Friday, Sep 21, 2018 | Last Update : 12:57 PM IST

Trump, Xi, Putin, Modi & New Great Game

Vice Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy's Eastern Naval Command in 2007. A nuclear and missile specialist trained in the former Soviet Union, he was also DG Indian Coast Guard.
Published : May 12, 2018, 5:35 am IST
Updated : May 12, 2018, 5:33 am IST

All strategic advice to the political leadership is given by unaccountable bureaucrats, and retired diplomats and police officers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)
 Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)

I am writing this after US President Donald Trump announced scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal a few days ago, imposing new sanctions on that country and those trading with it. This was done with the aim of defanging Iran’s nuclear ambitions by bringing Iranian ballistic missiles and similar issues into the “newly-negotiated deal”. This step also permits US to sell its shale oil to the world after stopping the exports of Iranian oil.

Indians who thought that we had a strategic partnership with America are now becoming aware of the possibility of India coming under US sanctions for purchasing Russian weapons in future, under a 2017 law called CAASTA. I will go back to this later.

Further, those who went gaga over the recent “informal summit” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping at Wuhan should read Brahma Chellaney, who wrote: “India is the only country to have repeatedly cried betrayal, not by friends, but by adversaries in whom it had reposed trust. India’s foreign policy since Independence can actually be summed up in three words: Hug, then repent”. I must say India must be the only major nation whose leadership has shown not only lack of resolve and strategic vision, but also an utter disdain for the military. All strategic advice to the political leadership is given by unaccountable bureaucrats, and retired diplomats and police officers.

In my view, President Xi Jinping has learnt a great lesson from the Second World War, which is never to fight two enemies at the same time. Hitler had started World War II by invading Poland on September 1, 1939.

Then, in six weeks starting May 10, 1940, he conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, after which he turned his attention to Britain; but then made a huge strategic mistake by opening a second front in the east, by simultaneously launching strikes against the then Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

China, having initially antagonised most nations (including India, Japan, the US, Australia and Vietnam), then tried to buy a few friends with either its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or its “chequebook diplomacy” — particularly in relation to the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Seychelles, etc.  It has now responded to the unpredictable US President’s trade war threats, the peace moves in the Korean peninsula (where China may lose influence in case of a Korean reunification), scrapping of Iran nuclear deal , and the ongoing “proxy conflict— with Russia in Syria, and the possibility of a “Quadrilateral” alliance taking shape with the US, India, Australia and Japan as the initial partners.

Besides consolidating its growing ties with Russia (now under US sanctions), China has apparently decided to “temporarily mend fences” with Japan and India, all the while focusing on its main adversary, the US. The Chinese President appears to have partly succeeded with the Wuhan talks with India, while still opposing Australia’s entry into the June 2018 Malabar exercises at Guam between the naval forces of the US, Japan and India (three Indian Navy ships are now exercising with the Singapore Navy and may enter other ports en route to Guam), thus delaying the formation of the “Quad”.

India, which ignored military reforms and modernisation, while being in permanent election mode, should not rejoice too much over Wuhan, as it may soon come under the US sanctions under the 2017 CAASTA (Countering Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) in case it buys advanced Russian arms like the SA-400, nuclear submarines (SSN) or frigates this year, as expected, in accordance with an earlier agreement between Mr Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The irony is that while the Indian Navy exercises with US Navy, the US will not supply SSNs to India (or to any other country) and it has no equivalent to the SA-400, while its frigate-equivalent warships would be twice as costly. India stands to lose in this US-China standoff — the Indian military, which uses 62 per cent Russian military hardware, will be left practically defenceless against its two hostile neighbours.

India should realise Wuhan was just a short, tactical Chinese pause, while it deals with the US to achieve President Xi’s goal of making China a “developed country by 2035, and a global power by 2049”. Once China becomes a full-fledged global power, it will turn against its “strategic partner” Russia to correct some “historical wrongs” and reclaim 600,000 sq km of territory it had lost.

In 1689, a strong China signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk with a comparatively weaker Russia, to stop the Russian eastward expansion, by removing Russian outposts from the Amur river basin, blocked Russia’s easy access to the Sea of Okhotsk and far eastern markets, among other issues. This treaty prevented a potential Russian military defeat at the hands of the Chinese, while giving China a status equal to that of Imperial Russia. This treaty was further confirmed and expanded in 1727 by the Treaty of Kyakhta; and Russia-China relations continued to be governed by this treaty till 1858, when a weakened China was forced by Russia to sign the unequal Treaty of Aigun, under which Russia gained over 600,000 sq km of Chinese territory. China, which clashed with the USSR in the Ussuri river conflict of March 2-15, 1969, is biding its time and will someday (after dealing with the US, and resolving its territorial claims against India and in the South China and East China Seas) revisit the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk with Russia.

Indians must realise that China has always been a great power (barring its self-declared “century of shame/humiliation” from 1839 to 1949), which even when not prosperous had given top priority to its national security. It militarily intervened in the Korean war to fight the US in October 1950 (when US-led UN forces advanced towards the Yalu river near China; fought India in 1962 (coinciding with US involvement in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962); defeated the then South Vietnamese ships at sea on January 19-20, 1974 to establish control over the Paracel Islands (when the US had practically withdrawn from South Vietnam); invaded Vietnam on August 25, 1978, when India’s then external affairs minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was visiting Beijing.

Now that China is rich with a $14 trillion economy, and has carried out military reforms and military modernisation, built artificial islands in the South China Sea, it is determined to correct other “past wrongs” (real or imagined). Hence, it’s is vital for India to focus on its economy, national security and build up its comprehensive national power).

Doklam bought India some breathing time and it needs to be gainfully employed, if India doesn’t want to repeat its “thousand years of shame/humiliation” wherein almost any invader who came overland across the Khyber Pass or by sea found an unprepared people led by rulers who didn’t understand the link between national prosperity, national security and sea power. Our military must not suffer because our scientists can’t produce modern weapons or due to a lack of military reforms.

Independence comes at a cost, and India must be ready to pay that cost. Just as it must learn from history in order not to repeat its past mistakes.

Tags: donald trump, xi jinping, narendra modi