Sunday 28 August 2022

Xi storm rages as democracies increase support for embattled Taiwan (The Sunday Guardian)


President Biden has gladdened the heart of PRC Defence Minister Wei Fenghe by ignoring Taipei’s request for larger, more effective, weapons platforms, confining deliveries to systems that are at least two decades old in a context where the PLA is working apace at modernising its arsenal.


TAIPEI: There is no trace of fear in the faces of the people of Taipei or in the other cities of Taiwan at the prospect of the PLA invading the island nation. All that the show of force by the PLA has done is to further increase the proportion of Taiwanese who want nothing to do with China, especially when that country remains under an expansionist and aggressive leader. Even within the once wholly China-friendly KMT, voices are being heard with increasing frequency that oppose CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s efforts at intimidating Taiwan through unprecedented and provocative demonstrations of military force that may not for long remain ignored by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is known to be voluble about actual and perceived threats, especially to democracies. The silence of several democracies to the armed intimidation of Taiwan by China will be more than a footnote to history, given its parallel with events within Germany in the 1930s. Not that such aggressive behaviour comes as a surprise. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has almost from its inception rewritten history in a manner consistent with its grandiose visions for a China ruled by it, although these are mostly inconsistent with past history and factual accuracy. What Xi Jinping has done is to make this ambition impossible to miss, even amongst the most dedicated apologists of the CCP. Whenever Xi sees a chance, most often through the negligence or incapacity to respond of a target country, he authorises the grabbing of yet another slice of territory on sea and land, and recently even in the air, through extending the line that so far limited PLA, PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and PLA Navy (PLAN) activities around Japan, Taiwan and India, the three immediate targets of the Central Military Commission (CMC) headed by Xi. War planners are aware that Japanese territory would be among the initial targets of any attack by the PLA on Taiwan. To ensure success in such an operation, all wings of the PLA would need to first take out the operational capabilities of the US military bases in Kadena, Iwakuni and Yokosuka, all of which are in Japan. It was this realization that made the assassinated ex-PM of Japan Shinzo Abe say explicitly that an attack on Taiwan would be treated as an attack on the US and Japan, although his successor has been far more emollient towards China. In that country, the killing of Abe has prompted relief that the most powerful voice arguing in favour of an immediate joint US-Japanese kinetic response to any such attack by the PLA on Taiwan has fallen silent. In a move that came as a surprise to the many tens of millions of admirers of Abe in Japan and elsewhere, newly installed Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida excluded Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi from the Cabinet on August 9, soon after the assassination of his brother Shinzo Abe. Critics of Kishida, who they allege is similar to Joe Biden in his “peace at any price” mindset, claim that the politically unpopular move was intended to send a placatory signal to Xi Jinping. Former Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi is as much of a China-sceptic as

his brother Shinzo Abe had been, although others say that the real cause behind his ouster was because of factional rivalry within the ruling LDP. It must be added that Prime Minister Kishida has thus far continued with Shinzo Abe’s policy of close ties with India and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It was only in 2014 that the US began to shift from its policy from the 1970s’ Henry Kissinger construct that placed emphasis on conciliation and cooperation rather than rivalry with China. It was Kissinger who, while seeking to isolate India in alliance with the PRC, began to give away an immense number of US technology secrets to China, besides helping the PRC to boost its economy. His policy of building up an ideological enemy was followed by successive US administrations, helped by the well-oiled Communist China lobby in the US. Along with his successors until a few years ago, Kissinger claimed that a richer Communist China would be a friendlier and ultimately a more democratic China. Since that period, his view that the PRC needed to be pampered and conciliated rather than accepted as what it is, an existential challenger to US interests, held sway. It began giving way only during the second term of Barack Obama, when he was politically strong enough to shed his past traducer Hillary Clinton from the administration. Unfortunately, President Biden is more a follower of the Clinton rather than the Obama line. An example of the harm this can cause was after the storms in Tonga, when a US naval vessel bursting with surplus food and materiel that could have been handed over to Tonga was delayed by over a week because the State Department dawdled over giving clearance to the vessel. In between, a Chinese vessel handed over a skimpy package of assistance and promptly declared that it was the first country to assist Tonga in its distress, a boast subsequently confirmed by the Tongan authorities. Biden, Blinken and Sullivan are the Europeanist trio in the present administration, still acting as though it was the Atlantic rather than the Indo-Pacific that was the key theatre for Washington, and that the primary foe was not the PRC but the Russian Federation, not Xi but Putin.
It was the recognition by President Obama of the danger posed by China that ensured his warm and welcoming approach to the assumption of the Prime Ministership of India in June 2014 by Narendra Modi in place of the earlier lack of such bonhomie to the individual who was the most popular leader in India even when he was just the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Although Biden served as Vice-President under Barack Obama for two terms, in terms of interests and ideology President Biden is far closer to the Clintons than he is to Obama. There have long been reports floating around Washington that several of those close to the 46th President of the US have fed at the PRC trough in the way that some in the Clinton circle had, but such reports are unsubstantiated. Both Joe and Jill Biden are known for their simplicity and freedom from material greed, although the same is not true of some others in the family. It however remains a fact that Joe Biden has shifted the focus of the US back from China to Russia and from Asia to Europe, showering taxpayer dollars in the tens of billions on gifts of armaments that will only serve to increase the eventual losses suffered by Ukraine. Such largesse may be because of the sympathy Biden feels for the people of Ukraine, a sympathy he apparently does not have for the people of Taiwan or India, neither of which has received any US transfers in the form of weapons shipments delivered gratis, despite facing a far more potent adversary than Ukraine even where US overall interests are concerned. Were Biden to get over the Atlanticist fixation embedded in him by the Clintons, he may begin to accept that it is in the Indo-Pacific and against China and not in Ukraine and against Russia that an existential conflict may erupt that will need to be fought and won.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (right) wave during a meeting, in Taipei on 3 August. ANI

Across the Indo-Pacific, the special feeling that President Biden has for the Ukrainian people and his fixation with that country’s conflict with Russia that began with the Maidan-inspired removal of President Viktor Yanukovich is as obvious as it is to policymakers in Africa and South America. The double standard being followed by the White House is evident not just in the flow of free weapons but in the privileged access being given to Ukrainians to settle in the US, in contrast to those from countries closer home. In Jakarta, there is hitherto unspoken resentment at the manner in which the G-7 threatened a boycott of the 2022 G-20 meeting to be hosted by President Joko Widodo. Finally, a compromise was arrived at by Indonesia being arm-twisted into inviting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine to attend and give his trademark denunciation of the Russian Federation, which will end with another call to send more and more weapons to Ukraine. Much of such gifts from the US and others in NATO are ending up in locations far from that unfortunate country. In the Americas, several countries including Mexico showed their resentment at the US decision to exclude Venezuela and Cuba from a meeting of the Americas by not turning up for the meeting held in the US, thereby condemning it to failure. SAARC capitals may be wondering whether the G-7 may similarly pressurise SAARC into ensuring an appearance by Zelenskyy at the next meeting of that association, whenever it takes place. Pressure by the G-7 on the G-20 to invite the Ukrainian head of state is an example of converting a tragedy into a farce. Both the Afghanistan withdrawal of 2021 and his 2022 fixation on Russia are leading several in Taiwan to question whether President Biden will adopt an Afghan rather than a Ukrainian line should the PLA launch an attack on Taiwan. Continuous acts of intimidation by Xi Jinping against Taiwan are meeting nothing other than a symbolic response from the US. Unlike in the case of Ukraine, where one UN Security Council meeting after another has being called by France, the UK and the US, in the matter of PLA intimidation of Taiwan or Xi’s aggressive activity related to India, calling a UNSC session to discuss such matters remains absent from the agenda of Paris, London and Washington.

The 2017 revival of the Quad by Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe was the first serious effort within the Indo-Pacific to meet the challenge posed by Xi’s territorial revisionism on the PRC periphery. Fortunately for them, President Trump wholeheartedly endorsed the plan of the two leaders and ensured that the US joined in, together with Australia. Whether a President Biden would have been as enthusiastic about the revival of the Quad remains a matter of debate. Thus far, neither through Ukraine-style weapons grants or through a lend-lease agreement (that was swiftly endorsed by the US Congress for Ukraine but not as yet for Taiwan or India) has the Biden administration given any sign of showing through substantive action rather than platitudes that it understands the threat posed by the PLA and is willing to counter it along with partner countries. Where Taiwan is concerned, President Biden has gladdened the heart of PRC Defence Minister Wei Fenghe by ignoring Taipei’s request for larger, more effective, weapons platforms, confining deliveries to systems that are at least two decades old in a context where the PLA is working apace at modernising its arsenal. The upward trajectory in the quality and quantity of US weaponry supplied by Trump has thus far not appeared to be a feature of the Biden administration. The unexpected and robust Indian military response to PRC encroachment into Bhutan and the Trump trade war of 2017 came as a shock to Xi. In 2021 the AUKUS pact was signed between Australia, the US and the UK. This was a welcome step, although for reasons best known to the Biden-Blinken-Sullivan trio, India was not invited to join despite having since the 1950s an active border with China. While the restricted membership of AUKUS was reflective of the Kissingerian dismissal of India, nevertheless the pact was a move away from the Communist China-friendly strategist to keep on conciliating China while ignoring the provocative behaviour of CCP leadership.

Despite the meagre flow of US military assistance relative to what is being transferred, or more accurately gifted on a daily basis to Ukraine, the DPP central government in Taipei is building up its capacity to inflict substantial punishment on the eastern coast of the PRC were the PLA to attempt an invasion. The east coast is what keeps China from being a replica of a Sub-Saharan country, and almost the entirety of it is now vulnerable to a Taiwanese assault using missiles whose range has been boosted locally. Xi’s effort has been to (a) scare away the White House and consequently its G-7 partners from intervening and (b) to convince the people of Taiwan that resistance is futile, that they ought to capitulate in the way that France speedily did during the attack by Germany in 1940. As of now, the Pentagon is having a larger say in policies relating to Taiwan as compared to the State Department, and a similar heightened involvement of the Department of Defense in overall US policy is becoming evident in the case of India as well, boosting expectations that even President Biden with his Cold War 1.0 mindset will understand the consequences to US security of any further loss of territory by India or the loss of sovereignty by Taiwan and take the action needed to assist both democracies in preventing such an outcome. The loss of Taiwan would (i) embolden the DPRK to flex its nuclear muscles against Japan and the RoK, (ii) put at risk US military assets in Japan, the Philippines and Guam, and (iii) pose an existential threat to the security of Japan, the closest ally of the US in Asia. Given that the island is so intertwined with overall US interests, it would be unimaginable for the White House not to intervene in the event of a PLA invasion of Taiwan, despite some confusing and sometimes discouraging signals emanating from the White House and the State Department.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan would be headed to a PRC jail or worse were the island nation to fall to the PLA. In the face of such an eventuality, visitors calling on her have been impressed by her calm and her confidence in (a) the commitment to liberty and democracy of the Taiwanese people, (b) in the resolve to help Taiwan resist PRC aggression of the major democracies and (c) in the rapidly escalating military capabilities of Taiwan. There is particular gratitude within the higher echelons of power in Taipei at the way in which key US policymakers have braved Xi’s wrath and are visiting Taiwan. Although President Biden claimed that the Pentagon was opposed to Speaker Pelosi’s visit (a claim privately denied by elements in the US military), there was a comprehensive protective screen around the US Air Force aircraft carrying Nancy Pelosi to Taipei and later on, to Tokyo. The US Marine Corps, the US Air Force and the US Navy were involved in the protective bubble, which was of a level sufficient to repel even a determined attack by the PLA Air Force and the PLA Navy designed to either shoot down Pelosi’s aircraft (as suggested by Hu Xijin, a commentator known to reflect the thoughts of Xi) or force it to land elsewhere than in Taiwan. Ultimately, the PLA decided to do what it does best, merely posture before television cameras by carrying out a Sound & Light show in the air and waters around Taiwan, an action that got repeated after another US Congressional visit to Taipei took place last week. The Foreign Policy Committee of the UK Parliament is due to visit in November, and soon afterwards, a delegation of MPs from Canada. It needs to be remembered that from the time of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s, that dynasty has been close to Communist China, which is why such a visit came as a surprise to Beijing. There has been talk in the Lutyens Zone that the MEA has finally shed its legendary caution in ruffling Chinese feathers, and has given its approval for a Parliamentary delegation of MPs from India. Given that EAM Jaishankar reflects the robust views of Prime Minister Modi, such a visit by MPs to Taiwan should not come as a surprise. Once the visit takes place, this would be a textbook example of India not just being the world’s largest democracy but acting as such. Act East is after all the Modi motto.

1940 was not an altogether pleasant year for Britain, given the imminence of the planned invasion by the Wehrmacht on the island. Under Churchill, the British people went about their lives unfazed, and the same atmosphere of calm confidence is visible across Taiwan, where daily life continues without a change. This is despite the occasional sighting of the contrails of Chinese Air Force jets or PLAN naval vessels playing to the gallery under the orders of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. It is symptomatic of the times that the latest movie that was watched by President Tsai Ing-wen was “The Darkest Hour”, which is about Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill rallying the British people to defend their “island home” in 1940. Churchill’s promise was that Britain would fight the Nazis, that “we shall never surrender”. A similar promise and confidence is being conveyed by President Tsai to her Taiwanese compatriots, who are responding in the way the British did to their Prime Minister in 1940. After less than a year, the US and the USSR joined Britain in fighting against the armies led by former Corporal Adolf Hitler. The actions of the PRC under its present leadership are ensuring that an alliance of countries, from India to Vietnam to Japan to the US to Australia to France along with many others is forming. Their purpose will be to ensure that aggression by the PLA is thwarted, and that the sovereignty of all countries in the Indo-Pacific is respected rather than subverted by the expansionist efforts of the leadership of the world’s other superpower.

Party on, Sanna Marin, and ignore the critics (The Sunday Guardian)


When last enquired into, dancing with friends at a party was not a criminal offence in Finland.

There are countries that are relaxed about their leaders having a little bit of fun in their tension-filled lives. In France, admitting to a child from a woman not one’s wife is met only by the merest twitch of an eyebrow, while in Britain, the fact that Boris Johnson was a bit less abstemious in sexual matters than the average Catholic priest was no hindrance to his becoming the most popular politician in the UK, a distinction that he still holds despite his somewhat freewheeling ways. Such behaviour has drawn the ire of Rishi Sunak, who although a believer in Sanatan Dharma, appears to have as Calvinist a view of such habits as his father-in-law, the celebrated Narayana Murthy does. Unlike the Bobby Jindals, Rishi has not run away from the faith of his ancestors, nor shown the lack of courage to own up to such beliefs in public. Between him and Liz Truss, there is no doubt in any other than those besotted by the admittedly attractive Liz that Rishi has the superior brainpower, and would run the country far more effectively than the candidate favoured by Johnson would. A suspicious mind may say that the reason why Boris wants Liz elected over Rishi is that she would soon show herself to be incompetent at the job, thereby opening the door to the re-entry into 10 Downing Street of the Johnsons. Next month will show whether Boris has his way and gets his Foreign Secretary elected by the Tory faithful. He might be, given the support that he enjoys within the Conservative Party. As far as India is concerned, whether it be Truss or Sunak, UK relations with India, the country that has the largest English-speaking population in the world, will remain as strong as they were when Johnson was in charge. The Conservatives have been quite sensible where the management of Covid-19 is concerned, especially now that the mild Omicron variant is the dominant infection. Even unvaccinated visitors from India can breeze through Immigration Control in London without a pause, with hardly anyone being asked to produce the RT-PCR test report taken before the date of departure. In India, similar commonsense has been put in place by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Like Britain, India has neither had a lockdown since 2020 nor ever a vaccine mandate, much to the disapproval of the world’s best salesman of two branded vaccines, Anthony Fauci. Even in the US, President Joe Biden with his vanishing public support has been unable to implement the tough measures that he had initially put in place for eliminating Covid-19, only to have the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s most known product rage across the US unabated, nowadays in tandem with monkeypox, an affliction that is usually as mild as it is unsightly. Although the WHO and in particular Dr Tedros tried for a while to generate the same panic about monkeypox that he and the PRC authorities succeeded in doing on a worldwide scale with Covid-19, this time around few have taken Xi’s favourite international health expert seriously. Certainly, Finland could not be in the depleted list of countries that continue to allow the fear of getting infected with Covid-19 to constrain their freedoms and affect their livelihoods, most visibly in the field of tourism. Apart from China, where Xi Jinping is engaged in a battle against the virus his own scientists together with collaborators from the US gifted to humanity, very few countries are allowing the fear that once was ubiquitous around the world to remain. Particularly in a world where the virus seems to be most active in the countries that are resorting to desperate measures to stamp it out, Japan and China being the obvious examples.
Nearly two decades ago, the Ambassador of Finland to India, a very capable and very charming lady, reached out to this columnist to get his views on the politics of the day. Over elaborate multi-course lunches that unfortunately are the staple of diplomatic fare, perspectives were exchanged with the Ambassador, who showed an open and non-judgmental mind, so different from that of too many officious and preachy Anglo-Saxon diplomats. Those meetings, together with knowledge of the indomitable fight that the Finns under Marshal Mannerheim put up against the Soviet army in the early stages of the 1939-45 war have caused a feeling for that country that is not unmixed with admiration. That emotion was reinforced after reading about rants against Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland, who in their view performed a most disgusting and salacious act. This was to dance at a party with friends, and worse, have someone in their midst who exposed the images on social media for the world to see. Judging by some of the commentary about this supposedly unpardonable act of hers, Prime Minister Marin has shamed Finland and besmirched the glorious civilisation of Europe, a continent that in the past was involved in other continents in much the same manner as Fuehrer Adolf Hitler treated people in the countries that were overrun by the Wehrmacht, beginning with Czechoslovakia in 1938. All that needs to be said to such critics is that those who have never danced in their lives ought to throw the first stone, and even this would be unjustified. Those who attack her include those who do much more than dance in a private setting, while publicly behaving in the manner of a celibate. Given the challenges of her job, Sanna Marin has the right to occasionally have a bit of fun in whatever manner she chooses, as long as it is not criminal. And when last enquired into, dancing with friends at a party was not a criminal offence in Finland. Just dancing would not pick up enough interest within even the straitlaced sections of the reading public, so a bit of spice was added by claiming that she danced topless, which was far from true. Even if she had, it was a private party in a continent where nudity is not seen as a crime against humanity the way it is in some other locations, such as in North Africa. There are reports that Prime Minister Marin has apologised for her conduct. If true, this would be a shame, for there is nothing that she did that warrants any kind of apology. Party on, Sanna, and let those who object wallow in their faked sense of shock.

Party on, Sanna Marin, and ignore the critics 

Saturday 27 August 2022

Wuhan collaborator Fauci bids adieu (The Sunday Guardian)

A safe perch in the US Senate made Joseph Robinette Biden Jr a trifle unaware of the need to ensure correctness in politics, and not just what is termed “political correctness”. Biden was a loyal supporter of President Bill Clinton in all but one of his adventures, the exception being the attachment that the then US President had with a vivacious intern, Monica Lewinski. Whatever his other shortcomings, Biden is 100% a family man, who was devoted to his first spouse and devastated by her passing together with two of their children. That pain, it is obvious, still lingers, although the light in the darkness was the appearance of his second wife, Jill, in his life. She has proved a healing influence, enabling the youngest US Senator who later became the oldest US President to concentrate on the brutal business of politics in his country and yet return to a calm atmosphere at home. Jill Biden is a doctor of medicine, but it is not that training which has proven invaluable in taking care of her husband, but her warmth. A feeling that the First Lady of what remains the most significant country in the world carries into a sphere far larger than her family, plunging into activities with empathy that assist the disadvantaged. There has been (entirely justified) criticism of President Joe Biden in these columns, but at no stage was it said, or can truthfully be said, that he is anything other than that disappearing species, a decent human being. As President of the US, Biden has accumulated a sizeable roster of errors, among the most egregious being his withdrawal of all US assistance to the Afghan government in his rush to implement the Instrument of Surrender agreed to by his predecessor at Doha. The way in which the US abandoned its Afghan ally and the people of Afghanistan, especially children, women and moderates, to the Taliban is a shameless act that will continue to be used in classrooms to exemplify how low a government can go in its desire to escape from the coils of its commitment to an ally.
In the columns of this newspaper, incoming President Biden had been warned that to continue with the services of Anthony Fauci, who has excelled in recent years as a salesperson for select vaccine manufacturers, would be to court the obloquy of the public. With his usual tin ear where public opinion was concerned, Biden continued with Fauci. Small wonder that instead of eliminating the virus that escaped from a lab in Wuhan in 2019, SARS 2 has accelerated its spread in the US. This is despite the Fauci-recommended expenditure of tens of billions of dollars on the purchase of vaccines by the now retired infectious diseases specialist. Whether it be the smallpox or the polio vaccine, they worked. What is clear from the branded vaccines Fauci publicly peddled is that they have proved an ineffective barrier to getting infected or re-infected with Covid-19. Given the hurry with which they went from lab to pharmacist, that was no surprise. Biden trusted Fauci to continue the work of protecting the population of the US against Covid-19 even after it was clear that the benefactor of the Wuhan Institute of Virology had played a major role in covering up the culpability of that institution in the origin of the disease, not the only bad choice that the 46th President of the US made in selecting members of his administration. Given that Fauci was known to be in favour of the example of lifelong employment in a government agency set by J. Edgar Hoover, it would appear that finally the US President got the memo about the toxicity that the retention of the controversial collaborator of the WIV was generating among voters. Joe Biden wants a second term in office, and a bit late, he is understanding that there are limits to the patience of the population of the US towards the errors made by the occupant of the White House. The hysteria created during the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns and suspension of activity that was the result of the measures taken to eliminate it caused much damage. It has therefore been proving difficult for the vaccine salesmen within the US Government to continue to force the public to undergo the restraints and other tribulations that they were victim to in 2020 and in some countries (although not India) even in 2021. Biden campaigned on a promise of change, but continued with several of the errors made by Trump, such as the plan to scoot away from Afghanistan in the manner that he did, or to retain Fauci even as Trump had throughout his term. After campaigning on the promise of looking after the underprivileged in the US, Biden is pouring money into Ukraine while at the same time doing far less to assist countries such as India and Taiwan that are on the frontline of the ongoing battle for supremacy with China. If the Democratic Party manages to hold on to its majority in the House of Representatives and to win a majority in the Senate, it will be because the mistakes made by the Republican side outweigh the unpopularity of President Biden.

Wuhan collaborator Fauci bids adieu

Monday 22 August 2022

Unease over Xi boosts security linkages within the Indo-Pacific (The Sunday Guardian)


Xi has built around him a network of advisors who are almost entirely different from individuals who were influential during the decade each in power of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, and even among such persons, turnover is very high.

Singapore: Within the ASEAN, a club that India refused to join in the 1960s in a demonstration of another of the many self-goals scored in matters of foreign policy in the past, there is considerable interest in developing strong ties with the world’s most populous democracy. For the first time ever, Vietnam is carrying out joint military exercises with India, a country that supported its struggle against France, then the US and now the coercive means being used by China to deny Vietnam access to its own waters in the South China Sea. Unease has been developing within the policymaking circles of countries neighbouring the People’s Republic of China as a consequence of some domestic and international actions ordered by the presently all-powerful General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping. Policymakers in all these countries have over the years built up extensive networks of friends and contacts within the CCP, the only institution with any real authority in the PRC, but these are shrugging their shoulders in helplessness and saying that they are unable to predict what the CCP General Secretary will do next. They say that he has built around him a network of advisors who are almost entirely different from individuals who were influential during the decade each in power of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, and that even among such persons, turnover is very high. “The closer a person is to Xi and the more his contact with the General Secretary, the higher the risk of the most powerful Emperor after Mao of the ruling Red Dynasty abruptly changing his opinion about the advisor, and either shuttling him off to an inconsequential charge, or worse, punishing him for misdeeds that exist only in the mind” of Xi. They add there appears to be no pattern in such changed assessments, and no predictable roster of reasons why an individual should in a matter of not days but hours fall out of favour. “Being close to Xi may bring short term benefit in terms of position, but it also carries the risk of suddenly losing his trust and confidence, and suffering the consequences”, which are often harsh. The General Secretary’s vindictive nature has become a byword within the upper ranks of the CCP. A frequently cited example is the 2018 temporary detention and reduction to penury of Fan Bingbing, the most popular movie star in the country at the time. Insiders claim that she was close to a former high official of state who in the past treated Xi Jinping with a lack of deference, indeed very rudely. The treatment meted out to the glamorous Bingbing was intended to humiliate the former official as payback for his past rudeness to Xi. That Fan Bingbing, who was still close to the former official, could be dealt with in such a fashion showed the lack of authority of the former official in the eyes of the entire senior hierarchy of the CCP. It was also a warning to others who had displayed a similar lack of courtesy to Xi in the past, when he was only a middle-level functionary. CCP sources say that it is preferable “to remain personally unknown to the General Secretary rather be known to him and be placed in any of the concentric rings” of his circle of advisors, owing to the risk of abruptly falling out of favour.
“Even when Xi takes a decision different from that which an advisor suggests, and that decision goes sour, he blames the advisor for not ensuring that he take his advice rather than follow a course of action that proves to be a disaster”. In other words, even if only Xi takes the decisions, any good result is because of him, while any bad result is the fault of another. They say that the fast-changing circle of advisors around Xi are so intimidated by the awesome power that he has accumulated for himself that they usually offer him not a specific course of action to follow but a menu of options, including those that regarded (by the advisors concerned) as unsuitable, but which play into the perceptions of the CCP General Secretary on a given subject. In the matter of striking terror amongst his subordinates, Xi is clearly in the same mould as Chairman Mao, the example that from the start he has adopted as his model.

The military mind is geared towards clear-cut outcomes, which is why the CCP General Secretary appears to be most comfortable when talking to the PLA commanders within the Central Military Commission (CMC), according to those in the know about his style of functioning. Adopting a military-type “Can Do” mindset seems to be the dominant strain in the policies of the General Secretary. Among the most troubling to those around him was Xi’s efforts to ensure that China becomes free of Covid-19 by the time the anniversary of the founding of the PRC arrives on October 1. Measures such as mass testing in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities, not to mention full lockdowns even in Shanghai for indeterminate periods of time, have proven a failure in eliminating Covid-19, although they have eliminated much of the external interest in investing in China. In addition, there have been the human and economic costs of measures that are as unprecedented and destructive of normal life and work as the Wuhan lockdown imposed on January 23, 2020. Another troubling decision adopted by Xi, this time not to CCP cadres but to foreign countries, was the manner in which the visit of Speaker Nancy Pelosi was used to initiate what was clearly a pre-planned series of intimidatory military moves on land, sea and air. A second round was undertaken after another group of US legislators visited Taipei, and the effect of both has been to raise considerable worry about such a trigger-happy response to what was essentially political theatre designed to impress voters back home that President Biden’s vacillations notwithstanding, the Democratic Party was steely in its determination to face down PRC bluster. The worry both within and outside China is that the bullying and bluster that have become the trademark of Xi Jinping diplomacy may someday accidentally stray into the realm of actual kinetic conflict, most likely in the narrow waters of the Taiwan Strait, where the PLA Navy and Air Force are under orders from General Secretary Xi to become ever more reckless in their challenge to the rights of Taiwan that have long been established (and respected by the PRC leadership until the Xi era).
Xi has been assisted by the cautious approach adopted by President Biden, an example being the fact that the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a formidable aircraft carrier, idled in the seas off their ports of call in the Philippines when PLAN warships and PLAAF aircraft were harassing and seeking to intimidate their Taiwanese counterparts. The reticence shown by the White House during the just-concluded acts of intimidation by the PLA is in contrast to the forthright stand taken by the legislative wing of the Democratic Party. It is likely that his level of determination to resist PRC aggression has been misread. After all, President Biden has repeatedly affirmed publicly that the US will intervene militarily in case China invades Taiwan. At the same time, while President Biden has been showering military hardware on Ukraine, the quantities made available to Taiwan are a small fraction of that, despite China being by far a more potent threat than Russia. At the same time, while Ukraine is being provided weapons gratis, Taiwan is being charged top dollar for every purchase, exactly as India is being charged top dollar for every defence acquisition from the US. The difference between Biden’s approach towards Ukraine and that where Taiwan is concerned is obvious. The US dual standard where Taiwan and Ukraine are concerned is being used by the subsidiaries of the CCP United Front to disseminate the perception amongst the Taiwanese that they would need to defend themselves against the dragon alone. What has not been missed by CCP planners is that for the first time, a rise (and a very sharp one at that) in cross-Strait tensions has not led to a rise in the popularity of the leadership of the country, and they are reading in this an augury that the November mayoral elections in Taiwan may see setbacks by the ruling DPP. Although there is a growing sentiment within the KMT that is opposed to the coercive actions being carried out by Xi, it must be remembered that through much of the active phase of such actions, a KMT delegation led by the party vice-president was sent to the PRC by KMT president Eric Chu in a mission to clear doubts in Beijing about the reliability of the KMT as an ally of the CCP. Such an accommodative stance towards Xi’s theatrics by the party leadership is growing in unpopularity, especially among the younger members of the KMT, who better reflect popular sentiment than the older leadership.

Although there are those in Taiwan who fault India for not making a kinetic appearance in the East China Sea in the manner that the US and Japan have, others recognise that the mission of the Indian Navy in particular is to choke off PRC access to the sea lanes running between the Persian Gulf and the Malacca Straits, should that be necessitated by the aggressive actions of CCP General Secretary Xi. Such a blockade would be deadly for China, and India together with the US has the capability to carry it out. A blockade by the PLAN and PLAAF of Taiwan, as occasionally threatened by some retired colonels in the PLA, would trigger an immediate volley of sanctions against the PRC, severely affecting an already troubled economy. The question being asked across the region is whether Xi Jinping securing his claim to be the leader of China for life would calm him down, or result in a further manifestation of his aggressive instincts. In the meantime, the countries around China that are being threatened by Xi are not remaining idle, but building up and deepening security linkages, including with India. It was not accidental that the first country with which Vietnam has carried out joint military exercises has been India. Nor that the fear in the Lutyens Zone of adverse Chinese reaction that had so paralysed relations with Taiwan has been shed as is evident from the peregrinations of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is showing itself willing to participate actively in the defence of the freedom of all countries to utilise the waters of the Indo-Pacific for the benefit of themselves and others. Now that Xi has been a disruptive game changer in the region, Modi has been an antidote to which more and more countries are turning to as a balance towards the often unpredictable and far out reactions of the PRC under the present CCP General Secretary.

Unease over Xi boosts security linkages within the Indo-Pacific

Sunday 21 August 2022

Machismo no solution to China’s economic woes (The Sunday Guardian)

Even a blockade of Taiwan would result in sanctions by the US and the EU against the PRC, and that would be the final straw that broke the back of the dragon’s economy.

To a visitor from India, the elaborate measures still in place in Taiwan against a revival of the Covid-19 wave may appear excessive. The cabin crew in the Taiwanese airline ferrying passengers from Singapore to Taipei each have protective suits, and passengers are warned to put on masks unless dining. On landing at Taipei, those passengers who have not yet filled the online quarantine form have to do so before going through immigration and baggage claim. After that is an RT-PCR test. Dressed in protective suits, and very young, the staff are helpful and polite, but the time taken for such procedures means that a speedy conclusion of the process of entry is out of the question. In between, those passengers who do not have a Taiwanese mobile number have to get one for the duration of their stay, to be in contact with those monitoring visitors for any traces of the virus that escaped from a lab in Wuhan and changed the world in even more drastic a manner than Osama bin Laden’s attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did two decades ago. That atrocity led to a complete change in the way security checks were carried out at airports and elsewhere, with airline passengers saying Sayonara to the days when it was possible to reach Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta less than an hour before the Delta flight to Frankfurt connecting on to Delhi left, and make it to the cabin with more than ten minutes to spare. Although those in the Wuhan-Fauci Club constantly babble otherwise, the Covid-19 pandemic was triggered by a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in that city. Thanks to the carelessness of the WIV, the world changed in an even more thorough manner as what was caused by 9/11. Lockdowns imposed a heavy toll on livelihoods, as did the pandemic on lives. Once again, the world changed. And in the new situation, the country most at risk of a bio-attack from a country that is explicit about its distaste for its sovereignty is Taiwan. As a consequence, measures that appear excessive in comparison to what is present in the UK, US or India may be a necessary precaution, given that there are no limits that CCP General Secretary Xi seems willing to abide by in his quest to get whatever he wants, and by whatever means he believes will achieve his objective. After completing the elaborate process of entry, it’s on to a hotel for quarantine in the room for three days above the day of arrival. Small wonder that there does not appear to be a rush from the outside world to visit Taiwan these days, attractive and hospitable though that island country is.

These are, of course, not the usual times. Xi seems to have a particular distaste of democratically elected US legislators. A visit by a Congressional team led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi sparked off several rounds of fireworks, creating doubts about the quotient of common sense of those in charge in the world’s other superpower. Such a reaction was a gift to the already substantial anti-PRC lobby in the US, especially in the legislative branch. The tide of public opinion is becoming so strong that even President Biden, who has had contact with elements in the CCP for close to four decades is finding it difficult to carry out his wish to remove the Trump tariffs on Chinese imports in the name of fighting inflation. To make things worse for an accommodative, understanding Biden, soon afterwards a fresh lot of US legislators followed in the wake of Nancy Pelosi, and once again the PLA put on a fireworks display that may play well on television in the PRC, but which convinced even peaceniks in key locations such as Tokyo that Shinzo Abe was right in wanting to boost the defensive and offensive power of the Japanese military. Given the number of netizens in the PRC calling for a war against Japan, that appears to be a good idea. Given that the Chinese economy would implode if Xi were to try and carry out his threat of invading Taiwan through military force, all that the multiple rounds of the Chinese military’s Sound & Light show after the two visits by US legislators to Taipei achieved was to further increase the already massive proportion in the Taiwanese population who are averse to unifying with the PRC. After comments from Chinese Communist Party functionaries that are a textbook example of the false bravado that machismo brings, those Taiwanese who hunger for unification with the PRC must be a very lonely bunch. In 1995, there was on a much smaller level a similar show of PLA bluster, and this caused an exodus out of Taiwan, not to China but to the US and to countries allied to it. This time around, there was no such trepidation. Even a blockade of Taiwan would result in sanctions by the US and the EU against the PRC, and given the state of the economy in the country run by Xi, that would be the final straw that broke the back of the dragon’s economy. Interestingly, revolutions in China have usually originated in Hunan, which recently witnessed severe unrest as banks were resisting the honouring of cheques. After the usually persuasive “people’s police” failed to quell the disturbances, all of a sudden bank branches began honouring cheques. The situation across China is not different from what it is in Hunan, and the problems in the province may be a sign of what may lie ahead. If there is a nationwide run on banks in China, it is not certain that images of PLAAF aircraft and PLAN ships circling Taiwan will persuade depositors to accept their losses and remain quiet. What the PRC needs are leaders with common sense, not machismo. 

Machismo no solution to China’s economic woes 

‘Make in India’ can go global (The Sunday Guardian)

 Wherever a citizen of the Republic of India’s travels take her or him, the odds are overwhelming that there will be either citizens or those of Indian origin in the location visited. In almost all cases, they would be model citizens, abiding by the law, bringing up families and proving to be a success in their work. Out of the door have gone the impressions of India as a quaint land of snake charmers and ascetics meditating in caves for long periods of time. Fortunately for the variety that is the essence of India, there are indeed still snake charmers to be found, with their lilting music and the movement of the lute causing the reptile inside the basket to emerge in view and sway to that movement. China underwent a Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the effects of which endure to this day, but what is often forgotten is that the radical politics and economics that were practised by the inheritors of the Raj caused their own cultural revolutions, whether these be the wiping out of millions of jobs at the stroke of a pen when Morarji Desai embarked on his Gold Control Order. That the government has in its possession a magic wand that can ensure the immediate obedience of every citizen to even its wildest dictates has been a staple belief of the colonial chemistry of the bureaucracy, including the political layer superimposed at the top. The other is that “Sarkar Sab Janta Hai”, that the government knows all and knows best, while the ordinary citizen is expected not to question but to blindly accept any diktat. Rather than go in for the nationalisation of banks with deposits above Rs 50 crores, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (who went on to nationalise the wholesale trade in food and the production of coal as well, among other things) could have launched state-owned alternatives that would have competed with private banks. But competition was another bad word in the lexicon of the bureaucracy for a long while. Sardar Patel had presided over the integration of princely states into the Republic of India by signing a solemn covenant with the princes, which was torn up in 1969 in the name of egalitarianism. While many princes were degenerate, in common with too many others in society, there were also those who had nourished and preserved the traditional arts and culture of India. A bite of the quality of being “Incredible” disappeared with the princely order, again a cultural revolution in a country that has had several since 1947, some of which have been of great value. Among these is the digital revolution that has been fast tracked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which more and more of the processes of government are being digitised. In time to come, a “laptop for every child” may come about, so that the young, no matter how disadvantaged their families will be, will have adequate access to the digital world and ensure that they are equipped through that to succeed in the professions of the 21st century.

The poorest of Indian families are home to some of the most talented citizens our country has, and empowering each of them to realize that potential needs to be a priority. The provision of food for the body is vital, and this is being done. Next is food for the mind, including through access to modern education via the internet or through more traditional means. Think global, produce local makes sense in a situation where India offers advantages as a production base for a variety of products. It is heartbreaking to see the sometimes total reliance on foreign imports in product lines that could very easily have been developed in India, but which were not. The mobile phone handset is an example. Indian models ought to have been sweeping across the world. Instead, in India it is PRC models that enjoy dominance. Even as simple a household contrivance as a hair dryer is imported rather than having brands that could displace them and be sourced from India. In such a context, it is important to understand the meaning of self-reliance, of Atmanirbhar Bharat, that is being promoted under the Prime Minister’s direction. This would include even products that have their origins elsewhere, but which are produced in India. Intelligence agencies in conjunction with special task forces of the police need to investigate some of the major shutdowns of production that have taken place in India, such as those which affected the manufacture of mobile phones in a southern state and the making of India self-sufficient in copper in another state. It must no longer be easy for domestic and external vested interests working in tandem to destroy entire lines of production for the benefit of importers. This is an issue of national security and needs to be treated as such. In times to come, it is India that needs to be the manufacturing and services hub of the world. These must shift from autocratic and increasingly idiosyncratic climes to the country that is the world’s most populous democracy.

Monday 15 August 2022

The media that sees only what it already believes (The Sunday Guardian)


They are those who even before visiting India have already made up their minds about ‘Fascist India’.

Many international correspondents, both from within the Atlantic Alliance as well as the Sino-Russian alliance, churn out stories filled with horror and despair after sojourns in India. Interestingly, less than a dozen India-based individuals serve almost all such visiting correspondents as their sherpas. These are hired over and over again in deference to their ability to locate citizens across India who can be expected to mouth the view of India that has been implanted in the mind of each such correspondent. Of course, under the shepherding of the usual sherpas, less than complimentary stories ensue, pleasing editors in CNN, BBC, DW, the New York Times, the (UK) Guardian and the People’s Daily that are among the foreign media outlets working hard at giving an impression to their readers that India is a lost cause. Someday, a factual expose needs to get written about the way in which the same set of individuals get interviewed again and again. Whether for the publicity or for payment, although seldom out of conviction, such reliable (in the bias sought by the correspondent) sources repeat the same condemnatory or dismissive phrases about the situation in India to foreign television channel after television channel, or to newspaper after newspaper, and therefore get called upon to be interviewed multiple times by editors and correspondents. They are those who even before visiting India have already made up their minds about “Fascist India”. In their narrative, the country is either already a fascist state, or is irretrievably on the route to becoming one. The same “victims of fascism” recite from the same playbook that the sherpas who book them have relied on over the years. This portrays India after 2014 as a flailing, failing state.
There are in India some who have lost out as a consequence of measures introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi such as sending government assistance directly into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. Direct transmission has eliminated the cachet secured by politicians and officials through distributing such largesse to the people they are presumed to serve. Not to mention the commission charged on every such transaction. There is no doubt that there are still cases of harassment by that segment of the official machinery that is dishonest, and which uses the laws and regulations introduced during the UPA period to extort money in exchange for giving a clean chit to an activity that is regarded as criminal only in India with its legacy of colonial-era practices, and not in any other democracy. Out of 67,000 mostly unnecessary regulations and laws that were embedded in the administrative system when he took charge, over 29,000 have been sent to the dustbin by Narendra Modi, and if such a pace is kept up, by 2024, entrepreneurs and professionals would no longer be at the mercy of unscrupulous elements in the bureaucracy who utilise the draconian laws enacted by past governments to try and ensure that their kingpins make enough illicit money to comfortably settle sons and daughters in Singapore, if not the UK. However, the other side of the story is that much progress has been made to ensure that the banking system in India gets cleaned up, and that more and more of the venture capital needed for startups launched within India by brilliant but impecunious minds are from citizens of the country, rather than from abroad, as was the case until recently. Under the rule of those who had almost from birth been fluent in the language, the teaching of the English language was all but abandoned in government schools, but no longer. UP, Uttarakhand and Delhi are among the states where the teaching of English has been made a priority by their state governments. Such a policy is yet to be visible in Bihar, although this is a state where educational institutions grant marks to examinees in a manner far more generous than witnessed in other states, something that other states are noticing and thinking of emulating.
After a while, the beneficial changes that are taking place in India will become too numerous to ignore. At that stage, perhaps the sherpas who have for so long lived off the embedded biases of all too many foreign journalists about the situation in India may lose their livelihoods, for the horror stories churned out in the media as a consequence of their exertions would no longer be believed by their audiences. There is a reason why Narendra Modi remains far and away the most popular politician in India, and that is because of changing realities on the ground that are experienced by hundreds of millions of citizens.

The media that sees only what it already believes

Sunday 14 August 2022

A tale of two leaders, of dynasty and ambition (The Sunday Guardian)


Maharashtra and Bihar are two of the largest states in India, and coincidentally, both now have governments different from that which ruled until a short time ago. If a single factor were to be mentioned as having been responsible for the switching over of almost the entire legislature party of the Shiv Sena from Uddhav Thackeray to Eknath Shinde, that would be the politics of dynasty. The founder of the Shiv Sena, Balasaheb Thackeray, enjoyed the loyalty of his flock in such abundance that they fell in line when the Shiv Sena supremo chose his son Uddhav to be his successor as chief of the Sena, although the son was very different from the father. Anyone walking into a room where Balasaheb was present could sense the fire in the man, from the astringent remarks, the cutting wit and the lightning flash of undiluted belief in himself that occasionally was visible through his glasses. Uddhav is known to be gentle, less ruthless perhaps, and different from his father in that he took on the job of Chief Minister while Balasaheb had been content to remain the “remote control”, separated from the panoply of high office. When indicating that Uddhav would be his successor as Numero Uno in the Shiv Sena, did Balasaheb believe that he would follow the example set by his father and remain out of formal office? Given the differences in their personalities, it was probably wise on Uddhav’s part not to entrust the Chief Ministership of Maharashtra to an underling, but to hold the job himself. Once ensconced as CM, the risk would have been high that once in high office, yesterday’s underling may well seek to become today’s equal and tomorrow’s superior. Uddhav making himself the CM was acceptable if not entirely welcome to several Shiv Sena legislators, who would have liked the trappings of office even if drained of some of the power. The discontent probably began when his own son, Aaditya, was chosen by the CM as his successor. The money and power elite (and the two tags usually go together) are different from the rest of us, and Aaditya was very much part of the elite practically from birth. His knowledge and capabilities were clear, but the interests and experiences of Uddhav’s chosen heir were very different from the Sena legislature party, most of whom had been born into very humble surroundings, not excluding Eknath Shinde. Unlike the chemistry within the Congress Party, that from the 1960s onwards saw itself as the fiefdom of the Nehru family, within the Shiv Sena, the concept of dynasty was not embraced in the wholehearted manner that was obvious in the functioning of what had once been India’s natural party of governance. Finally, a revolt took place in the Sena ranks at the prospect of their party eternally being in the control of a single family.
Nitish Kumar doing a repeat of what was done by Narendra Modi and morphing from CM to PM has long been a staple of Lutyens gossip. Given the primacy of Modi within the BJP, there was no way for Nitish Kumar to realise as a BJP ally what the Bihar CM claims has never been his objective, of occupying 7 Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi. The only way would be for the JD(U) to quit the NDA and team up with the RJD, secure in the knowledge that Tejashwi Yadav would look at being CM of Bihar first, before entertaining any ideas about becoming the Head of Government in the whole of India. Unlike Yogi Adityanath, who has shown his understanding of the fact that in the 21st century, India cannot be ruled in the way the country was in the 1970s, as Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar has continued with the Nehruvian legacy of preventing the poor from learning English and in forcing through unimplementable measures such as Prohibition. The focus in Bihar is to get government jobs and Central assistance, rather than create a permissive ecosystem for private initiative and to become a net contributor to Central finances rather than be dependent on it. The BJP lavished considerable attention and resources on Bihar, and now Nitish will claim that all that was his doing, aware that the RJD-JDU combine will need to sweep the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in Bihar in case he was ever to realise what he has a bit too often denied is his ambition, of becoming PM. Given such an ambition, it had been clear from the start of the BJP-JD(U) alliance that Nitish would leave the NDA well before the next Lok Sabha polls. Dynasty and ambition. Enough material for a television serial.

A tale of two leaders, of dynasty and ambition

Monday 8 August 2022

Xi Jinping testing Biden’s resolve to defend Taiwan (The Sunday Guardian)

There is confidence in Beijing that the White House lacks the spine to follow the example set by Xi in sanctioning not just Mike Pompeo but Speaker Pelosi. Thus far, even a senior colonel in the PLA has not been sanctioned by the Biden administration.


Manipal: The Commander-in-Chief of all US armed forces, who is also the Head of State and government of the world’s pre-eminent superpower, demonstrated a lack of will in militarily defending US and allied interests in his pell-mell retreat from Afghanistan last year. Earlier, as Vice-President of the United States, Joe Biden had argued against the (successful) effort at neutralising Osama bin Laden in Operation Geronimo as “too risky”. At least while Biden remains in his current job, military planners within the Central Military Commission (CMC) in Beijing believe that they have a window of opportunity to browbeat Taiwan into submitting to PRC overlordship. This would come about initially through the demilitarisation of Taiwan and the acknowledgement of PRC “suzerainty” over the island country, followed by further steps at integration in the manner being witnessed in the Hong Kong (Non) Autonomous Region, which today has a similar degree of CCP control over its functioning as do other metropolises such as Shanghai, Macau and Guangzhou. Within the decision-making matrix of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping, the CMC enjoys primacy over even the Standing Committee of the Politburo, where final decisions by the Office of the General Secretary are concerned. As for the formal government led by Prime Minister Li Keqiang, that has been downgraded to a level that resembles the period when Lin Biao, Chairman Mao’s Defence Minister until his fall from grace, reigned over the policy field and provided the sinews needed by Mao to humiliate and destroy the CCP leadership of the time.
As part of the CCP version of the “strategic ambiguity” policy followed by the US and India in key matters where dealings with the PRC are concerned, a few articles are allowed to be published every once in a while that call for avoiding efforts at a military takeover of Taiwan. Such views do not reflect the consensus within the CMC, which is that once two conditions are fulfilled, the time would have arrived for an invasion and occupation of Taiwan. These conditions are (a) that the US abstains from intervention in such a conflict and (b) the people of Taiwan acquiesce, albeit willingly, in the occupation by a much bigger force of their country. Where the European partners of NATO are concerned, their pathetic performance in 21st century theatres such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya has convinced the CMC that the only military capable of taking on the PLA is that of the US. In such a context, the determination to resist or accept what will be telegraphed through infowar as the “inevitable” takeover of Taiwan by the PRC is the question, and Biden’s performance in kinetic contexts and substantive as distinct from symbolic White House moves has increased the number of CMC analysts who believe that President Biden may “huff and puff”, but otherwise accept rather than respond to the PLA carrying out kinetic operations against Taiwan. Should the US not respond, the belief within the CMC is that Tokyo too would follow the example set by Washington in “living with the inevitable”.

Whether in Japan, the US, the EU or in India, there is a powerful infowar network that each functions under the superintendence of a senior colonel within the PLA. It is this network that has ensured widespread belief within the population of such target zones that the provocation for the unprecedented intensification of PLA activity within the air and sea space of Taiwan since Speaker Pelosi left the country was created by her and by President Tsai rather than by General Secretary Xi Jinping. This is reminiscent of those misogynists who say that it was the “provocative behaviour” of the victim of an assault rather than the perpetrator that was responsible for such an incident. What is taking place across the Taiwan Straits is intended to (i) convey a message to the US (and therefore also to Japan) that any attempted resistance to a future attempt at a military takeover of Taiwan is doomed to failure and (ii) convince the people of Taiwan that they are alone in the face of the overwhelming force of the PLA, and hence need to vote in apologists for Beijing the next time polls are held in Taiwan, which is a few months from now. Another trope is that for all its touch talk, the CCP is not going to resort to military force, but will use non-military means in its efforts at subduing Taiwan. Such an impression goes against the evidence accumulated thus far, including in the aftermath of the Pelosi visit. Of course, the effort in infowar is to cover up truth with lies, and in this, the infowarriors of the CMC have had some success. It is noticeable that thus far, it has been Secretary of State Antony Blinken (who is considered within policymakers in China to fortunately be obsessed with Russia and Europe rather than paying needed attention to China and the rest of Asia) rather than Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin who has led the verbal charge against the PLA intrusions into spaces under the long-established jurisdiction of Japan and Taiwan. The CMC’s infowarriors are spreading the story that it was External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar who blocked Secretary Blinken from adding Taiwan in the basket of tensions that the US Secretary of State mentioned in his public remarks as being discussed with EAM Jaishankar on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting. Given Jaishankar’s many forthright statements on the subject of PRC overreach, such a story is obviously concocted, the more so as PM Narendra Modi’s actions responding to efforts by the PLA in 2017 and 2020 to trample on Indian security concerns have been a textbook example of firmness.


Will Taiwan in the reign of Xi be what Czechoslovakia was in 1938, a victory by default by a revisionist and authoritarian power intent on turning upside down the status quo? Once again, with customary skill, the CMC’s infowar corps are spreading the story that manoeuvres that are intended to create “Shock & Awe” among target countries are just a one-off. This is the opposite of what they represent, which is a testing of the waters to judge the likely reaction of the US in particular to kinetic operations against Taiwan. There is confidence in Beijing that the White House lacks the spine to follow the example set by Xi in sanctioning not just Mike Pompeo but Speaker Pelosi, the third in line to the US Presidency. Thus far, even a senior colonel in the PLA has not been sanctioned by the Biden administration, which has contented itself with pained expressions of shock by known Europe First ideologues such as Secretary Blinken, with Defence Secretary Austin suddenly losing his voice in a manner not seen in him in the matter of the conflict in Europe. The other two Quad members are watching whether there will be measures that reflect the intent and intensity of the manner in which Xi Jinping has sought to redraw Red Lines concerning kinetic activity directed at Japan and Taiwan, and similar hesitancy is the case with ASEAN. As for the European powers, including the UK, the soothing clink of cash registers in several corporate houses has thus far ensured that they act in a totally contrasting manner to the “fire and fury” that they have unleashed on Russia, a power that is on any count far below the PRC in terms of threat and ability to react. Czechoslovakia was in effect left to fend for itself, and thus far that appears to be the case with Taiwan as well, no matter how many times there is the pious recital of the “Taiwan is not alone” hymn by Speaker Pelosi. Lack of substantive countermeasures, including sanctions rather than measures such as the tariff relief favoured by some in the US Department of Commerce, are needed so as to avoid strengthening the hawks in the CMC sufficiently to enable them to carry out General Secretary Xi Jinping’s dream of annexing Taiwan. 

Xi Jinping testing Biden’s resolve to defend Taiwan

Sunday 7 August 2022

Speaker Pelosi ensures that US assurances regain credibility (The Sunday Guardian)


Xi seems to have not got the memo that the Legislature is independent of the Executive under the US Constitution, for his accurate surmise that Biden was unhappy about Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan led him to believe that the White House could get it cancelled.

On 1 October 1949, CCP Chairman Mao Zedong announced that “China has stood up”. The slogan resonated with a population that had endured more than a century of turmoil and humiliation, and who were eager to leave that tragic past behind. What Mao delivered was a country whose capital controlled more than twice the land area that it had in previous eras. The first Red Emperor annexed Manchuria, large chunks of Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet, wisely avoiding any serious effort at taking over Taiwan, now that the island was teeming with KMT troops that could be expected to put up a fierce resistance. Apart from that, there was the Taiwan Straits, a ribbon of water that continues to protect the island nation from attack by its much bigger neighbour to the west. Hong Kong was also left alone, as Mao had no desire to enter into a conflict with the Anglo-American alliance, although soon afterwards, worry about the intentions of General MacArthur caused the CCP Chairman to order the PLA to enter the Korean peninsula in force on the side of Kim Il Sung. Behind his rhetoric of being ready to sacrifice hundreds of millions of lives should the necessity for human sacrifice on such a scale arise, Mao was a pragmatist who focused on the stabilisation of the CCP regime in China, now that he had more than doubled the size of the country. He declared publicly that any absorption of Taiwan would take place only in an undefined and remote future, unlike the present CCP supremo, who says that the takeover of Taiwan will take place during his stint in power. A risky dare, given the potential consequences to the PRC economy were his calculations concerning the success of an invasion to go wrong.
Not that this has been the only public geopolitical gamble that Xi has made. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan may by now be aware that an unscripted President Biden is sometimes an asset but is often unhelpful to overall US interests. It was after Biden’s impromptu remarks that the US military was alarmed about a possible visit by Speaker Pelosi to Taiwan that Xi ordered a ferocious ramping up of the verbal offensive against that visit. The expectation was that an already jittery White House, not to mention the Pentagon, would prevail over the third in line to the US Presidency and force her to cancel the visit, perhaps on grounds of health. Of course, once the PRC Ambassador to the UK had made the proposed Pelosi trip public in an interview to a fawning correspondent of the UK-based Financial Times, had Pelosi called off the visit, the reaction of voters vital to the prospects of the Democratic Party in the approaching midterm elections would be devastating to the Democratic Party. US voters, in common with those in India, have contempt for cowards. Some of those intending on making the trip called it off once the Xi Jinping propaganda machine moved into high gear, even threatening to shoot down the aircraft carrying Pelosi to Taipei. All of a sudden, other engagements popped up on the calendars that made some of them shamefacedly cancel their participation in the Pelosi delegation, but less skittish legislators decided to accompany the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, possibly after checking up on their insurance payments. Back at the start of the year, the NATO leadership had convinced itself that President Putin would not dare to launch a comprehensive war aka Special Military Operation on Ukraine, now that the Atlantic Alliance had turned up the screws on sanctions present and threatened directed at Moscow. That bit of bluster failed to deter Putin, and as it turned out, Xi’s bluster failed to deter Pelosi. Xi seems to have not got the memo that the Legislature is independent of the Executive under the US Constitution, for his accurate surmise that Biden was unhappy about Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan led him to believe that the White House could get it cancelled. Hence the ramping up of rhetoric, so that once Speaker Pelosi feigned indisposition and skipped Taipei, the CCP General Secretary would get the credit for the reversal. It seems from its rhetoric that the CCP leadership believes that PRC citizens thinks about nothing else other than the question of Speaker Pelosi defying the diktat of Xi and actually going to Taiwan to an enthusiastic welcome from that democracy. Worsening economic conditions in the PRC and the rise in arbitrary detentions are of no importance in the CCP’s mind when compared with Speaker Pelosi having the effrontery to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai.
After Trump’s ditching the Kurds in Syria and signing a surrender document with the Taliban at Doha in 2020, followed the next year by Biden following in Afghanistan Gorbachev’s example of 1988, when the last Soviet communist party leader abandoned Afghan President Najibullah to his fate, confidence in the sincerity of the US to stand by its security guarantees was on the way to becoming extinct. The Pelosi visit to Taipei has changed that perception, and not just in Taiwan. Who knows, perhaps even the tremulous President Biden may imbibe a few lessons in courage from the example set by Speaker Pelosi.

Speaker Pelosi ensures that US assurances regain credibility

Saturday 6 August 2022

Reality check on One China policy (The Sunday Guardian)

 The “1992 Consensus” invented by KMT functionary Su Chi in 1992 held that there was indeed One China, except that both the Taiwanese and the PRC side had their own interpretations of what acceptance of the phrase implied. In the case of Taiwan, the “1992 Consensus” was unilaterally scrapped by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping, who went public that there was not just one China, but only one interpretation of the “1992 Consensus”, the interpretation held by Beijing. Given this, efforts by apologists for the PRC to point to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that holds power in the island nation as being responsible for scrapping Su Chi’s doctrine are disingenuous. Even the KMT would not be able to accept the Xi Jinping interpretation of the “One China” consensus and ever hope to return to power in Taiwan. The frank authoritarianism of the regime led by Xi has caused the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese citizens to veer away from support for unification with China. The relevance of the assertion that there is only a single legitimate definition of the One China principle, the version favoured by the CCP, is that such a change in the mode of interpretation of the doctrine clearly applies not just to Taiwan but to other countries as well. As yet, the CCP General Secretary may not go public about this altered reality, but his intent is clear. Whether it be the Philippines, Vietnam, the US or India, acceptance of Su Chi’s diplomatic sleight of hand implies obedience to the line adopted by the CCP in the matter. In the case of India, officials who say that the world’s most populous democracy accepts the One China principle is to accept a falsehood, which is that Arunachal Pradesh, large tracts of Ladakh and other parts of Indian territory ought to be considered as Chinese. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj pointed out that there was no justification for India to accept One China, unless the PRC accepted One India, a construct that obviously includes the entirety of Ladakh and Arunachal. The rhetorical part of Xi’s campaign against the visit of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan has as its centre-piece that such an action is in breach of the One China principle that was last accepted by President Joe Biden a few days before Speaker Pelosi landed in Taipei. The reality is that the authority assumed by Beijing to control who goes to Taiwan has not been recognised except by countries such as Pakistan and Russia, who are part of the PRC-led coalition of nations active in Cold War 2.0. Several countries in ASEAN or the EU send high level delegations to Taiwan, ignoring uneasiness in Beijing. Other countries have thus far restricted their own visits or the entry of Taiwanese officials to lower levels, in an effort at mollifying Beijing.

The revitalisation of the Quadrilateral Security Alliance was the consequence of actions towards the same that were initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Not having a secretariat or a formal structure has placed several limitations on the effectiveness, indeed the very credibility, of the Quad. Such a lack needs to be attended to soonest. In the meantime, both the European Union and the Quad need to ensure that it is made clear to all countries that acceptance of the One China principle does not in any way imply acquiescence in the PRC’s expansionary designs. Both the EU and the Quad have their own interpretations of the One China principle, and it is such an interpretation that will prevail over the version adopted by Beijing. In the case of Taiwan, even during the days when US Presidents who were boosters of the PRC such as Nixon and Clinton were in office, it was emphasised that any unification with the PRC needed to come about voluntarily, and peacefully—that resort to force in an effort to extinguish the sovereignty of Taiwan would not be accepted. Under such circumstances, there was nothing untoward in Speaker Pelosi’s visit. The manner in which military power is being used to try and scare away officials from the democracies from visiting Taiwan reflects the zero-sum mindset of the present CCP leadership.
In the case of India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru followed the path of total acquiescence to the wishes of the PRC. Such a policy of appeasement was most starkly reflected in his indifference to the takeover of Tibet by the PLA, thereby giving Beijing extraordinary leverage that was used against India. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee gave up what little remained of the elements of Government of India’s policy on Tibet that were different from the CCP line. These concessions were made unilaterally and without securing anything in return. Given the lesson that has been learnt about the behaviour of the CCP after seeing what has happened with Tibet and Xinjiang, there has been a firmness shown in the matter of CCP efforts at taking control of Taiwan that was absent in the other two cases. Under Prime Minister Modi, India is following a policy that is principled in its firmness. What needs to be done is to ensure that a clear elucidation of the manner in which the One China principle is regarded by the democracies. Xi’s efforts at making the principle mean what the CCP intends it to mean needs to be countered. The best way of doing this is to stress that the definition of One China for each country is defined by itself and not by Beijing.