Xi Jingping wants PLA to Prepare for a Regional War: Alarming Statement or Mere Posturing?

Written By: Pathikrit Payne
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The ink has perhaps not yet dried on the numerous Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that India and China had signed during the recently concluded visit of the Chinese President Xi Jingping to India.

In spite of the visible bonhomie between the Chinese President and the Indian Prime Minister, apprehensions continue to run high as a result of the continued stand-off in the Ladakh region followed by an alarming statement by the Chinese President to the top Chinese military officers, after his return to China.

What did he say?

The Chinese President, who is also the Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People's Liberation Army of China, is believed to have said to the Chinese Army to remain prepared for a regional war. There are also reports which state that he has asked the PLA to have absolute faith and loyalty to the Communist Party of China and that all decisions of the Central Leadership are fully implemented.

Were they aimed at India?

This statement has sent alarm bells ringing across India and many are wondering if the statements of the President of China were aimed at India. Incidentally even when the Chinese President was visiting India, the repeated incursions by the Chinese Army were raising apprehensions as to whether they were being ordered by the Chinese President himself, considering that he is also the Chairman of the Chinese Military Commission, or whether Chinese Army is acting on its own.

India is not the only problem for China

To put things in perspective, there are several dimensions to the whole issue. In the first place, India is not the only country with whom China is having problems. One has to keep in mind that China has major ongoing tensions with Japan and that animosity has historical linkages as well. In fact so much is the animosity between China and Japan that Japan recently raised its military spending for the first time in several years and is also contemplating to do away with its self imposed moratoriums on military spending.

Likewise, China has major issues with South Korea as well owing to China's sustained and continued support to the rogue and dictatorial regime of North Korea. In the same league, one should not forget the face-offs that China almost had with US in 1996 on the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty. That issue is a perpetual issue of tension between China and Taiwan which invariably brings US into the picture automatically. Further, one should also not forget the acrimony that exists between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea disputes.

Therefore, everything said and done, India is not the only concern for China even though most in India are prone to think that way. There is no doubt that China has made massive strides in terms of military modernization but under no circumstances China is in a position to relocate all its military resources towards a needless war with India. It does need to maintain a high level of resources perpetually ready for other eventualities including possible face-offs with Japan, Taiwan and even US.

The more probable theatre of Regional War is in South China or East China Sea region

One also should not forget that XI Jingping mentioned about a regional war. Incidentally a regional war is more than just a conflict between two countries and involves on most occasions several countries in the vicinity. Therefore the possibility of a regional war kind of a situation is more in the South China Sea theatre or the East China Sea theatre than in the Sino-Indian borders.

Is it mere posturing?

There is also a strong possibility that the statements were meant to deliberately unnerve many an adversary or competing nations. China is known for this kind of posturing and have rarely over the last few decades ventured beyond that. There have been severe riots in Vietnam recently in which the prime target had been Chinese factories. The riots were as a result of China deploying a rig in the disputed regions of the South China Sea which are claimed by Vietnam as well. Yet China in the larger interest of its economy acted maturely and did not trigger a conflict.

One also has to remember that for more than three decades now, Chinese Army has not witnessed a war and its army is not battle hardened neither its weapons battle tested. The last time the Chinese Army fought a war was in the 1978 against Vietnam and China barely won it.

While no doubt that China has majorly modernized its Army and India's laid back Ministry of Defense remained slow to initiating the same here, the Indian Army is far too battle hardened given its rotational policy of sending its personnel to Rashtriya Rifles to fight insurgents in J&K and Northeast. The issue of logistics too are extremely challenging for China to initiate a long drawn conflict across the Himalayas.

The Other Possibility

There is also a strong possibility that Xi Jingping might not at all have been talking about issues related to India or South China Sea and may even been pointing towards the rising tension in Middle East, the rising spread of radical terror outfits like ISIS and the increasing spate of terror attacks in China itself. In this context one has to remember that China is grappling with relentless attacks being orchestrated by radical Islamic terror groups in the Xingjiang province and it is spreading fast much to the worry of the Chinese authorities. Further Tibet may remain calm but it remains restive enough.

Can China Afford a Conflict with India?

Today India and China have one of the largest combined markets and economies of the world and is invariably the future of the global economy. While India needs a huge amount of investments and including those from China, it is China too who would need the Indian market to reduce its dependence on the stagnating West.

Given the increasing economic interdependence and investments of one country in another, given the massive sensitivities of global markets to such possibilities of war, China can ill afford to start a needless conflict. Given its extreme dependence on export markets, any kind of global sanctions on China for its intransigence may cost it dearly in terms of economy. China is also looking to tap major investment opportunities in India and is planning to make India as base for manufacturing many of the sub components which it now manufactures in countries like Vietnam.

Thus, it is well nigh impossible for China initiate a conflict leave alone a regional war. China's economy would be crippled if exports from China find no takers or are barred by sanctions. Possibility also remains high that the statement was aimed at making it clear to India that her increasing bonhomie with Japan or US may not be to the liking of China.

No Scope for Complacency for India though

However, everything said and done, one cannot ignore the massive military mobilization that China has done in Tibet. It literally outnumbers Indian Army by a ratio of 3:1 in addition to huge infrastructure of railroad as well as missile and air force bases it has created there. It is only recently that India's Ministry of Defense was forced to wake up from its self imposed slumber and take some corrective steps to improve India's defensive preparedness along North East India

Even though China certainly has an edge over India, given the challenging geographical terrain across the Himalayas in addition to the arsenal of some significant Sukhoi-30 MKI squadrons that India has created in Tezpur and Chabua in addition to deployment of several frontline missiles and mountain divisions, it would not be too prudent for China to think it can do a repeat of 1962.

Time to augment the due modernization of the Armed Forces

Nevertheless, India still has to be on the edge and realize the fact that any kind of skirmish with China may also result in Pakistan taking advantage of the situation and ding some mischief of its own in India. Therefore even though the possibility of China triggering a war with India is extremely limited, the loaded statement of the Chinese President should be a wake-up call for India and take the modernization of the Indian Armed Forces on a priority basis. India has to remain prepared for a two frontal war if it has to remain in peace.

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