China wants to push the envelope on multiple fronts to isolate India and the West
The current stand-off at the India-Bhutan-China trijunction in the Donglang region seems to be orchestrated by China to show India as an undependable ally in the region, thereby pushing these smaller nations into its ‘protective cluster’ and facilitate in isolating India and the West.
This has been pointed out by Major General Rajiv Narayanan in his artcile titled “INDIA-CHINA DOKLAM PLATEAU STANDOFF: A ‘WEI QI’ PERSPECTIVE” published in the Indian Defence Review on Friday (July 7, 2017)
General Narayanan points out that China appears to be pushing the envelope on multiple fronts in the South China Sea (9 Dash line claims), economic push in ASEAN, South Asia and Central Asia (BRI), and countering a ‘Rising India’. It is keen to develop its ‘protective clusters’ to its soft under-belly in these regions, even as it attempts to expand beyond the ‘first island chain’ to its west.
The Defence strategy expert quotes from other sources to support his arguments and to underscore that the current stand-off in Bhutan should be seen in the larger perspective of China’s strategy in the region based on the rules of its ancient game of ‘Wei Qi’ or Go – an ‘encirclement game’ . This game along with the Chinese concept of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ aptly sums up their strategy and operational art. The game entails ‘multiple battles’ over a wide front, while concurrently ‘balancing the need to expand’ with the need to ‘build protective clusters’ .
General Narayanan points out that China is misquoting the 1890 Treaty between it and Britain, even knowing that it is on slippery ground, as it did not relate to the territory of Bhutan. He also goes on to emphasise that China or Tibet has no ‘historical claims on Bhutan. As per the rule of ‘Wei Qi’ , China has no ‘liberties’ left in this region, considering the terrain and its own position, he states adding India’s firm response and the Bhutan King’s resolute stance appear to have stalled China for the moment and the only options for it are either War or a withdrawal.
General Narayanan draws attention to the major restructuring of the PLA, now underway and said that China would look for some ‘face-saving’ position for itself and may not embroil itself in a war at this stage. Obviously China had not visualised, India’s rebuff to the BRI, the G-20 Summit, and the Malabar Exercise in the Bay of Bengal. With USA in retrenchment, its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on 01 Jun 2017 , and the refusal by POTUS to reaffirm Article 5 of NATO, on 27 May 2017- the cornerstone of the NATO alliance, which decrees that “an attack against one ally is considered an attack against all , China seems to have surmised that the ‘shi’ was now flowing more towards it, the Indian Army General observes.
Adding further, the author says, the continued Information Warfare hype appears a planned move to counter India’s hardliners and show the Indian Government in poor light. However, the firm stance of the Bhutan Royal family and its own tactically disadvantageous position has queered the pitch. While the discussions during the G-20 Summit could lead to a pull back, with some ‘face-saving’ device being conjured up by all sides, China would not give up this game so easily.
Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM
Retired after 37 years of distinguished service, as the ADGMO (B) in 2016. He has been closely involved in Force Modernisation, Structures and Future Strategy.