmar hostile to India (b) Cajole and Dissuade India from joining hands with USA. (c) Outsource its low cost proxy war to Pakistan, Nepal and Maoists/Naxalites by:- (i) Supporting and encouraging internal Insurgencies brewing in India and thus break-up India through implosion. (ii) Using Pakistan to the maximum to retard India’s military and economic growth. (iii) Intensify Conflict with Nepal to tie down Indian military (c) Dominate sea-lanes around India through a ‘String of Pearls’ policy from Dijibuti to Gwador to Hambantota and Coco islands (d) Turn Afro-Asian nations against US - India Axis through her non- returnable “Loan diplomacy” to poor and small countries.
While animosity with China seems to be a permanent affair,at least in the near future, often lapsing into 'Blow Hot- Blow Cold' scenarios, it would be pertinent to understand long term and short term options of India. In the long term option of dealing with China,, it is mandatory that India must counter China on her own mettle. To do so, it has to rapidly upgrade and strengthen her military muscles.
Besides, it has to ensure that her neighborhood is sanitized of Chinese influence. India must know that China has no inhibition of not only containing India but also breaking it up into 20-30 states. In an article in online Magazine, Official Chinese mouth piece, in 2009, author had recommended it so. There are no doubts that China is fueling insurgencies not only in North East India. but also supporting Maoist/Naxalite movement.
China has unleashed Hybrid war or say, War by Other Means (WOM) on India through these insurgencies. India ought to adopt a tit for tat approach. In so doing,
India must take the WOM inside Chinese borders through Tibet, Outer Mangolia and Xinjiang and even Hongkong. Fuel Uyghur insurgency actively as does China in case of North East and Maoists/ Naxalites movement. India also must build offensive capabilities to threaten Western Highway to Tibet .
China wants to use Pakistan, Srilanka, Nepal and Bangladesh Desh as the pivots of its 'Contain - India' strategy. Therefore, India must create viable military options against her such belligerent neighbors. This is where signing in May 2016 of an Indo - Iran deal on development of Chabahar Port in South Eastern Iran, some 100 Miles West of Gwadar port, at the cost of $ 500 Million, attains importance.
Connected to this deal is construction of a 900 km long railway line, at a cost of another $400 Million, from Chabahar to Zeheden on the Afghanistan border, which will provide alternative military option to India in Afghanistan to tell Pakistan as to what can happen in KPK and Balochistan, if it does not stops its fueling militant movements in India.
To checkmate aggressive designs of China, India, besides developing its own military muscles, ought to counter Sino-Pakistan nexus by creating of other military options for herself. Therefore , in the short term scenario, India has to use US umbrella to upset Chinese military advantages. Also, it has to stitch up a mutual defence pact with Australia, Japan, Vietnam and USA to checkmate China. It must also incorporate Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore as the listening posts of this alliance.
Whether India likes it or not, it is a compulsion of present times for India to get drawn into the ongoing Cold War between China and USA. And India is going to play a major role in this battle. India must take full advantage of visible tilt in US foreign policy from Pakistan to India. India must push for a seat in UNSC and NSG. It can also throw a bait to China, through a secret bargain, to pay the price for staying away from USA. STRIKE THE IRON WHEN IT IS HOT. Play the game of real politics.
Strategic relations with Iran and Afghanistan must be further strengthened to engage Pakistan on her Western borders. There should be no qualms about it. National security and defence can not be a hostage of moral baggage of the past.
Non - alignment is no more a virtue when enemies are making all out efforts to break up India. By opposing India everywhere and inciting Pakistan to engage India in a proxy war, China has left no option to India but align with USA while maintaining amicable relations with Russia.
It, therefore must be understood that arithmetic of strategic balance for the time being suggests that India can not turn its back on the opportunity to upgrade its military muscle through tie up with USA. This is the dynamics of the times, which can be hardly ignored.