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Event Report: C3S Book Launch “The Dragon’s Bite - Strategic Continuum and Chinese PLA’s Evolving"

“The Dragon’s Bite - Strategic Continuum and Chinese PLA’s Evolving Fire and Teeth” authored by Maj. Gen. Rajiv Narayanan AVSM, VSM (Retd)

Article 23/2023

The Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) conducted a book launch of “The Dragon’s Bite - Strategic Continuum and Chinese PLA’s Evolving Fire and Teeth” authored by Maj. Gen. Rajiv Narayanan AVSM, VSM (Retd.). The book was released by the Chief Guest, Lt. Gen. Sanjeev Chauhan AVSM, YSM. The session was attended by Distinguished Members, Research Officers and Research Interns of C3S.

The event began with Ms. Sapna Elsa Abraham (Senior Research Officer, C3S), introducing the speakers and announcing the schedule for the programme. This was followed by Commodore R S Vasan (Director General, C3S), delivering the Welcome Address. He took this opportunity to appreciate the analysis made in the book about the Restructuring of Theatre Commands and the SWOT Analysis of the Chinese PLA.

Following this, Lt. Gen. Sanjeev Chauhan was invited to release the book, after which he also delivered the Special Address. He remarked that China would be a significant player in the future. He also thanked the author for writing this book, saying he found it inspiring in order to address key challenges.

Next, Maj. Gen. Rajiv Narayanan made an in-depth presentation about his book - the idea for the book began four years ago, and the initial work was published as a monograph on the CPC’s war strategies. He said the book is laid out in three parts, which can be described as follows: First, the Inception of War strategies that covered the Pre-Xi era. Second, changes in the Grand Strategy under Xi. Third and last, the likely future strategy of the PLA. The first part focused on the concepts of “massed attacks” and “people’s war”. He touched on Deng Xiaoping’s formalisation of the War Zone Campaign doctrine, the shift from People’s War to People At War through the Comprehensive National Power aimed at targeting the opponents internally. The second part covers the shift in strategy in Xi’s era from active defence to active forward-edge defence and expansion of strategic space beyond China’s continental, maritime, and aerospace boundaries. The third part focuses on the probable future trajectory of the PLA and options for India to blunt the dragon. For this, three scenarios were discussed, apart from options for India in the geo-strategic space. The book concludes that this is the “window of opportunity for India to grasp and rise as a benevolent power that would become the net security provider in the region”.

The panel discussion on ‘How does China conduct its warfare?’ started off with Chair Remarks from Shri M R Sivaraman IAS (Retd.). He recollected the visit of China’s Minister of Commerce to India in 1988, which is one of the first since the 1962 Sino-Indian border war. He observed that India exported $30 billion worth of services at the time, while China exported $33 billion. But now India’s service exports amount to $446 billion and China’s to $3.9 trillion. He also stated that China has lent about $1 trillion to more than 150 countries. He also noted that the trade surplus of China with India and the US is $110 billion and $404 billion respectively, which combined, amounts to be higher than China’s expenditure on defence. He also pointed out that China exports to every country in the world, and several influential countries such as Russia, Netherlands, Indonesia, and Malaysia owe trade deficits to China. He asserted that China’s economic power, more than military power, can “destroy” many countries.

He observed that China finances positive publicity for itself in India to garner support in the country. He cited the example of Chinese invitations to editors from two prominent Indian papers to cover the inauguration of the Shanghai-Lhasa bullet train service. He expressed surprise at the fact that India was the second-largest importer of refrigerators in the world and claimed there was no need for India to import any. He also mentioned that it has been a complaint from the industry that a lot of the technologies that have been developed by the DRDO and ISRO have not been made available for civilian use.

He further observed that we need to cultivate a spirit of oneness throughout the country, something which he pointed out was already present in China. He also argued for compulsory military training and deployment of IAS officers for 6-12 months. He stated that the present system of armed forces’ administration is “warped” and should not be performed by clerks in the Ministry of Defence.

Lastly, he declared that one day or the other India is going to have a full-scale war with China, which could be started by either. He ended by complimenting the Major General for the efforts that went into the book, saying he had to burn the midnight oil to read it. He recommended that the book be read by civil servants and also noted that the book might be too technical for the masses.

Following this began a lively discussion by the expert panellists, namely Maj. Gen. Rajiv Narayanan (Retd.), Lt. Gen. P R Shankar (Retd.), and Commodore R S Vasan (I.N Retd.). Maj. Gen. Rajiv Narayanan stated that China ensures geo-economic ingress to enable coercion. He also observed that China targets elites to change their ideologies so that they can in turn eventually propagate the same to other sections of the population. Another mode of warfare that China adopts, he noted, is “lawfare”, where it identifies loopholes in a country’s law in order to target it. He further identified that “massed attacks” and a shift from “active defence” to “active forward defence” were features of China’s evolved strategy.

He also asserted that today China’s military is not strong at all. The major drawbacks in China was that the heartland was only east and south of the Great Wall, which meant not everyone wanted to fight. Another reason for this was its conscript-cum-contractual force. He further said that nothing moves in China without Xi’s authorisation, which in turn he observed was similar to the present situation in Zelensky’s Ukraine, but the opportunity to act disappears before the orders reach the people on the ground.

Lt. Gen. P R Shankar started with the declaration that in 5-10 years China will not be as we see it now. He argued that the people of China did not have brothers or sisters, and families wouldn't send their only child to war. Overall, people are not willing to join the armed forces. He also pointed out the shortcomings in China’s social security structures. He said that while China is a great power now, the demographic decline is irrevocable. He observed that twenty years from now China’s population will be down by 10-15%. He also stated that according to a recent survey, only 9% believe China’s military is the most powerful in the world. He further remarked that China’s lack of experience in fighting wars in the recent past is a disadvantage. He also pointed out that external debt owed to China, which amounts to $2.48 trillion, if not paid can lead to its economic collapse.

Commodore R S Vasan concluded the discussion saying that this was an opportune time for India to consolidate and asserted that India can give a “bloody nose” to China at any time of the latter’s choosing. He also complimented both Maj. Gen. Rajiv Narayanan and Lt. Gen. P R Shankar on identifying China’s weaknesses in terms of military preparation.

This was followed by a short Q&A session, where one of the virtual participants asked the author whether there were any lessons India could learn from China. To this he quickly remarked that India should follow what the Minister of External Affairs of India, S. Jaishankar had said - that India should not go down China’s path. He further advocated a “focused approach” to any task that India takes up. Moreover, he stated that India should not take autocratic decisions, but consider the pros and cons of every path of action.

The event concluded with the Vote of Thanks delivered by Annunthra Rangan (Research Officer at C3S).

(The Event report was prepared by Mr. Yogesh Kumaran, Research officer, C3S )

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