International responses to China have gone through three phases in last 30 years; envy and admiration (wish we could do it too), exhilaration (cheap goods, easy loans, and investment), fury (China is stubborn, expansionist, dangerous, virus-unleashing and deceitful). All three phases are now coalescing into acute discomfort. China has overplayed its hand, taking on the whole world at the same time.
Our world was spoiled in 2020, by China’s virus.
Our new world will be defined by the B-4 (Big 4).
* USA (much chastened—is not the sole Rambo of the world).
* India (grit and strength admired by the world).
* Russia (waiting and watching on the sidelines).
* China (naked, blustering, crying).
Why did Xi Jinping (Ping Pong) want to disengage with India in Ladakh? The penny finally dropped in Beijing. Clearly, China could not afford to be in a confrontation with the world’s two most powerful democracies simultaneously—India and the US. Nothing united India more than the cowardly Chinese attack and the martyrdom of 20 of our sons.
Beijing is not looking for a fight. Warfare could severely disrupt China’s economic development and further damage whatever is left of its international reputation.
1) Except for its “iron brother” Pakistan, no country has backed China in its border disputes with its neighbours. No one in the world trusts the Communist Party of China: according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, even the Chinese people are losing trust. With an eye on China, in February 2021, Canada, the US and 56 other countries endorsed a declaration condemning the political detention of foreign nationals.
2) China’s economy was hurting as more and more countries are following India’s example of economic de-coupling; many countries in the Belt and Road Initiative are cancelling contracts with Chinese companies. According to a Chinese official in June 2020, a majority of BRI projects were either adversely or partially affected by the pandemic, with a fifth seriously impacted and two fifths adversely affected.
3) The new US Administration (in a two-hour conversation between the two leaders on 11 February 2021) expressed concern over China’s coercive and unfair trade practices, its violation of human rights, crackdown in Hong Kong, mistreatment of Muslims, aggressive actions in Asia including Taiwan, and obfuscation over the virus. These are the issues that Beijing wants the world to forget. China’s hope that the Joe Biden administration would kiss and make up with China has been belied, and an anti-China grouping is emerging in the Indo-Pacific.
4) India’s tough military response in the Galwan Valley exposed the People’s Liberation Army (PingPong has still not acknowledged his casualties). The Chinese military is controlled by the Communist Party, not by the government. According to a recent analysis by a long-time PLA watcher, the PLA has been highly critical of its war-fighting capabilities. In Galwan, it wanted to test its new training but got a massive jolt when, in end-August 2020, in a stunningly swift manoeuvre, India occupied the dominating Kailash range.
The US has officially welcomed the India-China disengagement. At the same time, Congressman Michael McCaul, lead Republican in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: “It’s heartening to see India stand strong in defending its sovereignty…The (Chinese Communist Party)’s territorial aggression, from the East and South China Seas to the waters of the Mekong, to the Himalayas, has no place in the 21st century.”
The former US Administration said China has committed genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Joe Biden calls it human rights abuses. This is a very serious allegation. The new Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague is a human rights activist, British Muslim. I am sure he will investigate the charges even though the USA and China are not members of the ICC.
I was Ambassador in Khartoum when now disgraced President Omar Bashir was indicted by the ICC in 2009 for genocide and war crimes in Darfur. Even though he scoffed at the charges, I observed his swagger disappear, as people in over 170 countries saw the indictment live. He is now in jail, and his successors have reportedly agreed to hand him over to the ICC to heal the wounds in Darfur.
If I were Xi PingPong, I would be running scared and overdosing on Valium.
In March 2018, when the National People’s Congress confirmed him as supreme leader in this life and all others and included his thoughts into the Constitution, with delegates swooning and sobbing in adulation, PingPong strutted around like a peacock in heat, suggesting that the world wants China to lead it (even though no one else said so), and claiming that miracles constantly happen in China. But that was before the virus. Please do see his New Year’s address on 31 December 2020. He wears a forced smile and looks most uncomfortable.
China’s 35-year long one-child policy (now abandoned) has come back to haunt it. The median age in China is 39 years, in India it is 29 years. India’s professional sons and daughters fight for their dignity and self-respect, China’s conscript “princelings” are forced to fight for a megalomaniac’s delusions.
India’s troops spend several weeks in Siachen by rotation, China is rotating its sorry troops every 48 hours in the bitter cold of the Himalayas even though the Goebbels (sorry Global) Times boasts of how Chinese soldiers in the mountains of Eastern Ladakh live in 7-star comfort. To put it simply, the PLA is no match for our boys.
Why else would Xi PingPong keep calling for the PLA to upgrade its training, efficiency and preparedness, a key “weakness” inferred from PLA public statements? It has not evolved a fighting doctrine beyond “human waves”. Prime Minister Le Keqiang wants to strengthen the PLA’s political loyalty.
Nor has Pakistan tried to be funny during the crisis. Its restive Hazaras, Baloch and Pashtuns are waiting for Rawalpindi’s attention to be diverted.
China agreeing to disengage is a combination of all these factors, and the result of an All of Country Approach by India (political, diplomatic, commercial, military, business, citizen). Only power can contain power.
The Chinese chariot, based on lies and duplicity, has begun to wobble.
In July 2021, the Communist Party of China will observe its 100th anniversary, and it cannot afford a conflict in the Himalayas or on the seas. What will its people think, when they have been assured that one Chinese soldier can conquer the universe in a few days?
The Qingming festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, is observed in China in April. Chinese families visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean the gravesites, pray to their ancestors and make ritual offerings. Each Chinese soldier killed in Galwan leaves behind one set of heartbroken parents and two sets of grieving grandparents wondering who will sweep their own tombs.
China’s expertise in offending others and threatening them if they do not toe its line is alienating foreign governments and driving them together. The Law of Unintended or Unforeseen Consequences has kicked in.
China passed a law in February authorizing its Coast Guard to fire at foreign ships operating in the South and East China Seas that it claims exclusively. The other nations with competing claims, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea etc., were livid. The Philippines, that had a naval confrontation with China in 1996, has asked its navy to escort its fishermen. In April 2018, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte had enthused: “I simply love Xi Jinping!” Wait to hear what he says now.
England got mad over a Chinese national-security law to squash Hong Kong’s city’s democracy protestors. African nations were outraged at the racial discrimination faced by their nationals when the virus erupted. Australia demanded an international investigation into the origin of the virus. China resorted to abuse, the only thing in which it excels.
The Communist Party-owned newspaper, rather grandly called the Global Times, dubbed Washington’s campaign to contain China “as futile as an ant trying to shake a tree”. It gloated that Australia was the “poor white trash of Asia”, and labelled it “chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes” (Why am I not surprised that over 8/10 Australians detest the Chinese Communist Party?).
In his February 2021 conversation with Joe Biden, Xi warned that confrontation would be a disaster for both nations, as though China and the US were equals—this is China’s delusion. While the Chinese fellow kept flogging his tired “win-win” nonsense, Biden called China “America’s most serious competitor”, and vowed to out-compete it. America is angry at its new challenger.
The US President told a bipartisan group of US senators that “if we don’t get moving, they (China) are going to eat our lunch” and said famously that Xi PingPong does not have a democratic bone in his body. This comment reminds me of a personal experience in South Sudan, where, under the UN Mission, China sent a police contingent to teach the local police about “democratic policing”. What did you learn, I asked the local top cop. He answered nonchalantly: “First shoot the demonstrators, make sure they are dead, and then ask them their names.”
According to the White House, Joe Biden made it clear to Xi that the US wanted a free and open Indo-Pacific. It means that the US will keep up pressure on China.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made an excellent statement in Parliament on 12 February 2021. He referred to our territory illegally occupied by China and unconditionally rejected China’s claims. “I want to assure this House that in these talks we have not conceded anything”, he stressed, and emphasized three key principles that determine our approach: strictly respect and observe the LAC, no attempt to alter the status quo unilaterally, and iii) all agreements and understandings to be fully implemented. The minister thanked the Indian armed forces for their valour and courage.
Some weeks ago, the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “We have to deal with it (China) from a position of strength.”
There is an interesting sidelight to China’s land grab in Asia. China started to nibble at what Pakistan regards as its territory, long before Beijing began trespassing into Aksai Chin or Ladakh. Since at least the 19th century China has been eyeing Hunza (now part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir), a kingdom strategically placed with overland access to Afghanistan, the Pamirs, Central Asia and South Xinjiang, as also the Shaksgam Valley that bordered Xinjiang. But the Mir of Hunza too had his own expansionist vision, and laid claim to the Raksam Valley and the important oasis of Tashkorgan in Xinjiang, both in present day China. The eventual 1963 Pakistan-China Boundary Agreement gave away more than 8,000 sq km of Hunza’s territory to China, with the area being surveyed only in 1987, so Pakistan had no idea of how much land it had actually ceded. There is a strange aspect to the 1963 Agreement. Article 6 acknowledges the need for a new settlement after the Kashmir issue is resolved, thereby admitting that Hunza and adjoining areas are part of the dispute, a stance which Pakistan has completely backed off from.
Even today, China continues to nibble Pakistani territory, although in a new format called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as locals complain about the takeover of thousands of acres of their lands for “Special Projects”.
Xi Jinping reminds me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, egotistic, megalomaniac, narcissistic, with a deep need for excessive adulation, making his ideas the core philosophy of the nation as divine knowledge, and giving frequent commands of “off with his head”, driven by ungovernable passion and a blind and aimless rage. I do not know what you mean by your way, the Queen rebukes someone, “all the ways about here belong to me”.
Under PingPong, China has become a personality-driven polity. The increasingly centralized system means party officials have reached their bureaucratic nirvana, also known as paralysis. No decisions are made, only “required actions” taken. Under Xi, China has been transformed from one-party rule to a one-man dispensation.
Communist China is very fond of teaching others a lesson (militarily), but never seems to learn any itself. It tried teaching us a lesson in 1962, USSR in 1969, Vietnam in 1979 (and a naval clash in the Spratlys in 1988), and possibly USA in 2021.
International responses to China have gone through three phases in last 30 years; envy and admiration (wish we could do it too), exhilaration (cheap goods, easy loans, and investment), fury (China is stubborn, expansionist, dangerous, virus-unleashing and deceitful). All three phases are now coalescing into acute discomfort.
China has overplayed its hand, taking on the whole world at the same time. This explains the rapidly rising Sinophobia. China has sent its visiting card to the world. It says VIRUS. India is sending its own card. It says VACCINE. China gave the world an example of its power to hurt. India demonstrates the power of its example to heal. Everywhere, Chinese are suspected, Indians are respected. We win international elections with overwhelming majorities. The world trusts India.
No one trusts China.
The CCP’s recklessness in allowing the novel coronavirus born in Wuhan to develop into a global pandemic coupled with the concerted disinformation campaign that Beijing undertook to conceal its culpability should put doubts to rest.
In December 2020, Xi summoned the Communist Party of China’s 25 Politburo members for a “Democratic (I am not joking!) Life Meeting”, preparatory to the July 2021 centenary of the Party. The theme of the session was to “earnestly learn the thought of unique socialism in China in the new age of Xi Jinping”. State-owned China Central Television aired each of the 25 Politburo members pledging fidelity to Xi.
Hubris is a malady that destroys its possessor.
The July 2021 CPC meeting will confirm Xi as leader for life in this world and the next worlds, agree that the Chinese virus came from Mars, boast that the Chinese vaccine has saved the world, show that the economy grew in 2020 at the highest rate in human history, suggest that all world leaders have sworn fealty to PingPong, and expand its fictitious nine-dash line in the South and East China Seas to a 200-dash line to encompass the 200 countries and territories that have been attacked by the Chinese virus. By turning Sun Tzu’s advice on its head, China has lost the war for global acceptance without fighting it.
China suffers from the bad emperor syndrome. There have been periods of golden efflorescence in Chinese civilization, but many more of terrible leaders (Mao Zedong and Xi PingPong being the latest examples). Sui Yang Di Yang Guang (7thC CE) was fond of grandiose projects, hungry to invade neighbouring kingdoms, and absolutely decadent. His directly caused the death of millions of Chinese, and bankrupted the treasury. His reconstruction of the Great Wall killed several million workers. When he invaded Champa in Southern Vietnam, thousands of Sui soldiers died from malaria. Over a slight, he invaded the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, but utterly mismanaged the war overseeing it personally, resulting in several hundred thousand Sui soldiers dying from famine or ambushes. This despised emperor was finally strangled to death during a coup. Was this the ancient version of Xi’s repeated references to China’s so-called “century of humiliation”?
Ambassador Dr Deepak Vohra is Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan and Guinea-Bissau; and Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil.