Exclusive column to Vedic Management Center by Dr David Frawley with U Mahesh Prabhu
“When there’s peace within, there’s peace in everything we do. In the absence of peace, we create chaos.” Those are the words of a little known great Indian emperor who eventually renounced everything to seek a greater good – the sage, Bhartrihari. What he said is true not just for individuals, but for nations as well. We only need a little observation to realise its verity.
China is currently busy trespassing on another country’s territory – Bhutan – and, in turn, threatening a formidable neighbour, India. Covering a large area, China centres away from this small nation in the Himalayan region. After occupying and taking over large tracts of land belonging to its neighbours, India and Bhutan as well as all of Tibet, China is currently adamant on taking over another piece of land to build a road.
There’s no credible reason why a large and powerful nation needs to fight over trivial issues that have no relevance to its citizens, but China is not just trespassing, but also threatening its neighbours with military force.
Political pundits in India and elsewhere would have us believe that the Chinese people support their government’s misdeeds as a matter of national pride. But at a diplomatic and strategic level, it’s important for everyone to understand the root of the problem. For example, when a person is affected with a severe psychological disease, it’s natural for others to suggest that the person is insane. However, this doesn’t make it easier to find a solution. For a doctor to treat an ailment, the disease must first be diagnosed. The same applies for geopolitical crises.
Our “diagnosis” may differ from popular opinion, but may provide the key to truly understanding the conflict between Indo-Bhutan and China. Since early this year, China has been embroiled in an internal political struggle around the efforts of President Xi to become the most dominant Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.
Mao Zedong’s era was catastrophic to the Chinese people and civilisation. His “Great Leap Forward” was an utter disaster which caused the man-made famine of the 1950s in which millions of Chinese perished. His Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 almost led to the demise of the great Chinese heritage.
However, under the statesmanship of Deng Xiaoping, who was once hated and consigned to near oblivion by Mao, there began a steady revival of Chinese culture and historical legacy. Interestingly, Deng was never the president but held series of posts in the Communist Party, through which he wielded significant power to further his cause of making the Chinese people self-reliant and prosperous. He was the brain behind the current presidential system of government in China, in which an individual cannot rule for more than two terms of four years each.
Deng fell back on the ideals of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’, a quasi-religious concept that bestowed legitimacy on Chinese emperors for over 3,000 years. His new model still had a single leader, but the leader was chosen by a consensus among the Central Committee members of the Communist Party. Each leader was elected to a five-year term in what is believed in the democratic world to be “rigged elections”, and was permitted to serve a second five-year term.
At the beginning of a leader’s second five-year term, he designates one or two likely successors. The designated successors then rally for position among the Central Committee members. Slowly, a consensus emerges around one figure. That individual is then selected as president at the end of the current president’s second term.
This system worked well through the presidency of Li Xiannian (1983-1988), Yang Shangkun (1988-1993), Jiang Zemin (1993-2003), Hu Jintao (2003-2013), and the current President Xi Jing Ping (2013-2018).
President Xi’s first year term is due to expire in March 2018. He is likely to be elected for a second term, but has so far deviated from the script by not designating any potential successors for a smooth transition in 2023. At a minimum, this will make Xi more powerful after 2018 because it will eliminate the lame duck factor almost by default.
Some political pundits within China fear that Xi’s real ambition is to capture a third term until 2028. This would be like Vladimir Putin’s gamble in Russia where he has used various coercive means to hold power since 2000 and is expected to remain there until 2020, at least.
Like any dictatorial president, Xi has conveniently used an “anti-corruption campaign” to arrest two of his most powerful rivals, who could also challenge for the presidency – Bo Xilai, an ambitious mayor of Chongqing, and Zhou Yongkang, the head of China’s internal security apparatus.
It’s beyond doubt that Xi can disrupt the two-term system and seek a third term, given his ruthless handling of his opponents. Xi’s action, if realised, would place him against the the Mandate of the Heaven as Deng had devised it.
This is something Indian media houses aren’t aware of or have failed to report. With dictatorial powers at his disposal, Xi could create unrest at borders to create a sense of insecurity for his people. This has been observed numerous times in Pakistan. To seek a mandate to their illegal absorption of power, Pakistani dictators have always created “ruthless external enemies” to convince the masses of their importance.
Let’s not forget that China has no media freedom. What this means is that misinformation produced by Chinese leaders can be forced on to the Chinese people. The increasing internet censorship is another major issue which prevents objective and fact-based information from reaching the Chinese people. Under such circumstances, it’s easy for the sitting Chinese premier to create a sense of fear and chaos and make people bend over backwards to deliver on his expectations to protect them.
When Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi assumed power, he was very particular about forging ties with neighbours to create a conducive atmosphere to boost trade as well as cultural ties. His intent was visible when he invited SAARC head of states to his swearing-in ceremony.
As a nation that had already lost several opportunities under the previous regime of the Indian National Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, Modi was keen to get back in the race to make India a developed nation. ‘Make in India’ has been his most visible campaign in this regard. It has been extremely promising, if not successful, thus far. His charisma and oratory skills, not to forget bear hugs to almost every head of state he has met with, presented a new image of India that was not just vibrant and friendly, but also generous. This, not many realise, was also eating into the Chinese government’s business interests and diplomatic intimidation. They would have certainly not liked losing business to a next door neighbour.
Although indirectly, PM Modi has aroused Chinese ire. They are keen to retaliate. One of the key reasons behind incidents such as Doklam may be in order to create a sense of fear among foreign interests and stop them from investing in India. The very idea of war can incite greater fear than war itself, particularly for investors. A psychological war is already in place.
Political pundits in India are going ballistic about giving China a “bloody nose”. They fear the Chinese attacking India for abetting “fugitives” like Dalai Lama. These pundits are consumed by their fear. India and China are the world’s two oldest and greatest civilisations. They have lived side by side for ages! Much of Chinese culture reflects Indian heritage. Be it yoga, Ayurveda, meditation, or Buddhism, there is a common intellectual heritage to share and be proud of.
China cannot truly favour war in this situation. It is conscious of the costs it would have to bear in case of a conflict. On its western borders with North Korea, Americans are already furious with the Kim Jong Un’s missile tests. Americans are looking for an opportunity to overthrow Kim’s dictatorial communist regime out for good. If they do, it’ll make the Chinese look weak. This could lead to the ouster of President Xi by his own party comrades. War with India will certainly gather significant international attention and will further cripple the already weakening Chinese economy. America has already stated it would not stand idle or neutral in such a condition. In addition, Chinese saber rattling in both the South China Sea and by Japan shows it is getting over extended in its bullying tactics and other countries are pushing back. A recent joint US-Japan-India naval exercise shows this. There’s no way China, which is so conscious about its country’s economy, can favour a full-scale war now – this could also unite its enemies.
Doklam is primarily a psychological war. It is something that won’t go away easily. If not at Doklam, it could somewhere else – Arunachal Pradesh, probably. It’s a war of who will blink first. PM Modi has shown great resolve and astuteness so far. The complication is that the Chinese can incite Pakistan to create more unrest in Jammu & Kashmir. Kashmir has continued to be a problem for all the premiers of India – starting with Nehru himself.
The good news amid all this is that, in reality, China and Pakistan have much to lose. By being a pawn state to China, Pakistan can lose significant aide from the Americans who themselves are looking for an opportunity to counter China.
Chinese President Xi may be committing the same mistake as Alexander ‘the Great’. He is getting involved in numerous issues outside his country’s borders, and too fast. Although its internal situation isn’t completely clear, it’s obvious that a country of its size and population has numerable internal challenges. Large nations have often collapsed of their own accord, be it Rome, Egypt or even the British Empire. As they say “flames are at its peak before the candle extinguishes”. The Chinese Communist Party could well be seeing its end if they overseas the costs of war.
The entire world will see how Modi plays his cards. He is the most favoured bet for India. Modi isn’t a spoon-fed politician. He has fought for everything that he has earned. His handling of his adversaries within India is testimony of his statesmanship. Modi has definitely consolidated his position and is more formidable and well prepared for the task. If he can beat President Xi at his own game, it’ll lead to an international reverence for him for years to come.