The 20th Chinese Congress has concluded. Xi Jinping has gained an unprecedented third term, cementing his place as the most powerful leader in China since Mao Zedong. He will now seek to fulfil his pending agenda, largely projected in his address to the Congress. Xi’s almost 2-hour long address, delivered immediately after displaying a video film of his achievements including a clip of the Galwan clash and with Qi Fabao, the Chinese commander claimed to be injured in the clash, in the audience, covered multiple aspects including the development of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) and Chinese intent of not hesitating to employ force to achieve their objectives. Though India was not mentioned, the message to it could not have been clearer.
Xi stated that the PLA must ‘safeguard China’s dignity and core interests.’ His added comment, ‘the wheels of history are rolling on toward China’s reunification,’ implied that China will not back down on its claims, whether it be Taiwan, Islands in the South and East China Seas or Indian territory it believes belongs to it. He has been harping on this being an unfinished agenda. Xi also mentioned, ‘We will work faster to modernize military theory, personnel and weapons. We will enhance the military’s strategic capabilities.’ Evidently, China believes in exploiting its military power to coerce its smaller adversaries, with whom they are in dispute.
Success in suppressing Hong Kong by eradicating all resistance, with hardly a global whimper had added to Xi’s confidence. Xi announced that China will never commit to abandoning the use of force in its reunification of Taiwan. While Taiwan was specifically mentioned, India was not, but the implication could not be missed, especially as the Galwan clip was displayed to loud cheering. The reaction from the audience projected India, US and Taiwan as major adversaries.
There is no doubt that modernization and developing capabilities is ultimately aimed at countering the US, which in its recently released National Security Strategy (NSS) has termed China as the ‘most consequential geopolitical challenge.’ The NSS mentions, ‘The PRC (People’s Republic of China) is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it.’ China seeks to replace the US as the global military and economic power in the next two decades.
On Chinese assertiveness the NSS states, ‘The PRC’s assertive behaviour has caused other countries to push back and defend their sovereignty, for their own, legitimate reasons.’ There is no doubt that Chinese adversaries in the region are enhancing military potential aware of Chinese intent. Philippines is procuring Indian Brahmos missiles, Vietnam has shown intent to procure India-Israel manufactured Barak missiles as also the Brahmos, while being a defence partner of India. Japan and Taiwan are increasing their military spending to build capabilities, aware that China at some stage would employ force to take Taiwan. South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam may join as the QUAD plus.
The US seeks to challenge China by working with a collection of partners. India and Japan are two major Asian allies, with India partnering the US in both, the QUAD also the I2U2 (Israel, India, UAE and US). Further, India has steadily been pushing back China in its own sphere of influence. It stalled China in Doklam and subsequently in Galwan. Hence, for China, India will remain an adversary which it must suppress prior to seeking to dominate Asia. The Galwan clash will possibly be reignited in some form in the future as it continues being displayed on Chinese media as an assault on the country and the PLA. China has always insisted that India initiated the Ladakh incident.
China’s attempts to coerce India into accepting the changed LAC, as a sign of Chinese superiority, has not succeeded. Its foreign minister, Wang Yi, visited India with this message, as also sought to convey it through its ambassador in Delhi, Sun Weidong, but India did not bite. India continues to insist that bilateral relations will remain affected unless normalcy returns to the LAC. A growing India, an ally of the west, will remain a threat to Chinese domination in Asia. Thus, despite all messaging on peace and enhancing bilateral ties, China will be compelled to attempt to suppress India.
With the continuance of Xi, Chinese policies are unlikely to change. His hard-line stance against India will remain. China violated all agreements when it intruded in 2020. It may do so again on some other pretext. Indications towards this flow from increased Chinese infrastructure development in Tibet as also its policy of border villages. China may attempt to expand its footprints in Nepal and Bangladesh, adding to Indian concerns.
China’s proximity with Pak will grow, and Beijing will exploit Islamabad’s anti-India stance to enhance pressures on Delhi. It will continue to protect Pak in global forums from India sponsored actions, including listing its known terrorists as global terrorists, as also blocking Indian entry into bodies where Pak is discriminated including the NSC (Nuclear Suppliers Group) and the UNSC. China will ensure that India and Pak remain adversaries.
Xi, in this conference has indirectly signalled India as a challenge, which China must confront. While emphasis on force development will be aimed at countering the US, India as a western ally, will evidently be a target. Another message is that further de-escalation in Ladakh is unlikely, while simultaneously compelling India to accept the current alignment and deployment as the new normal. The resolution of the LAC is nowhere on the horizon.
With Xi’s third tenure, Indo-China tensions will remain. Xi was never an Indian friend nor will he ever be. There is unlikely to be any interaction at the apex level unless India is willing to adhere to Chinese demands. Frosty diplomatic ties will continue. India must remain prepared for further salami slicing, while enhancing its military capabilities. Escalation into a larger conflict is remote, while localised incidents will continue.
The author is Major General (Retd)