Thursday, May 25, 2023

What lies behind China’s new role as ‘peacemaker’

My article What lies behind China’s new role as ‘peacemaker’ appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle.

Beijing’s Global Security Initiative (GSI) is another move from Beijing which indicates that China wants to play a bigger international role

Here is the link...

China has become a peacemaker, or at least would like to project itself as the world’s new ‘peacemaker’; we have seen it in the Middle East (between Saudi Arabia and Iran), we witness it now in Moscow.
A year after the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian troops started, Beijing released a twelve-point document proposing a framework for a political settlement. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace commented: "The document is a laundry list of familiar Chinese talking points about the war. It repeats Beijing’s support for the UN Charter and the territorial integrity of states, but at the same time condemns unilateral sanctions, and criticizes the expansion of U.S.-led military alliances. …China’s vague plan is aimed not at actually ending the war, but at impressing the developing world and rebutting accusations that Beijing has become a silent accomplice to Moscow.”
Beijing’s Global Security Initiative (GSI) is another move from Beijing which indicates that China wants to play an international role.
On February 21, at the Lanting Forum, Qin Gang, China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke of his country’s new role: “The world today is not a tranquil place: changes unseen in a century are fast evolving, major-country competition is intensifying, geopolitical conflicts are escalating, the global security governance system is woefully lagging behind. …The choice made by China is clear-cut.”
That is why, Qin explained, Xi Jinping proposed the Global Security Initiative (GSI) which upholds “the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, pursues the long-term objective of building a secure community, and advocates a new path to security featuring dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance and win-win over zero-sum.”

A growing Dichotomy

But a dichotomy is growing between Beijing’s totalitarian policies at home and the peacemaker role outside; it is striking and the question is: are the two stands reconcilable?
The hardening at home can be explained by the fact that China wants to assume the role of Power No 1 in the world and it believes that only the strictest adherence to the Communist Party lines can achieve this goal.
It is indeed a fact that the Chinese regime is becoming more and more authoritarian and autocratic.
One could take several examples, Reuters cites one: “China is increasingly barring people from leaving the country, including foreign executives, a jarring message as the authorities say the country is open for business.”
The US news agency quotes from a report for the Safeguard Defenders, a human rights group: "Since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, China has expanded the legal landscape for exit bans and increasingly used them, sometimes outside legal justification.”
It is estimated that tens of thousands of Chinese are banned from exit at any one time.
Reuters concludes: “This contrasts with China's message that it is opening up to overseas investment and travel, emerging from the isolation of some of the world's tightest COVID curbs.”
But why do more and more people want to leave the Middle Kingdom? Simply because they can’t express themselves freely.
The fact that people like Jack Ma, the founder of the Alibaba group has to exile himself in Japan and take an assignment at the University of Tokyo, is indeed speaking for itself. The School in Tokyo said: “Ma will work with researchers, serve as an adviser to the college and participate in seminars. He will also conduct research with university staff, especially in the field of sustainable agriculture and food production.” What a loss for a China, which today does not accept differing views.
In this context a new report from the Hoover Institution written by Matthew Johnson, expert on the Chinese Communist Party’s politics, about China’s strategy to achieve a global edge through the accumulation and control of data, is an eye-opener.
According to Johnson, China’s strategy is “to accumulate and control data at a global scale.” The scholar believes that the origin of this strategy is a 2013 speech given by Xi at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The then new Chinese President said: “The vast ocean of data, just like oil resources during industrialization, contains immense productive power and opportunities. Who controls big data technologies will control the resources for development and have the upper hand.”
The way to do this is for Chinese commercial enterprises to “siphon data at a global scale,” explains Johnson who spoke of an “accumulation espionage ecosystem,” i.e. a network of internal data storage and processing facilities; data is later “absorbed into military, technology, and surveillance projects in China and is potentially shared with like-minded international partners such as the Russian Federation or the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The point is that the same ‘vast ocean of data’ is used on the Chinese populations (particularly the so-called minorities like the Tibetans and the Uyghurs) to monitor their lives in minutest details.
Johnson concluded. “In this sense, China’s grand strategy for data is a case study which highlights the current gap that exists between the complexity of the challenge and the [US] current response.”
However, it is not clear what the free world can do for the Chinese people living in the Middle Kingdom.
At the meantime, ‘peaceful’ China is preparing to invade Taiwan, the democratically-run island. Like the GSI, it may however lead nowhere; the US strategic platform War on the Rock warns: “A worst-case Taiwan scenario for Chinese leader Xi Jinping would be a major military operation in which the People’s Liberation Army fails spectacularly or displays shocking incompetence akin to Russia’s in Ukraine. Could this happen?”
The specialized website believes that the bad news is that “even if China’s armed forces fail spectacularly, this does not necessarily mean a shorter, less bloody, or less costly conflict. If the People’s Liberation Army stumbles badly, Xi is unlikely to call off his military. Where Taiwan is concerned Xi can be expected to press his armed forces to persist in the fight, producing a protracted conflict in the center of the Indo-Pacific and profoundly disrupting commerce and stability across the region.”
So much for the ‘peace initiatives’!
The other question is of course: do the Taiwanese people, who have tasted freedom and democracy, have to go back to Mao’s dreadful days when everyone has to follow the Party …or else.
Certainly not. Hong Kongers themselves have started discovering the difference between freedom and the dictatorship of the Party.

Friday, May 19, 2023

The US primarily looks after its own interests: Can Washington be a good ally?

Taken for a ride...
My article The US primarily looks after its own interests: Can Washington be a good ally? appeared in Firstpost

There is no reason why India should blindly follow America in a military adventure in Taiwan or elsewhere

Here is the link...

A question has been going around in the strategic circles in the recent weeks: should India enter into a military alliance with the US and will the US be a good ally?
Quoting several experts, The noted: “India may eventually help the United States militarily in a security contingency involving China, in some form, to protect its own interests.”
The Indian digital news publication also cites other views, for example an article of Ashley Tellis in The Foreign Affairs magazine in which the US strategist argues that the US policy “of courting India as a partner is a ‘bad bet’ because New Delhi will not follow Washington’s lead in confronting China during a regional crisis.”
There is indeed some truth in the argument as there no reason why India should blindly follow Washington in a military adventure in Taiwan or elsewhere.
The mentions “a long discussion in foreign policy circles: what exactly should a US-India relationship look like in the age of Great Power rivalry between Washington and Beijing?”
It notes that the US “has increasingly supported India when it comes to defence, hoping that Delhi will reciprocate with military help in case of a confrontation with China.”
While Tellis rightly considers that Delhi would maintain its strategic autonomy in case Washington engages in the Taiwan Strait, other experts believe that even if Delhi does sign a mutual defence arrangement with Washington, India is “still a good bet for Washington.” They argue that Delhi may eventually come around to helping the United States militarily. Just wishful thinking!
The ‘experts’ quote in particular from a US News & World Report which says that “real-time intelligence shared by the United States military helped India stall a Chinese incursion in Arunachal Pradesh in December 2022.”
This refers to the confrontation in Yangtse, east of Bumla in the Tawang sector.
Not only it is difficult to confirm what exact help the Indian Army received from the US at the time of (or before) the confrontation, but there is no doubt that the credit should go to the Indian Army who was fully prepared and hence was able to push the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) back behind their lines in the Yangtze sub-sector; it is indeed only due to the alertness of the local commanders and the bravery of the Jat and Sikh Light Infantry troops posted in the area.
Of course, the US experts usually only take American interests into consideration. This is not new, as we shall see.

The Case of 1962 War
When China invaded Northern India in 1962, India had apparently no other recourse but to appeal to Western nations, particularly to the United States, for support. Washington was only too happy to offer help, thus gaining some leverage over a formerly 'non-aligned' India.
It is true that during the Cold War, India, in its 'neutrality', often sided with Moscow while Pakistan was deliberately on the West’s side. The US even had a mutual defence pact with Pakistan, itself part of SEATO and the Baghdad Pact, whose objectives were to stem the advance of communism in Asia.
When Chinese troops invaded northern India, it was logical for the US to immediately come to India's assistance, especially after the two panicky letters sent on November 19, 1962 by the Indian Prime Minister to President Kennedy begging for American assistance.
A few days later (coinciding with the ceasefire announced by China on the two Himalayan fronts), Britain and the United States decided to use the opportunity: with India in a position of weakness the Kashmiri dispute between Pakistan, (the West’s ally) and India (who was now begging for their support), could finally be settled.
Averell Harriman, the US Under Secretary of State, and Duncan Sandys, the British Commonwealth Secretary, visited the Pakistani and India capitals in order to persuade the ‘fraternal enemies’ that it was time to bury the hatchet and find a solution to the then fifteen-year-old Kashmir question. Harriman and Sandys even signed a joint communiqué and asked the two countries to resume negotiations. This was the answer to Nehru’s appeal for support against China.
Although India had doubts about the possibility of obtaining positive results from negotiations conducted under such circumstances, it had no choice but to accept the Western offer.
On December 22, 1962, Nehru wrote to the Chief Ministers: "I must speak to you briefly about the Indo-Pakistani question, especially Kashmir. In four days' time, Sardar Swaran Singh, will lead a delegation to Pakistan. We realise that this is not the right time to have a conference like this, as the Pakistani press has vitiated the atmosphere with insults and attacks on India. Nevertheless, we have agreed to go and we will do our best to reach a reasonable solution. It is clear, however, that we do not want an agreement that will be against our basic principles.”
The two delegations eventually had a series of six meetings, from which nothing was achieved. The first round took place in Rawalpindi: Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, limited themselves to a historical presentation of the problem and the reiteration of their respective points of view.
During the discussions India reaffirmed its position that Kashmir was an integral part of India. This was in accordance with international law and democratic norms, but this being said, India was ready to explore all possibilities to resolve the issue, as it wanted to live in peace with Pakistan.
Where was the support against China in all this?
But worse was to come, just before the talks began, the Pakistani government announced that it had reached an in-principle agreement with China on the Kashmir-Xinjiang issue. Pakistan was ready to give China a piece of territory (Shaksgam Valley, east of the Karakoram Pass) that India considered its own. What a slap in the face for India just one month after the end of the Sino-Indian war!
Many believe that the agreement on the China-Kashmir border was announced by Pakistan as a way of derailing the talks. It is indeed surprising that Pakistan, an ally of the US and the Western world, chose this moment to make the announcement. It was an indication that Pakistan had no expectations from the talks with Delhi, even though they were initiated by the US.
Nehru was still optimistic, or perhaps, like the ostrich, preferred not to see anything. In a letter to the Chief Ministers, he remarked: “The talks have not yielded any result as far as our problems are concerned, except that they have reduced, to a small extent, the barriers of fear and mistrust which make it difficult to approach these problems.”
Negotiations continued, without tangible results, between 16 and 19 January in Delhi and 8 and 11 February in Karachi. Pakistan wanted a plebiscite, but India insisted on prior demilitarisation of the areas occupied by Pakistan.
Talks were held in Calcutta between 12 and 14 March. India proposed some readjustments to the Line of Control, but this was rejected by Pakistan.
During the fifth round of talks held in Karachi between 22 and 25 April, India protested that Pakistan had ceded part of Kashmiri territory to China.
Since Pakistan had chosen to invite a new player into the game, none other than India's enemy No. 1 (China), there was no chance of finding a negotiated solution to the Kashmir issue.
At the end, India did not get much military support from the US to face China and additionally lost part of its territory in Shaksgam Valley to China.

The Withdrawal from Kabul (2021)
Another example shows that the US primarily looks after its own interests: it is the American evacuation from Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.
Not being informed of the US plans, the allies of the US were left to manage by themselves in Kabul, though an official US report says: “Once the evacuation had been initiated, President Biden repeatedly gave clear direction to prioritize force protection, relying on the advice of his senior military officials on how best to proceed on operational decisions. As Secretary Blinken testified on September 14, 2021, “Because of that [earlier] planning [for a wide range of contingencies], we were able to draw down our Embassy and move our remaining personnel to the airport within 48 hours.”
But the allies were left behind.
Perhaps less ambitious but more interesting for India and the US are the joint exercises between the two Armies, i.e. the 18th edition of Indo - US joint training exercise ‘YUDH ABHYAS 22’ conducted in Uttarakhand in November 2022 with the aim of exchanging best practices, Tactics, Techniques and Procedures between the Armies of the two nations.
It is a very concrete way for both armies to know each other better and share the best respective practices.
And of course, exercises such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the US should continue as it does not engage India into unwanted alliance or treaties’ obligations, while at the same time puts pressure on China.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Chinese social media abuzz with 'tank dens' in Tibet chatter: Why India needs to heed seriously

My article Chinese social media abuzz with 'tank dens' in Tibet chatter: Why India needs to heed seriously appeared in Firstpost.

Here is the link...

Whether all details are confirmed in their entirety or not about the presence of 'tank dens' is an altogether different matter, but it should be a serious warning for India 

In the recent times, the Chinese social media has been agog with ‘tank dens’ being built by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Tibet; one article speaks of “fully underground design, to prevent Indian troops from starting artillery sneak attack.”
In December 2022, the site mentioned: “India always wants to act tougher with China in order to please the United States; it is the root cause of disputes on the Sino-Indian border and in the border areas.”
This is forgetting that the ‘dispute’ started at the end of the 1950s, at a time India was close to the Soviet Union.
The article affirmed: “The PLA is far better prepared for war than the Indians could imagine, and recently, India has even discovered an unexpected situation. This will not only effectively protect against Indian bombardment, but also provide a fairly good environment for the equipment.”
Of course, this can be seen as part of the Information Warfare (IW) waged against India, but it can’t be fully ignored.
The article mentioned some Chinese PLA 96A tanks hidden in 'tank dens' near the Indian border (probably in the Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan).

Old Habits Die Hard

There is nothing new in the Chinese mania to ‘dig’, except that the PLA’s technology is today far ahead of what it was decades ago.
Nearly 30 years ago, I had the opportunity to interview several senior Tibetan officials who accompanied the Dalai Lama in exile in 1959.
One of them was Rinchen Sadutshang, who as a young translator accompanied the Tibetan delegation who signed a 17-Point Agreement with China in Beijing in 1951; later he served as the Dalai Lama’s representative in Delhi.
When asked whether the Chinese had massive deployment of troops in Southern Tibet at the end of 1950s (for example in places like Tsona, north of Tawang), Sadutshang replied: “Oh yes, all over the place. Wherever the PLA went, they were very secretive. …They were always stationed in mountains and they dug tunnels and tunnels and tunnels.”
This surprised me greatly.
Later, I asked him again about the tunnels; for example, was the local population involved? Sadutshang recounted: “They did not allow the local population [to come nearby]. All aspects of military operations were top secret. Very few civilians were involved, maybe one or two who were indispensable. It was people that either were completely trusted or some after being used, were eliminated. It was so secret, and all the [PLA] movements were happening at night, never during the day. [Tibetan] people could only report: ‘we heard a lot of vehicles moving, a lot trucks moving, it must be the army’; they had not seen them.”
The Tibetan official continued: “…Even in Yatung, they used to be a lot of Chinese military forces there, all inside tunnels, they dug the mountains, huge tunnels, [they were] like mice living under the ground. Exactly the same as mice, you do not see them from outside and they are so well guarded, they do not allow anybody to go 10 km from the entrance as all roads were blocked.”
I had forgotten about this interview until I recently came across the ‘tank dens’.

The Underground City
Some other historical cases are well-known; during the Cold War, a bomb shelter consisting of a network of tunnels existed beneath Beijing, the Chinese capital. Some observers spoke of the ‘Underground Great Wall’, it was built for military purposes.
The complex was constructed from 1969 to 1979 in anticipation of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union as the Sino-Soviet relations had worsened.
It is Mao Zedong who ordered the construction of the Underground City.
The complex was designed to withstand nuclear, biochemical and conventional attacks. The averred purpose was to protect Beijing's population, and allow government officials to leave in the event of an attack on the capital.
Lying some 18 metres underground, the ‘dark, damp, and genuinely eerie’ tunnels covered an area of 85 square kilometers: “At one time there were about 90 entrances to the complex, all of which were hidden in shops along the main streets of Qianmen,” says the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
The complex had facilities such as restaurants, clinics, schools, theaters, factories, a roller skating rink, grain and oil warehouses, and a mushroom cultivation farm. It was built by more than 300,000 local workers, including ‘volunteer’ school students.
There were also almost 70 potential sites where water wells could easily be dug if required. To this add elaborate ventilation systems with 2,300 shafts that could be sealed off to protect the tunnels' inhabitants from poison gases. All contingencies had been taken into consideration.
Many believe that the tunnels linked important governmental buildings such as Zhongnanhai, the Great Hall of the People, and even PLA bases in the outskirts of the city; the rumour was that every senior official’s residence had a secret trapdoor leading to the tunnels.

Project 131
Another grandiose scheme was Project 131, located in the town of Gaoqiao of the Xian'an District of the Xianning prefecture-level city in Hubei Province. It was located some 80 km south of Wuhan.
The origin of the Project is also the split with the Soviet Union. On January 31, 1969, the decision was taken to build an underground command headquarters for the PLA (the name derives the date of the decision or 1-31). The Chief of Staff of the PLA’s General Staff Department, Gen Huang Yongsheng was responsible for the construction.
In 1955, Huang had risen through the 1950s and 1960s, and during the Cultural Revolution he became close to Lin Biao, the Defence Minister.
The tunnels, which had meeting rooms, offices for the top commanders, were constructed under the nearby hills; luxurious villas for Mao Zedong and his heir apparent Lin Biao were also built but over the ground.
After the latter’s dramatic escape and his subsequent death, Huang was purged due to his close association with the defence minister; the project was stopped and Mao and his cronies never used the facilities.

The ‘Tank Dens’

Now, it appears that the PLA has built semi-underground as well as fully underground fortifications and military bases along the Tibet-India border.
The article quoted above said: “In recent reports, the PLA's plateau underground fortifications have been revealed and although not many specific [details about the] plateau underground fortifications have become public, there are enough to show the existence of a number of them, including a rare Chinese ‘tank fortress’; it can also be called a staging area for tanks and troops. A hundred tanks as well as other armoured vehicles and a large number of PLA troops are already stationed directly in this semi-underground fortification.”
The site added: “the PLA plateau bases are now fully underground facilities, and though the amount of work is very important, it has the advantage of good protection for the equipment and it greatly improves the living conditions of the [army] personnel. More importantly, it can provide good protection against sneak attacks by Indian troops using artillery. Due to the very large range of modern weaponry, the problem of facing a surprise attack must be considered even at a distance of several dozen of kilometres from the front line.”
The article further rationales: “It is not possible to rule out the possibility of a surprise attack by the Indians, [for example] a sudden and massive artillery attack. The PLA should then be prepared with a large number of armoured vehicles [tanks] to ensure that our forces are not destroyed by the Indian army, after all, we can't afford to have a defensive [position] only.”
Whether all these details are confirmed in their entirety or not, it should be a serious warning for India.

The Border Situation
In this context, it was interesting to see that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently stood firm on India’s position when he met his Chinese counterpart General Li Shangfu. Held on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) defence ministers’ meeting in Delhi, the Indian Minister is said to have used plain words to characterize the recent developments in the India-China border. A statement said: “Rajnath Singh categorically conveyed that development of relations between India and China is premised on the prevalence of peace and tranquility at the borders …. He reiterated that violation of existing agreements has eroded the entire basis of bilateral relations and disengagement at the border will logically be followed with de-escalation.”
Undoubtedly, China is getting ready for a long haul; the ‘tank dens’ should be seen in this perspective.

Where the Dalai Lama reincarnates is critical to Indian security

Where the Dalai Lama reincarnates is critical to Indian security

In this interview, Ishan Dhar speaks to Claude Arpi on the political importance of Tibetan Buddhist reincarnates, how Chinese interference in this sacred tradition can have ramifications for the entire Himalayan belt, and the steps India can take to ensure its security in this context.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

My Interview with Tibet TV

Tibet's Historical Status and Its Relevance Today with Claude Arpi, a renowned Tibetologist and a journalist.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Tibet Conundrum: Part 1. The Annexation

The Tibet Conundrum: Part 1. The Annexation.
Samvad with Claude Arpi
An Interview with Mayank Singh

Claude Arpi in Samvad discusses the period between 1950-51 as China annexed Tibet militarily. PM Jawaharlal Nehru's idealism was no match for Mao's strategic thinking. India's refusal to get involved in Tibet as a peaceful nation was being ravaged by a revisionist China resulted in a situation where a peaceful Indo-Tibet border was converted into a hostile Indo-China border. Nehru's refusal to pay heed to Sardar Patel's strategic advice and warning would soon have grave repercussions for India. The British deception in the takeover of Tibet is also elaborated upon by Arpi.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

"China Tried To Change Yangtze Status Quo, But India Showed It Can't Be Bullied"

My interview "China Tried To Change Yangtze Status Quo, But India Showed It Can't Be Bullied" with Amitabh Revi for StratNews Global.

New Delhi: On 'Talking Point', Claude Arpi, Distinguished Fellow, Centre of Excellence for Himalayan Studies, Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence, Author, Historian and Tibetologist speaks to StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi. Claude Arpi discusses China's claims over Arunachal Pradesh, the Dalai Lama's succession, Tibet, the proposed U.S Senate resolution on Arunachal, the Ladakh standoff, the Xi Jinping-Vladimir Putin meet and the global pushback against an aggressive China.

Monday, May 1, 2023

China Challenges India in Bhutan

My interview on Bhutan with Aadi (DEF Talks)

Indias Challenge in Bhutan and the danger to India's Chicken Neck. China and Bhutan border Dispute. Are the Chinese claim valid in Bhutan and what should India do?

DEF Talks is a space for clear cut discussions on important subjects of current affairs of the world with a prime focus to the Indian Subcontinent. I cover issues related to conflicts, Geopolitics, Military Strategy and Foreign Affairs.