Xi Jinping, in his televised address to the UN, spoke of mutual respect and cooperation between nations, following a policy of non-expansionism and promised to avoid hot and cold wars.
Chinese actions and words even on the global stage are vastly contradictory. Any despot who has amassed complete power in his hands is assured of loyalty, has no challengers to his throne, appoints only yes-men and becomes over ambitious.
This was so with Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and is currently so with Xi Jinping.
Hitler sought to regain Germany’s past glory by undoing the insult of the treaty of Versailles while Xi seeks to regain China’s past glory by undoing its history of unjust treaties. In pursuit of this, China has begun claiming territory which it unilaterally assumes belongs to it Xi, like Hitler, dreams of being considered the greatest ruler of his country in history for having reintegrated its territories and undone injustices imposed on the nation over centuries.
As the world suffered through a pandemic created according to some in a Chinese laboratory, Xi Jinping set into motion his offensive plans. Deng Xiaoping had stated, ‘hide your capabilities, bide your time’ and hence Xi’s predecessors adopted economic and soft power to enhance Chinese image and amalgamate China into the global mainstream, ensuring steady growth that enabled development of military power. On the 70th anniversary of the Republic of China in October 2019, Xi defined China’s twin goals, to be achieved by 2049, as ‘rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’ both economically and territorially by reunifying Taiwan.
However, it is evident that timelines for reunification of Taiwan and regaining claimed territories has been brought forward by Xi himself. Reasons for his change in approach are possibly economic and may have something to do with pandemic management failures as also threats to his throne.
Xi, in contrast to Deng, chose two offensive tools for fulfilling his ambitions, ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ and military power. Wolf warrior diplomacy was launched last year, when Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, briefed his diplomats, directing them to display greater assertiveness in representing Beijing’s interests overseas and being vocal in defending the Chinese communist government from criticism.
This offensive diplomacy became prominent after the global spread of the pandemic as China began claiming parts of nations around it. Chinese state-owned press claimed Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as part of greater China.
To the surprise of its only major ally, Russia, China said Vladivostok was part of it before being annexed by Russia. Military power to regain territory were visible in the South China Sea (SCS), despite protests by Asean nations, against Taiwan and offensive actions in Ladakh. China also encroached on Nepalese territory and demanded tracts of land in Bhutan.
As the world united to stop Hitler from pursuing his policy of Lebensraum, similarly the world is uniting to stop Xi’s policy of expansionism.
While India and Taiwan are preparing for possible military action, the US, Australia, UK, Germany and France, apart from nations within the Asean, are joining hands to hold China back.
Xi had expected his PLA to achieve its aims in Ladakh by early June, post which he could engage India in unending talks, enabling him to concentrate on regaining Taiwan. He had based his strategy on speedy movement to grab claim lines and exploit Indian philosophy of resolution through dialogue.
Historically, in all cases of Chinese intrusion in recent years – Doklam, Sumdorong Chu, Depsang and others – this was the standard Indian approach.
It is also possible that after consolidating his gains in the Pangong Tso and Depsang regions, China could have contemplated an offensive through the Chushul bowl and in Depsang, in case it got the opportunity, to deny India any future opportunity of interfering with Chinese strategic roads linking Tibet and highways connecting the CPEC.
Galwan and the Indian offensive action of securing dominating heights on the Kailash Ridge upset his plans.
Throughout the Ladakh crisis, pressure was building on Taiwan. For China, the longer Taiwan remains independent, broadcasts anti-China statements and offers sanctuary to pro-democracy protestors, the greater would be its influence in Hong Kong and the mainland.
The presence of a successful democratic state so close to Chinese shores is an anathema for communist Chinese leaders, as it could lead to similar demands within. With nations dumping the One China policy and sending senior government representatives formally to Taiwan, there were internal accusations of diplomatic failure of the Xi regime.
Amalgamation of Taiwan would ensure Xi is revered for life and worshipped for being the foremost leader in Chinese history. Violation of Taiwanese airspace, conducting exercises near the Taiwan straits, direct threats to its President, Tsai Ing-wen and warnings to the global community on breaking the One China policy became part of Xi’s offensive approach.
Last week it discarded the median line of the strait. Taiwan has activated its command and control centres and placed its armed forces on a high state of alert. What gave the global community time to get its act together and deploy forces in the SCS was India staring down the dragon in Ladakh, putting spokes in Xi’s plans for Chinese expansionism.
China knew that if it escalates in Ladakh, its plans for Taiwan would have to be shelved. China, despite its economic and military power, would be unable to handle two fronts. Historically, the world was silent when Hitler remilitarised Rhineland and occupied Czechoslovakia. Had it acted offensively then it could have prevented the second world war.
Similarly, remaining silent when Xi invades Taiwan could set in motion events which the world would never be able to control, without indulging in a nuclear war. It cannot let another Hitler rise, especially in Asia.
To support Taiwan and maintain pressure against Chinese expansionism, the US has pushed its carrier group into the South China Sea as a precaution. As global reality begins to dawn, Australia, and European powers have announced their intention to join forces to block Chinese expansionism. Simultaneously, economic pressure is pushing China back. Xi must be checked before another Hitler rises.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.