(This is Part Three of a series focusing on the the current crisis unfolding in China and its global implications.)
Let’s face it, the ostensible reasons of interoperability and testing synergistic tactics in a Military Exercise entailing two international powers is a cliched and dated rationale. The real reasons are strategic power projection.
Last week when the Chinese H-6K bombers and the Russian Tu-95 ‘Bear’ bombers growled in tandem over the Sea of Japan and East China Seas, they were suggesting a far more sinister and strategic posture than the reaction of scrambling South Korean and Japanese fighter jets.
While Moscow and Beijing bandied these Russian-Sino Military Exercise as ‘routine’, the dark and bloody backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s cold stare at Taiwan added to the signaling.
Last week, China and Russia conducted joint Military Exercise over the Sea of Japan and East China Seas.
Japan expressed concerns over plausible threats to its territorial integrity due to joint Russian-Sino Military maneouvers.
18th edition of India-US Military Drill, known as Yudh Abhyas rankled the Chinese and could impact future equations.
China says India might become an important pawn in the US Indo-Pacific strategy, and thus, will be able to contain China's development in the region.
What China’s Military Strategy in Joint Exercises Signal
The reiterative provocation after the joint statement was signed on 4 February between the two powers (just weeks before the Ukraine invasion), which had insisted on a ‘new era’ of strategic understanding with ‘no limits’ on jointmanship, has been tellingly followed up with a series of large-scale Military Exercises and the rare defense of the Russian position on the high tables of international diplomacy.
Irrespective of the global isolation, China chooses to defiantly punt on the Russians to further its own battle of hegemonic stakes— the Military Exercises are simply the most powerful symbols of its resolve, direction and ‘allies’ for the future.
Expectedly, Japan expressed concerns over what it perceived as plausible threats to its territorial integrity with the assertion of the joint Russian-Sino Military maneouvers in its neighbourhood. Yet, Beijing’s unofficial mouthpiece—The Global Times naively headlined, "Tokyo urged to heed rational voices on China, after it hypes regular China-Russia air patrols."
Importantly, Beijing which urged ‘rational voices’ to Tokyo did not afford similar and reciprocal rationality when its own wounded border on the other side of the Indo-Sino Line of Actual Control (LAC) was undergoing yet another Military Exercise, albeit one with India and the United States.
China: 'Indo-US Military Drill Breached Bilateral Trust'
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian had commented, “The joint military exercise held by India and the US near the LAC violated the spirit of relevant agreements signed by China and India in 1993 and 1996 and does not help build bilateral trust."
The allusion to the earlier agreements signed by both the countries were even more ironic and disingenuous, considering the unbridled expansionism displayed by the Chinese in the Summer of 2020.
The limited scale of Military Exercise entailing US troops from the second Brigade of the 11th Airborne Division along with the soldiers of India’s Assam Regiment (100 kilometers from the LAC) by themselves do not create any literal or immediate threat to the Chinese— but it's the strategic purpose and partnership between India and the US that rankles the Chinese sensibilities and future equations.
Even the name of this 18th edition of the Indo-US Military Exercise ie, Yudh Abhyas or War Practice is clearly explicit in its suggestions.
However, in a move and with a vocabulary that sounds eerily like the sort used by the Chinese to counter the Japanese ‘concerns’, New Delhi reminded Beijing that the ensuing Indo-US Military Exercise had nothing to do with past agreements and also remarked that it would have zero tolerance for China's attempts to unilaterally change the LAC.
Speaking on India's foreign policy, the Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had previously stated that “India exercises with whomsoever it chooses to and it does not give a Veto to third countries on this issue” and the newly-appointed US Charge d'Affaires to India Elizabeth Jones did some old-fashioned American talking, and asserted that it is "none of their business!" The open duplicity of the Chinese stand when confronted with contrasting situations on two different sides of its borders, was bluntly called out.
India’s Conflict Management Should Be at Par With National Interest
Beijing’s pontificating tone in The Global Times continued—"Washington hopes that with its assistance in military equipment and intelligence, India will confront China militarily and even engage in an arms race. It is expecting that India will become an important pawn in its Indo-Pacific strategy, and thus, will be able to contain China's development in the Indo-Pacific region."
This view is not entirely misplaced as it fits in well with the US worldview of containing China as per the recently released 2022 China Military Power Report. However, it is for New Delhi to partake in the purported US plan to the extent that serves India’s interest and ignore the parts that are beyond its limited concerns. That is unfiltered realpolitik, and China recognises the dynamics at play.
It is the same Chinese who had profoundly invoked a proverb from the Zhou dynasty about the inequities at play whilst defending its nuclear program in the 1960s. That the officials can burn down houses, but the commoners are not even allowed to light their lamps as a piece of timeless wisdom was conveniently forgotten when India was to assert its own nuclear prowess and agenda, later.
The Chinese had come down heavily on New Delhi for joining the ‘Nuclear Club', uninvited. The Chinese duplicity on anything to do with its expansionist program, is unmatched and institutionalised.
Will Indo-Pacific Tensions Keep Simmering?
The report also specifically calls out the Indo-Pacific region as "the primary theatre of the revised Cold War realm."
Issues like the Chinese (and Russian) bombers flying or flotilla sailing dangerously close to other wary country’s territorial limits and reciprocal Military Exercises are only going to be the norm and par for the course, going forward. The intensity of the Chinese threat will also warrant a rival ‘bloc’ approach, and therefore, platforms like the QUAD (Quadrilateral Grouping – Japan, India, Australia and United States) are only natural.
The famously frosty exchanges between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jingping at the G-20 meet in Bali, or United Kingdom’s Rishi Sunak’s unprecedented confirmation of the end of ‘Golden Era’ of relations with China is also augury of the direction of future winds.
To read the Part 1 of the series, click here.
(The author is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)