Vinay Joshi || Shrutikar Abhijit
In the first part "The PoK Campaign & the Virus Outbreak: India's Two Front War", we have discussed why a military operation to retake Pakistan Occupied Kashmir- PoK is a need of the hour. The ever-deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the volatile ethnic crisis within Pakistan has forced its Jihadi proxies to turn the guns towards India. But conventionally Kashmir was their sole target to give the legitimacy to the violence within Jammu and Kashmir under the garb of freedom struggle. The bluff of Pakistani army's invincibility within Pakistan's domestic audience has already destroyed following Indian Special Forces raids post-Uri attack and Indian Air Force' daring air raid on Balakot, well within Pakistani territory post-Pulwama suicide attack.
Now it's time to call out the bluff of "Taller than Himalaya and Deeper than Ocean" China- Pakistan friendship by retaking PoK. Once Indian forces break apart China Pakistan Economic Corridor- CPEC, illegally passing through legitimate Indian territory of Kashmir; the Pakistani army would lose its ever losing credibility and carefully nurtured myth of its invincibility forever. Indians have repeatedly protested CPEC, which is violating Indian sovereignty. But for the lack of political will and absence of decisive military might matching China followed by various geopolitical reasons, Indians have kept their protest against CPEC limited to a diplomatic level only.
In this part, we will analyse China's internal Socio-Political situation and issues which are overstretching Chinese leadership, especially Emperor Xi Jinping, so that, in the third part we can evaluate possible Chinese response to India's military campaign to retake PoK.
Comments by Indian leaders on PoK- Aksai Chin, and Chinese reactions:
While speaking on Citizenship Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha on 6th August 2019, Indian home minister Amit Shah said PoK and Aksai Chin are an integral part of Jammu and Kashmir, and Indians are ready to sacrifice their lives to retake it. The statement was made on the floor of the Indian Parliament and held immense importance. For long, the Indian leadership refrained from making any public statements that could infuriate China. But, lately, many Indian ministers are boldly asserting that India will retake PoK. The career diplomat turned politician and Indian foreign minister, S Jaishankar too firmly spoke on numerous occasions that PoK belongs to India and it would be retaken.
Home Minister Amit Shah always defended the inclusion of refugees from Afghanistan in CAA stating India- Afghanistan shares a 106 km long boundary, which is now in PoK. Furthermore, statements made by subsequent heads of the Indian army have asserted its preparedness to retake PoK upon receiving government orders. All these statements make it amply clear for both Pakistan and China that the PoK ops are on the cards of India at a time of their choosing.
China's Achilles heel: Ladakh's post abrogation of 370:
After scrapping of article 370 and tri-furcation of Jammu and Kashmir; Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir became a Union Territory. Earlier it was part of Muslim dominated administrative setup and was blatantly discriminated on all fronts. Its new status as a Union Territory has given it an all-new identity of being the only Buddist majority state/ UT in India. Its creation was rejoiced and celebrated by the Asian Buddhist community. The Sri Lankan, Mynamarese political and religious leaders had wholeheartedly welcomed it by tweeting and sending messages to the Indian government.
Ladakh and China's restive Tibet region has centuries-old religious ties, and have much more in common, including shared traditions and culture. Creation of a new Buddhist majority Ladakh has sent alarm bells ringing in China, sensing a possible cascading effect in Tibet. The Chinese Communist Party had ruthlessly crushed the Tibetian uprising and is now overwhelming Tibet by a state-sponsored migration of Han population, thus converting the indigenous Tibetians into a minority.
China fears Tibetian aspirations may get a new lease of life after seeing Buddhist majority Ladakh emerging as a new political entity in its backyard. It is noteworthy to mention here that Chinese foreign ministry came down heavily within 48 hours of formation of Ladakh as Union Territory on 7th August 2019, saying, "Centre's decision to turn Ladakh into a Union Territory was unacceptable and urged New Delhi to avoid "unilateral change in status quo."
The Chinese reaction on Ladakh status speaks a lot about its apprehensions over India's PoK and Aksai Chin plans. Not only that, but the much-touted CPEC that passes through PoK is also in serious trouble. Rampant corruption in Pakistan's political system, overindulgence of the military in civilian matters, administrative delays and fiery armed resistance to China by Baloch freedom fighters are creating troubles for its CPEC plans. Almost all projects under CPEC are lagging behind the scheduled time-frame. On the other hand, Pakistani leaders are gradually understanding the debt trap model of CPEC and demanding renegotiations of projects that are in favour of China.
Viewing the ground reality, many experts believe CPEC is either dead or on the deathbed. Under such circumstances, Chinese reaction to Indian military offensive on PoK would be highly unpredictable, and it would solely depend on the contemporary internal political situation in China. We will pick this point at the end of this article.
The Wuhan Virus Outbreak and Xi Jinping's diminishing political status
Till January 2020, Xi Jinping was considered as the most powerful Chinese leader; next to Comrade Mao. Xi's successive, ruthless political purge behind the facade of anti-corruption campaigns within the last five years has decisively eliminated his political rivals within the Chinese Communist Party and People's Liberation Army- PLA. Later Xi removed the two-term limit imposed in 1982 for holding the Presidential post of China and declared himself as "President for Life". There was no enemy for Xi within China and his signature BRI/ OBOR projects were sprawling all over the world increasing Chinese trade, military and soft power sphere of influence in all seven continents of the world. The prosperity, which reached to common Chinese man has maintained the much cared "Social Stability" within China. There was no opponent to Xi's hegemony neither within China nor in the world.
The first potent challenge to Xi's hegemony came in the form of Donald Trump's trade war, but Jinping successfully sailed through the crisis. The world has seen PLA ships patrolling all seas and oceans in the world at any point in time. China created artificial archipelagos in the South China Sea exclusively for military purposes, thus rejecting the age-old territorial claims by Southeast Asian nations. It swallowed Gwadar deep seaport in Pakistan to give a sea head to CPEC and to secure commercial sea lanes in favour of China. It secured control of Djibouti port in the Horn of Africa to establish first PLA Naval base to keep a check on US Navy in North Africa. China effectively encircled its arch-rival India, by tightening the grip on Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. So, it was best of the time Xi Jinping ever had, and then came Wuhan Virus!
Initially, China suppressed Wuhan Virus reality by gagging Wuhan whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang. Courageous Wenliang was first jailed, then released and later died of Corona, only to be declare martyred posthumously. By then, the Wuhan Corona Virus spread across the world crippling China's closest European ally Italy. The whole world was pushed into lockdown to save precious lives while China kept trumpeting its success stories in containing Wuhan Corona Virus. At the initial stage, the world bought Chinese success stories, only to vehemently reject it in later stages.
Not only that, but US firm also sued Chinese government for $20 trillion class-action lawsuits followed by Indian Bar Association complaint at ICJ against China for the Wuhan Virus outbreak and financial losses incurred as a result of it.
The global downfall of China's image after the Wuhan Virus outbreak and its subsequent mishandling by the CCP leadership under Xi has kickstarted a series of events that can eventually become the reason for Xi Xinpings downfall. In the previous article, we had discussed how notable Chinese academicians and personalities had come out in the open, criticising Xi Xinping for his failures in handling the pandemic. The communist party acted on these expositions with blunt coercion and forced incommunicado or worse on the critics. Such knee-jerk reactions only multiplied the existing discontent between the Chinese civil society and CCP, thus creating a fertile ground brew a civil rebellion.
However, the next wave of criticisms have started pouring in from a different dimension altogether, the veteran party leaders and the influential 'Princeling Fraction' who supposedly hold substantial weight on the Politburo have now come out publicly expressing their dissatisfaction to Xi's regime. Zhao Shilin, a former member of the CCP central committee, wrote letters to Xi criticising his failure in handling the epidemic and got excellent traction across social media platforms in China. Zhao pointed out centralisation of authority as the primordial reason, followed by a demand for ensuring free speech (Jayadeva Ranade, The Tribune, 23rd April 2020). The letter by Zhao carries tremendous significance and reveals the growing dissent among party loyalists.
Discontent among the 'Princelings Fraction', comprising of prominent offsprings of veteran Communist leaders is growing since, Ren Zhiqiang; a fellow Princeling disappeared after criticising Xi. Reports suggest that the 'Princeling fraction' is increasing their tempo in demand for an expanded politburo meeting, where even retired leaders are also allowed to be present. The growing chorus for conveying an expanded Politburo meeting is not new in the history of PRC and was called in several times in the past. An expanded politburo meeting of a similar nature had earlier paved the way for ousting the former premier, Zhao Ziyang, and is suggestive of a rising dissent against Xi Xinping and his loyalists (Qiao Long, Radio Free Asia, 23rd March 2020).
In a possible scenario of India launching an offensive to retake PoK, while CCP suffers from internal distress and potential civil unrest, chances are that PRC would display aggression in the external frontiers to discipline dissent inside. However, this aggression could be more on the diplomatic front or through UNSC rather than physical aggression against India. As strategic partners of India like the U.S and Japan are already craving for redemption from China, any act of aggression would only provide an alibi for severe reactions from them. The CCP knows this well; therefore, the Xi regime would explore the diplomatic option rather than starting a full-blown war.
The Challenge of Democracy & the Hong Kong turmoil :
The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 still haunt the CCP and stand as a reminder to the communists that freedom cannot be denied forever through intimidation and coercion. It also reminds the world of brutalities that the Communists is capable of inflicting while attempting to stifle dissent. The 4th June incident of Tiananmen square was aimed at establishing a precedent of how dissent would be dealt with in the future. The pro-democracy voices that rose in the Tiananmen square alarmed the communists of possible spurge, and the resultant carnage is testimony to the communist getting frightened by a rising tide of democracy sympathisers. A diplomatic cable declassified in 2017, sent by the then UK Ambassador to PRC; Sir Alan Donald revealed that the PLA executed more than 10,000 protestors in the Tiananmen Square at the behest of CCP (BBC News, 23rd December 2017).
Consequently, the recent Hong Kong protests have forced the Communists to revisit their worst fears, as the protests in Hong Kong share a legacy with the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
( A click from Tiananmen Square Protests: The Guardian)
On 21st May 1989, Hong Kong had witnessed a protest march in solidarity with the Pro-Democracy Tiananmen demonstrations, and since then, thousands of Hong Kongers have organised annual vigils in honour of the victims of Tiananmen massacre. Perhaps Hong Kong is the only place in China, where the CCP remains unsuccessful in banning the commemorations of June 4th killings. The prevalent separate judiciary and legislature of Hong Kong have been a long-standing bone of contention for the communists, and several attempts were made to tighten grip over Hong Kong. But, the mostly Cantonese population of Hong Kong has defied these countless attempts by the Communists. The 2019 protests are one such example where commoners of Hong kong triumphed in forcing the Communists to withdraw a controversial bill allowing the extradition of people from Hong Kong to mainland China.
People feared perversion of the legislation to muzzle pro-democratic voices, for there had been incidents in the past when Mainland agents had kidnapped people from Hong Kong. The Kidnapping of five, including the owner of Causeway Bay Books in 2015 is proof to these fears (Oliver Chou & Phila Siu, South China Morning Post, 29th December 2016)
The city of Hong Kong glitters with the courage of its citizens, courage to defy the imposition of a tyrannous rule, and thus a headache to the Communist regime of PRC. The CCP has seized the Wuhan Virus epidemic as an opportunity to crack down on advocates of democracy, and as a result, the resentment against the CCP has attained a critical mass. The District Council elections in Hong Kong saw a surge in support for democratic parties, with 17 out of the total 18 district councils in HK won by the pro-democracy camp, and the pro-Beijing camp ousted from power.
The repeated defeat of communists in stifling the soaring voices of democracy will have a snowball effect across the mainland, and after the Wuhan virus debacle, the demand for greater democracy will gain momentum. The CCP would try to cull all pro-democracy endeavours, but it can't engineer a Tiananmen Square styled massacres this time, and with world powers watching, a nation-wide pro-democracy rebellion may cripple the communist authoritarianism forever.
Losing the World's Factory Tag:
Subsequently, from the start of US-China trade wars in 2018, many manufacturing giants are already shifting or are considering to move their plants out of China to other Southeast Asian destinations. In the meantime, India is emerging as the most attractive destination with one of the lowest corporate tax rates, an ever-growing number of skilled workers, and above all, having an accountable democratic government. India might emerge as the new world factory surpassing China. An article published in the Bussiness Today reported that around 1,000 companies are already putting in serious thought on relocating to India. About 300 of these companies have already submitted proposals to the Indian government, and are pending at various ministries for approval (Nirbhay Kumar, Bussiness Today, 22nd April 2020).
Multinational titans like Dell, Apple, Nintendo and Google had already started chalking out plans of moving out of China as early as 2019, and amidst the serial exodus of manufacturing giants, the Chinese economy had already shown early signs of a slowdown. On 15th July 2019, POTUS took to the twitter announcing the Chinese economy to hit the lowest growth in 27 years and claimed it to be a result of US tariffs on Chinese imports ( Taylor Telford, Washington Post, 20th July 2019 ).
However, the most significant blow on the Chinese economy was yet to come, and in the aftermath of the Wuhan Virus epidemic, it came from Japan as a $ 2 billion package. On April 7th, the Shinzo Abe government announced a $992 billion stimulus package to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and earmarked a budget of $2 billion for Japanese companies willing to move out of China to Japan and an additional 23.5 billion yen for companies moving out to other countries(Bussines Today, April 10, 2020 ). The China extrinsic policy of Japan has found many takers and Countries like South Korea have also shown similar inclinations. South Korea, which already is the 14th largest source of FDI for India, is showing keen interests in incentivising Korean companies to move out of China into India. Towing the Japanese line, the US is also showing similar interests. The White House National Economic Council Director, Larry Kudlow, on the same day of Japan announcing the $2 billion package, advocated paying every US company the Moving costs of exiting from China (Kenneth Rapoza, Forbes, Apr 10, 2020). With the US aggressively calling for redemption from China, it is highly likely that Multinational Corporations would exit China in the coming years, and the Chinese economy could hit the abyss. Hence with a high possibility of a crippling economy, there are chances that CCP's much-hyped social stability parameters would also suffer, opening a pandora's box for the communist regime.
With losing jobs, the probability of suffocated Chinese citizens rising against the hegemony of CCP mounts and in such a scenario, the CCP making an armed intervention in India's PoK campaign seems unlikely, as it would further expose PRC to a multitude of external and internal entities. Therefore, to maintain CCP's social stability parameters, the communist regime will need to have trade relations with India, as it is a massive destination market for Chinese goods and to avoid losing the Indian market, the communists will have to limit itself to a diplomatic offensive rather than a military one.
The Wuhan Virus epidemic and China's incompetence:
As early as 2018, US diplomats in China had warned of the studies conducted by the Wuhan Institute of Virology(WIV) and tagged it as potentially dangerous. US embassy officials, who had visited the facility multiple times and had sent two official warnings to Washington informing about inadequate safety measures in the lab.
The diplomatic cables warned US government of WIV conducting studies on coronaviruses in Bats and designated it hazardous. These diplomatic cables, sent after numerous site inspections had adequately established concerns regarding the threats that this lab posed to public health and was expecting to draw US governments attention to the grave safety lapses in the Wuhan Lab (Josh Rogin, The Washington Post, April 14th,2020 ). Consequently, the Wuhan Lab conducting critical research on Coronavirus strains and the Novel Virus originating from the same city makes it a dubious coincidence, and doubts regarding the origin of the virus rises.
On the other hand, the scientific community remains divided whether the Wuhan virus was artificially enhanced and it accidentally escaped from the facility due to a security lapse or was as an organic incident. Irrespective of what comes out in the end, the Chinese Communist regimes incompetence in the containing or raising a timely alarm warning the global fraternity remains unchanged.
Therefore, all attempts by the communist regime to influence the world from calling the Virus as Wuhan virus falls flat and as US intelligence investigates to locate the exact source of the Novel Virus, the world would pretty soon find out whether it was utter incompetence or was a bio-weapons program gone wrong.
to be continued in the third part.......
In the third part of this series, we will analyze how China would possibly react to Indian military offensive to retake PoK and Indian countermeasures to thwart Chinese attempts