Sunday, July 5, 2020

China should know “Thucydides’ trap,” - Modiji visit to Ladakh


Professor Graham Allison of the Harvard Kennedy School popularized the phrase “Thucydides’ trap,” to explain the likelihood of conflict between a rising power and a currently dominant one. This is based on the famous quote from Thucydides: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

In 2017,  chocolate cake had just been served at the Mar-a-Lago summit when President Donald Trump leaned over to tell Chinese President Xi Jinping that American missiles had been launched at Syrian air bases !  What the attack on Syria signaled about Trump’s readiness to attack North Korea was left to Xi’s imagination.  The United States and the Soviet Union built nuclear arsenals so substantial that neither could be sure of disarming the other in a first strike. Nuclear strategists described this condition as “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD. Technology, in effect, made the United States and Soviet Union conjoined twins — neither able to kill the other.  History also reveals that One has to be powerful enough to command respect from the powerful !!

After the start of the pandemic that spread from Wuhan and changed the lives of people across the Globe, few would have expected Xi Jinping to don the war paint and literally follow in Mao’s footsteps where everyone was an enemy, to be bullied and dominated. India, with its teeming masses and on the face of it, especially to Chinese eyes, complete chaos would have been and was Xi Jinping’s first port of call, especially since the PRC has its carefully nurtured pet poodle ever ready to bite from the west.

With India’s rise as a regional power, the shifting balance of power between India and Pakistan  and the emergence of India’s alliance with the US, India has occupied a higher place in China’s agenda. While China’s attention was fixed on a new Cold War with the United States,  tensions on its troubled Himalayan border with India  erupted last month in the deadliest clash in over 50 years. The fatal skirmish rubbed salt into an old wound that has refused to heal since the 1962 border war, and raised questions about China’s strategic calculations on the rise of India. It also prompted fears about armed conflicts between the nuclear powers becoming a deadly manifestation of the Thucydides Trap.

China is hiding its wounds ! not only after the border skirmish, more so, after the deadly virus that erupted. Even now, the World is apprehensive of the extent of damage to China, not only the economic impact but also the human casualties arising out of Covid 19, though figures suggest that India is perilously close to Russia and about to overtake it to become no.3 of the affected people, while China is not in top 20 even !

Beijing is battling an “explosive outbreak” of  the coronavirus, with health authorities reporting 36 new local infections in the city in one day – all linked to a food market. As scientists try to track how the latest outbreak in Beijing emerged, the capital and neighbouring regions have stepped up emergency measures, including renewing lockdowns.

A Communist Party  newspaper stated  China is determined to show that “socialism is indeed better than capitalism”, in what observers say is an attempt to rally support for the party as it faces unprecedented challenges including the coronavirus pandemic  and its  rivalry with the United States.  Study Times, official newspaper of the Central Party School, where party officials are trained, published on its front page on Monday a commentary by a senior figure at the school that praised the ideas of President Xi Jinping  and called the present era “the most wonderful chapter of world socialism in 500 years”.

Before you jump to say something, these are not my individual views but taken from South China Morning Post and some other leading International dailies and here are some excerpts from an interesting read a post in The Guardian by  Shiv Kunal Verma, author of “1962: The War That Wasn’t” and “The Long Road to Siachen: The Question Why.”

At Lumpu, there is a hut of remembrance. An inverted .303 Lee Enfield Rifle with a helmet placed on it overlooks the Nyamjang Chu that flows north to south from the direction of Khenzemane, the border post where the Dalai Lama had stepped onto Indian soil in 1959. Also visible from the hut is the Thagla ridge that runs off to the west from Khenzemane to the tri-junction with Bhutan, while at the base of it, is the Nam Ka Chu. The names of those who fell in the valley are enshrined on the walls all around the rifle—men from 1/9 Gorkha Rifles, 4 Grenadiers, 9 Punjab, 5 Assam Rifles, some gunners, some signalmen, some sappers—but the longest list is of 2 Rajput, which lost 281 men on the fateful morning of 20 October 1962. Also written on the wall, are three words which together carry a lot of meaning: “We Shall Avenge!”

Six decades ago, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had paid the price by trusting the PRC, which under the Communists was a very different animal from the earlier Kuomintang Chinese with whom Indians over the centuries had never had any serious issues. “President for Life” Xi Jinping, the Chinese strongman, who, at the beginning of 2019, was not only dreaming but preparing his people for a new world order, has made a few fundamental mistakes. The PRC, whose own ruthless march to power was fuelled by years of oppression and humiliation, forgot that other people too have a DNA and they also will fight back when pushed to a corner. If they have embedded in their collective national consciousness humiliation at the hands of the Chinese, the fight-back will be even more resolute, even if they have to fight with sticks and stones.

India, with its teeming masses and on the face of it, especially to Chinese eyes, complete chaos would have been and was Xi Jinping’s first port of call, especially since the PRC has its carefully nurtured pet poodle ever ready to bite from the west. It also made sense to try and precipitate a limited military confrontation in the Himalayas where if other nations were to get sucked in, China would have the advantage of a huge buffer between its actual frontier and the conflict zone.

There is a lot that Indian political parties have done over the years that has adversely affected the country’s defence preparedness. Jawaharlal Nehru, hugely guilty of interfering with the Armed Forces’ structure and  the country today, the leadership,  the people and the Armed Forces, have undergone a sea change. Institutions like the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy have nurtured generations of fighting men, who are today in a class of their own and quite capable of sorting out any misadventure by not only the Chinese, but also the Pakistanis, who face us in a different environment where the dynamics are quite different.

Pangong Tso and Galwan are the perfect example of what and how the leadership at the higher levels has evolved. That the so-called intelligence agencies, whose job it is to anticipate these sort of build-ups, failed is something we shall never have definite answers to. It may have taken 59 years for the message to sink in, but the commanders of today have done what Lieutenant General S.P.P. Thorat advocated in April 1961—do not let the Chinese decide where and when to fight. Choose your own ground and then take them on. The cacophony of orchestrated voices in the Indian media, some of them undoubtedly controlled by handlers both within and across the Himalayas, did its level best to provoke a reaction.

The Indian leadership, having withstood the initial onslaught and after the Chinese faced the fury of but a handful of soldiers after they murdered the commanding officer of an Indian infantry battalion, has shown its willingness to open up other fronts as well. The PRC’s calculations were based on similar propaganda that had been launched by the Pakistanis in 1965 when the self-styled Ayub Khan was at the helm of affairs—that the Indians as a race were buzdil (cowards) and would crumble like a house of cards the moment any pressure was applied.

China and its Communist leadership  for sure would have realized that the World is far different now. 

Thucydides  mentioned in para 1  was an Athenian historian and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the fifth-century BC war between Sparta and Athens until the year 411 BC.  He also has been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the political behavior of individuals and the subsequent outcomes of relations between states as ultimately mediated by, and constructed upon, the emotions of fear and self-interest.  His text is still studied at universities and military colleges worldwide.  More generally, Thucydides developed an understanding of human nature to explain behaviour in such crises as plagues, massacres, and civil war.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
5.7.2020
With inputs liberally taken from The Guardian; South China Morning Post and other print media.

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