"Never trust thine enemy: for like as iron rusteth, so is his wickedness.

Though he humbles himself, and go crouching, yet take good heed and beware of him, and thou shalt be unto him as if thou hadst wiped a looking glass, and thou shalt know that his rust hath not been altogether wiped away"

- Ecclesiastes 12:10-11King James Bible

The latest Annual Threat assessment Report by the Director National Intelligence submitted to US Congress has stated that Beijing with a view to promoting its multibillion Dollar Belt & Road Initiative shall continue the promotion of its economic, political & military presence abroad engaging in exploitative practices - international criticism notwithstanding. In so doing, China will demonstrate its growing strength & compel regional neighbors to acquiesce to Beijing's preferences, including its claims over disputed territory and assertions of sovereignty over Taiwan.

Eastern Ladakh remains tense& shall continue to be so. Almost one year has gone past after Dragon's sinister design in Eastern Ladakh had resulted in the most serious escalation in decades - that led to the first lethal border clash since 1975. Some force levels were pulled back to Dragon's advantage but Dragon in its latest statement has said: "India should remain happy with whatever she had achieved - or words to that effect" – an arrogant & disdainful statement! Quite rightly, US Indo-Pacific Command Chief Admiral Davidson slammed China for its aggressive actions & intent undermining International Laws& norms in the Region differentiating between a closed and authoritarian Beijing vision & the idea of a free & open Region. China is the greatest strategic threat to the rules–based international order, he further said. How true! He thus exposed the Sino Centrism & Ethnocentric behavioral pattern (Dadagiri) of Dragon having scant regard for International Law.

Eleven rounds of talks between China and India have been concluded and the progress has only been dismal. Barring few areas, China has not shown any commitment to pull back troops, and now it appears to be refusing to pull out of Depsang Plains and some areas in Hot Springs, Gogra, etc. Did China undertake some withdrawal actions before winter merely because of its inability to logistically sustain troops in winter months and deceive us into believing that it was sincere about de-escalation? The Passes in the high altitude areas will begin to reopen soon- making it easier to replenish and/or reinforce the troops that have been holding on to these areas during the winter closure period.

Are these intrusions part of a bigger plan? Has Xi Jinping made a 'Granddaddy Plan' to contain or weaken India - and what could that plan be? Before touching on the Grand Plan, here is a quick rundown on the relevant developments in the Pacific Region.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad), initiated by Japan in 2007and comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India in order to counter rising Chinese military and economic influence in the Pacific has raised some degree of alarm in China. India has a significant role to play in this alliance because of our land borders with China. Other nations can collectively add significant air and naval might.

Beijing has overtaken the US to emerge as the top destination for foreign

direct investment. While being careful not to hurt its own economic interests, China has not hesitated to flex its muscles in Hong Kong to assert its regional might, kept India guessing in the Ladakh Region, and imposed unprecedented trade sanctions and tariffs on Australia. Also, there are reports that two Chinese survey ships are currently probing strategic corridors in the IOR.

Now coming back to China's probable designs to contain India. Imagine if it was possible to cover a large landmass like the Indian subcontinent with a huge curtain. What would Xi Jinping then need? He would need to spread that curtain as wide as possible, eliminate any barriers that would prevent rolling out the curtain, find strong support and structures to lift and hold that curtain up, and finally forge ahead to complete the envelopment.

To our West, we have a time-tested adversary who would do anything to harm us in whatever way it can do so. Pakistan has been one of China's closest allies. It may be recalled that Shaksgham Valley (5180 Sq Kms) - a part of India was handed over by Pakistan on a platter to China in 1963. Also, in violation of all nuclear non-proliferation norms, China had provided substantial material and diplomatic support to Pakistan in its emergence as a nuclear power in spite of the dangers of the military's influence and control over political power in Pakistan.

India has to guard over 3,323Km of International Border (IB) and 740 Kms of Line of Control (LOC) against Pakistan. These two adversaries, viz China & Pakistan would be shaking hands much more dangerously in case Siachen Glacier was not occupied. Siachen Glacier is our strategic pillar. China's huge curtain cannot be rolled out to stretch to Pakistan as long as we are anchored in the Glacier. Yet another pillar to the East of the Glacier is Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) - our military base that provides proximity to the strategic Karakorum Pass - the boundary between the Indian Territory of Ladakh and China& Xinjiang Autonomous Region. The significance of these two pillars to India explains China's past and current intrusions and now continued presence in the Depsang Plains which lie in close proximity to DBO. The progress of the vacation of intrusions in areas around Pagong Tso is yet to provide us any confidence that China has any serious intention of de-escalating troop levels.

Then there are long stretches of borders abutting Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Arunachal Pradesh. China has continued to flex its muscles in these areas off and on. In Arunachal Pradesh, while India continues to maintain that the McMahon Line is the legal border in the East, China has never accepted that border thus keeping the border imbroglio alive.

The spread of the curtain is also prevented by buffers. Currently, there are three buffer states: Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar. Sikkim, now an Indian state, used to be the fourth buffer state until it chose to merge to India in1975. China has both strategic and economic interests in Myanmar. It has been keen to develop a China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, linking Yunnan province in China to the Bay of Bengal. There are reports that China is now using pandemic aid as blackmail to pressure the new Myanmar regime to fast track projects that are part of a multi-billion-dollar China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.

Bhutan has been a steadfast Indian ally and does not maintain any diplomatic relations with China. However, what is of serious concern to us is that China has recently left no stone unturned to take Nepal into its fold through communist affinity and monetary lure. Nepal's communists have displayed a very deplorable character in succumbing to the Chinese agenda and, if good sense doesn't prevail, they might facilitate China to extend its enveloping curtain.

Finally, the Indian Ocean. The Chinese naval designs have followed the 'pearl of strings' strategy providing substantial development assistance in ship and port building assistance not just in SE Asia but also to these countries in our close proximity - Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Pakistan. These collaborations pose a serious risk to our strategic interests. Fortunately, the progress of the Quad may serve as a credible deterrence to China.

So what are the probabilities of China being able to steamroll and envelope us with the

encapsulating curtain? Given our own economic and military might, our good relationships with many countries in the Region and the support of our new alliances with major global powers beyond our neighborhood, the Chinese prospects look bleak. Yet China will continue to attempt to contain us by taking actions that drain us economically so that it can continue to be a leading giant in the region. These actions will encompass keeping border disputes alive forcing us to deploy large number of troops and resources in defence; continue to add to the military might of Pakistan so that our threats are magnified; target buffer states of Nepal and Myanmar to take them into its fold and advance its strategic and economic interests; expand economic assistance packages to as many countries as possible in order to grow its markets and influence; attempt to break or limit the growth of adversarial alliances through diplomacy or even economic arm twisting

We must therefore hold on to our pillars as resolutely as always, preserve partnerships with the buffers, enlarge the circle of allies particularly economic giants that believe in similar democratic values, and work undivided as a nation to achieve complete economic self-reliance and substantial capacity to assist our allies.

Dr. Mohan Bhandari

Lt. Gen. (Dr) Mohan Bhandari, also known as the Thinking General, was born in August 1946. A veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the general has spent a number of years combating counter-insurgency/terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir and various other parts of the country. He is the proud recipient of three Presidential awards presented for his exceptional services to the nation. He was the Indian Army's face for both print and electronic media. The general is a rare mix of a successful soldier, erudite scholar, a powerful orator, a prolific writer, and a gifted painter. At present, he is a visiting faculty member at the Academic Staff Colleges of the UGC, universities, and schools of instructions.

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