The CCP has since 1949 regarded itself as being in a war with the US over primacy. The difference is that in the Chinese mind, ‘war’ need not be kinetic. War to the Chinese means the subordination to their interests of the other, and using this definition, China has been ‘at war’ with the US for a long while.
New Delhi: The drive by Jospeh Stalin for the expansion of territory and influence of the Soviet Union that was visible after the 1939-45 war convinced US policymakers that (what was subsequently called) the USSR-US Cold War was a reality. This swift acceptance of reality came about because both Russian as well as western tradition defines war in kinetic terms: guns, bombs, troops. The Chinese do not. They believe in achieving their objectives through chipping away and reducing the physical, psychological, economic and technological advantages of the adversary. Such “victory through stealth” suppresses the ability of the rival power to respond effectively, especially if that country is a democracy. This is what had been taking place with India since the PRC pace of establishing superiority accelerated in the 1990s. Territory has been lost, meta data got vacuumed up in copious quantities to feed the Artificial Intelligence capabilities of the PRC, and domestic enterprises were serially destroyed by crony businessmen importing substitutes flowing from China. Much of Beijing’s expansion of territory on land and water and industrial and technological capability has taken place outside the public radar. The first President of the US to seriously call out China for its primacy-seeking policies was Donald Trump in 2017. This had never been attempted in the past, and indeed several US Presidents (including Nixon, Carter and Clinton) showered benefits on Beijing while occasionally scolding the CCP in public.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has in the US somewhat changed the public perception of China as less of a threat than Russia or even Iran, even in the foreign policy team of the Biden campaign there is widespread denial about the fact that a new Cold War has been taking place—this time between China and the US. In part, such a suspension of belief is because of a lack of comprehension about the ideological roots of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought was enshrined as the core ideology of the CCP in the 1950s, the reality is that the last strand dominates over the previous two. Adherence to Marxism is minimal, while it is Stalin rather than Lenin who is the role model for the CCP. Under Mao, the CCP championed a vision of the future where the Chinese people would “stand up”, not just in China but across the globe. The CCP considers itself the lodestar of ethnic Chinese, no matter the country to which they belong. After the stabilisation since 1949 of (vastly expanded) borders carried out under Mao, the task of Deng Xiaoping was to ensure economic success, and this was accomplished before the close of the last century. After Mao and Deng, the third foundational leader of the 99-year-old CCP is General Secretary Xi Jinping. He is as different from Deng as the latter was from Mao. The overt nature of Xi’s drive to replace the US with the PRC at the centre of global geopolitics has resulted in an increasing number of analysts even within the Democratic Party accepting that there is now a new Cold War, this time between the US and China.
Such a realisation has come a bit late.
The reality is that the CCP has since 1949 regarded itself as being in a war with the US over primacy. The difference is that in the Chinese mind, “war” need not be kinetic, and in fact, the ideal conflict would be non-kinetic. War to the Chinese means the subordination to their interests of the other and using this definition, Communist China has been “at war” with the US for a long time. The earliest expression of this was the essay of Lin Biao that “the villages of the world will overcome the cities”. “Cities” referred to the western world, “villages” to the rest. Of course, while the US led the “cities”, it would be China who led the “villages” to victory. Looking at the trajectory of its growth and influence since that period, it is evident that in this war (by the Chinese definition), it is the PRC that has prevailed over the US from the time President Richard M. Nixon sought Mao’s assistance in dealing with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Even during the period of Japanese occupation in the 1930s, Chairman Mao skilfully leveraged the Japanese threat to ensure a steady flow of military and other assistance from the Roosevelt administration, a policy that has continued under his successors since the 1970s. The CCP achieved this by leveraging USSR-US rivalry during Cold War 1.0 in a manner that India has so far been unwilling or unable to do in the new era of PRC-US rivalry during Cold War 2.0. Even after the collapse of the USSR in 1992, massive US assistance to China continued. President William J. Clinton continued the bipartisan policy of opening wide the doors to US technology to China, even while denying the same to India. Much of the growth in the national power of China since the 1980s is due to Taiwan, Japan and the US, all three of whom are now at the receiving end of “Xi Jinping Thought”. This is a philosophical construct that remains faithful to Mao’s vision of a China-led global order. Added to this is the incorporation rather than rejection of several of the philosophies of the Imperial Age. In this, General Secretary Xi has chosen to differ from Mao, who had contempt for the ancien régime and its architectural, intellectual and cultural leftovers. In terms of geopolitical as distinct from economic boldness, Xi is much closer not to Deng Xiaoping or to his immediate predecessors than he is to Marshal Lin Biao (who provided the sinews for Chairman Mao to launch and sustain the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) in his willingness to take risks. Xi has fashioned a tapestry of Sinic excellence and capabilities that he expects will ensure the support of the Chinese people to both his methods as well as his objectives. It is therefore a surprise that several policymakers in Europe and the US, seem in denial of the extent of the makeover that Xi Jinping is seeking of the international order.
XI’S AMBITIOUS GOALS
The Belt and Road Initiative is among the signature policies of Xi Jinping, as are his digitalisation of Chinese currency and the harnessing of social media to create a “national will” such as would facilitate the CCP’s objectives. The BRI is intended to make China the hub of Eurasia, while the digital currency is designed to substantially replace the US dollar as the global reserve currency. In dealing with prospective and present allies, Xi has revived the Jimifuzhou or the Jimi system of Imperial China as the model that Beijing would like to follow in dealing with the countries it regards as allies. The system preserved the protocol privileges of foreign rulers while ensuring that they functioned in a manner that promoted Beijing’s objectives. The overall objectives would of course be decided in Beijing, and would be so designed as to achieve and subsequently protect the primacy of the PRC in the global order, displacing the US. The exception is Russia, which especially under Vladimir Putin is seen as a diminished but almost equal partner. Which is why the use of the term “Sino-Russian alliance” rather than “China-led alliance” is more appropriate. In the case of the US, the term “Indo-Pacific Alliance” would better describe the construct that is getting formed to take on the Sino-Russian alliance. While the US is the pre-eminent power in such a grouping, it would not be the “leader” in the manner of always having its way over India. This country in terms of geopolitical potential is as important during Cold War 2.0 to the US as Russia is to the PRC. Those in Washington who are still anchored to Atlanticist perceptions of “the former British colony” fail to understand this. An example of lack of sensitivity is the manner in which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris lectured India on Kashmir in the exact manner that was a staple of the Clinton presidency. However, after that lapse from understanding actual ground conditions in India, both have been silent on the subject despite the efforts of campaign staff close to the Pakistan embassy who are working to damage the US-India relationship for the benefit of Pakistan and China.
TEAM BIDEN IN DENIAL MODE
Xi Jinping has not been reticent about his goals nor secretive about many of his methods, which is why it is somewhat of a surprise that the Atlanticist lobby clustered around Joe Biden still does not seem to understand not only that Cold War 2.0 is a reality, but that it has been ongoing for decades. Or that India as a partner is essential to US success in overcoming the existential threat to US interests posed by the PRC. It is astonishing that there still remains doubt about this, given for example that the CCP’s Document Number Nine explicitly regards the ideology of freedom and democracy as the primary threat to the CCP. A hopeful sign is that lately the Biden campaign has brought into key slots individuals such as Ely Ratner, whose views are more anchored to the reality of the Indo-Pacific century than the long-standing opinions of the individual seen as a future Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. This confidant of Joe Biden seems fixated on the (no longer existing) centrality of Europe and the US to the world as John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State, whose Euro-centric policies launched the US into the Vietnam War. It needs to be said that some of his recent statements indicate that Blinken appears to be edging closer to the coffee, if not yet managing to smell it. This is in contrast to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mike Esper and National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, all three of whom understand that the US is already in a war with China that may at any time turn kinetic. The risk of this would be particularly high in the absence of alliance structures created to ensure that such an eventuality does not take place.
CCP GETS A REALITY CHECK
As stated by Chairman Mao, war is the continuation of politics by other means. When the party that runs China talks as it often does of Total War, what is meant is a conflict in which cyber, commerce, asymmetric methods, infowar and neutralisation of elites in target countries forms part of the “battles” needed to ensure that the CCP’s objectives are met by the other country. The preferred method is to avoid a significant kinetic conflict and instead chip away at territory and interests over an extended period of time. This is what was happening in India, including on the Line of Actual Control. When its troops moved into Indian territory in May, the Central Military Commission did not anticipate the strength of the resistance that the paramilitary and later Army forces put up once PLA intentions became clear. Nor was the swift and deadly response of the Indian Army expected when the Galwan incident was initiated. Now that he has studied the mindset and tactics of the Chinese, Prime Minister Narendra Modi resisted pressure from arms’ lobbies influential in India and finally gave sanction to the signing of BECA, the Basic Exchanger & Cooperation Agreement with the US. This completes the trio of foundation agreements together with LEMOA and COMCASA. An earlier enabling agreement on the protection of the exchange of military information was signed in 2002, while LEMOA was signed in 2016 and COMCASA in 2018 during Modi 1.0. The UPA did not sign any of these pacts, which are essential in dealing with the designs of the PLA on Indian territory, something that that party has good reason to be familiar with and it is to be seen if it will seek to please the CPI and the CPM by condemning the signing of BECA. Arms manufacturers from select countries have long been wary that the signing of the foundation agreements could give US companies a head start in the substantial weapons trade that India carries out. By signing BECA, PM Modi has shown that while he remains friendly with Russia, he is aware of the geopolitical shifts that have resulted in the formation of the Sino-Russian alliance and its implications for India. The speeches of the Prime Minister after the Chinese intrusion into additional Indian territory this May show that Modi is fully cognizant of the reality of Cold War 2.0 and which side New Delhi needs to be on. That confusion about the change that Cold War 2.0 has caused is not limited to the Opposition but includes elements of the government as well is apparent from statements from within the system recommending that Russia be asked to join the Indo-Pacific alliance. This when Moscow stands with Beijing in opposing the Indo-Pacific construct. What is needed next is for the Quadrilateral Alliance to be operationalised in a manner that would be useful in deterring the other alliance from entering into a kinetic conflict in the Himalayan massif, the South China Sea or the Taiwan straits. Substantially developing the existing operational military and remote sensing bases in the Andaman Islands is an essential component of a strategy designed to ensure that primacy over the Indo-Pacific remains in the hands of the Quad rather than the rival Sino-Russian alliance.
BATTLE OF IDEOLOGIES
General Secretary Xi Jinping has sought to create a “will to primacy” among the people of China such as would ensure complete obedience to his vision and his methods. Hundreds of millions of Chinese believe that Covid-19 has been created by the US and brought into China. They believe that India is a shambles filled with chaos. That Japan is inherently evil, and is obsessively focused on helping the US to halt progress towards the China Dream. That the countries of Europe are no longer the technological powers they were just a few decades back and that their products can be replaced. Xi is emphatic in his messages to the population that the future belongs to China, if only the Chinese people act in a manner designed to bring forward the day when the epicentre of global power shifts from Washington to Beijing. In other words, follow the path recommended for them by the CCP. The narrative is that such an overtaking of the present top power in the world is steadily happening, and hence the blowback from those in the US and elsewhere who are hostile to the concept of justice for the Chinese people. The claim is that the US and India are in deep crisis, with unrest growing, and that this is because of the political system they have and the freedoms they allow. This narrative is constantly being disseminated across every possible platform, and it is being believed by hundreds of millions of Chinese. At the same time as the world is undergoing the pain of dealing with Covid-19, China itself is opening up domestically and expanding its economy. India and the US are essential partners in ensuring primacy over not only the Indo-Pacific but superiority in global logistics and technology chains of the future. The meeting on 27 October between Rajnath Singh, S. Jaishankar, Mark Esper and Mike Pompeo must be only the start of the long and difficult battle to secure a future where ideology and values common to the US and India do not get eclipsed by the rival philosophy developed and put into practice by the Chinese Communist Party.