George Fernandes was perhaps the first Indian politician to call out the Chinese as ‘enemy number one’. It had raised hackles, piqued debate and seen as a tad bit alarmist and premature, as the hyphenated relation with Pakistan was still consuming emotions. However, it didn’t take long for the neologism of Zhongguo shiji or Chinese Century, to confirm George Fernandes’s forewarning. The advent of Xi Jinping as the President of China in 2013 accelerated the portents of an expansionist and authoritarian Dragon that would threaten the peace of established global order.
Back in the United States, the erstwhile Soviet Union was the centrepiece of its military strategy till its implosion with the Revolutions of 1989. A brief run of the US as the solo hegemonic power in the 90s ensued. However, it was the George Bush administration which recognised the emerging realities with the Pacific Ocean emerging as the theatre of tensions and focus of deployment in Cold War 1.0.2, with China having supplanted the Soviet Union/Russia, as the primary enemy. Given the physical distance between the mainland of US and China, constraints of a viable and sustainable ‘long-range power projection’ became inevitable, and therefore the urgency for establishing credible and strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific realm. This doctrinal evolution was the progenitor to the strategic conceptualisation of Sino-centric ‘blocs’ like QUAD (Quadrilateral – Japan, India, Australia and US) and AUKUS (Australia, UK and US), as indeed the ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy by the subsequent Obama Administration. Barack Obama was believed to have been sworn into the Oval Office as the ‘first Pacific President’. But it was Donald Trump who transformed the US-China narrative into open hostility – Trump spoke of Chinese expansionism in the geopolitical and geo-economic realm that needed to be checked, bluntly. From personally calling Xi an ‘enemy’, escalating trade-wars, threatening Chinese allies like Pakistan and North Korea to even calling the Covid-19 virus as ‘Chinese Virus’, Trump opened the floodgates to China.
Incumbent Joe Biden administration has stayed the course on China and Biden himself described his conversation with Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group 20 summit at Bali as, ‘very blunt with one another’. Even though it is the traditional cold war nemesis i.e., Russia, which is in a bloody conflict with the US-supported Ukraine, and is doing so in the midst of the earlier imagined theatre of Eastern Europe – US remains firm in holding the strategic view that it is China and not Russia (hence, Indo-Pacific theatre and not the European or the Middle Eastern region) that is going to be the ‘enemy number one’, going forward. Even the recently released 2022 China Military Power Report by the US Defence Department confirms China as, ‘the most consequential and systemic challenge to the US national security and a free and open international system’. It went on to add that Beijing was, ‘the only competitor with the intent, and increasingly, the capacity to shape the international order’. The dragon’s intent is underscored by the fact that despite the crippling financial implications of the Covid pandemic, China has managed to double its nuclear arsenal to 400 from 200 warheads in 2020. Even their ballistic missile testing in 2021 has been more than the sum total testing done by the rest of the world!
Months earlier, the US Defence Department had released the 2022 National Defence Strategy where it had explicitly noted, ‘The most comprehensive and serious challenge to US national security is the PRC's coercive and increasingly aggressive endeavor to refashion the Indo-Pacific region to suit its interests and authoritarian preferences.’ Importantly for India, it had specifically covered the Indian concerns as the conflict on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Summer of 2020 was one of the three specifically mentioned regions of concern, ‘a broader pattern of destabilizing and coercive PRC behavior that stretches across the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and along the Line of Actual Control’.
Today, the haunting commonality of China underwrites the brewing Indo-US equation, and they feel mutually comfortable and impelled enough to do joint Military Exercise a la Yudh Abhyas (literally, War Practice) in the near vicinity of the exact flashpoints which were wounded in the Indo-Chinese standoff, recently. Even differing responses on Ukraine, Pakistan or even unsettled trade issues between US and India have not stopped Joe Biden from describing India as ‘indispensable partners’ – and the indispensability of the said relationship is essentially cemented and predicated on the perceived threat perception from China. Towards the same, leniency of overlooking Delhi’s legacy purchase of arms and oil from Russia, is par for course. Russia is a pale shadow of its past and China is the proverbial Dragon in the room for both Delhi and Washington DC to tame.
The article was first published by The Pioneer on 10 December 2022 and republished by MVI.
About The Author
Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh is an ex DGMT, ex Col of the Regt 'APTC', 'Rajput Regt', 'President's Bodyguards'. He was Lt Gov. of Andaman Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. He is a prolific writer & columnist
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)