When push came to shove on the nights of the week ending August from the Indian side, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army retreated. As a result, India occupied several high positions at the face-off venue. This was a second loss of face for the Chinese after the Galwan debacle. There is no country which wants to see an India-China war. However, if either of these two countries is intent on war, there is no one to stop them. China generally does not attack a prepared enemy. Why would it delay, let India prepare and cancel out or toughen the winning probabilities by the sheer strength of numbers that it has?
Let’s look at why does the mighty PLA keeps maintaining the no-weapon use policy with India at the border despite several drubbings.
- When a country does not have some bare minimum of democratic values, it isn’t a surprise that the majority of its security forces has to concentrate inwards rather than outside. The Chinese PLA is not a battle-hardened force, with any major war experiences and does not have any kind of operational records to showcase, except for arm-twisting the armless citizens inside China.
- The Chinese forces are made up 70% of the single child of their parents. Single children are considered not only pampered, but also unfit for army job for psychological reasons. Even physiologically the PLA men do not match with average vital statistics of the armed forces of most countries in terms of height, weight and physical endurance. Many of them cannot sustain at the heights of Tibet or the Himalayan winters even for a football match without regular oxygen supply.
- With massive unrest and anti-CCP sentiments in various pockets of China, it is very likely that in an event of war, the parents of these single child army men would implode the country from within. No parent would want their only child sacrificed for the cause of strengthening a political party instead of a nation.
- All PLA members are Communist Party members. It is unfathomable for armed forces in any country of the world to have complete alignment with one political party. What this also implies is that the promotions in the forces are at the mercy of loyalty and allegiance to the party leaders rather than being based on merit or military capability. This is one of the most suicidal features of the Chinese army in a war scenario because if the Generals give up, the men would follow.
- The Generals of the PLA are also transferred more frequently than any other armed forces in the world. These transfers are ordered at the whims of the party without any military cost-benefit calculations of the decisions. This literally stems out from the political requirements of the leaders in power to keep the control continuing rather than for any military betterment objective.
- The PLA is not immune to the purge which the so-called ‘Chairman for life’-to-be Xi Jinping is continuously rolling out. He initiated so-called reform of the PLA as a tool for the purge of top generals whom he doubted to be against his policies. An armed force involved with the political or business ambitions of the few in the governance is a disaster because their control alignment with particular factions would impact the performance at war. The dependence of several army generals on separate political heads sitting in Beijing for making battlefield decisions is dangerous.
- The Chinese army has few bilateral friends to boast of. It is a pariah in the parlance of “Joint War exercises” with modern forces of the powers of the World, particularly the West. It is not allowed to mingle and kept in total isolation from the ‘command and control’ and ‘operational insights’ of modern warfare. Perhaps, this can be attributed to the lack of trust factor of the Chinese polity among the comity of nations. Barring Pakistan, North Korea and little crumbs of Russian military experience sharing, the PLA stands home alone!
- About 20% of the total training time of the PLA goes into learning communism of Lenin & Karl Marx. Domestic political compulsions of aligning the PLA with the party is costly beyond doubt. Even the countries where Lenin & Marx belong don’t do this to their forces. Quantity of toys and men does not work in the actual battlefield. It is more about the fight in the men, which is a qualitative aspect.
- Opening up multiple theatres at a time, being belligerent to all the neighbours and weaving them together to pose a united anti-china economic and military front doesn’t look like a war strategy either. The war principles of Sun Tzu probably did not inform the Chinese about the importance of sequence in a long-term war plan or that the principles would back-fire, if applied on its own citizens first.
- Repeated failures to acknowledge the number of martyrs after a fight, suppressing information from parents and citizens about the PLA attempts at the borders and refusing the last honours of the supreme sacrifice of the martyred, kills the morale of the forces furthermore. News of more loss at borders would incite a backlash among the citizens and more questions on the CCP-PLA tango. A loss of face worldwide can cause demand of dilution of power of Xi Jinping within the powerful Politburo of the party.
Rogue regimes are experts in information warfare, mostly meant for domestic consumption and manipulating public opinion. For external handling, Beijing uses unpredictability in policy and warfare.
It is important to note that unpredictability works only until the other side remains predictable to you.
Surprises like the one given by India at the standoff in Ladakh will inspire several other tiny neighbours to try the dragon. China’s ventures in the SCS is proving to be too early and at the Indian borders, probably too late. These strategic miscalculations prove that the People’s Liberation Army is too busy liberating people inside China to be ready for the dynamics of full-spectrum war outside.
A South-Asia Security & Foreign Policy Analyst, PhD scholar and Past Academic & Research Associate of IIM Ahmedabad. Follow his twitter handle @ankitatIIMA for China-Pak predictions