As reported by CNN, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 22, 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the world to “join hands to uphold the values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom shared by all of us.” Xi stated that “Beijing wants to continue to work as a builder of global peace, a contributor to global development and a defender of international order.”
As per China’s media mouthpiece, Xi Jinping (Head of the CCP, Commander-in-Chief of the PLA and the President – hailed as “core”, or ‘Hexin’ representing tokens of power used to describe strong leaders invented by Deng, a way to advertise dominance), stated on September 22, 2020, in his virtual address to the UN General Assembly that “China has no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot war with any country.”
Furthermore, Xi Jinping also stated that “China is committed to peaceful, open, cooperative and common development, Xi said at the general debate of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. We will never seek hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence.”
Most importantly, Xi Jinping also stated that “China will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation.”
Great sermons as an upholder of “Peace”! But, his rhetoric does not match with PLA actions on the ground in various theatres on its periphery and betrays his “Janus” face. If Xi Jinping is genuine in his pursuit of peace, he must abandon the doctrine of “Creeping Incrementalism and extended Coercion” as part of his “Chinese Dream”.
In particular, on the Indo-Tibet border, Xi Jinping must order his PLA to comply expeditiously with 3-Ds – de-escalation, disengagement and de-induction of formations/units to peace stations.
The joint statement in circulation in the public domain after 7th round Corps Commander level talks on September 20, 2020, concerns de-escalation – the first step.
But, disengagement – 2nd step – means the restoration of May 2020 status quo ante on the LAC that is, pulling back troops to positions and restoration of patrolling activity.
So, it is disengagement that is critical. Disengagement implies formations/units of Xinjiang Military District forces, particularly mechanised and motorized divisions must revert to their peace locations; 76th Group with headquarters located in Xining City, Qinghai Province; 77th Group Army with headquarters located in Changzhou City, Chengdu City, Sichuan Province; and Tibet Military District forces.
Finally, what about 3rd D delineation and physical demarcation of LAC and its ratification as International Boundary?
In reality, Xi Jinping, on the external front, has been indulging in brinkmanship also with Taiwan. Recently, the PLA Air Force amidst heightening tensions in the South China Sea has repeatedly breached Taiwan’s airspace crossing the Middle Line. According to CNA, Beijing has sent two Xian H-6 bombers, 12 Shenyang J-16s, two Shenyang J-11s, two Chengdu J-10s, and one Shaanxi Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft near the southwest and northwest of the island nation.
More disturbing from an Indian point of view is the ongoing Indo-Tibet border stand-off, particularly in Eastern Ladakh – Depsang, Finger 4 on the Northern Bank of Pangong Tso and the South Bank of Pangong Tso. Neither Xi Jinping nor Modi, both nationalist leaders consolidating their position in their domestic arena, have little room to concede lest it is viewed as a “surrender” and “Weakness”.
What is most important is to note the exhortation of Xi Jinping, in his address during the second day of country’s plenary parliamentary session on May 26 2020. Xi Jinping directed the PLA to scale up for war-like preparations and make themselves ready for “worst-case scenario” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also, at the two-day [28th and 29th August] 7th Tibet Work Forum attended by the senior Communist Party leaders in Beijing, Xi Jinping delivered a fiery speech calling China to build an “impregnable fortress” to maintain stability in Tibet, protect national unity and educate the masses in the struggle against “separatists”.
It was hailed in the official Chinese media as “setting policy direction for Tibet”. Xinhua News, one of the Chinese Community Party’s (CCP) official mouthpieces, quoted Xi as saying, “Efforts must be made to build a new modern socialist Tibet that is united, prosperous, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful. Work-related to Tibet must focus on safeguarding national unity and strengthening ethnic solidarity. More education and guidance should be provided for the public to mobilise their participation in combating separatist activities, thus forging an ironclad shield to safeguard stability.”
And Xi Jumping’s “sinicisation” of Tibet, but also Xinjiang to crush any dissent is well known in the international political arena.
Modi too had stated in his address to troops after the Galwan incident in June 2020 at Leh that “The sovereignty and integrity of India are supreme, and nobody can stop us in defending that. He vowed that the sacrifice of our soldiers would not be in vain. Modi also iterated that “India wants peace, but if provoked India is capable of giving a befitting reply.”
Ipso facto, both leaders are facing significant challenges at home to overcome.
They can ill afford to risk losing face over the disputed area on the LAC. After the Galwan incident, both leaders have deployed reinforcements that are facing each other in eye-ball to an eye-ball confrontation that can dangerously escalate anytime out of control by one action of a soldier suffering from hallucinations in Terrestrial Areas.
Both Xi Jinping and Modi have expressed their yearning for peace; but the assertive, aggressive and expansionist actions of Xi Jinping on the ground not only against Taiwan and India but also in the South China Sea, the East China Sea against Japan and South Korea betray his postures behind the “Peace Mask” for nations attending the UN General Assembly sessions.
If Xi Jinping genuinely believes in the statement, he made to the UN General Assembly, what prevents him as the Chairman of the CMC and Commander-in-Chief of PLA, to order his forces to revert to status quo of May 2020 pending speedy final resolution of delineation/demarcation of LAC in a time-bound manner instead of continuing endlessly in the adjournment of talks at all levels – political, diplomatic and military level talks to de-escalate and disengage troops.
When compared to the political compulsions of Modi heading India, a vicious or messy democracy, Xi Jinping wearing four hats-in-one is in a better position to make his followers convince on his decisions over the quid pro quo settlement of the LAC and ratifying it as the international boundary. Why can’t Xi Jinping renew the “Quid Pro Quo” offer first made by Zhou-en Lai in 1960s and Deng’s offer to Rajiv Gandhi?
In sum, Xi Jinping appears to have adopted “strategic stalemate” that can also be viewed as “strategic retreat” in Mao Zedong’s theory of warfare considering mounting anti-China postures on the international arena. Also, it could be due to military outstretching to manage multiple fronts. Finally, the costs, both human and economic costs, of maintaining additional forces in a face-to-face confrontation in Terrestrial areas appear to be a dampener.
Viewed in the above framework, India under Modi-led NDA rule has to sagaciously manage the Indo-Tibet border crisis based on PLAs disengagement followed by de-induction.
And, the current stand-off must be used to modernise not only the Indian armed forces by merger and integration besides equipping them with advanced combat systems but also carry out merger and integration of ITBF, SSB and Assam Rifles under the Ministry of Defence.