Shangri-La Dialogue 2019: The Shadow of China

By

Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar 

Published in the author’s column, “The Strategist” on the IPCS Web journal, and may be accessed at: http://ipcs.org/comselect.php?articleNo=5609

The Shangri-La Dialogue is an Asian security summit held annually at Singapore; this year the eighteenth summit was held between 31 May and 02 June. And in a grand affirmation of design, its director general declared, “it is a unique meeting where ministers debate the region’s many pressing security challenges, engage in bilaterals and come up with fresh solutions together.” Yet the central and perhaps the only theme that loomed over the 2019 edition was the strategic road taken by China over the years: from ideology, mass and foment to growth, revision and regional domination. China’s participation was remarkable not just for the level of its delegate–the defence minister General Wei Shenghe, but also for the resolve to hold sway in the region that he so candidly declared. Unfortunately, it was not debate that defined deliberations but the impending pay-back for a “hundred years (since the opium wars) of humiliation” and the probability of a breakdown of the status-quo without an alternative.

That China’s stunning growth had shifted the strategic centre of gravity of the world, is a reality; however, what startled was China’s unabashed announcement that the world will now have to “adapt to its success” and it can no longer be subjected to the “iniquities” of the past. A clear statement of disaffection with the current order and a burial of Deng’s strategy to “hide-power-and-bide-time”

What is emerging is an international order on China’s terms that would amount to little else but a “monocracy” since China has taken no step to convince through actions that its objectives are directed towards a more even-handed order and its methods are neither authoritarian nor mercantilist. Their dealings in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Guinea, or for that matter engagement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) since 2001 are stark reminders of just the opposite.

It may be recalled that in 2001, China’s trade accounted for 4% of world trade. Those were times when much of the developed world was and today continues to reel under the impact of high cost labour, an aging and low-productive demography. Today, China’s share of world trade has almost tripled to 11.8%. Concessions negotiated when it joined the WTO are no longer politically tenable; neither for those that bestowed this largesse nor for others in competition. A regime more consistent with present-day China’s state of development would appear the order of the day. Indeed, it may be argued that the fall-out of the petrodollar system that boosted the US Dollar as the globally accepted reserve currency creates an immediate and persistent artificial demand for it. This, quite unfairly, benefits only the US and the oil cartel. Making it a distressing paradox that calls for reforms to the WTO.

In the context of military power, China’s defence expenditure is the second-largest in the world; its policies carry weight, often provoke, arouse suspicion and invariably acted upon from a security perspective. China’s “right to build infrastructure and deploy defensive capabilities on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea,” is emphasised in the latest iteration of its Defence White Paper (22 Jul 2019). So, its strategies of Anti-Access-Area-Denial, developing the “Assassin’s Mace,” creation of confounding Air Defence Identification Zones and activities in the South China Sea to create a “maritime great wall” are symptomatic not just of safe guarding its interests, but to dominate the region with no legitimacy. Friction is mounting in these waters and China is not inclined to resolve these disputes with other stake holders. Neither  international law nor the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) seem to evoke any reverence whether it be their  “9-Dash line,” military bases on the Mischief Reef (EEZ of Philippines’), artificial islands along the way or the dispute over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Nevertheless, China insists that the situation in the South China Sea is stable citing, intriguingly, the “100,000 ships” that sail through  every year as evidence that there is no threat to trade plying there while denouncing “countries outside the region that have come to the South China Sea to flex muscles in the name of freedom of navigation.” Such power-declarations hardly lend itself to the idea of a China that can be relied and respected to support a durable regional environment. China, however, remains ostensibly oblivious to the fact that the strategic pivot of the world has long shifted to the Indo-Pacific, making stake holders in these waters from far beyond the region.

Meanwhile, global stresses have built up over multiple issues relating to cyber espionage, human rights and to the seduction of 5G technologies (in dealing with the last, future generations will no doubt wonder with what ease nations gave in to technologies that hold the potential of creating Orwellian control). China, which has aggressively been spearheading 5G would appear to have regressed in terms of political openness, military bullying, creation of a Sino-centric economic bloc and a disdainful approach to international law. This strategic orientation will probably augur well for China’s aspirations but hardly so for global prospects.

China’s proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is ambitious and comes with its share of controversies. It has also rapidly increased China’s overall risk profile. Added to China’s internal debt, excess capacity, increasing labour costs and high ratio of investment to growth; the prospects of increased recurrence of a “Hambantota” are portentous. The Centre for Global Development (CGD) has, in no uncertain terms, concluded that Beijing, encourages dependency using opaque contracts, rapacious loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt to undercut their sovereignty; their infrastructural dealings with Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan are stark reminders of how predatory economic policies work (CGD Policy Paper 121 of March 2018). In the meantime the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir had in 2018 announced the shelving of two major projects, part of China’s signature BRI to avert falling into an obsequious debt trap. And as we speak the Business and Financial Week, a Pakistani periodical (Dawn) reported on 15 July that China has reminded the government, of the grave consequences of reneging on the earlier signed China Pakistan Economic Corridor contractual obligations; now what could that mean?

 

South Asia: Post Crisis Brief (Balakot)

Published by:

The Nuclear Crisis Group

Read the entire brief here: https://www.globalzero.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/South-Asia-Post-Crisis-Brief.pdf

Contributors to the dossier: Vice Admiral (ret.) Vijay Shankar, General (ret.) Jehangir Karamat, Dr. Manpreet Sethi, Sadia Tasleem,  Dr. Toby Dalton, and Dr. Vipin Narang.

Balakot: the Strike Across the Line

by

Vice Admiral (Ret.) Vijay Shankar

A former Chief Minister of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir in the immediate wake of the February 26, 2019 Balakot strike by the Indian Airforce remarked: “Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) hit Indian forces and claimed the attack. In turn, Indian forces hit JeM and owned that air strike.” The problem with this credulous statement, on the one hand, is that it persists in viewing a string of terrorist acts as one-offs; and on the other hand, it fails to discern the victim from the villain.

In distinguishing between victim of an act of terror and the terrorist, United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 51/210 of 1996 makes clear what defines the act: “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them.” Furthermore, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of 2006 enjoins member states “to refrain from organizing, instigating, facilitating, participating in, financing, encouraging or tolerating terrorist activities and to take…measures to ensure that…respective territories are not used for terrorist installations or training camps, or for the preparation or organization of terrorist acts intended to be committed against other States or their citizens.” The right to respond, pre-emptive or reactive, to an act of terror is enshrined in the same document.

Additionally, the Pulwama terror attack of February 14 being perceived as a ‘one-off’ is far more hazardous as it distorts any concept of response while at the same time skewing mass perception of the character of that act of terror. The Pulwama vehicular bombing must be seen as one of a series of terror attacks beginning with the assault on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, the atrocity of killing soldier’s families at Kaluchak in 2002, the terror attacks on Mumbai in 2008, the strikes on Pathankot and Uri in 2016 and now Pulwama. Incidentally, all these attacks were (as evidence indicates) planned in coordination with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and executed by the Pakistan-based internationally outlawed terror outfit, the JeM. Restraint-in-response, which characterized the Indian military rejoinder prior to the Uri terror assault, has been replaced by cross-Line of Control (LoC) punitive strikes that were undertaken to move on the offensive, surgically hit designated terror targets, and return to base; all with speed and precision. Retribution for Pulwama was delivered by airpower that blinded and then sliced through Pakistan air defenses to deliver their precision payloads deep in Pakistani territory to the terror infrastructure of the JeM at Balakot where over
300 new jihadi recruits reportedly were undergoing fidayeen training in preparation for attacks in India.  For Pakistan, the awkward reality was that its two major benefactors, China and Saudi Arabia, did not back it. Was this another nail in the coffin for the Pakistani strategy of nurturing Islamist terror groups and militants as instruments to bleed India? Is the myth of waging unconventional warfare against the Indian State with impunity under the umbrella of nuclear weapons now standing on thin ice?

The following day, the Pakistan Air Force mounted a retaliatory air strike, which was thwarted by Indian air defences. It was not clear what the Pakistani targets were since they were unable to either strike any installations or penetrate defenses. In the skirmish, one Indian Mig-21 was shot down and its pilot captured while the Indian Air Force claimed downing a Pakistani F-16. It is hypothetical to speculate what the Indian reaction may have been had the Pakistani force package reached their targets. Within 48 hours, the captured Indian pilot was returned. It is possible this act served to defuse the situation but it is not clear whether the return was achieved through internal decision-making or external pressure.

It may be premature to analyze the lessons to be learned from the Balakot air strikes, particularly at the tactical or the operational level as there would be many. However, a macro evaluation suggests four salient takeaways:

First, there has been a strategic revisit of the Indian policy of restraint-in-response to terror attacks on India or its assets anywhere (remember the attack on the Indian consulate at Mazar-i-Sharif in 2016) by the JeM or any other Pakistan-sponsored jihadi groups. Hitherto, thinking at the highest levels of India’s political leadership was influenced by the probability that any major trans-LoC strike using airpower would be deemed escalatory. Post-Balakot, the Indian military is less likely to be constrained by the Line or the border in conducting retaliatory precision strikes on non-military terror-related targets as long as it is clear that the Pakistan State is doctrinally, logistically, and materially behind these terror strikes.

Second, India is focused on targeting jihadi terror infrastructure. The dismantlement of those targets by Pakistan or by other means provides the first mechanism for negotiations between Delhi and Islamabad.

Third, the impact on other regional states and major international players not only set up a favourable environ for the furtherance of the campaign against terror but likewise energized Pakistan’s immediate neighbours, who are also victims of state-sponsored terror, to take similar offensive action.

Four, the growing precision and briskness of intelligence—whether human, electronic, cyber, space-based, or through interstate cooperation—has enhanced the ability to plan and conduct surgical strikes against terror targets.

Addressing the issue of how best to manage a future occurrence begins with the understanding that India’s pacific tolerance to terror attacks sponsored by Pakistan and emanating from their territory is not unlimited and will be rejoined by reactive or pre-emptive military action which may not be geographically restricted to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. In this perspective, that the Pakistan Army have backed jihadist groups and shielded wanted terrorists like Hafiz Sayyed, Dawood Ibrahim, and Masood Azar are well recognised facts. The real problem is that this duplicity, notoriously dubbed the strategy of a “thousand cuts,” is part of the Pakistani establishment’s policy. To dismantle the terror infrastructure in Pakistan that target India, and to bring to book jihadi terror groups, such as JeM or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), would greatly serve the interest of averting the prospects of recurrence. In the long term, there is no getting away from the pressing need for civil control of the Pakistan deep state (ISI-military combine).

On the issue of the absence of escalation, two considerations may have played a part. First, the nature of the air strikes were designated by the Indian Government as “pre-emptive” air strikes directed against non-military terror infrastructure. The strikes were limited in scope, intensity, and time. Second, the terror averse international environment and the persuasive powers of the United States and Saudi Arabia appear to have been at play. Both states hold Pakistan’s economic jugular at a time when the Pakistani economy is in a quagmire. The reluctance of China either to support Pakistan or to get involved must have been a dampener to any thought by Pakistan to further escalate. From the nuclear stand point, there was neither rhetoric nor any reported attempt to reach for the trigger by either side. This may be an indication of a developing balance and perspicacity as to where nuclear thresholds lie on both sides.

The Balakot air strikes are far too recent for all verified facts to have emerged and, therefore, to stitch together an exhaustive analysis may not be a practical proposition currently. Yet the significance of the incident is very apparent, for it revolves around one notable condition of the international milieu: how long can the global community endure the presence of a state that nurtures and sponsors terrorism so much so that it is today considered the epicentre of global terrorism?

 

 

Xi and China’s Fourth May Revolution: Can State Control and People’s Empowerment be Reconciled?

By

Vice Admiral (Retd) Vijay Shankar

Published in the author’s column, “The Strategist” on the IPCS Web journal, and may be accessed at: http://ipcs.org/comselect.php?articleNo=5590

Since 1919, the Fourth of May movement has been evoked by Chinese scholars and the Party as a beacon for independence and enlightenment. How the array of critical thoughts that the Movement represented would translate into policies that debunk authoritarianism  remains unresolved.

World War I ran its grisly course and all the while theorists argued whether dynamics for cessation could be found in the very causes that triggered it. Were answers in the crisis that erupted on the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand? Was it in the nature of the alliance system existent? Or conditions of aggressive militarism that drove countries to the brink? Or could it have been in the structure of imperial polity?

While none of these considerations contained a tenable rationale for reconciliation, what did bring about cessation was strategic exhaustion coupled with the collapse of motivation on both sides that stalemate and the horrors of trench war-fare generated. The US’ weighing-in on the side of the Allies decided the victor. Devastation caused by the war fashioned a perception that it was a ‘self-inflicted’ mortal wound to the ‘eminence’ of imperial boom. And so the peace settlement of Versailles in 1919, under the lofty canopy of the doomed “League of Nations”, was essentially an instrument to make good territorial, colonial, economic gains and indeed salvage some pride for the victors through the imposition of punitive, geographic, military, and financial terms on the vanquished. What the Treaty fatally failed to perceive was the emergence of a cluster of unsettled precarious nation states in West Asia and East Europe; and a disdain for the dormant appetite for expansion in Russia, the down-but-, not-out Germany and (important to our study) China.

The Treaty amongst its many contentious terms awarded Japan (a member of the entente’) control over German colonies and territories in the Pacific: the Marianas, the Carolinas, Marshall Islands and in addition, to China’s anguish, German concessions in Shandong. This led to a major uprising that over the next decade saw the coming of warlords, fragmenting of the Qing Empire, and colonial avarice; all against the backdrop of a nationalist revolution. China, it will be recalled, had sided with the Allies, and many Chinese expected Shandong back. Instead, the Allies awarded it to Japan. That decision ignited fury among Chinese students, who saw it as a betrayal by Western countries and by Chinese leadership. Anger spread in universities and colleges across Beijing, and on 4 May 1919, students from 13 campuses in the capital came together in protest. The upsurge spread to other cities in China, inspiring strikes and boycotts. The unrest forced the government in Beijing to refuse to ratify the Peace Treaty.

This day entered history as a watershed for Chinese philosophical thought. Chinese intellectuals linked the protests with the ‘New Culture Movement’, the name they gave to a flux of ideas that had spread in universities, newspapers, and literary circles. Ideas included anarchism, socialism, feminism, artistic experimentation, and reforming written Chinese. Summed up as the tempestuous advent of “Mr Science and Mr Democracy”; science “stood for ‘modernity’, the ‘West’ and a general distaste for and an iconoclastic approach to Chinese tradition.”

“Remember the 40th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, the youth has to become vanguards of establishing socialism!, 1959” Source: https://chineseposters.net/themes/may-fourth-movement.php

Shandong has been China’s political, economic, and cultural centre since ancient times. The founder of Confucianism lived here. Chinese culture, beliefs, and folklore were rooted in Confucius’ teachings and philosophy. He broke from convention in which culture and education were controlled by aristocrats. He publicly put forth a slogan “just education, no discrimination.” The students’ protests of 1919 sought to reinstate and expand on these very traditions.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has cast itself as the rightful heir to the legacy of the ‘New Cultural Movement’ as its strongest suite for legitimacy. However, what is of substance is that the challenge of empowering the people is unfulfilled. How the array of critical thoughts that the Movement represented would translate into policies that debunk authoritarianism and its accompanying dogmatisms remains unresolved. In this circumstance, the Fourth of May can neither be buried nor ignored. So notwithstanding how unpalatable the disclosure and debilitating the impact of restructuring, it is an innate process that looms over China’s future.

Having graduated from Deng’s grand strategy of “Hide the light, bide the time,” Xi’s vision of ushering a ‘new era’ is founded on two critical milestones spread over three decades starting with 2020, by which time China should become an all-round prosperous society, and then by 2035, complete a basic socialist modernisation project. The next 15 years was to be devoted to attaining the status as a “leading world power,” and a wealthy socialist state; restoring to China its “lost glory.”  Whether Xi has accounted for the needs of democracy on the path to socialist modernisation in the first 15 years or whether it is even tenable is the moot point; after all his whole scheme appears to be a hail back to Soekarno’s failed “Guided Democracy,” conceptually, a democratic government that functions as an autocracy. While legitimised by controlled elections, the people are not empowered to bring about changes in national policies, motives, and goals. Undeterred by this foundational contradiction, Xi commemorated the Fourth of May by exhorting Chinese youth to “obey and follow the party.” A strange way for renewal of “Mr Democracy” oblivious to the fact that successive generations of students and dissenters also claim inspiration from the Fourth of May!

The most important change that a century has wrought is the shift in global power structures. The collapse of the British empire in the wake of World War II ushered in ‘Pax’ Americana (ironically a period marred by over 50 years of warfare!) The prediction of the Asian Century is now coming true, with the emergence of China, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore as global economic pivots. China’s economic growth has been incredible; a phenomenon that is only 40 years old. Yet, the century-old conundrum that Xi faces remains unchanged: having taken ownership of the Fourth of May, how indeed was science-technology-wealth to be divorced from the increasing urge for ‘Mr’ Democracy? Will the despot’s ‘socialist modernisation project’ ever reconcile this imbalance between the CCP’s iron hold and empowerment of the people with a little more finesse than it did with the uprising of Tiananmen Square of three decades ago?