China: The Awkward Neighbour

China: The Awkward Neighbour

 

All about understanding the Chinese mind

Just when the stand-off between India and China over the Doklam plateau threatened to go the way of the 1986-1987 incident (Arunachal Pradesh), the two sides agreed to step back and disengage, thus avoiding a confrontation. The Indian side has pulled back its personnel and equipment to the Indian side of the boundary, while China has agreed to make ‘necessary adjustments and deployment’ on its part. It is unclear, however, whether China will patrol the region, which it claims to have been doing earlier. Road construction will not continue for the present.

Behind the scenes, quiet diplomacy by the two sides and ever dominant Indian Foreign policy under Prime Minister Modi, no doubt, led to the defusing of what could have been a serious crisis. Those on either side of the divide currently claiming victory must, hence, pause to think what the future holds.

To savour victory without understanding the factors at work would be a serious mistake. To begin with, China and India have a kind of competitive coexistence. While professing friendship, both sides nurse a mutual suspicion of each other — at times prompting several degrees of alienation. Both countries remain wary of each other’s intentions and actions. Understanding the way the Chinese mind works is, hence, important. The Chinese mind tends to be relational, i.e. dictated by context and relationship. When the Chinese state that they have halted road building in the disputed Doklam area, while adding that they may reconsider the decision after taking into account ‘different factors’, what China means is that it is willing to wait to implement its decision, but at a time of its choosing when an opportunity exists for a settlement suited to its plans. Little finality can, therefore, be attached to any of China’s actions.

Any belief, hence, that China has been deterred by India’s firm position at Doklam could be misplaced. Since the China-Vietnam conflict in 1980, China has avoided getting into any outright conflict. By stepping back from a confrontation with India over a minor issue at this time, what it had in mind were two significant events, viz. the BRICS summit in China in September and the forthcoming 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Also, it possibly believes that this would help China dilute global perceptions about its aggressive designs.

 

The BRICS summit and the 19th Party Congress both have high priority for China today. Nothing will be permitted to disrupt either event. Extreme factors would not be allowed to affect this situation. For President Xi Jinping, presiding over the BRICS Summit at this juncture will help consolidate his informal leadership of the group. As the undisputed leader of BRICS, China believes it can take a signal step towards global leadership.

China is currently seeking to reshape the regional and international order, and is keen to fine-tune its ‘Great Power diplomacy’. It, hence, needs to be seen as preferring peace over conflict. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a potent instrument in this direction, but needs a peaceful environment to succeed. Limited wars or conflicts, even with the possibility of successful outcomes, would damage China’s peaceful image globally.

The 19th Party Congress is even more important from President Xi’s point of view. It is intended to sustain his legacy and leave his stamp on the Party in the mould of Chairman Mao. To achieve comprehensive success, he needs peace to achieve his target. Till then everything else will need to wait.

This is again a delicate moment for China on the economic planes. China’s growth rate is actually declining, debt levels are dangerously high, and labour is getting more expensive. At this moment, hence, it is more than ever dependent on international trade and global production chains to sustain higher levels of GDP growth. For the present, development, therefore, is the cardinal objective.

The Achilles’ heel of the Chinese economy is the lack of resources, specially oil. Oil from the Gulf region is critical for China’s growth. Peace in Asia is thus vital to ensure uninterrupted supplies of oil. Uncertainties and disruptions across the Asian region would hamper China’s economic progress.

For all the above reasons, China currently leans towards the pragmatic when it comes to relations with countries other than those in its immediate periphery in East Asia. It is not keen to follow a policy adopted by its new-found strategic ally viz. Russia which has paid a high cost for its ‘interventionist’ policies. China tends to take a longer term view of its future and, despite the rising wave of nationalism in China today, is anxious not to upset the international political or economic order. For this reason alone, it would shun a conflict with India in the Doklam area.

China is not a sleeping giant , and aspires to be a Great Power. It is well-positioned to achieve this if it maintains its present course. Any interruption, by indulging in a conflict with nations small or big, would not only damage but derail the levels of progress that are essential to achieve this objective. President Xi’s China dream seems predicated on this belief. It implies support for a rule-based international system, linked to ‘Tianxia’,in the belief that this would help China overtake the U.S. as the dominant world power.It is unlikely to do anything to deviate from this goal.

China is definitely not a ‘Pakistan’ that, it would show its emotions  in a defeat or a victory. The Chinese don’t fire bullets and there is no cross border insurgency but more effective than that, is the Chinese policy of ambiguity and unresolved tensions, for what it is, the Chinese are made of nerves of steel and are ever comfortable with the awkwardness that surrounds its neighbours. The Chinese would never show their cards not even in a crisis or in a state of dominance.

While this attitude cannot be taken for granted for all time, the current Chinese leadership seems comfortable in following this prescription. It appears to believe in the ideal that ‘the longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward’.

For China this is a game of Chess and not that of a T20, for that they are ready to play the long waiting game and sacrifice some of its pawns.

The ‘Unsung’ Refugees: Rohingya

“People floating like pollen in search of more fertile soil.”

The Rohingyas are a people struck by tragedy: persecuted at home in Myanmar, rejected or barely tolerated abroad, and sacrificed at the altar of strategic calculations by powerful neighbours. To add to it, the refugee crisis in Europe has overshadowed their plight. Both institutionally discriminated and denied basic human rights in a legally-sanctioned manner as well as removed from the mainstream, over a million Rohingyas have no land they can call home. It is as though they have been expelled from humanity itself.

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, neighbouring Bangladesh, are not recognised by the Myanmar government as an official ethnic group and are therefore denied citizenship. Most Rohingyas are not qualified to be citizens of Myanmar as per the 1982 Citizenship Law, which was promulgated by the erstwhile military rule. While it is claimed that there were no Rohingyas in Myanmar before the British brought ‘Bengalis’ to Burma, there is sufficient evidence to show that the Rohingyas pre-existed the British-engineered migration (during the British occupation of the Arakan State in 1823) from present-day Bangladesh to Burma. Even those who arrived in Burma post-1823 could not go back to Bangladesh now given that they have no citizenship claims there. This effectively makes them a stateless people.

Hundreds of people have been killed at the hands of the military, many more hundreds have disappeared, scores of women sexually assaulted, villages razed to the ground, and tens of thousands have fled the country. A large number of those escaping the brutal violence end up in the well-oiled trafficking networks of the region who smuggle them out for huge amounts of money. Some die en route, some make it to the borders of neighbouring countries only to be turned away: hordes, including little children, often get stranded at sea.

Myanmar, however, denies that its military has committed any wrong. A government-appointed inquiry committee recently concluded that “there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region”.

What makes the anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar even more distressing is that all of this is now happening under the stewardship of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous and inspiring “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”.Clearly, Ms. Suu Kyi’s precarious political position makes it hard for her to respond to the crisis as effectively as she could have. Despite the return of democracy in 2015, the military continues to have a strong hold over the civilian government in Myanmar, especially on key issues such as defence, border affairs and home affairs. The country’s constitution also reserves one-fourth of the seats in Parliament for the military. And though Ms. Suu Kyi’s party is in power, she herself is barred from becoming the country’s president (she holds the post of State Counsellor) since her children are British citizens. Under such circumstances, her ability to take on the powerful military establishment remains limited.

The predicament of the Rohingyas is also a result of contemporary geopolitical realities and strategic calculations by key stakeholders in the region and elsewhere. The Western world is busy with the unfolding of events in Syria and the resultant refugee crisis. Hence they would not want to get bogged down with the Rohingyas, whose plight has no direct bearing on the West’s interests. Having steadfastly invested in the pro-democracy movement led by Ms. Suu Kyi, and by recently lifting the 20-year-long sanctions against Myanmar, the U.S. finds itself in no position to bargain or put pressure on the country.No Oil No party!

The UN has also proven to be powerless on the Rohingya question, as it has been on most questions lately. In May 2015, when the UN Security Council held a closed-door briefing on the human rights situation in Myanmar, China made it clear that it was an internal matter of Myanmar. For China, its relationship with Myanmar’s Generals is important to gain access to the country’s natural resources, and recruiting Myanmar for China’s larger economic goals which include opening a land corridor to the Bay of Bengal.

India, a traditional home for Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists, has been reluctant to either speak out about the violence against the Rohingyas or accommodate them in significant numbers. China’s closeness to Myanmar clearly worries New Delhi. Its reluctance also comes from the fact that Myanmar’s assistance is seen as significant in dealing with the insurgency in the Northeast. In any case, the Rohingyas are of no strategic value to anyone. Compare this to how both India and China rushed in with aid during the earthquake in Nepal nearly two years ago. Today, many Rohingyas are either turned away while trying to enter the country or sent to jail for illegal entry. Recall that India has not signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol which require countries to accept refugees.

Although India’s reluctance to speak out publicly about the violations against the Rohingyas is understandable, it can ill afford to ignore the crisis in Myanmar. Even if human rights considerations are the least of India’s worries, it is clearly in its interest to ensure that stability and peace return to the Rakhine state. For one, as and when peace returns to Myanmar, India can ask the latter to rehabilitate the Rohingyas (like it did vis-à-vis East Pakistan refugees after the 1971 war). Second, a stable and democratic Myanmar will naturally gravitate towards India. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Rohingya crisis, if it remains unsettled, can become a path toward radicalization and pose a greater security threat for India. There are reports of increasing radicalisation among sections of the Rohingya community. A December 2016 report by the International Crisis Group spoke precisely about this challenge and highlighted how rights violations can lead to radicalisation.

India should use creative diplomacy to persuade Myanmar to resolve the Rohingya crisis. It should perhaps consider appointing a special envoy for this purpose who should hold discreet negotiations with Myanmar’s military, Ms. Suu Kyi, Dhaka and Beijing in order to bring an end to the crisis.

“HUMAN BEINGS,WHILE CAPABLE OF BEING THE WORST,ARE ALSO CAPABLE OF RISING ABOVE THEMSELVES,CHOOSING AGAIN WHAT IS GOOD AND MAKING A NEW START ,DESPITE THEIR MENTAL AND SOCIAL CONDITIONING” – Pope Francis

‘New-Clear’ Policy.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 there has been an ongoing debate centred on defining an appropriate role for nuclear weapons. Everybody agrees that these weapons are enormously destructive and should not be used. The question is whether the best way to prevent their use is to consider these as weapons for war fighting (just like conventional weapons but only more destructive), or to see them as qualitatively different, meant exclusively for deterrence. Different countries possessing nuclear weapons have evolved their doctrines based on the historical experiences shaping their world views, their threat perceptions and security obligations.

India’s Nuclear Doctrine consists of these key principles: “a) building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent; b) posture of ‘No First Use’, nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere; c) nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage; d) non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states; however, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons….”

The two key elements — a “credible minimum deterrent” and “no first use” — were first articulated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Parliament days after India had undertaken a series of five nuclear tests in Pokhran 1998 and declared itself a nuclear weapon state. Mr.Vajpayee stated that India did not see nuclear weapons as weapons of war; that their role was to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threats or coercion; that India will not engage in an arms race; and that India believes in a “no first use” policy and remains ready to discuss this with other countries, bilaterally or in a collective forum.

A nuclear doctrine serves multiple uses — it determines the nuclear posture, provides guidance for deployment and targeting, chain of command and control, communication and signalling to adversary and, in the ultimate, the use of nuclear weapons. Naturally, the last would happen once deterrence has failed. So far, the nuclear triad (aircraft, land-based mobile missiles and sea-based assets) which is to guarantee India’s assured retaliation remains a work in progress

India’s doctrine does not mention any country, but it is no secret that the Indian nuclear arsenal is to counter threats from China and Pakistan. China has maintained a ‘no first use’ policy since 1964 when it went nuclear, and the Chinese leadership has always considered nuclear weapons as political weapons.

Pakistan has adopted a first-use policy to ensure full-spectrum deterrence; in other words, it envisages a tactical, operational and strategic role for its nuclear weapons. Since it maintains that its nuclear arsenal is exclusively against India, it seeks to counter India’s conventional superiority at all levels. Recently, it has developed tactical nuclear weapons to hedge against a conventional military strike under the Cold Start doctrine.

The conventional criticism against a ‘no first use’ policy is that India would have to suffer a first strike before it retaliated. This criticism is valid but only highlights the need for India to ensure that deterrence does not fail, and that there is a clear communication to the adversary of the certainty of punitive nuclear retaliation. This can happen when India’s nuclear arsenal, its delivery systems and its command and control enjoy assured survivability.

Does this imply that till then, it is preferable for India to shift to a first-use policy? That might be an attractive option if India was certain that in a first strike, it could take out all of Pakistan’s (or China’s) nuclear assets so that it would escape any nuclear retaliation. That is highly unlikely, today and in the future. Even the U.S. with its vast arsenal, both conventional and nuclear, is unsure about denuclearizing North Korea which has a much smaller arsenal and capability.

Shifting to a first-use policy also has implications for the size of the arsenal, deployment posture, alert levels, delegation of command and control, defining red lines which would trigger a nuclear response and escalation management along the nuclear ladder. In short, it would mark a shift from deterrence towards nuclear war fighting. In short, it would lead to greater instability. The same instability would govern a situation of nuclear ambiguity. Given the short distances, it is impractical for India to envisage a ‘launch on warning’ posture even it developed and deployed a highly effective early warning system.

There is another key difference. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is totally under the military’s control, and by and large, the military approach to any weapon system is to find a use for it; it is difficult for the military to possess a weapon system and then conceive of a doctrine that aims at deterring its use.

Deterrence is a product of ‘technical capability’ and ‘political will’. In dealing with Pakistan, India has to define who is to be deterred and find ways of demonstrating the requisite political will even as we build up our technical capabilities. Israel is a classic example of a state possessing advanced technical capabilities and also having demonstrated political will. Yet, this has failed to deter rocket strikes and terror attacks on Israeli territory.

This is not to suggest that India’s nuclear doctrine cannot be changed. It should be periodically reviewed and updated, possibly every decade or so, taking into account technological developments and changes in the security environment. This is, however, not a simple issue of changing a few words here or there and casual remarks can only add to confusion.

Ultimately, deterrence is a mental construct which requires clarity in its planning. Even ambiguity needs to be a calculated ambiguity. Only then will the doctrine serve to reassure the Indian people even as it deters the adversary in order to safeguard India’s security.

A Game of Chess:International politics

“When Diplomacy ends, War begins”, Is this where the world seems to be moving? For now it may appear to be safer place  with the coming together of two nations  as i put them,’Friends for Benefits’ with the development of recent Indo-U.S relationship.Union Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and U.S Defence secretary Ashton Carter signed a Logistics Exchange Memorandom of Agreement(LEMOA) that the U.S. has assiduously pursued since 2002 and which India had,till now, resolutely refused to endorse.According to the signatories , LEMOA only facilitates establishing “mutual basing facilities”.This would be on a case-by-case basis, intended to help speed up humanitarian relief operations as also emergency evacuation from conflict prone regions.In certain circumstances, it could also help smoothen operational logistics between the navies of the two countries.LEMOA is a critical link in the U.S.’s plans for a larger pivot towards Asia. Also, that it is intended to meet the threat from an increasingly assertive ‘Dragon’ of the east(China).

Talking of India-U.S. relations, it was President Bill Clinton who made the initial move to break the logjam in India-U.S. ties dating back to the Cold War period.It was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who during a visit to U.S., made a bold statement to hint that it was time to “move beyond the hesitations of the history”; hopes which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have fulfilled in more than ample measures.Realistically speaking, the strategic build up between the two countries commenced during the first term of Mr. Bush, when the Next Steps in Strategic  Partnership heralded a sea of change in U.S.-India relations.It was in 2005 that India and the U.S. signed their first defence Cooperation Agreement.This agreement was renewed in 2010 and 2015, leading to a loosening of strict controls that existed regarding the transfer of excluded categories of technologies.Around 2007-2008, the U.S. made initial moves to get india sign three foundational agreements viz., the Logistics Support Agreement(LSA);the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement(CISMOA); and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement(BECA) for Geo-spatial Coopertaion.While India welcomed the idea of relaxation of technology norms, it resisted signing the foundational agreements on the ground that it undermined India’s strategic autonomy.With LEMOA in place, it is almost certain that pressures would intensify to sign the other two foundational agreements-CISMOA and BECA.If India were to do so, it could convey an impression that India had gone from being a “major defence partner” to a significant “non-NATO ally” of the U.S.

Overcoming “the hesitations of history” is one thing; not ignoring the lessons of history is equally, if not more, important.The U.S. is a true practitioner of the art of “Realpolitik”.Changes in policy are constantly reflected to suit its global requirements.In Europe, for example, today the U.S. seems to be preparing to jettison its long-standing “special relationship” with the U.K. . In West Asia, as U.S.-Iran relations improve , Saudi Arabia is now the new villain on the block.The U.S. had always been suspicious of India’s friendship with Russia, that go back to the period of Non-Allignment. And today as the U.S.-Russia relations are at their nadir since fall of Berlin Wall, the U.S. can be expected to try to further weaken India-Russia relations that are lately facing some strain.Furthermore, given Pakistan’s location, it would be a mistake to belive that the U.S. would completely detach itself from Pakistan.

The geopolitical situation across the world is more confused today than it was only a few years back.Geopolitical alignments are changing at bewildering pace.As India moves closer to the U.S., Russia is seen to coming closer to China.At one level, Russia is strengthening its links with China economically and strategically and coordinating more closely on the later on the issue of South China Sea. At another level, Russia is engaging with China to oppose U.S. attempts to install Missile Defence System in Asia.

Russia is simultaneously seeking to reinforce its long-standing strategic ties with South Asian countries such as Vietnam.Russia and Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) appear to have come closer.In Eurasia, Russia is currently carving out a zone of influence for itslef.India does not figure on any of these plans.When the strategic balance across the entire Asian region is undergoing a seismic shift, India cannot be seen to be playing a losing hand.The main players, today, are the U.S., Russia and China.The current effort of countries such as China and Russia is to restrict, if not exclude, U.S. influence from the region, labelling it as a non-Asian power.On issues such as the South China Sea, even many of the countries directly involved, specially Philippines. are willing to make their peace with China.The U.S.’s role in the region is thus becoming restricted, leaving it few alternatives.

With the ‘Snake ‘ and the ‘Dragon’ lurking in its backyard, India need to reflect whether this is the opportune moment for the country to reset its compass and move away from its long-term resistance on strategic autonomy.It is also hardly the time to be seen to be the ally of One power, that too one whose power seems to be waning. The Lion must play its cards carefully if it wants to project itself as the one in the near future. As quoted by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “A lot of people think International Relations is like a game of chess.But its not a game of  chess,where people sit quietly,thinking out their strategy, taking their time between the moves.It’s more like a game of Billiards,with a bunch of balls clustered together.”