Saturday 17 December 2022

Only deterrence will work with Xi’s China (The Sunday Guardian)


PRC will never be content until India is reduced to economic distress and societal chaos, for this is the only country in Asia that can upset China’s primacy in Asia.

Whether during the Clinton or subsequent eras, the fact that the USSR had been replaced by 1992 with the Russian Federation made scant difference to the obsessive search by Washington to cut Moscow down to what was seen as a manageable size. While Gorbachev, Yeltsin and for six years even Putin sought energetically to befriend the US, even earlier, Khrushchev and subsequently Brezhnev had sought to placate the US on occasion. Every such move was met with an outward show of friendliness, and yet steps designed to damage the growth trajectory of the Russian Federation continued on the part of the US. The reason why ought to have been obvious to policymakers in the Kremlin, but many of these worthies were in thrall to the Europeanist St Petersburg school of strategic thinking in Russia, which placed the highest priority on cultivating a maddeningly unresponsive West. The fact is that Russia is the only country within the continent that has the potential to replace US primacy in Europe with its own, and hence the impossibility of simultaneously following a policy of strengthening Russia and forging close ties with those countries in the European continent that are allies of the US, especially in the form of membership of NATO. Successive administrations in Washington have led European countries into lunge after lunge at “Putin’s country” ever since the Russia-friendly elected President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 via a choreographed demonstration of street power. That process reached a crescendo soon after President Putin launched an overt war against Ukraine on 24 February 2022. While the US, in common with that other superpower China, would overall be likely to benefit from the proxy war that NATO is conducting against Russia on Ukrainian territory, most countries in Europe are harming their own futures by the US-inspired sanctions and weapons assistance to the Zelenskyy government in Kiev. This is a regime that is witnessing easily visible profiteering through blackmarketing of assistance received from western countries in the form of money and weaponry, and hence has no incentive to turn off the spigot by accepting reality and agreeing to a ceasefire on the Line of Actual Control that Ukrainian and Russian forces have established thus far. While both CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (the “X” factor in analyses involving the PRC) and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy may want the war to continue well into 2023, the odds are high that by the coming April, the buffeting that populations in Europe get as a consequence of price spikes and other conflict-related disruptions, is guaranteed to make any further continuation of the proxy war between Russia and NATO impossibly unpopular with voters even in countries that are in the vanguard of the prosecution of the conflict against Russia, such as Germany, the UK and Poland. Given an aversion to political hara-kiri among the political class, this will result in the reduction of supplies by NATO to the regime in Kiev, which will finally need to agree to a ceasefire on the basis of the status quo that leaves Ukraine much worse off than would have been the case had such a ceasefire taken place in April 2022. At that time, both Biden and Zelenskyy were united in refusing to stand down unless Putin surrendered the territorial and influence building gains that Moscow had accrued in Ukraine since 2014. By April next year, it is unlikely that the Democratic Party would allow President Biden to continue a war that benefits the defence and food stock industries in the US at the expense of other segments of the economy, and which has led to collateral actions that have damaged energy, food and societal stability in more than sixty countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. What of China, a country that has gained even more than the US from the Ukraine war? Just as the US will not accept anything other than a weakened Russia, the PRC will never be content until India is reduced to economic distress and societal chaos, for this is the only country in Asia that can upset China’s primacy in Asia. There are still more than a few analysts in Delhi who still believe that “effective diplomacy” can ensure good behaviour on Xi’s part, when the reality is that only strong deterrence rather than strong diplomacy will work in dealing with the PRC, especially under its present leader. The Chinese side has mastered the art of what may be termed subcritical expansion, chipping away slivers of territory at regular intervals, followed by much diplomatic sweet talk and gestures. The scale of Xi’s ambitions so far as the land space of India is concerned is vastly different in scale from his interests in Japan, Vietnam or the Philippines. Some commentators argue that only Taiwan is at risk of a major kinetic move by the PLA, as securing control of that island nation has been openly proclaimed as an objective by Xi. The fact is that the CCP General Secretary has declared his intention of “recovering (mostly for the first time in Chinese history) all the lost territories” of the PRC. The word “all” is significant, as it covers an area far greater than Taiwan, and includes Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh in India. The fear within the higher rungs of the CCP that His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet, may be succeeded by an incarnation born in Tawang is acting as a spur goading the leadership to bring under Tawang and neighbouring areas in Arunachal Pradesh before a new Dalai Lama is found by search teams inspired by the present Dalai Lama.
What the PLA is seeking in its efforts at land grab along what the Chinese side refuse to acknowledge is the Line of Actual Control is the capture of vantage points along the line as could enable the occupation of the Daulet Beg Oldi airstrip, the Chicken’s Neck and the new roads that are in the process of being built along the line. Roads and encampments are fine so long as they are built and used by the Chinese side. Similar action by India is in contrast a “provocation” in the mind of Xi Jinping. Russia conceded much to the US and to its partners in Europe, including the surrender of East Germany and got only overt or covert but effective hostility in return. Those who argue that a policy of seeking to placate Beijing, to appeal to its nobler instincts, would be as wrong as Jawaharlal Nehru was when he surrendered a UNSC Permanent Seat and Aksai Chin to China. All that they will get in return for their attempts at conciliation is an attempt by Xi to repeat Mao’s action of October-November 1962.

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