Mind games at Doklam

India is no Philippines. In the Philippines, China managed to declare victory by convincing President Rodrigo Duterte that friendship with China is a better bet than friendship with the United States. China subdued Philippines without fighting.

Written by Sanjaya Baru | Updated: August 11, 2017 11:43 pm
doklam standoff, india, china, sikkim standoff, sikkim, doklam trijunction, doklam, india china conflict, indian express news India is no Philippines. In the Philippines, China managed to declare victory by convincing President Rodrigo Duterte that friendship with China is a better bet than friendship with the United States. (Representational image)

The driver of Chinese strategy at this stage of its development lies in the yawning gap between its geo-economic power and geo-political capability. China has, without doubt, become an economic superpower. However, it is as yet far from becoming a geo-political super-power. Indeed, China may never acquire the geo-political influence and reach that Great Britain enjoyed in the 19th century and the United States of America did in the 20th, even though it may have already surpassed the geo-economic clout the two major powers enjoyed in the heyday of their empires. China’s “empire” does not as yet extend beyond its own claimed borders and those of its two principle allies — North Korea and Pakistan.

Most strategic analysts make the mistake of imagining that China has already been able to convert its geo-economic power, as the world’s largest trading nation with huge investible dollar surpluses, into military might and geo-political clout. This would be a simplistic understanding of how economic power gets translated into political power. The yawning gap that stares China in its face is its limited geo-political reach, despite the so-called Eurasian alliance with Russia. More to the point, China’s military capability is still limited. As the annual defence publication, Military Balance, published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, shows, the US still spends more on defence then the combined defence spending of the next 10 powers, including Russia, China, Germany, France, UK, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea and Brazil. S o how has China responded to this gap between economic might and political power? By buying influence. The Belt-Road Initiative is the latest spending programme aimed at buying friendships. It comes in the wake of the creation of financial institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the promotion of bilateral economic assistance programmes with neighbours and other developing economies. There is nothing new about this. All economically well-off nations have used what has been dubbed cheque-book diplomacy and China does so too. Apart from funding government-to-government lending, China has also been able to create global companies and global brands that have contributed to Chinese soft power. There is no denying the fact that China has been able to convert its economic might into commercial and technological capability. In short, China has emerged as a trading and a knowledge power.

However, precisely because China has not yet converted this geo-economic power into military capability and geo-political clout, it has used its economic and financial muscle to win friends and influence people. More importantly, China has used its geo-economic hard and soft power to launch a well-funded global psywar aimed at projecting its viewpoint across the world and influencing the responses to it. It has been able to use even the Western media to its advantage by successfully propagating certain views. For example, in the 1990s, when China was busy seeking and securing investment and know-how from Japan, it never made an issue of the treatment of Chinese women by Japanese soldiers in the first half of the 20th century. Once China no longer needed Japanese investment it began demanding Japan’s apology for past sins. Many have come to believe that China has a legitimate grievance against Japan, forgetting the fact that this grievance was never aired when China was Japan’s largest bilateral aid and investment recipient.

Strategic analysts around the world often like to quote Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu who famously said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” This is precisely what China has been trying to do across the Asia-Pacific region and it will seek to do in the Indian Ocean region as well, at least in part because it has the economic capability to “subdue” but not yet the military might or geopolitical clout to fight and win. In the Doklam stand-off, China has tried to deploy its media to create a war psychosis, seeking to draw world attention to it and exert psychological pressure on India. The entire Doklam episode, including the behaviour of some Chinese diplomats in Delhi, has till now followed a textbook psywar strategy. So far it has yielded few results for China, thanks to India’s wise and calm response till now.

India is no Philippines. In the Philippines, China managed to declare victory by convincing President Rodrigo Duterte that friendship with China is a better bet than friendship with the United States. China subdued Philippines without fighting. China is now trying to exert similar pressure on other neighbouring countries. Two years after the passing away of its founder-leader, Singapore has become a new target for China’s psywar. China enjoys both economic and political influence in the island but the republic has inherited a proud tradition of independent thinking from its iconic founder Lee Kuan Yew. After making a lot of noise about building the Kra canal through Thailand aimed at ending Singapore’s strategic advantage in the Malacca Straits, China is now tom-toming the idea of a railway link through Malaysia with a similar end in mind. These are all mind games aimed at getting Singapore to kow-tow like Duterte did.

As part of a wider strategy of weakening Asean unity, picking off one small neighbour after another, China is twisting many arms in Southeast Asia not by using military force but by threatening to deploy economic weapons if its economic incentives fail to secure the intended response. China’s dogged pursuit of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement should also be viewed in this context.

Finally, North Korea. Here China is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds with the aim of underscoring its strategic relevance to Asia-Pacific security. Here, China’s behaviour is no different from that of the US in the past. Make oneself relevant to the security of a region by first making the region insecure. But the real point is that much of that insecurity is in the minds of the people. Unlike in Asia to India’s West, where people are actually dying due to conflict, in the Asia to India’s East the battles are as yet being staged in peoples’ minds. China’s armed forces may not engage India’s at Doklam but they will continue with their mind games aimed to get India, as indeed all its neighbours, to kow-tow, like Duterte did.

 

The writer is Distinguished Fellow, United Service Institution of India, New Delhi

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  1. G
    Gautam Sen
    Aug 14, 2017 at 1:12 pm
    A very unusual and strangely pragmatic analysis by Baru. Wonder what has made him Shift gear. Reminds of the French President on being asked about Chou-en-Lai when he was a student in France remarked "every intelligent man has his own agenda" Baru is no exception who knows which side of the toast to butter. Gautam Sen, Pune
    Reply
    1. W
      welingkar
      Aug 13, 2017 at 7:50 am
      Someone here using this comments section to make anti-jew rants, but being a coward, hides behind different fake names. I can only assume who he or she must be- a rabid Islamist or a Communist.
      Reply
      1. C
        Col. Sandhu
        Aug 13, 2017 at 2:56 am
        All know China is strongly Jewish linked thus all the great propaganda for China. China is cutting beards of Muslims and no Muslim country is protesting that is the influence of the international Jewish media! The Jews have penetrated the Indian media and are doing much publicity for the Punjabi. The Jews identify people and then infiltrate. The Punjabi is often money-minded like the Jews often also dark and short, thus color conscious. The Jews are now marrying with them (since Jews lack numbers) to build influence in India. Sadly for the Jew the Indian Punjab has some people of great character as well. China is protected by the Jews but India now has a military edge thus this game is over. While the illiterate Modi has strong Jewish backings yet all Indians will support Modi for the good of India as he is an elected leader. Our nationalists and intellects (who genuinely run the country) are ahead of the Jewish agenda.
        Reply
        1. K
          Kushal Singh
          Aug 13, 2017 at 9:20 am
          Who made you Col( Mr Sandhu) you seems to be not fit for even peon job. Not having basic decorum, how to address this nation's Prime Minister, saying him illetrate Modi. Your mind needs to be checked by a Psychiatrist, looser man. All countries except few like you giving full attention to this Indian Govt headed by Mr Modi.
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        2. R
          Ramesh Nittoor
          Aug 13, 2017 at 2:04 am
          To let a single incident like Doklam determine Indian foreign policy and derail non-alignment built assiduously since 1947 is not wisdom. India has done well so far to delink her diplomacy from transactional issues. It is better to create a positive framework for China policy which accounts for the risks of Chinese transgressions, but also looks at opportunities for development and lowering border tensions with China. There are no doubt strong cons uencies within China with expansionist design, but there are also sane and sensible voices, voices of excellence in non-political domain, who ought to have a legitimate say in making of future India. India is strong enough to take the border impasse in its stride, and the rattled jackals of war in Chinese media can be seen to what they are, not real fighting grade thinkers. This maturity may have come to all of us post-Doklam experience, and hopefully with peaceful resolution, misgivings shall make way for mutual respect and trust.
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          1. S
            Sb
            Aug 13, 2017 at 8:40 am
            You Sir, May be counted as a successful target of Chinese Psy Ops...
            Reply
          2. R
            Ramesh Nittoor
            Aug 13, 2017 at 1:50 am
            they will continue with their mind games aimed to get India, as indeed all its neighbours, to kow-tow --- Mr. Sanjay Baru has made a serious assertion here. Unless there is a proper causal analysis of what triggered Doklam road building effort, it is not proper to make any such assumption. Taking all steps to strengthen India need not make any assumption on motives, knowledge of capabilities and absence of trust to leverage those capabilities is adequate criteria. India needs on all strategic matters, disinterested analysis, i.e. NIRGUN CHINTAN. Continued Chinese highhandedness could impact BRICS meet. A decision on this also impacts relationship with Russia. India non-alignment stance is being tested and the need here is to be credible to deep state within China. Think China is comfortable with Indian Triad outlined earlier. They find Trump-Hindutva tie-up disconcerting and so does Pakistan.
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            1. G
              Ghamandi Singh
              Aug 13, 2017 at 12:54 am
              It is no secret that most data on China is fake carefully planted by their Jewish friends. If the USA attacks North Korea China will run with her tail between her legs exactly as when Mrs. Indira Gandhi did a job on Pakistan in 1971.
              Reply
              1. I
                Indian Abroad
                Aug 13, 2017 at 12:53 am
                Chinese rulers and their policies are simply stupid. If India had as hardworking and dedicated people as Chinese are, India would have replaced the USA as a World leader.
                Reply
                1. N
                  Nile
                  Aug 14, 2017 at 7:51 pm
                  A ha, Sound stupid!
                  Reply
                2. R
                  Ramesh Nittoor
                  Aug 12, 2017 at 11:10 pm
                  Mr. Baru, former press advisor of MMS is underestimating Chinese clout. It is to simply put now a G-2 nation. Its economic linkages with rest of the world is formidable political clout as well. India has been denied NSG entry, despite best effort of US because of Chinese clout. India never got a fair deal from Australia, thanks to Chinese, and this recent promise by Australia FM, has not translated to reality yet. On Tibet and Taiwan it has effectively silenced the world, including India. EU nations opened its best technology to enable Chinese advancement, so did US. Not just Ic Chip making, machines that make IC Chip plants were also sold lock stock and barrel. GM recently gave its automatic transmission technology whole to China due to political pressures. China gets what it asked for, and Doklam is first real resistance, and the outcome not known yet. Their inroads into Africa and South America is also very significant. They may not be liked, but respected.
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                  1. R
                    Ramesh Nittoor
                    Aug 12, 2017 at 11:38 pm
                    The biggest problem India faced was its democracy had not deepened enough. The stakeholders comprising elites, neo-colonials, and crony capitalists had bigger say in policy making and made it corrupt and populist farce. Modi government, per Economist is the first corruption free government at policy level, since Nehru government. Policy free corruption will over time tackle corruption at operational levels. mechanisms for superior legal controls are also developing. Doklam is helping India to improve the integrity quotient of her political economy. China may have expected Modi govt to wilt under pressure and get discredited as Nehru govt unfortunately was discredited. Think by relying on Nehru bureaucratic governance, and co-opt sa uarding the idea of India, effort to resist China at Doklam and beyond is greatly strengthened. The Nehru-Vajpayee legacy is intellectually capable to engage with Chinese mind game threats and be credibly friendly in cooperation mode as well.
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                    1. R
                      Ramesh Nittoor
                      Aug 12, 2017 at 11:47 pm
                      Chinese probably thought Modi government was basically a Hindu nationalist government, i.e. Hindutva its core value, and hence could not resist Doklam standoff. What they have now found is a formidable triad. Comprising of Political-left Hindustaniyat, Political-Right Bharatiyata and non-Political Idea of India. Chinese can not deter this India triad either in terms of mind games or real war.
                      1. R
                        Ramesh Nittoor
                        Aug 13, 2017 at 12:32 am
                        Hindustaniyat comprises of freedom movement cultural ethos that strives to forge Hindu-Muslim unity. This cultural platform made India free but could not prevent par ion. Bharatiyata is cultural ethos founded on ancient precepts of the land and seeks to syncretize it with modernity. Its development efforts to reach vernacular India is still woefully short. Idea of India is to build a modern society founded on Cons utional values of civil democracy and rule of law. The triad has not yet delivered at spectacular achievement level of China, but strong enough to hold ground in mind games and deter China.
                        1. R
                          Ramesh Nittoor
                          Aug 13, 2017 at 3:40 am
                          Policy free of any corruption will over time tackle corruption at operational levels.
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