Dragon Trap: How India Can Shape an Alliance Against China

Appeasement is history and containment isn’t enough; India must lead the world away from China in order to bring down the communist regime

Opinion, Top Stories

By Rakesh Krishnan Simha

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the East Lake in Wuhan

Can the expansionist communist regime in China be brought down in our lifetime? Can anyone stop the salami slicing policies of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)? Is there hope for the 1.4 billion Chinese citizens who are trapped in the world’s largest prison? Or will Beijing continue to remain an existential threat for the entire world by releasing deadly viruses, supporting terrorist groups and backing nuclear rogues such as Pakistan and North Korea? Two narrowly spaced events in recent months indicate that the only country with the willingness, motivation and manpower to engineer Beijing’s collapse is India.

The most important of these events was the Galwan clash. In June 2020, Indian and Chinese troops faced off in the mountains, resulting in a bloody brawl in which 20 Indian and an estimated 45 PLA soldiers died. Then a quick counteroffensive by the Indian Army captured land that had been under Chinese control for nearly 60 years. This was unprecedented because it was the first time in modern history that the expansionist Chinese had ceded land to a rival. India’s aggressive military maneuvers backed by the political leadership showed the world that China was a cowardly stuffed paper dragon that backed down when confronted by a powerful and determined adversary.

If India is seen as powerful and able to lead an anti-China coalition, perhaps the expansionist Hans will back down. If New Delhi is perceived as indecisive, the Chinese will continue to probe India’s weak spots and support internal saboteurs…

The second event demonstrated how ordinary individuals could play a critical role in a wider war against China. In 2020 as the world was reeling under the pandemic, a lone Indian cyber sleuth – known only by his handle The Seeker – waded through vast Chinese databases to discover that Covid-19 was in all likelihood incubated in a Wuhan lab. While many compromised scientists and most of the mainstream media toed the Chinese line, The Seeker and his group DRASTIC – which comprises a handful of individuals from around the world – pieced together the evidence that revealed the role of Beijing’s bio warfare machinery in creating the global catastrophe.

The chief impact of The Seeker’s efforts is that the world has come to a definitive conclusion about China’s role in creating the Covid-19 pandemic, which has taken the lives of millions and wrecked the global economy. Lost markets can be recovered but China can never regain lost goodwill. It is therefore extremely satisfying to know that an Indian citizen led the efforts to expose China as the real villain of the Covid-19 saga.

The Seeker’s efforts offer a glimpse into what ordinary individuals can achieve with a mix of motivation and hard work. One doesn’t have to possess investigative skills; boycotting Chinese products is a start. In the larger war, each person just needs to play their part.

Steeling For The Fight

In July 2020, during his visit to Ladakh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi quoted the half verse “Veer Bhogya Vasundhara” or “the brave alone shall inherit the earth” from the Shiva Purana. What would it mean if India were to get serious about making “Veer Bhogya Vasundhara” a cornerstone of its strategic vision? According to Nithin Sridhar, the Chief Curator of Advaita Academy and a commentator on religion, politics and society, this maxim goes against everything that modern, colonised Indians have been taught to believe. “Our school education and media narrative have created a modern myth that Indian rulers always fought only in defence, but never offensively to secure their respective interests. However, the fact is we not only have historical evidences of Indian kings continuously striving to expand their territories, but also have civilisational teachings in texts like Ramayana and Mahabharata that specifically articulate why rulers must employ offensive strategic policies rooted in strength to secure overall wellbeing of the state and provides frameworks and tools like Rajasuya Yajna to accomplish the same.”

It was India’s massive force projection and refusal to back down at Galwan that got the world’s attention… It was China’s first public humiliation since the 1979 invasion of Vietnam in which the battle hardened Vietnamese Army killed as many as 60,000 Chinese soldiers

The Prime Minister gave an indication that the time for a final clash with the prime enemy had come. “The era of expansionism is over,” he said. “The world has moved on to the path of development. The expansionist forces have ruined the world in the last century. But they have either been defeated or forgotten in history.”

The Chinese would have no trouble understanding these Sanskrit aphorisms as their leaders have also had similar views, albeit less profound. In 1938 Chinese dictator Mao Zedong said “power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. The Chinese only understand the language of power as the communist mind is fixated by it. If India is seen as powerful and able to lead an anti-China coalition, perhaps the expansionist Hans will back down. If New Delhi is perceived as indecisive, the Chinese will continue to probe India’s weak spots and support internal saboteurs such as the communists, jehadis, secular media and even the Gandhi family members.

Grand Strategy Against China

India is too large a country to fit within the existing security infrastructure created by the United States. That security alliance was built during the Cold War years to contain the Soviet Union and is too vast – and outdated – to focus on China. India therefore has to establish its own geostrategic order around which other countries rally to halt China’s aggression. The ideal place to start is the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) and then to build on it. Formed by the United States, India, Japan and Australia, the Quad provides a framework for collective efforts to curb China. But before India develops a larger global strategy to contain and defeat China, it’s important to have a powerful military that can fight on multiple fronts against China and Pakistan. For, you cannot be a credible leader if you don’t have the firepower to back yourself.

Let’s start with how India was able to defeat the PLA at Galwan. Primarily, it was possible because India poured nearly 50,000 well-armed troops into the area along with vast quantities of artillery, tanks and the BrahMos cruise missiles. Simultaneously, a large component of air dominance fighters including the Sukhoi Su-30MKI flew round the clock missions over Ladakh. Short of buzzing the PLA field commander’s headquarters, the IAF jets scoured the airspace, taunting the PLA Air Force to pick up the gauntlet. Finally, it was China that blinked and offered de-escalation.

It was India’s massive force projection and refusal to back down at Galwan that got the world’s attention. This is no small matter as it was China’s first public humiliation since the 1979 invasion of Vietnam in which the battle hardened Vietnamese Army killed as many as 60,000 Chinese soldiers. Across the world, and especially in South East Asia, where the Dragon is a scare-word, there was open admiration for India’s achievement.

India’s mission should be to bring together a disparate group of countries that have differences with China and are opposed to its rapacious and expansionist policies. Countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam are strongly opposed to Beijing and are looking for leadership. The obvious leader is the United States, but the Americans are currently too distracted by internal dissensions (Republicans vs Democrats; FBI vs CIA; Far Right vs Antifa) to provide the umbrella for anti-China forces to come together. Plus, the momentum for an anti-China alliance created by former President Donald Trump is weakening under Joe Biden.

Europeans don’t feel threatened by China as much as Asians, Africans or Americans do. Layers of economic firewalls built around the European Union over the decades protect it from Chinese dumping

But it won’t be difficult to bring Washington back into the game. In the United States there is a palpable sense of foreboding at Beijing’s emergence as a second superpower. For over 40 years the Americans fought a bruising Cold War against the Soviets during which many proxy wars turned hot. They realise China with its massive economy has the potential to become a deadlier foe. While avowedly communist, the Russians had a tremendous sense of restraint and were happy to co-exist under détente, but Han imperialism is nasty, it has no scruples or morals. The Russians never exported weapons of mass destruction, but the Chinese are perfectly okay with unleashing bio-weapons on the world.

It will be harder to bring Europe into an anti-China alliance. Europe is currently a fence-sitter because Europeans don’t feel threatened by China as much as Asians, Africans or Americans do. Layers of economic firewalls built around the European Union over the decades protect it from Chinese dumping. Plus, there is the huge Russian landmass that acts as a buffer against China.

However, European neutrality hasn’t stopped Beijing from issuing threats. In June 2020 China’s ambassador to London bluntly warned the UK that it had no future if it tried to decouple from the communist state. “It is hard to imagine a Global Britain that bypasses or excludes China. Decoupling from China means decoupling from opportunities, decoupling from growth and decoupling from the future,” China’s ambassador to London Liu Xiaoming said. He said that Britain would “pay the price” if it wanted to treat China as a hostile state.

In QUAD We Trust

The Quad is the ideal platform where all these countries that feel threatened by China can be accommodated. It is neither overly Western nor too Asian, and has a modular architecture that allows it to grow around the core four. Unlike the BRICS, which has fizzled out due to the clash between China and India, the Quad does not have any rival members within it. Being purely China-focussed it may seem provocative from Beijing’s point of view but if it’s an idea whose time has come, there’s no stopping it.

Mounting concerns about Chinese behaviour prompted the four countries – India, Japan, Australia and the United States – to operationalise the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue

The Quad amplifies Chinese fears of being surrounded. Currently, the PLA faces a nuclear armed India on its western border and the combined forces of the US and Japan on its eastern seaboard. Plus, Australia has declared its intentions to vastly boost military spending to check China. As the alliance grows more formal, focussed and stronger, it will become a nightmarish scenario for the Chinese who will face not one but four powerful adversaries. The mighty Soviet Union collapsed at the apogee of its power as it was similarly surrounded, boycotted and sanctioned. It is highly likely that a rattled China will become unhinged and make hasty decisions that will hasten its collapse in a similar manner.

Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, believes the future of the Quad will depend on the choices China makes. “The greater China’s belligerence, the faster will the Quad’s military-security agenda gather steam, perhaps even moving up into a 2+2 dialogue format. While it is not an alliance as yet, it does oppose coercion in any form.”

India’s willingness to take on the economic might of China is the signal that foreign governments and companies are looking for. Samsung has moved its smart phone hub to Uttar Pradesh and Apple has shifted a significant chunk of its iPhone manufacturing to Bangalore and Chennai

He adds that all the enabling arrangements for deeper military cooperation between the four nations are slowly and steadily falling into place. The US already has treaty alliances with Japan and Australia. The US now has all the foundational agreements in place with India such as the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) to the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

The single most important trait in a leader is their ability to act decisively and that is what the world admires about India’s handling of the Galwan clash. India did not go in all guns blazing and cause a shooting war that could have escalated into a wider conflict. Instead, it calibrated its armed response in a way that made the Chinese back off. What was admirable during the faceoff with the world’s third largest military power was the complete absence of fear in India. Whether it was Team Modi, the military brass or the public, everyone in India (barring the seculars and Lutyens media) knew China could be defeated. This is the kind of leadership that is needed to defeat China.

What’s more, India’s diplomacy has been on high octane since the appointment of S. Jaishankar as the Minister of External Affairs. Jaishankar’s swagger has injected a massive dose of dynamism into India’s relationship with foreign powers because he acts just like the minister of a large and powerful country should. People like Jaishankar can be relied upon to do the backroom stuff that swings deals and forges alliances.

Salami Slicing The Chinese Economy

China’s biggest strength is its export-led economy. The country’s exports of goods and services amount to $2.5 trillion annually compared with India’s $523 billion. As well as trade, India trails China in almost every industry. However, the wide gap offers a big opportunity – India has more room to grow while China is hitting the peak and also facing pushback from countries around the world. The opportunity is open for New Delhi to play a catalytic role in lessening the world’s economic sourcing and supply chain dependence on China, and if needed position itself as an alternative to Beijing.

Replacing China as the world’s factory is a tall order but don’t forget that China started economic liberalisation in 1978 whereas India opened up only in 1991. Slowly yet steadily, the Indian elephant is catching up.

Take the case of internet startups, which are a bellwether of the digital economy. India is rapidly closing the gap with China in minting new unicorns — privately held start-ups valued at $1 billion or more. Over the past year, 15 companies from India raised capital at a valuation of $1 billion or more for the first time. Ten of them became unicorns in 2021. By comparison, only two of the 15 companies from China that joined the list over the past year did so in 2021.

The biggest losers are Chinese investors and companies as they are forced to watch from the sidelines due to a new Indian regulation that requires companies from India’s neighbouring countries – including China – to seek government approval before making an investment.

India has also applied the heat on China by banning the use of more than 100 Chinese apps, including the TikTok video-sharing platform and the WeChat messaging app. It has also barred gear from telecommunications equipment makers Huawei and ZTE. The government has also tightened screening of foreign investment and bidding on public projects by countries bordering India.

The risk is huge because several Indian industries rely on Chinese products. More than 13% of India’s imports are from China. Around 90% of its solar panels, 80% of the chemical ingredients for the pharmaceutical sector and 60% of electric and electronic equipment are sourced from China. But without risks there are no rewards, and the good news is post-Galwan, India is decreasing its dependence on China by expanding capacities.

Anuj Jain, Co-Founder, Green Portfolio Private Ltd, writes in Entrepreneur magazine that for substituting Chinese goods and to become truly ‘Atmanirbhar’, India needs to improve its manufacturing and start-up ecosystem. With robust improvements in these fields, India can steadily transform into a self-reliant country. “If the government were to continue with the imposition of sanctions as we have recently seen, they need to work with equal aggression to ameliorate the start-up ecosystem. India has the potential to replace the scale of China as we have a big domestic market. Thus, with comprehensive planning and radical infrastructural improvements, India will be capable of tapping into this immense opportunity and exploiting the anti-China sentiments worldwide.”

In September 2018 US Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman signed the COMCASA between the US and India. The agreement will deepen interoperability and facilitate India’s access to advanced defence systems

India’s willingness to take on the economic might of China is the signal that foreign governments and companies are looking for. Samsung has moved its smart phone hub to Uttar Pradesh and Apple has shifted a significant chunk of its iPhone manufacturing to Bangalore and Chennai. Both are marquee names that will encourage other big, medium and small brands to get out of China.

The economy is the engine of military power. Countries without economic heft will always play catch-up with the leaders. The USSR had 40,000 nuclear weapons when it collapsed because its weak economy produced shoddy goods. Similarly, despite possessing 100-130 nuclear weapons, Pakistan struggles to put food on the table because its economy is in a shambles.

Wait For The Collapse

India’s decisive and coordinated moves on the military, economic and geopolitical fronts have clearly unnerved the communists. “India deploying supersonic missiles on the border has exceeded its own needs for self-defence and poses a serious threat to China’s Tibet and Yunnan provinces,” complained the PLA Daily. “The deployment of BrahMos missile is bound to increase the competition and antagonism in the China–India relations and will have a negative impact on the stability of the region.”

India’s response is what we have now come to expect from a military that feels unshackled after decades of political interference. “Our threat perceptions and security concerns are our own, and how we address these by deploying assets on our territory should be no one else’s concern,” an Indian military source shot back. For 70 years, Indians have claimed to be China’s ancient teacher, Pakistan’s older brother, the West’s guru. But nobody listens. The one thing we can do is be an impregnable military power that destabilises its sworn enemies to secure peace and prevent invasions – this our leaders find hard to execute.

As India’s might and influence grows, as it tightens the screw, the communist regime in Beijing will increasingly resort to harsh and vituperative language – a sign of weakness. If India applies pressure relentlessly, we should all be able to watch the collapse of the communist dictatorship in our lifetime.

–The writer is a globally cited defence analyst. His work has been published by leading think tanks, and quoted extensively in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare and economic development. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda

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