China: Foreign Policy, Disinformation and Propaganda Warfare


Vice Admiral (Retd) Vijay Shankar

Published in Salute Magazine available at

The United Front Work Department … is an important magic weapon for strengthening the party’s ruling position … and an important magic weapon for realising the China Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation.

                                      —Xi Jinping, at the 2015 Central United Front Work Meeting

To Influence the Balance of Power

In 2015 when Xi Jinping made the above declaration it was bemusing as to what exactly the United Front Work Department (UFWD) was and how exactly it would serve to realise China’s dream of the “Great Rejuvenation”. Was it an internal tool of governance or did its mandate extend outside its borders? In its central role the “UFWD was the key to determine the ‘cause’ of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for which the People were to influence the Balance of Power.” This muddled statement serves more to confuse than clarify; unless, one were to interpret this to mean that the UFWD was an organisation that not only served to ensure the solidarity of the citizens of China with the aims of the CCP but also had an external role that tilted the global balance of power in favour of the PRC. So not only was it primacy of the UFWD in domestic politics but also its critical assignment in shaping foreign policy and influencing overseas Chinese affairs.

In this perspective the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) does not make or even implement foreign policy, other than of a proforma nature, but provides the logistical framework for operationalizing policies. So much so, that today the Foreign Minister is neither a member of the seven-man Politburo nor is he the top foreign policy maker. Premier Xi, created in 2018, the Central Foreign Affairs Commission placing it directly under the Standing Committee of the Politburo which he led. There is a third organ related to the advancement and rendering of foreign policy goals that bears mention, and that is the International Liaison Department (ILD) which is charged with developing policies that create support for Chinese foreign initiatives and supress opposition. It specifically targets influential personalities and even conducts discreet propaganda, preparation of pliant politicians, society elites, media members and influencers.

The Paramount Leader

The troika of the UFWD, the MFA and the ILD thus make up the foreign policy institutions of China. Together they serve to firstly, legitimise and cement the rule of the CCP within and secondly, to formulate, support and promote foreign policy initiatives without.  The instruments used range from armed subversion to disinformation campaigns.  

Xi Jinping is the General Secretary of the CCP, chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), leader of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and indeed the President of the PRC; he has assumed the mantle of Paramount leader and by 2022 had extended his rule by an unprecedented third term (Mao was the last Chairman to do so). He has thus consolidated his grip on all aspects of the Chinese power structure; particularly so it’s internal and external manifestation.

Quiet Diplomacy: Propaganda, Subversion and Information Warfare

              As mentioned earlier, China’s MFA conducts the pro-forma traditional state-to-state diplomacy and provides the logistical framework for enabling policies. The lesser-known more recent UFWD and the older ILD working under the direction of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, conduct “Quiet Diplomacy”. Historically, such diplomacy almost exclusively meant foreign communist parties, but today it includes parties of varying ideologies, the process of cultivating potential support and supressing opposition to Chinese interests. 

Both the UFWD and the ILD have expanded their activities to include financing, recruiting, indoctrinating and arming subversive groups that promote Chinese interests. To further the foreign policy goals, the two organs use their foreign contacts to build support and advance its projects and mobilise opinion in target countries. In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding (2021), the Party published a lengthy article outlining the core missions of their foreign enterprises in the modern era. While the obligatory CCP slogans and bromides were employed, it centred on gathering intelligence, influencing and garnering opinion for its initiatives through “consultative mechanisms”. The only overt project referenced was (for obvious reasons), the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). These ‘consultative mechanisms’ do not just include communist and socialist parties, but political elites, media celebrities and, without stating it, every group or agency that could directly or indirectly influence the desired outcome.

Enter the BBC Documentary

              A two part documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi was released by the BBC on 17 and 24 January 2023. The first part covers Modi’s early political career and the period when he was the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, specifically during the 2002 communal riots and the part he played in the event as it unfolded. This is also when the producer parts way from the facts; conveniently forgetting the reality that the Supreme Court of India upheld the Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) clean chit to PM Narendra Modi and dismissed the case observing that the plea was devoid of merit. This was after a period of 16 years. The Producer, a Mr Mike Bradford and Director Dick Cookson choose rather to base their narrative on a little known report authored by the then Foreign Secretary of the UK, Jack Straw (of “WMDs in Iraq” fame). The makers of the film neither consider it necessary to make clear as to who invited Jack to conduct his enquiry nor why or when. Certainly it was not the Government of India.The second part of the film deals with the period of Mr Modi’s re-election for a second term as India’s Prime Minister. It makes a very jaundiced examination of select policies of his administration with more than just a cavalier approach to the historical reasons, constitutional considerations and the factual outcomes.

              Clearly the two-part so called documentary (after all, a documentary is expected to document facts) lost its way somewhere between fact, selective amnesia and fiction; so questions that beg to be asked are: why was it made? Who was to benefit? Clearly, it was not the British Government, who’s Prime Minister, Mr Rishi Sunak, without any reserve “disagreed with the characterisation” of Mr Modi in the ‘documentary’. Countries such as the USA denied having anything to do with it while Russia quite bluntly suggested that it was pure “propaganda’.

The Propaganda Theory

Digging deeper into the propaganda theory, was there a larger movement to peddle influence and to what effect and by who? The Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW) pointed out in 2021: “The BBC faces significant financial challenges as it seeks to deliver on its public broadcasting mission in the context of a competitive and fast changing environment. The withdrawal of government funding for licence fees for the over-75s and insufficient commercial income have resulted in losses that have eaten into the BBC’s reserves”. This fact has also been substantiated by a National Audit Office Report of 25 January 2021 that suggests that BBC must develop a strategic response to its financial challenges. The BBC has funded the losses arising in recent years from a combination of its reserves and a sale and leaseback of its estate, but this is not sustainable in the long run. To supplement the licence fee the BBC seeks to generate revenues through commercial activities, which generated £1.5bn in external revenue in 2019-20. Unfortunately, the contribution to the bottom line was less than 6% of its licence fee income. Licence Fee in their 2019-20 balance sheet contributed 65% of their total income of £4.9 billion.  Income was £100 million short of expenditure. The BBC’ financial woes are clear for all to see.

There are also unconfirmed reports of the BBC’s financial interlocking with Chinese state funding agencies. Could these funding agencies be the very same organs of China’s foreign policy, the UFWD or the ILD that are tasked with “Quiet Diplomacy”? It is equally apparent that China would be the chief beneficiary of any disruption or upsets that may occur in the upcoming 2024 Indian general elections; their motive being the installation of a weak, left leaning and pliable government in the Indian Parliament rather than a strong, progressive right wing party such as the BJP. This is not beyond the realm of probabilities as the Chinese Communist Party have already been allegedly involved in election tampering in the USA and other nations.

Conclusion: Kindling the Nascent Arena for Defence

Sun Tzu in his treatise on “The Art of War” suggested that: “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. This is just what the waging of “Quiet Diplomacy” (at least the Chinese variant) is all about. The United Front Work Department and the International Liaison Department provide the teeth to realise China’s foreign policy objectives, to influence the will of people to conform to China’s point of view. This is done through the instrument of distortion of facts, disinformation, indoctrination and indeed manipulating and falsification.

While the government should continue to monitor and disrupt Chinese influence activities, its top priority must be restoring health of the Indian information ecosystem. Disinformation flourishes due to deep-seated currents in politics, society, economy, and law. Its carriers and methods include the TV, online data collection, social media micro-targeting, political party dynamics and student vulnerabilities. Large-scale progress in combating disinformation would require profound national reforms in these and other arenas. The aim being to disincentivize the production, amplification, and consumption of disinformation from all sources.

True reform would be an extremely daunting task. The government’s role in combating disinformation is poorly defined and heavily constrained by laws, norms, and political obstacles. Its tools are often tactical in nature and oriented toward foreign threats. Overreach by the centre could actually worsen political distrust or create harmful precedents.

The task of countering disinformation is a nascent area of defence that the government could either implement or help to coordinate. These measures include strengthening regulation of online platforms, reforming and monitoring electoral campaign finance and advertising. Funding media literacy education and facilitating research in influence operations. Without undertaking this mammoth assignment the spirit of India will remain susceptible to the emaciating effects of disinformation.

Effectiveness of the Fleet Aircraft Carrier  


Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

( published in the December 2022 issue of the DSA magazine and available at the following Link:

The Fleet Aircraft Carrier possesses a number of attributes that make it the Operational Commander’s platform of choice to deal with maritime crises. These virtues may be summed-up in the platform’s intrinsic ability to operate in international waters Independent of territorial and political constraints; the carrier’s Mobility allows it to deploy its full array of combat power over distances in excess of 600 nautical miles in a day; the Role-Flexibility provided by the vessel’s integral air and power projection competence permits it to respond across the spectrum of maritime conflict scenarios.

The Sceptics View

Detractors of the Fleet Carrier harp on three issues that to them lies at the heart of the debate of whether the Navy’s demand for the Fleet Aircraft Carrier is justified or not. The assertions made in support of their premise are as follows:

  • The Aircraft Carrier is old in concept and vulnerable in contemporary Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) threat scenarios.
  • The platform is expensive and the nation’s maritime security interests are better served by sea-denial forces such as submarines, small missile units and land based air-power.
  • The prospect of action damage makes the Commander of a deployed Aircraft Carrier much too tentative to venture into “harm’s way”.

Analysing the Three Assertions

The first Assertion suggests obsolescence of the concept of the Aircraft Carrier; this is not rational since obsolescence is a condition when the Carrier ceases to have operational use. Concepts are essentially tempered by time and technology. The issue of vulnerability to contemporary A2/AD threats requires more serious deliberation. Depending on the situation, threat perceptions and how operations have been conceived; the Carrier Group, in addition to its integral air power, will comprise of elements that provide the necessary capabilities to neutralize or supress forces that are likely to confront it. Where the threat is perceived to emanate from long range Anti-Ship Ballistic or Cruise Missiles, then the adversaries extended surveillance and control chain will be targeted either by co-operating units or by integral forces.

The second Assertion relates to the cost-benefit or the valuation of the Carrier in terms of its ability to provide security. This while sounding ‘scholarly’ is in fact a distortion of the theory of maritime warfare; of Control of oceanic spaces and of Denial of the same. That the Aircraft Carrier is a ‘big ticket’ platform cannot be seen in isolation. The economics of the platform must be weighed against the part it plays in defining and securing the maritime interests of the nation. The relationship between the Carrier and denial forces when integrated provides the instrument for sea control to influence the outcome of operations; but when separated, denial forces restrict themselves to chance skirmishes and nuisance value.

 The third Assertion deals with the tentativeness of the Commander when required to commit an aircraft carrier to battle. This is, at best, a fallacious argument. At any rate the hesitancy to go into “harm’s way” only occurs when the fleet force package is wanting in material and technological capabilities. The three ‘assertions’ are, therefore, rather eclectic in form and tendentious in content, particularly in the light of the unique attributes of the Fleet Carrier.  

Unique Characteristics of the Fleet Carrier: Indian Experience

The Aircraft Carrier’s Mobility, which enables it to act as a rapid responder, has been evident in every operation that it has participated in. Whether it was the liberation of Bangla-Desh in 1971, Operation Jupiter the Sri-Lanka peacekeeping operations in 1989, Operation Parakram the Indo-Pakistan stand-off post the Pakistan sponsored terror attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 or the rescue and relief operations consequent to the Tsunami of December 2004. During the recent crisis along the Line of Actual Control with China, the Indian Carrier Group was poised to execute its plans to squeeze China’s energy-jugular plying across the Indian Ocean and through the Malacca Straits.

The importance of an Aircraft Carrier as the central control and strike element of a task force charged with exercising sea control was validated over a sustained period of several months in the North Arabian Sea during Operation Parakram. The Carrier’s integral air-power and co-operating maritime patrol aircrafts ensured complete sanitisation of the surveillance bubble around the force; Surface Action Groups comprising speedy and stealthy missile units prowled the surveillance and kill zones to counter hostile trespassers venturing into these tracts; while anti-submarine warfare units searched, located and suppressed the submarine threat. Friendly merchant ships and tankers were routed through safe waters while those bound for Pakistani ports were marked by forces in readiness to divert/seize them. Not only was the Pakistan Navy limited to coastal patrols, but its surveillance elements remained, in the main, restricted to the Makran littoral.

After US combat operations in the Gulf were terminated in 2003, tanker traffic was being flagged by the US out of the Gulf under escort. To verify Indian capability to do the same without being targeted the Indian Carrier Group was deployed in the Gulf of Oman to provide airborne escort to Indian hulls coming out of the Gulf. The tankers motored along three escort lines patrolled by missile destroyers from the Carrier Group. Significantly, this was accomplished in sea-space where no land based aviation was available. These tasks could not have been achieved in the absence of the Indian Fleet Carrier.

And because the Carrier is such a large and capable platform, it can integrate assets from other services (even other nations) into its operations. Its Role-Flexibility was on display in Operation Jupiter during the peacekeeping operations in Sri-Lanka in 1989. This is especially crucial today with the stress placed on jointness between the armed services and between allies. In the current combat environment characterized by fluidity, the capabilities needed in one situation may not be the same in another. This is where the versatility of the carrier and its consorts to be tailored for foreseeable roles comes to play. Given the adaptability, payload, mobility and power of the Carrier Group it now becomes meaningful to understand the operational philosophy that governs its deployment.

Contemporary Naval Thought

A fourfold classification of maritime forces has dominated contemporary naval thought. The grouping is largely functional and task oriented. It comprises of aircraft carriers, denial forces (including surface, air and sub-surface units), escorts and surveillance elements. Auxiliaries including logistic and other support ships and tenders provide distant and indirect support. In addition current thought has given strategic nuclear forces a restraining role to define and demarcate the limits within which conventional forces operate.

The make-up of the fleet must logically be a material and technological articulation of strategic concepts that prevail. India has for long aspired to attain a strategic maritime posture that would permit control and hold sway over oceanic spaces that serve to promote its national interests. And in times of hostility, influence the course of conflict. Against this frame of reference the fundamental obligation is therefore to provide the means to seize and exercise that control (it must come as no surprise that China develops forces necessary to realize its A2/AD policy). Pursuing this line of argument, it is the Aircraft Carrier Group and its intrinsic air power assisted by strike and denial forces that sea control and security of control can be achieved. It is here that the true impact of the Aircraft Carrier is felt. Control and security of control is the relationship that operationally links all maritime forces with the Aircraft Carrier. In the absence of the latter, naval operations are reduced to a series of denial actions limited in time, space and restricted to littoral waters with little impact on the progress of operations on land. It is for this reason that the Indian aircraft carrier programme today envisages a minimum force level of three Fleet Carriers at all times in order to meet the diverse tasks that the Navy may be charged with across geographically separated areas of interest under circumstances of change and uncertainty.

The Uncertainty Paradigm

As struggles of the post-cold war era are played out the first casualty is the still born hope of an enlightened global order. Endemic instability worldwide is manifest in the number of armed conflicts (over 50) that erupted in this period. The nature of these wars, more than anything else, reflect what may be termed the ‘Uncertainty Paradigm’ for they ranged from wars of liberation and freedom to insurgencies, civil wars, ethno-racial-religious wars, proxy wars, interventions, armed settlement of historical scores and conflicts motivated by the urge to corner economic resources. In all cases it was either the perpetuation of a regime, political ambitions, radical religious ideologies, racial animosities or the fear of economic deprivation that was at work.

The unease of nations in this milieu is compounded by the perpetuation of each State, its sovereignty, growth, demand for distinctive aspirations and its right to use force; all of which are features that every individual nation lists as primary national interests. It is also here that the roots of uncertainty often lie. Against this backdrop, when politics of ‘territorial grab’ and competitive resource access are linked to survival and growth of State; we have before us the recipe for diverse forms of inter-state, intra-state and bloc conflicts.

Challenge of China

Of all the uncertainties that influence strategic stability, it is China; a self-declared revisionist autocratic power, that will impact and challenge globally. Particularly so, in the maritime domain. And therefore it is appropriate that the planner examine and understand in some detail the challenge of China.

Of import is China’s dazzling economic growth and strategic military prowess. This has transformed their perspective of the world and their role in it. Beijing places primacy on its beliefs and interests, its comprehensive power gives it the required heft to shape global affairs in a manner that promotes own well-being. The search for geopolitical space that the emergence of a new revisionist power precipitates, historically, has been the cause for global instability and tensions. Add to this is the ideology of nationalism that is inextricably linked to their military and we are faced with a situation when China’s power and its revisionist urge has the potential to provoke conflicts. Progressively, China appears to be challenging not just today’s economic orthodoxy and order, but the world’s political and security framework as well without bringing about a change within her own political morphology.

China’s claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea; her territorial aggressiveness; her handling of dissent within Tibet and Sinkiang; her proliferatory carousing with rogue states such as North Korea and Pakistan are cases that do not inspire confidence in change occurring within that nation without turbulence. It is also noted, with some foreboding, the breaking out of China from its largely defensive maritime perimeter into the Indo-Pacific.


The ultimate reality of the international system is the place that power enjoys in the scheme of assuring stability in relations between nations. Uncertainty in relations queers the pitch, in view of the expanded space for possibilities. China has unambiguously articulated three canons that make for its strategic objectives; revision of the existing order, sustained growth at any cost and regional pre-eminence. In the absence of a security oriented cooperative impulse, the problem with such sweeping strategies is its blindness to recognize that, we are in fact dealing with a sea space that is the busiest of all the “vast commons”. The reluctance for collaboration makes the potential for friction high and the only consideration that could deter it, is the ability to attain a strategic posture that serves to stabilize. The ready availability of the Fleet Aircraft Carrier and its complimentary group is central to any power equation and in consequence provides the foundation for stability.

The Maritime Domain – An Abiding Stage for Cooperation and Conflict


Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

(To be published in Salute magazine)

.“What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which it caused in Sparta”.

                                                (Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War)                                               

The first truth is: the outcome of modern wars have hinged on economic fallouts. The second is: conditions have been greatly influenced by rudimentary universal education. Leadership have split the vast majority of populations into two categories: those that believe in unrestricted economic activity and an opposing camp enticed by authoritarian rulers to view the former in venal light creating a centrally controlled camp.

So, we note, the extinction of the “Cold War” was a temporary hiatus that after three decades has morphed the communist bloc to an autocratic and nationalistic faction comprising China and Russia that seek revision of world order and its hitherto inequities, at least that is what the bloc will have the rest of the world believe. This refrain that Beijing and Moscow profess brings it in direct conflict with the believers of unrestricted economic activity. At the same time the vision of unrestricted global economic activity has proven so fragile and subject to the many nuances of geopolitics that resource deficient nations are left out.

Geopolitics a New Slant

 The term ‘geopolitics’ has often been employed in reference to a nation’s interest and stratagems adopted to secure them. This meaning is subjective; it does not account for the full significance of the term, and even bears a negative connotation. During the Second World War, Japan’s expansionist policies were justified using the ‘geopolitical’ argument. In the 21st century, geopolitics aims at explaining how geography can impact politics and how states try to mitigate these effects. Geography, in other words, contributes to defining the boundaries of what is possible to achieve in international relations along with economic and security advantages that may be leveraged. China In its South China Sea policy has shown just how ‘creatively’ this can be achieved.  

The Maritime Domain

 Thucydides, in the 4th century Bce, chronicled the events of the Peloponnesian War (431-404Bce). The War was fought between two leading Greek city states; Athens and Sparta and their allies. The conflict bears so many similarities to wars waged through the ages, that, to this day it offers lessons. The Athenian alliance included most of the littorals of the Aegean Sea, while Sparta was at the head of an alliance of continental powers. Athens had the stronger navy and Sparta, the stronger army. It was Athenian aggressive moves to establish empire and control the Mediterranean Sea that caused fear in Sparta and provoked war. The years of fighting were largely battles of attrition that depleted manpower and financial resources of both sides. Eventually, the Spartans destroyed the Athenian fleet, leading to capitulation of an exhausted Athens. Two significant lessons emerge:

  • Wars of attrition between balanced alliances do not yield spectacular victories, rather, exhaustion and a blurring of lines between victors and vanquished.
  • Wars of choice stimulated by overconfidence dangerously leave much to chance.

Towards the end of the 19th century it was thinkers like Mahan and Julian Corbett who set ablaze the maritime spirit of the new century. In The Influence of Sea Power upon History, Mahan analysed the use of British naval forces in conflicts to demonstrate that nations that had exercised control of important parts of the maritime domain, had dominated history. More specifically, it was the effect of sea power upon the course of history and the prosperity of nations that had allowed Britain to achieve global pre-eminence. Mahan’s significance was twofold: The first in the realm of grand strategy he asserted integration of maritime and naval activities with politics and economics. The second was command and decision making in war from a position of naval superiority. Since the sea was both a logistical highway and an avenue of approach, Mahan emphasized that command of the Sea gave enormous power and could only be attained by a dominant fleet with established bases and colonies. Sea power was about commercial use of the domain in peace and its control in war; about profits and power projection. Mahan’s theory remained persuasive till the first half of the twentieth century.

Corbett, on the other hand, believed naval influence on the maritime domain to be a part of national policy which had sway over the non-military elements of state power. He saw the fleet not merely an instrument of destruction but as an accompaniment to assuring the “act of passage on the sea.” It was from this critical tenet that concepts of Sea Denial, Sea Control and Power Projection evolved. Perhaps his abiding legacy to contemporary maritime thought was the idea that “freedom of the seas was an irreducible factor” for the sea was not territory for conquest; nor the oceans defensible. What it constituted was a substantial determinant in the growth of a nation and prosecution of war (Corbett Julian, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, Longmans, 1911).

The Economic Motif: Strategic Competitiveness   

National wealth and economic prosperity are to some extent inherited but, in the main, created by the innovativeness of people. In this milieu the role played by the individual nation in international relations has become more rather than less critical. Therefore, strategic competitiveness has become one of the central preoccupations of government. Yet for all the writing on the topic, there is still no theory nor is there an accepted definition of the term in global affairs.

 The phrase “Strategic Competitiveness” first made its appearance in the 2018 National Defence Strategy of the USA . The document identified the revisionist states of China and Russia as strategic competitors. China for using “predatory economics” to intimidate lesser endowed nations while militarizing and persisting with its illegal claims in the South China Sea. It saw Russia as an autocratic nationalistic state that eschewed the economic, diplomatic, and security aspirations of its erstwhile bloc

It is amply clear that strategic competitiveness develops when the existing status-quo is challenged, or indeed when a state or an alliance contests the emerging challenge. The tools of the contest are the combined “comprehensive national power” of the two parties embracing political, economic, diplomatic, military and technological prowess.

 Multi-Polarity and the Prospects of Stability

The multipolar distribution of power which marks contemporary geopolitics has spawned security imbalances on account of economic inequities, interdependences, geography, demographics, the military and nature of government. It has incited jostling for control and power-ascendancy. The twentieth century mass violence of the two World Wars was caused by these very imbalances. It gave way, in 1945, to relative ‘stability’ distinguished by bi-polar tensions and the Cold War.

Demise of the Cold War in 1991 ushered in two decades of an unrestrained militaristic unipolar world order before a return to a complex agglomeration of powers of the day. The challenge to global order today is exemplified in the Putin Doctrine. Driven by a vision of renewal; Moscow considers the use of force as appropriate when its security is threatened. Its primary purpose is the rejection of a western conceived global order and global acceptance of Russian exceptionalism.

Looming Contestant: China

An historical analogy may be in order to fully understand the looming conflict between Chinese authoritarianism and the uneasy democracies of the world, particularly so in India. In the run up to the First World War, Germany pursued a combination of militarism, overbearing diplomacy, nationalism and brinkmanship to achieve policy goals, despite the risk of war. Demanding a review of international order that would confer on it a dominant political position, in keeping with its self-perceived economic and military prevalence, Germany saw little issue in conflict being a natural corollary to its creating crises and then manoeuvring through them. In the event, it was the response to ambitious revisionism and disregard of norms that led to war. An observer of contemporary geopolitics will not fail to note the similarity in circumstance, of China’s economic growth and vulnerabilities in the maritime domain, “military muscularity” pivotal to its geopolitical vision, ambitions, nationalism and its realpolitik instincts. However, the Belt and Road Initiative, which was the economic centre-piece intended to deliver billions of dollars in infrastructure financing to some countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, has now turned into a massive debt trap. The critical assumption of China’s leadership is that their new era of rejuvenation will progress per script unopposed. This assumption is flawed for as Michael Howard pointed (Lessons of History pg39) “force is the midwife of historical processes.” A clash is brewing, unintended as it may be. 

 Contestant Groupings

On cue, in response to China’s aggressive manoeuvres; the formation of a trilateral alliance between Australia, UK and the US (AUKUS) and the continuing Strategic Security Dialogue between Japan, Australia, India and the US (Quad) have made it amply clear that “countering China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific” is number one priority, and the two will do whatever it takes to succeed.  Ironically, Beijing’s recent White Paper titled “National Defence in a New Era” outlined its territorial ambitions in the South and East China Seas, Yellow Sea, Taiwan and Ladakh and warned regional powers of its willingness to use force and use it first if its ambitions are threatened.

The more palpable part of the ‘AUKUS’ is the transfer of 8 Nuclear-powered submarines (SSN). The SSNs will not be available to Australia for the next decade and a half, however they provides the basis for denial operations in these waters and gives access to a host of futuristic capabilities. AUKUS’s mission is complemented by the Quad presenting a new security architecture that combines both military and economic prowess amongst nations that share a vision of a free and rule-based Indo-Pacific. The resolve to strategic confrontation against revisionism is thus emphasised. Such a visible demonstration of collective power is, perhaps, the only way to dampen Beijing’s aggressive expansionism.

That these initiatives have made China “edgy” is clear from their declarations that “China will certainly punish Australia with no mercy”. Fearing forced unification, Taiwan is tightening its ties to the U.S.; Japan, is engaged in its largest military build-up since the Cold War; India is readying strike forces along China’s borders, developing strategies to occlude vital sea lanes in the Indian Ocean and has engaged partnerships that threaten China’s vulnerabilities; Australia is opening up its northern coast to U.S. forces. France, Germany, and the UK are sending warships into the Indo-Pacific to assert their rights. Clearly,  Nations have become less enthused by China’s market and more worried about its disturbing intent.  


We had earlier touched on a pre-First World War analogy. However, one may surmise that given the nuclear overhang, the rise of China with its burden of a ‘century-of-humiliation’ will demand a firm strategy tempered by pragmatism rather than principles of the past. But the other reality is the fear of war, to authoritarian regimes that co-exists with belligerence and exalted nationalistic feelings that, while advancing concern of survival of dispensation, also boost profitable involvement in the incessant preparedness for war. Herein lies the striking resemblance with pre-First World War Germany. And herein also lies the chink that provides the opportunity to collar China through unified action where it is most vulnerable – in the maritime domain. This would not only threaten its dream of rejuvenation but also of regime survival.