DENOUEMENT AT DOKLAM
By Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd)
Accustomed as we are to shrill hyperbole in India’s public discourse, the description of the tense Himalayan face-off as the “incident at Doklam” and its denouement as “expeditious disengagement of border personnel” by the Ministry of Exterl Affairs came across as refreshing examples of phlegmatic understatement. The diplomatic finesse shown by India stood in stark contrast to the Chinese spokesperson’s gauche declaration that India had “pulled back all the trespassing personnel and equipment”.
Political pundits and diplomatic alysts are likely to spend days deciphering the hidden meanings underlying the Chinese conduct and dialectic, seen and heard during the past six weeks. The common man has, understandably, heaved a sigh of relief at the (short-term) resolution of a dire crisis; an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between two major military powers and nuclear-armed states.
The Chinese do not risk the outcome of a conflict on a single clash; they plan elaborate multiple strategies and the patient accumulation of small gains. Doklam was, by no means, India’s last confrontation with Chi and there is, thus, no cause whatsoever for our soldiers, diplomats and political leadership to become complacent — for four reasons.
Firstly, our 1962 military defeat was due to the egregious misreading of Chi’s intent by India’s political leadership. Fifty-five years on, clarity and resolve are still lacking vis-a-vis our strategic stance and policies towards an increasingly bellicose Chi.
This seeming diffidence is partly rooted in a fear of the unknown, our profound ignorance about this huge neighbour. We have neither created a substantive pool of Mandarin speakers, nor fostered many organisations dedicated to researching Chi’s history, culture, economy, industry and strategic thought. With bizarre perversity, we have been spurning the huge window, into Chi, that a willing and cooperative Taiwan has been offering to us, for years. We need to stop groping in the dark and create strategies to counter Chi’s long-term intentions.
Secondly, Chi, translating its enormous economic gains into coercive military power, expects neighbouring tions to voluntarily submit to Chinese hegemony. This is a clear echo of the distant past. In 416 BCE, when the mighty Athenian state overpowered the tiny island of Melos, it had delivered an ultimatum, using a similar chilling phraseology: “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”
Servile persolities like Philippine President Duterte have given Chi false illusions of grandeur and power by kowtowing for economic gains. These illusions have been reinforced by America’s aborted “pivot to Asia” and ineffectual “freedom of vigation” operations by US vy. The artificial South Chi Sea islands are here to stay and Chi knows that possession is nine-points of law.
PLA Colonel Liu Mingfu’s 2010 book, “Chi Dream”, provides many pointers. It defines Chi’s tiol goal as to become “number one” in the world, but rejecting the “peaceful rise” thesis, it advocates a “military rise” along with its “economic rise”. A part of the “Chinese dream of tiol rejuvetion” is the establishment of a “unified global system”, or Empire, termed tianxia in Mandarin. Order, in this system, is maintained under the aegis of a hegemon state, which domites by virtue of its acknowledged superiority.
According to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the Chinese have been shrewd practitioners of realpolitik and follow a strategic doctrine distinctly different from the rest of the world. Followers of the game of chess or “shatranj”, Indians think in terms of striking blows, decisive battles and filly checkmating or claiming total victory over the opponent.
The Chinese counterpart of shatranj is the game of “wei-qui”, based on “surrounding pieces” and “strategic encirclement”. Opponents seek empty spaces and building up of strength, surrounding and capturing opposing pieces. While chess encourages single-mindedness, wei-qui generates strategic flexibility. Let us learn to play wei-qui.
Thirdly, while patting ourselves on the back for deft diplomacy, let us not forget that we have had a close call. While our gallant armed forces could certainly have given a “bloody nose” (so eagerly sought by militant TV anchors) to the PLA on many fronts, a general war or even a limited clash would have been equally damaging to both tions and their economies.
Let us, also, remind ourselves that the PLA is undergirded by a military-industrial complex, established in the 1950s, which is a prolific producer of missiles, tanks, fighters, warships, submarines and ordnce. While the world has an inkling that the “Make in India” project is awaiting take-off, the feckless office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India saw it fit to choose this juncture to reveal every single shortcoming in India’s half-full arsel.
Avoiding knee-jerk responses, let us undertake long-term measures to ensure that our armed forces are always equipped and ready to fight a 30-day “intense war”. Let us also find ways to prevent statutory bodies like the CAG from endangering tiol security.
Filly, while the vision of Chi’s grandiose, “one-belt one road” (OBOR) may be impressive as well as intimidating, the project relies on ports, seaborne commerce and sea lanes. India’s non-participation in the project is already causing concern in Beijing. Chinese President Hu Jintao’s famous reference to the “Malacca dilemma”, which acknowledged the vulnerability of Chi’s seaborne trade and energy, was, no doubt, rooted in India’s domint oceanic location and the possibility of trade warfare being waged by the Indian vy. India must do everything to keep Hu Jintao’s nightmare alive.
(Admiral Arun Prakash served as the Chief of val Staff of the Indian vy and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, from July 31, 2004, to October 31, 2006. The views expressed are persol. He can be contacted at email@example.com)