How should India deal with China? -- Sanjeev Nayyar


What China’s Himalayan warmongering reveals

Beijing is waging psychological warfare to compel New Delhi to back down without a shot being fired

At a time of rising Sino-Indian tensions over a weeks-long troop standoff at the trijunction where the borders of Tibet, Bhutan and the Indian state of Sikkim meet, China’s warmongering has become so raucous and coarse that, to the casual observer, a Himalayan military conflict may seem imminent. In reality, Beijing is waging — in Chinese strategic tradition — full-throttle psychological warfare to compel India to back down without a shot being fired.
The current crisis, more significantly, has underscored the centrality of propaganda in China’s foreign policy — from the aggressor playing the victim to unremitting efforts to camouflage the intrusion into tiny Bhutan that precipitated the standoff. China’s vitriolic war rhetoric and unrealistic preconditions for holding talks stand out in stark contrast to India’s measured tone and readiness to peacefully resolve the crisis.
The crisis, in fact, has highlighted how China blends psychological warfare (“psywar”), media warfare and the manipulation of legal arguments (“lawfare”) to undermine the opponent’s information-control capabilities and to buttress its strategic game plan. Disinformation and deceit are among the tools China is employing in its psywar to tame India without military combat, in Sun Tzu style.
Its psy-ops have included mounting almost daily threats to teach India a lesson, unless it gives in. Indeed, the authoritarian regime in Beijing has shown itself adept at exploiting the political divisions in the world’s largest democracy, including reaching out to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s opponents and attacking his “Hindu nationalism” in order to help sow dissensions in India on its current China approach.
Given China’s rise as a praetorian state, its foreign ministry is probably the weakest government branch, yet that ministry has taken the lead to intimidate India in unbecoming and undiplomatic language. Beijing is also using its state media to threaten an “all out confrontation” along the entire, more than 4,000 km Sino-Indian border and to warn India that it would suffer a humiliating rout greater than it did in the 1962 war. One Chinese state mouthpiece even called the Indian foreign minister a liar.
In the current crisis, the Chinese state and its media have worked in tandem to feed disinformation as part of the psychological operations (psy-ops). After all, media organizations, backed by an annual $10 billion budget from the state, have become integral to China’s global propaganda offensive. Chinese propaganda is getting smarter and more targeted, with some in the Indian media lapping up the disinformation, yet Beijing’s mendacity is becoming conspicuous.
Consider two examples. In mid-July, the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV telecast a video of live-fire military exercises in Tibet by a mountain brigade deployed against India. It later came to light that this was a routine annual drill conducted in early June before the crisis began. Shortly after the CCTV report, the Chinese military’s official newspaper, PLA Daily, said tens of thousands of tons of military hardware had been moved to Tibet in response to the troop standoff. This report too turned out to be part of China’s psywar, with Indian intelligence still finding no evidence of a Chinese military buildup in Tibet.
In this light, what can China hope to achieve through its psy-ops? India has a lot at stake: If it were to wilt under the Chinese pressure, it would impair its national security and potentially open the path to its long-term strategic subordination to China. In addition, China would be able to mount a stronger military threat against India’s hold on its far northeast.
China’s psywar has failed to obscure even the key facts. The crisis was triggered in mid-June after days of growing local military tensions when People’s Liberation Army troops sought to unilaterally change the territorial status quo by beginning work on a strategic highway through Bhutan’s Doklam Plateau, which is located very close to the Tibet-Bhutan-Sikkim trijunction. (China contends that Doklam is its own territory in the way it claims the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands or the sprawling northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.) The Chinese encroachment prompted the Indian army to swiftly intervene and halt the road construction, triggering the standoff.
The PLA has for years been quietly chipping away at strategic areas in Bhutan’s north and west. It has also waged an aggression by stealth to assert its claim over the Doklam plateau, including by increasingly sending Tibetan herdsmen and armed patrols there and by turning some natural paths into small paved roads. Bhutan has long complained of Chinese encroachments. For example, it told its parliament in 2009 that it had “protested many times to the Chinese regarding the road-construction activities.”
Bhutan, with just 8,000 men in its military, police and militia, has no means to resist Chinese encroachments. Its security partner, India, was earlier loath to go beyond training and advising Bhutanese forces. But with China’s latest land grab also threatening Indian security, New Delhi decided that Bhutan’s fight was India’s fight. In a strategic miscalculation that has fueled its current fury, China anticipated Bhutan’s diplomatic protest over its latest road construction but not India’s rapid military intervention.
New Delhi cannot allow Beijing to gain control of Doklam because it will result in China fortifying its military positions around the trijunction and bringing India’s territorial link with its northeastern states within Chinese artillery range. This link — the Siliguri Corridor — is just 27 km wide at its narrowest point and is aptly known as the “Chicken Neck.” If China built the highway through Doklam, it would be able to transport heavy tanks to the trijunction and, in the event of a war, seek to cut off India from its northeast.
The risk that a frustrated China could escalate its current psy-ops to a military conflict cannot be discounted. Indeed, Beijing is signaling that it will brook no Indian “interference” in Bhutan’s external relations or national security, although Indo-Bhutanese relations are governed by a friendship treaty and defense arrangements. It wants India to leave Bhutan to its fate.
More fundamentally, China’s intrusion into Bhutan and its war rhetoric against India raise important larger issues. One issue is China’s disregard of international law, including the bilateral accords it has signed with Bhutan and India pledging not to alter the status quo unilaterally. As events in the South China Sea and East China Sea also illustrate, Beijing signs agreements and treaties but does not comply with them.
Another issue is China’s abiding faith in propaganda, extending from fake history claims to other countries’ territories to disinformation operations intended to deceive and outmaneuver opponents. The reliance on propaganda blurs the line between fact and fiction to such an extent that, gradually, the Chinese state begins to believe its own propaganda and act upon it. This factor, along with its associated risks, is apparent in the Doklam standoff.
Longtime Japan Times contributor Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books.

How should India deal with China?
By Sanjeev Nayyar

July 25 2017 

India's refusal to be part of OBOR and Doklam stand-off has made China occupy more mind space than at any time in the recent past. Conversely Global Times, mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, regularly publishes articles threatening and advising India.

Till now, Indians thought their primary enemy was Pakistan, a neighbour whose people are of the same stock and seen on prime time. With China it is different.  

How does one deal with a neighbour who is determined to be Asia's leading power and "steer you towards participation in its grand geopolitical design represented by the Belt and Road Initiative", grabs your territory stealthily, is less visible, makes  equipment at a lower cost, whose phones you use, has deep pockets, uses Pakistan to keep you tied down, woos your neighbours and impedes your emergence as a rival power.

How should India deal with China? First some broad contours.

Our mantra should be cooperate and compete. Be firm, keep channels of communication open and never let your guard down. There is no need for India to be submissive because China's GDP is five times ours and ape its  achievements in infrastructure and manufacturing. India's actions should be driven by its civilizational values and not in response to Chinese moves. In Africa India must play to its strengths. We need partners to make China understand the need for mutual respect. Every Indian move has to be timed and not give China an opportunity to play the victim card. Simultaneously, we can work together for greater benefit e.g. climate change.

India needs an integrated and comprehensive policy towards China. Here is what she must do.

One: China is doing what it does because of economic strength. India must be focussed on becoming an economic and military power.

Two: The next time China offers to play a constructive role in improving relations between India and Pakistan, India must offer to help China in resolving its disputes with Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and Philippines amongst others.  

Three: The more the Chinese needle us, the firmer must be our resolve. Sometimes India could, with a smile, show China the mirror for e.g. by asking why it supports terrorism.  

Four: One of the reasons for China flexing its muscles is improved relations with Russia. The latter needs Chinese support to counter the U.S. led economic sanctions and in Afghanistan. India must not get unnerved because China might, true to its nature, turn the tables on Russia once it becomes a dominant partner. 

Five: On ties with Russia and U.S. former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal recently wrote, "We must have both the US and Russia as close partners and work with both countries on issues where our respective interests coincide without undermining the legitimate interests of either country."

Six: India must woo Taiwanese companies to invest in India esp. in telecom hardware.

Seven: Sooner than later China shall use water as a weapon against India. Study the impact of the proposed "the 400-km cascade of dams on the Indus will stretch all the way from Gilgit-Baltistan to the existing Tarbela Dam near Islamabad." Ditto for Brahmaputra.

Eight: India must be steadfast in its stand that Gilgit and Baltisthan are part of India and provide "political, diplomatic and moral support to the Baloch people who may be engaged in disrupting the corridor".
It is counter-moves that could put pressure on China or else India is always left responding.

Nine: India invariably associates defending the border by the army. Since it is impossible to guard every inch of land India is always under pressure. We need to change tack as noted columnist Nitin Pai recently wrote. "India should respond to Chinese moves in the Himalayas and the subcontinent with counter-moves in the South China Sea and beyond. By using sea power in a geography that China is sensitive about, India could raise the costs of Beijing's Himalayan enterprises". 1

Ten: Agni IV, V and Brahmos missiles are yet to be inducted into the armed forces. Government must raise the bar and induct by September quarter 2018 if not earlier.

Eleven: On the border issue, every time China raises it we must remind them of the 1996 agreement, unilaterally repudiated by them in 2002, where it was agreed to 'clarifying the alignment of the LAC in those segments where they (the two sides) have different perceptions'. The ball is in China's court.

Twelve: China is not only at our border but has an ever increasing presence in trade, business and financial markets.

Writing in MINT, Rajrishi Singhal gave three examples of such presence. The author analyses intent and suggests response. 2
One, recently Chinese handset manufacturer Vivo won rights to cricket tournament Indian Premier League. "Vivo will pay Rs 2,199 crore for the next five years i.e. a 267% premium over the base price of Rs 120 crore a year". Subsequently Vivo signed a record five-year deal worth Rs 300 crore with Star Sports, broadcaster for Pro Kabaddi League.

Is it not odd for a company to bid at record levels and invest so much money in  sponsorships? The deeper intent is to associate Chinese brands with two popular Indians sports.

Vivo could be a front for the Chinese government just like it widely believed that a "Chinese-origin Singaporean billionaire is for Rs 305 crore massive gilded statue of Buddha" being built in Thimpu. 

It is unfair to expect honourable judges and sports administrators to understand geo-political strategies.

Since cricket is India's biggest religion the government could ask BCCI to revisit the Vivo sponsorship offer.

Two, Singhal wrote, "So also in the 12th Plan alone, close to 30% of generating capacity was sourced from China (, with the trend continuing in the 13th Plan as well."

In such and similar sectors the government could introduce the concept of Minimum Import Price (MIP) as was done in the steel sector. MIP is the minimum price per tonne that Indian firms have to pay while importing products into India and was introduced to counter unfair trade practices. Remember only when Indian companies make profits will they invest in fresh capacity.

Three, "among the list of banks managing the recent Central Depository Services Ltd initial public offering was a curious name: Haitong Securities India Pvt Ltd. Haitong, as per its website, is China’s second largest securities firm."

An open invite to FDI is fine but access has to be mutual.

The government must use tariff and non-tariff barriers to keep the Chinese at bay.

Thirteen: Be it investing in infrastructure projects in Iran, India's neighbourhood or building a Buddha statue in Bhutan, India must look to pool its resources with Japan.

Fourteen: China must be told that an escalation of border tensions would severely impact trade ties and reaching trade agreements at the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to be held in Hyderabad this week.

National achievements and soft power are important tools of psychological warfare. So -

Fifteen: The government must keep Team ISRO motivated so India's achievements in space technology continue.


Sixteen: Identify sports where China dominates but India has competence, for example, badminton and then build world champions. Work towards sustained dominance and do not get swayed by a few victories.


Seventeen: India has gifted China, Buddhism then and Yoga now. This needs wide publicity.  

Inspite of the fact that yoga helps Chinese women, mostly in the age group of 25 to 40, to remain young, healthy and fit China keeps threatening India by saying it will teach it a lesson. Notwithstanding Chinese hostility, the government must encourage more Indians esp. those from the northeast, to learn yoga and offer to help the Chinese.


Simultaneously the world, Chinese and Indians included must know that -

Eighteen: Annexing areas comes naturally to China. It annexed Tibet, Manchuria, Xinjiang and parts of Mongolia. To this add 38,000 sq kms of Akshai Chin (part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir), that has since provided China with the only passageway between Tibet and Xinjiang.

Nineteen: China supports countries that indulge in terrorism and are a threat to world peace. For example the Pakistan North Korea nuclear and missile nexus. Last year Samuel Ramani wrote in, "During the early 1990s, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto purchased Rodong long-range missiles from North Korea. In exchange, Pakistan supplied Pyongyang with “civilian nuclear technology”. In 2002, U.S. officials announced that Pakistan had exported gas centrifuges to help North Korea enrich uranium and construct a nuclear bomb." 3

By using Pakistan as a route for nuclear materials entering North Korea China could strengthen the DPRK’s military capabilities without spoiling relations with the U.S. 

A second example is Chinese support to Pakistan, a country that gave refuge to Osama Bin Laden and uses terror as an instrument of State policy.  

Next India must invest in and nurture relations -   

Twenty: With a countries of Southeast Asia, the subcontinent and Japan.   

Twenty-one: Former ambassador and senior diplomat G Parthasarathy recently wrote that India has won gratitude in vocational training and education facilities for Myanmar personnel. He added our focus should be on  assisting populations living close to our borders through imaginative schemes for education, health, communications and small/village industries.

Twenty-two: Start direct flights between Imphal and Yangon and road connectivity. Both would increase trade and tourism.  

Twenty-three: Nepal and Bangladesh are welcome to do business with China. Give them a booklet of "how Chinese investments in Africa, Sri Lanka and Myanmar have faced strong local backlash and national election campaigns in Zambia and Sri Lanka were held on an anti-China plank."

Read China’s debt trap diplomacy by Brahma Chellaney

Twenty-four: In case China makes a railway line to Nepal make it known to our brothers there that India would not allow import of Chinese goods through the Indo-Nepal border. 

Twenty-five: India needs to promote tourism to the Northeast in a big way. The regions development and integration is critical to the success of India's Look East Policy.

Lastly, the Centre needs to counter possible Chinese moves to influence elections in India. The Chinese might do so because it believes that with every election victory BJP's stand on international issues gets tougher.


Read BJP’s election win has implications for Sino-India ties


How India must respond to Chinese investments in Africa requires a separate piece.

Soft and psychological power become potent when accompanied by comprehensive national strength. If and when Indian builds it, the intelligent will get the message.

The author is an independent columnist. He tweets @sanjeev1927  


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