Modi should take Chinese war-talk seriously; it's straight out of 'Art of War'

When the Chinese President Xi Jinping tells his army generals to be prepared for a regional war, India should take notice. And remain eternally on guard.

Not that we aren’t currently alert to the threat. We can’t afford to take things lightly when Chinese troops are even now trying to secure vantage points in the Chumar region of eastern Ladakh and the Indian army brass is engaged in dealing with the incursions. But even when (and if) this crisis is behind us, India needs to pay more attention to China than ever. The Chinese take non-belligerent behaviour as a sign of weakness. They will see it as encouragement to push their luck further next time.

A Hindustan Times report today (23 September) tells us that the Chinese have reduced their strength at one point in Chumar (Point 30R) and strengthened it elsewhere (Point 4991). The point of this kind of pull-here-push-there manoeuvre should be obvious: the Chinese are testing all points of Indian defences and building up a corresponding strength, complete with infrastructure support. They are also testing our willpower, our staying power: how much can they push and gain something without war.

They want to pressure us to a point where we end up pulling back and there will be enough peaceniks in India asking us why are we fighting over a piece of barren land. The Chinese have too many “useful idiots” on our side while we have none on theirs. This is Xi’s real purpose – to give the impression of preparing for war, so that enough peace-mongers on our side start worrying about it and start yelling ‘peace in our time’.

Did Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) give PM Narendra Modi (right) the wrong impression during his visit to India? Agencies

Did Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) give PM Narendra Modi (right) the wrong impression during his visit to India? Agencies

China is Narendra Modi’s biggest foreign policy and defence challenge, and he should know that only strong resolve will help us negotiate this ever-present threat.

Modi should also remember that the Chinese invented the art of winning a war without actually waging it, with Sun Tzu’s classic, The Art of War, being an idea drilled into every Chinese general. The key elements of Sun Tzu’s approach to war are the following: war is necessary for success; but a successful war must be short and decisive in order to be worth it and to ensure no economic damage is caused; so planning and execution are key; sowing confusion in the enemy even while maintaining unity in your own ranks are additional elements in the Sun Tzu scheme of waging war.

This is exactly what happened in 1962, when the Chinese waged war on us for a few weeks, and then withdrew from most areas barring the ones of strategic importance to them in Ladakh (Aksai Chin).

Even now, Xi Jinping’s statements are one of a piece with Sun Tzu’s tactics. This is what Jinping is supposed to have told his generals in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA): “Headquarters of PLA forces must have absolute loyalty and firm faith in the Communist Party of China, guarantee a smooth chain of command and make sure all decisions from the central leadership are fully implemented.” Xi also exhorted his generals to ensure that “PLA forces improve their combat readiness and sharpen their ability to win a regional war in the age of information technology."

In short, unity back home, and a readiness to wage war on all fronts, including cyber warfare.

The Chinese have already put in place the logistics needed to intimidate the Indian forces in Ladakh by building up infrastructure. According to Hindustan Times, the PLA held war games some 70 km away from Chumar’s line of control eight months ago, and the “exercise was conducted in a ‘war zone concept’ of the Chinese army, with real time intelligence and direct contact with headquarters in Beijing.” The report also quotes sources in Leh as saying the Chinese have “already built a motorable track to point 4912 and are now trying to extend it to point 4991, which is close to Beijing’s perception of LAC.”

The barbarians are already at (or inside) the gate, and it makes no sense for India to pretend that all is, or can ever be, hunky-dory with China. All the camaraderie about twin states and twin cities between Gujarat and Guangdong and Ahmedabad and Guangzhou is intended to lull India into a false belief that the Chinese are more interested in trade than in acquiring more territory from India in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Chinese always let trade and aggressive territorial claims work in parallel, with rising trade giving the other partner an assurance that the Chinese cannot want to jeopardise all this by initiating a war or an eyeball-to-eyeball on the border.

We should never be fooled like Nehru was in 1962. The Chinese will launch any war that they think they can win, or they believe will stay below the threshold of serious economic pain. This is what Xi asked the PLA to prepare for.

As I have explained in an earlier article, the Chinese have had a bloody and brutal ability to wage intimidation and war, having done so all through their history in order to achieve political unity and a common culture.

Let me quote from Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order to show how the Chinese regularly fought wars among themselves and with their enemies. About one particularly ferocious war period in Chinese history, Fukuyama writes: “When compared to other warlike societies, China’s bloody record during the Eastern Zhou (from 770 BC onwards) stands out. One scholar has calculated that in the 294-year duration of the Spring and Autumn period (a period in history stretching from 770 BC to 476 BC), more than 1,211 wars were fought between and among Chinese states… During the subsequent 254 years…468 wars took place, with only 89 peaceful years.” That’s more than four wars every year.

Contrast this with our bloodiest war in history – Emperor Ashoka’s Kalinga war. The sight of so much killing affected the monarch so much that he completely turned away from war, and became a pacifist Buddhist. Not surprisingly, his empire was soon to become history.

From ancient times to Mao Zedong’s Communist revolution, China has successfully mobilised large sections of its population for war. India has never managed this ever. Xi Jinping can mobilise his people for war better than India.

This is what we are up against. Modi cannot afford to assume that the Chinese will be mollified by soft words and some trade possibilities. He has his work cut out, and he cannot afford to ever let India’s guard down. Put the border standoff at Chumar and Jinping's talk of fighting a regional war, and this is a transparent attempt to intimidate us to yield without a war. We have to both stand our ground and prepare for real war. We can't afford the Nehruvian non-strategy of playing border games without preparing for war.

Published Date: Sep 24, 2014 07:33 AM | Updated Date: Sep 24, 2014 07:36 AM

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