The 12-hour marathon military commanders’ level meeting, first after the 5-point consensus at Moscow, has once again ended with all indicators pointing towards a stalemate. India on its part is buoyed with the brilliant pre-emptive tactical actions on August 29-30 leading to gaining control of dominating tactical features on our side of Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the southern bank of Pangong Tso. This was followed by readjustments of defences on the northern bank gaining domination over the Fingers area where the Chinese have transgressed and are unwilling to restore status quo antebellum. The brilliant manoeuvres of the Indian Army have empowered the Indian negotiators to negotiate from a position of strength, though China through its mouthpiece Global Times and other state-owned/controlled media remains in constant denial mode and blaming India instead for the current military stand-off. Despite the Chinese claim, Xi Jinping, the Chinese strongman, is acknowledged globally as the aggressor in pursuance of his cherished dream of becoming the strongest and the most powerful world leader.
Indian stand so far has been determined, consistent and firm. India has outrightly rejected the Chinese suggestion of “meeting half-way.” India rightly insists on its demand of “first-in, first-out,” because it were the PLA troops who have violated the established agreements and protocols and made multi-pronged transgression in our territory in Eastern Ladakh in early May. PLA is also guilty of not adhering to the decisions arrived at first Corps Commander meeting on 5 June for de-escalation and dis-engagement leading to the ugly clashes at Galwan. The Galwan clashes resulting in fatalities on both sides raised hackles to realise that it was well-planned cartographic aggression by the Chinese with the express consent of the Central Military Commission (CMC) led by Xi Jinping. The obstinate attitude displayed by the Chinese thereafter proves beyond doubt that the final decision will also be taken by none other than Xi Jinping whose “China Dream” and personal ambition is at stake.
Xi Jinping is a career politician privileged to have been born with a “Red Spoon” in his mouth. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was ‘Red royalty’—a hero of the Communist revolution who later fell out with Mao Zedong, according to Ananth Krishnan-an acknowledged China-watcher. After purging of his father, he was shifted to rural China from the privileged living in Central Beijing, the area earmarked for the then Chinese elite. His struggle thereafter to enter the youth wing of the Communist party and the final acceptance into the party is well documented and an example of focused determination, perseverance and hardship. Despite being born with a Red Spoon, he was not parachuted to the top and had to struggle his way through at every stage. His initial background and subsequent struggle for the rise to power has made him ambitious and adamant.
Xi took over the reins of the party when it was in disarray. He, therefore, began to consolidate his power and gradually became all-powerful through complete centralisation of authority. He brought to end the “collective leadership” system in the Communist Party of China (CPC). He not only managed to gain hold of all the top three posts in China but also had a resolution passed for abolishing President’s term limit, enabling him to rule indefinitely. This act of his has not gone down well with the young and aspiring leaders within CPC who see a dark future for them with bleak chances of rising to the top. Like all authoritarian leaders, Xi also has a fair number of dissidents and domestic opponents.
During his consolidation of power, amongst other things, he has relied a lot upon an emphasis on ideology and nationalism. He believes that Communist ideology must prevail upon everything else among the Chinese populace. The “3 W” strategy enunciated for the PLA is aimed at promoting and ensuring compliance of the ideology. PLA, as is well known, is not a national army but Army of the CPC. Moreover, his reliance on the indoctrinated cadre of United Front Work Department over career diplomats while appointing ambassadors to South Asian and other target countries indicates his preference for ideology over diplomacy to carry forward his pet Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project. He has also given a new image of aggressiveness and assertiveness to the Chinese diplomacy through “Wolf Warrior” diplomats. He wants to be recognised as the most powerful Chinese leader by challenging the supremacy of the American President popularly termed POTUS.
To fulfill his ambition and imbibe nationalism, he has announced his roadmap in what is referred to as “China Dream.” According to Liu Mingfu, a retired Chinese colonel and author, “President Xi’s dream is of a stronger nation with a strong military”. The underlying idea behind China Dream is to restore the ex- Middle Kingdom’s glory and regain the Chinese supremacy through expansionism. It is also aimed at minimising internal dissension through national unity. Xi’s ambition is to make China not only stronger but assertive as well.
2020 is a very critical year for Xi Jinping. In his roadmap for realising the China Dream by 2049, the centenary year of the People’s Republic of China, there is two intermediary goalposts in 2021 and 2025. 2020 is the launchpad for 2021, the 100th anniversary of the CPC. Xi had promised the nation that by 2020 he would ensure poverty relief through bringing all Chinese above the poverty line and strengthen national defence and Chinese armed forces. The Chinese economy had begun to show a downward trend in 2019 itself when China’s growth dropped to its slowest pace in nearly three decades. With the outbreak of COVID pandemic Xi was certain that he would not be able to meet his promised economic targets in 2020.
The centralisation works well as long as the going is good. But in times of crisis, many dissenting voices rise to the fore. Xi Jinping is now facing a similar situation at home. As is evident, nothing moves in China without his approval or consent. He has failed to meet his promised economic targets to remove poverty and is facing a huge challenge to his authority. Any pullback at this time by the PLA troops will be viewed as a defeat for China, thus negating his second goalpost as well of a stronger military. Can Xi Jinping at this juncture afford to take this risk and relent?
Xi’s calculation is based on the premise that a prolonged deployment would affect Indian economy more than the Chinese. He is mistaken. India stands unitedly to safeguard her territorial integrity and would not yield until China vacates from the transgressed areas. On the other hand, he is faced with growing dissension at home.
Despite the propaganda unleashed by the state-controlled media of the invincibility of the PLA forces, Xi is uncertain of an assured victory. Even a stalemate would be viewed as an Indian victory and Chinese failure. There is no dearth of dissenters at home waiting for Xi’s failure and ensure that he doesn’t get a second chance. Is Xi faced with a dilemma of relent or retreat? Knowing the ambitious persona of Xi, he is unlikely to yield ground to his dissenters so easily. Rather than being forced to resign, he would prefer to relent at an opportune time and order PLA to vacate. How and when is a matter of negotiations and timing? Meanwhile, India should not dither under any circumstances.
(The writer is a security and strategic analyst)