On January 18, 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a video conversation with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops. He inspected the combat readiness of the troops stationed at Kunjirap under the Xinjiang Military Command near Ladakh. Interestingly his address coincided with massive tri-services amphibious exercise – AMPHEX 2023 – involving the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force near Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh.
Courtesy: YouTube Channel Insightful Knowledge
The Xinjiang military command manages the border areas along Eastern Ladakh, where its troops have been involved in multiple transgressions into the Indian side of LAC since April 2020.
In July 2021, Xi Jinping made a 3-day secret trip to Tibet bordering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The visit was disclosed only after its completion. During this trip, Xi interacted with top PLA brass and took stock of preparation in the border areas. Just before his visit, PLA troops had entered the Demchok sector in Ladakh, and soon after his visit, Chinese civilians were pushed into Charding Nala in the Demchok sector.
One must remember that Xi has not made any such trip to monitor preparations for the Taiwan invasion. So there could be two reasons that explain Xi’s actions. Firstly, he could be nervous and knows that Indian Prime Minister Modi would not hesitate to take bold steps. Secondly, he could be preparing for something more nefarious.
Is China Fast Tracking Six Wars Concept?
Soon after Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, PLA produced a Chinese film ‘Silent Contest.’ The intended audiences were the domestic military and civilian citizens. The film aimed to arouse and induce anger against the United States. However, more disturbing was the article — ‘Revealing the Six Wars China Must Fight in the Coming 50 Years.’ The article was carried by the national news agency indicating that it was approved at the highest level.
The article had six war scenarios:
The first, second, and fourth wars are important to all the nations in South East, East Asia, and the United States. However, the third war is of immense importance to India. Looking at the present scenario, there seems to be some reshuffle and recalibration in the Chinese approach.
After looking at the Russia-Ukraine war, the invasion of Taiwan has been relegated in the order. The recovery of South China Sea islands was fast-tracked in the last decade with the success of 3,200 acres of land creation with minimal opposition. However, the Chinese expansion has reached its limits. The Philippines is not accepting further expansion and has deepened its engagement with the United States. Vietnam has quietly used dredging and landfill to expand its land by 420 acres on four islands — Namyit Island, Pearson Reef, Sand Cay, and Tennent Reef.
Therefore, in my opinion, the third war has become the most crucial war for China. However, other than arousing nationalism, Arunachal Pradesh doesn’t have much strategic value for China. On the other hand, Ladakh has immense military and economic value for China. Therefore, China is using its domestic war wisdom — Make a feint to the East while attacking in the West. That means PLA will intensify its action in Arunachal Pradesh while keeping the Ladakh aim in sight. This move of China could be summarized as — What is with me is mine; what is with you is negotiable. In simple terms — Arunachal Pradesh is with you, and we will let you keep it, provided you don’t talk about Aksai Chin & give concessions in Ladakh.
All is Not Well with PLA
Making these grandiose plans is easy, but the execution is difficult. Currently, PLA is not a Chinese military but Xi’s personal force. He is buying loyalty by promoting his loyal in PLA. In 2022 alone, he promoted seven officers to the rank of general. These generals are loyal, but there would always be a question mark on their competency.
General Huang Ming — Courtesy: YouTube Insightful Knowledge
The latest in the promotion spree is General Huang Ming, who will head the PLA Central Theatre Command, which is in charge of guarding the capital Beijing. Huang is its fifth commander in seven years and third in the last 18 months. Similarly, Xi had replaced four commanders of the Western Theatre Command bordering India in just ten months. All these indicate his nervousness and suspicion when dealing with the PLA.
Every year the Chinese president issues order number one or the PLA mobilization order. This kick starts the training calendar of PLA. The order generally comes within the first two or three days of January every year. There has been no such order issued for 2023. All this further indicates that there are serious issues within PLA: Trust issues, training issues, and competency issues.
The ‘Whitepaper Revolution’ and Xi backtracking on zero Covid policy further indicate that Xi is losing grip on his authority. The death of many retired and serving military officers due to COVID-19 has put a question mark on Xi’s leadership among PLA officials. The purging of many officers considered disloyal to Xi has also not gone well with the PLA. General Xu Caihou (former vice chairman of the CMC and the second most powerful man in the Chinese military) is one such example. Xu was discharged from PLA and investigated for bribery in March 2014. He died soon after that under suspicious circumstances.
India’s Three Wars
It is amply clear to even an untrained eye that a permanent solution to all the issues with China and Pakistan would be needed for everlasting peace. Pretending that all the problems will go away doesn’t help. Hoping for good behaviour from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Pakistani Army is the next level of delusion. Following wars, India has to fight to avoid Prithviraj Chauhan Syndrome:
Regaining the POK is underway, and India need not fight a war for that. If India succeeds in liberating Balochistan and a Pakistani financial meltdown, the Pakistani army will be exposed. It would be more than enough to implode Pakistan with the liberation of Sindh and the reunification of Jammu and Kashmir. If better sense prevails, the Pakistani army will keep running Punjab province as a country rather than indulge in a full-fledged war.
A tougher challenge would come in regaining Gosthala. For that, India would need to encourage China to attack Taiwan. I explained this in detail in my article “China’s Invasion of Taiwan – Opportunity for India.”
The last war is the liberation of Tibet. This could happen only with a weak PLA and internal rebellion by Tibetans and Uyghurs. The PLA would be most vulnerable when it gets stuck in the quagmire of the Taiwan invasion. The failures in Taiwan would force Xi to undertake further purges in PLA, pushing serving and retired PLA officials to take action.
During his 2023 New Year’s address, Xi said — It’s only natural that different people have different concerns or have different views on the same issue. Though he didn’t make it clear to whom exactly he was referring. Still, it brings back the memories of Xi going underground in September 2022, soon after returning from a regional summit in Uzbekistan. The 20th Party Congress was just weeks away when the rumours of a coup in China spread like wildfire on social media.
Today the rumour doing rounds in Beijing is that something big, like a high-level coup, could happen as early as March 2023. Could this be the reason behind Xi replacing the Central Theatre Command commander haphazardly? Now the coup may not happen so fast or so soon, but whenever it happens, it has to be coordinated with the rebellion from Tibet & Xinjiang natives. This could be India’s only window to liberate Tibet. If Xinjiang becomes East Turkmenistan, that would be a bonus.
To achieve all these aims, Quad+ member countries must realize that there is nothing called the status quo in the world. They have to go beyond the symbolic military drills, better coordination, and above all, an environment of trust. The just concluded Indo-Japan Veer Guardian exercise is one such step in that direction. Going forward, India would need the support of all the allies to make “India’s Three Wars” a reality.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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