Time to Tame the Dragon?

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In view of rising internal dissidence against Xi, India needs to change its tactics and hit China where it hurts most
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What happened on the India-China border (“India-Tibet” border to be precise) at Naku-La in Sikkim and Galwan of Ladakh in mid-June, represents far more than what meets an ordinary eye. The shocking nature and circumstances of the bloody clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers reflect less of problems of the Beijing rulers with India than within their own power structure.
The international environment was already filled with universal anger against the Beijing Government for its fishy role in the spread of Coronavirus across the world. But the sudden attack on Indian soldiers and barbaric use of nail-studded rods to kill 20 of them in the middle of ongoing talks between senior military officers of the two countries only shows that some forces within the Chinese system are bent upon inviting international anger and tension against China to build up war hysteria.
Insecurities of Xi are in Play
President Xi, who happens to be the head of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in addition to being the all-powerful General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the President of China, used the just concluded Parliament session to rake up ‘China is in danger’ fever. In a meeting of army leadership, he asked the PLA and People’s Armed Police Force to ‘Scale up battle preparedness’. There are many signs emanating from inside China which indicate that President Xi is desperately in need of an international crisis which is big or sensitive enough to divert the attention of the Chinese people from rising dissent against him in the Party. There are quite a few power groups within the CPC, who are unhappy with Xi as he is bent upon thrusting himself on the CPC and China as their supreme leader for a full lifetime like late Chairman Mao.
In 1966 late Chairman Mao launched the historic ‘Cultural Revolution’ to fortify his position in the CPC and to permanently remain the Chairman. He used the youthful Red Guards to eliminate or politically destroy all his comrade peers who could pose a challenge to his position any time in future.
Since he came to power in 2012 Xi too has been running a similar campaign albeit through his administrative and judicial machinery to eliminate his opponents and critics in the name of eliminating corruption. In the process, Xi has not only annoyed many senior party functionaries but has also demoralised lower officials in the CPC and the administration who feel suffocated and are fast becoming indifferent towards playing the role of Party’s eyes on the ground.
The ‘Princlings’ and Bhai-Bhatijawad of China
Interestingly the Indian culture of ‘Bhai Bhajitawad’ (sharing power among relatives) has gained very deep roots in the Chinese communist system. A huge crop of ‘Princelings’ who happen to be children of earlier revolutionary leaders or other senior party functionaries, occupy most creamy positions in the Chinese system today. Then there is a class of self-made leaders popularly known as the ‘Tuanpai’s who have humble backgrounds but have gradually risen up in the ranks. Many among them feel frustrated in the current system. Then there is another highly influential lobby of the rich who have practically bought their way into CPC and power corridors. The present Chinese Parliament has over 100 billionaires who hardly have had the cadre grounding and have their own ambitions. Interestingly, Xi has lost considerable support or, at least, the sympathy of general cadres and middle-ranking officials who find their incomes shrinking badly due to Xi’s anti-corruption drive in one of the most corrupt societies of the world.
By his openly expressed desire to become permanent and lifelong President of the country, General Secretary of CPC and the Chairman of China’s military, Xi is gradually losing support among substantial sections of the Princelings, the ‘Tuanpai’s and ambitious, rich tycoons. Xi is facing a situation which is being branded as of dysfunction, divisions and disloyalty in the party.
The King is Naked
Ren Zhiquang is one of the Tuanpais who openly blamed Xi for his role in the cover-up and under-reporting of the Covid-19 breakout in Wuhan recently. He is former head of state-owned developer company Beijing Huayuan Group, a senior rank holder in the Party and in the Political Consultative Committee of Beijing city. He has had over 37 million followers on Sina Weibo, the Twitter of China, before he suddenly disappeared after he published an article criticising Xi without naming him. Known for his sarcastic language and humorous mannerism he referred to Xi in words: “There stands not an emperor in his new clothes but a clown who is stripped of his clothes but still wants to be an emperor.”
It is therefore not surprising that Xi has started preaching the virtues of discipline and supremacy of the Party and, more than that, the importance of concentrating power in the hands of the leader. His fear of the uprising of resistance against him has started showing too. Last year in one of his much-publicised speeches he warned the nation saying, “... Communist Party rule could eventually crumble if the party fails to constantly reinforce its grip on China” and that..... “From ancient times to the present, whenever great powers have collapsed or decayed, a common cause has been the loss of central authority.”
Xi’s call to the army to ‘Scale up battle preparedness’ and his eagerness to grab maximum power in his own hands explains why his PLA has suddenly become aggressive and violent on borders not just along India but also Taiwan, Hong Kong and in the South China Sea.
It is right time now that India must identify and shift its China policy focus to those areas where China is most vulnerable
Need to Change China Policy
This situation calls for countries like India, Taiwan and Hong Kong to remain alert about Xi’s designs of sucking in such targets in his game plans whom he thinks he can use for generating a crisis and then emerging as a national hero after his PLA comes out as a winner. However, for a country like India it is also an opportune time to use PLA’s gory and inhuman action in Galwan this fortnight as a license from China to revisit and redesign its strategy towards China, especially on issues like Tibet, East Turkistan (Xinjiang), Taiwan and Hong Kong which, thanks to the naive policies and mishandling by previous generations of Indian rulers, had reduced these issues to a liability from trump cards.
Although India has substantially improved its defence power and fortified its positions impressively along the India-China border (nee: ‘India-Tibet Border’), India still remains on the wrong side of the military and economic balance between the two countries. Realising this difference, India must identify and shift its China policy focus to those areas where China is most vulnerable, and India does not need either the military might or economic power to take on China on these fronts.
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Despite brutality of the CPC, movement for democracy continues in Hong Kong
Tibet - India’s Brahmastra
In this list, Tibet is the most potential ‘Brahmastra’ to bring China on its knees. But that will require India to gather the courage of breaking away from its own shackles of the past. Taking a cue from how China has openly opposed India on issues like Kashmir, Nuclear Suppliers Group, permanent membership in the UN Security Council and open support to anti-India Pakistani terrorists, China’s latest action on Indian borders has given a strong moral ground to New Delhi to free itself from ‘One China Policy’ and take an independent stand to hit China where it hurts most.
As the very first reaction to China’s claims over Indian areas in Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, India simply needs to stop negotiating with China on the plea that since China’s presence in Tibet is a result of its illegal occupation, China has no right to discuss on behalf of Tibet. Simultaneously, India has simply to announce that it does not recognise Tibet as ‘Part of China’. This policy will open the flood gates in countries like USA and Europe who have been waiting for India to take a lead on Tibet. Soon after Chinese leadership regain their balance from these shocks, India should honour Dalai Lama with its ‘Bharat Ratna’ which is already overdue after the Tibetan leader having been decorated with more than 150 top awards.
This is bound to run Xi and his party crazy as they are used to using worst of their abusive vocabulary against Dalai Lama and bullying countries across the world who dare to even issue visa to him for travel in their respective countries. To keep the heat on, India should accord a formal status to the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala at an opportune time.
East Turkistan & Southern Mongolia
Xinjiang is also a potential issue on which India can nail down Beijing on the diplomatic and political fronts. It was India who lost its geographic links with entire Central Asia when Mao’s PLA occupied the Republic of East Turkistan and renamed it as ‘Xinjiang’ in 1949. China’s inhuman colonial treatment to the Muslim Uyghurs; making normal activities like supporting a beard, praying collectively in mosques, etc are many such issues on which Modi government can directly take on Beijing on moral grounds and build new bridges with the Islamic world.
Same case is with Southern Mongolia, called ‘Inner Mongolia’ by Beijing, where hapless Mongols are looking for international support to get rid of Chinese colonial occupation. A champion of human rights and a veteran supporter of freedom movements across the world India is well within its rights to hit Xi’s CPC regime decisively at its underbelly. Moreover, the illegal occupation of Tibet, East Turkistan and Southern Mongolia accounts for two-thirds of present PRC’s geographic areas and three-fourths of the natural resources which have helped Beijing to stoke its imperialist ambitions further.
Taiwan and Hong Kong
In the case of Taiwan, India has only to announce upgrading its current relations from ‘cultural’ and business level to the ‘diplomatic’ ones to observe the new heights of Beijing’s frustrations. New Delhi can bring Beijing to defensive simply by announcing its moral support to the people of Hong Kong whom China is trying to overrun in the absence of international support.
All these few steps are not only ‘doable’ ones and are in perfect tune with India’s principles of ‘Ahimsa’ and human rights, they have a huge potential of reinstating sense in the rabid minds of Chinese leaders like Xi Jinping, and that too without having to fire a single bullet. What policymakers in India need to understand is that by hitting India in Ladakh, China has offered the greatest opportune to New Delhi to exploit the rising internal resistance against a dictatorial Xi Jinping and apply external pressure on China to make the Chinese cookie crumble.
(The writer is a senior journalist, veteran China watcher and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement—CHASE)