A most important issue, on which India has remained largely silent, is the succession of the Dalai Lama. The Central Tibetan Administration, based at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, needs our full support on this sensitive subject for Tibetans the world over. The Chinese Communist Party will try to foist someone politically convenient as the next spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. This needs to be countered and prevented

by Lt Gen Pradeep Bali (Retd)

China, under the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party, will remain the major threat to our national security. Its peaceful rise, as hoped for by those with a penchant for political correctness, was always a chimera — there is just not enough space and resources for this in the Chinese worldview. With an unsettled land border — the Line of Actual Control (LAC) over almost 3,500 km — India will remain its adversary in many ways, beyond the identified disputed and sensitive areas on our northern borders.

Having been stalemated in the Himalayan heights in south-western Bhutan and in eastern Ladakh by the undaunted Indian Army within a span of three years, China would not wish to face such humiliation again and its focus areas for regional hegemony are likely to be other than conventional conflicts. However, for India, being ever wary of its northern neighbour is a given. While gearing up for the non-military dimensions of any threat, the Army needs to be equipped and prepared for the long haul all along the LAC, even at the added human wear and tear and economic costs this entails.

We are long used to countering Pakistan’s perfidy and inimical actions on our own with little more than verbal condemnation of state-sponsored terrorism by most other nations of consequence. Expecting more tangible support in case of an adverse turn of events with China or at least its opprobrium also appears unrealistic. Most Western powers have strong economic linkages with China as do countries like Russia and in any case are too far removed from this part of the globe to be impacted or affected in any significant manner. To take the other three members of the Quad, their prime interest is centred around South China Sea. Further, it may be of interest to note that Japan is China’s second largest economic partner after the US and political differences, an unhappy history and some maritime disputes about island territories are not likely to change this relationship. Similar is the case with Australia which is a very unpredictable player and has been on a different page many times where Indian interests are involved. The mighty United States has its own axe to grind and with the Biden administration at the helm, it would look more at working with China while retaining its pre-eminence as a global power.

A major takeaway from the G7 summit in Southern England, held over the last weekend, is the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative for building infrastructure in developing countries. This is being projected as an effective counter to the ongoing One Belt One Road project of China. The G7 countries may promote this in an endeavour by the leading economic powers not to lose out in political and economic influence to Communist China. However, unlike India, the G7 is far removed from any physical conflict with China and the B3W will not diminish the threat posed by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or similar projects in our neighbourhood.

All this implies that for safeguarding our borders and our national security, dependence on external support and help is qualified by many factors and at best can only be to a very limited degree. In this vein, while it is reassuring to see the photo optics of our Army deployed on the icy heights in battle gear with our weapon platforms in combat readiness, the true measure of our national power will be our ability to stare down the Dragon on geo-political issues, to which it is sensitive, as well as remaining on a par in technological prowess in some key areas.

Politically and diplomatically, a more vociferous stance is necessary in dealing with China. Be it the ethnic and religious persecution in Xinjiang and Tibet in its west and south-west or the suppressing of dissent under the PLA jackboots in Hong Kong, as a responsible democratic country, India needs to be much more vocal in condemning such gross human rights violations. Firm and even strident attitudes towards China have to move beyond ‘think tank’ discussions and get mainstreamed into our foreign policy. A most important issue, on which India has remained largely silent, is the succession of the Dalai Lama. The Central Tibetan Administration, based at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, needs our full support on this very vital and sensitive subject for Tibetans the world over. The CCP will try to foist someone politically convenient as the next spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. This needs to be countered and prevented from this stage itself. China may have conquered the land of the Tibetans, but it cannot be allowed to capture their spiritual space.

China is likely to take increasing recourse to unconventional forms of warfare. An area of ever-increasing importance is the cyber domain, which has a ubiquitous presence in the everyday functioning of various services, be it communications (physical, voice, data or transportation), banking and commerce, power generation and transmission or even routine activities at individual levels. In the past, the Chinese hand has been often suspected in disruptions caused through offensive cyber operations. While a large degree of redundancy and recoverability is required in such cyber dependent services, there is a definite need for a well-developed offensive cyber operations capability, with credible deniability.

Another area where future conflicts are likely to be waged is the vastness of space, from anti-satellite missiles to weaponised space-based platforms, which can greatly affect all systems dependent on this medium, be it navigation, communications or something as innocuous as crop patterns and weather forecasts. China served notice to the world as far back as January 2007 with its first demonstrated anti-satellite capability. Our space programme ranks among the leading ones and this is one area where any adversary should not be allowed to gain an edge. Descending below the stratosphere, the increasing importance of unmanned aerial platforms makes it incumbent to keep abreast with their development and production on a larger scale. Their very potent usage during the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is a clear pointer towards future battlefields.

The paradox of a totalitarian regime and a free market economy is likely to persist till the Communist Party remains in absolute power. What does this augur? There is no gainsaying that China has various strengths which will always come into play. However, a firm political line needs to be articulated on issues of rights abuse against ethnic minorities in that country while remaining prepared for unconventional and asymmetric initiatives by the CCP in its bid for regional domination.