Devils Alternative: India has to be full alert as Biden admin starts working on China strategy. A new strategy paper on US- China Strategy that is making news across the world No one is sure about the new Biden administration policy and strategy towards China.


Devils Alternative: India has to be full alert as Biden admin starts working on China strategy. A new strategy paper on US- China Strategy that is making news across the world No one is sure about the new Biden administration policy and strategy towards China.

There are some fast developments happening again in international affairs. The recent Myanmar coup is one such example and will be the first real foreign policy  litmus test for the new administration. One unfortunate fall out of this event will be on Quad , the four country US, India, Australia and Japan’s  strategic  grouping.However what is making more news is an anonymous strategic paper that has appeared in United States and is being widely shared and being discussed. It is being touted as one of the most insightful and rigorous examinations to date of Chinese geopolitical strategy and how an informed American strategy would address the challenges of China’s own strategic ambitions.

Written by a former senior government official with deep expertise and experience dealing with China, the strategy sets out a comprehensive approach, and details the ways to execute it, in terms that will invite comparison with George Kennan’s historic 1946 “long telegram” on Soviet grand strategy, and hence this paper is also referred as ” Long Telegram” resonating with the previous historic term. The focus of the paper is China’s leader and his behavior. “The single most important challenge facing the United States in the twenty-first century is the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China under President and General Secretary Xi Jinping,” it says. “US strategy must remain laser focused on Xi, his inner circle, and the Chinese political context in which they rule. Changing their decision-making will require understanding, operating within, and changing their political and strategic paradigm. All US policy aimed at altering China’s behavior should revolve around this fact, or it is likely to prove ineffectual.”

At home, Xi has returned China to classical Marxism-Leninism and fostered a quasi-Maoist personality cult, pursuing the systematic elimination of his political opponents. China’s market reforms have stalled and its private sector is now under direct forms of party control. Unapologetically nationalist, Xi has used ethnonationalism to unite his country against any challenges to his authority, internal or external. His treatment of recalcitrant ethnic minorities within China borders on genocide. Xi’s China increasingly resembles a new form of totalitarian police state. In what is a fundamental departure from his risk-averse post-Mao predecessors, Xi has demonstrated that he intends to project China’s authoritarian system, coercive foreign policy, and military presence well beyond his country’s own borders to the world at large. China under Xi, unlike under Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, is no longer a status quo power. It has become a revisionist power. For the United States, its allies, and the US-led liberal international order, this represents a fundamental shift in the strategic environment. Ignoring this profound change courts peril. Xi is no longer just a problem for US primacy. He now presents a serious problem for the whole of the democratic world.

The paper takes into account the Trump administration’s declaration of “strategic competition” as the “central challenge” of US foreign and national-security policy, as enshrined in the 2017 US National Security Strategy. However, while the Trump administration did well to sound the alarm on China and its annunciation of strategic competition with Beijing was important, its episodic efforts at implementation were chaotic and at times contradictory. At root, the issue is that “strategic competition” is a declaration of doctrinal attitude, not a comprehensive strategy to be operationalised.The paper bluntly acknowledges the fact and uncomfortable truth  that China has long had an integrated internal strategy for handling the United States, and so far this strategy has been implemented with reasonable, although not unqualified, success.

By contrast, the United States, which once operationalised a unified strategy to deal with the challenge of the Soviet Union, so far has none in relation to China. This has been a dereliction of national responsibility.This theory to cut the ties between Xi and CCP has its own perils. As a marked difference between the choices that United States have / had against the Soviets versus China, the paper notes that, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),  has been much more dexterous in survival than its Soviet counterpart, aided by the fact that China has studied carefully, over more than a decade, “what went wrong” in the Soviet Union. It would therefore be extremely hazardous for US strategists to accept that an effective future US China strategy should rest on an assumption that the Chinese system is destined to inevitably collapse from within—much less to make the “overthrow of the Communist Party” the nation’s declared objective. In fact, indulgence in politically appealing calls for the overthrow of the ninety-one-million-member CCP as a whole is strategically self-defeating. Such an approach only strengthens Xi’s hand as it enables him to circle elite political and popular nationalist wagons in defence of both party and country. The present challenge will require a qualitatively different and more granular policy response to China than the blunt instrument of “containment with Chinese characteristics” and a dream of CCP collapse. 

The political reality is that the CCP is significantly divided on Xi’s leadership and his vast ambitions. Senior party members have been greatly troubled by Xi’s policy direction and angered by his endless demands for absolute loyalty. They fear for their own lives and the future livelihoods of their families. Of particular political toxicity in this mix are the reports unearthed by international media of the wealth amassed by Xi’s family and members of his political inner circle, despite the vigor with which Xi has conducted the anti-corruption campaign.Interestingly the paper takes lines from Sun Tzu to take the Chinese. The Chinese Communist Party keenly understands Sun Tzu’s maxim that “what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy,” and the US should as well. Any US approach must seek to frustrate Xi’s ambitions. That means first clarifying which US national interests are to be protected, together with those of principal partners and allies. 


While the paper further discusses the US strategy against China , we are more concerned with our own strategic options. We are of the opinion that the world may see a definite line henceforth that the  new Biden administration will take against China. if it takes a firm strategic decision against China and also empowers Quad it will be in India’s interest. However if the new administration plans to keep it low, the Chinese will exploit the situation to suit and further bolden their strategic plans. One of the important developments so far as India China relations are concerned is the increased activities by the Chinese in the North East region. The Chinese have been cleverly using to keep India under the thumb with such tactics , Doklam, Ladakh etc are all examples of this approach. Obviously Chinese do not want India to grow and develop and would check us at every point. This strategy has gained under Xi. Therefore for India the options are very limited. Unlike US it cant wait for XI to diminish under the CCP politics or his own weight. It has to find a more robust strategy to defend and strengthen herself. Being active on Quad is an option that it has to work upon. 

Another thorn in US India relations will come with the procurement of S400 missile shields that India will be getting from Russia. The farmers protest and left based lobbies have already started making dents into Indo-Us relations. A relative of Kamala Harris is making noise that is not in the interests of India. We see many other irritants going forward. Pakistan and Kashmir are such examples. Under the situation it is important for India to strengthen her own strategic alternatives while also engaging the United States as far as it can. This will require walking on a razor edge along with extreme patience. In short the future is rather uncertain and will all depend on how the US strategy unfolds over China. This paper ‘ Long Telegram’ if taken seriously by US policy makers and gets implemented will help India immensely to tide over the challenges coming from China. If not we may have some serious problems going ahead. 


Dr. Asheesh Shah

Asheesh Shah
Author: Asheesh Shah

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