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Xi’s Napoleon Moment – Beginning of the end ; By Cdr Sandeep Dhawan

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

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Article 33/2020

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), was a French military leader and emperor. Napoleon rose through the ranks of the military during the French Revolution (1789-1799) at a very rapid rate. He seized political power in France in a 1799 coup d’état and crowned himself emperor in 1804.

During the Napoleonic Wars(1803-15), France conquered:

  1. Egypt,

  2. Belgium

  3. Holland

  4. Northern Italy

  5. Austria

  6. Much of Germany

  7. Poland

  8. Spain

  9. France directly conquered or controlled through alliance most of western Europe by 1812.

Over-ambitious Napoleon and Xi Jinping have a lot in common:

  1. Both allowed their unlimited ambition to overwhelm the citizens of their own countries.

  2. Thin-skinned and prone to self-promotion.

  3. Both look for a combination of victories and flattery, inflating self-importance and achievements, suggesting their own brilliance(Xi Jinping Thoughts).

  4. Both turn a less-than-glorious episode into the stuff of legend(Napoleon’s overexaggerated achievements in Egypt and Xi’s disinformation on OBOR) and presenting themselves as saviours of the nation.

  5. Both started believing in their extraordinary luck, and eventually their own propaganda.

  6. Their desire to show strength, at all costs.

Napoleon was a brilliant soldier and Xi must be an extraordinary politician to survive in China but both of them make horrible military-political blunders:

  1. Both came to power on the plank of clean governance. However, Napoleon overthrew the Spanish monarchy (allies of France at the time) so that he could put a member of his own family on the Spanish throne. Xi Jinping has an estimated net worth of $1.51 billion( as of today. While he is purging corrupt leaders(so-called) his family and relatives are growing rich at breakneck speed.

  2. Both start something they don’t know how and when to end. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, without any clear plan for how to end the war. Xi’s unnecessary aggression on Indo-Tibet border without the solution in sight, a trade war with the US, aggressive diplomacy with Australia; Japan; Taiwan, etc. The list goes on.

  3. Both cannot accept defeat. Czar Alexander of Russia defied Napoleon, and he pushed half a million French army in harm’s way. Xi pushed 111 Chinese soldiers into Sureshot death when he pressurized the PLA again all advice for a lost campaign.

  4. Napoleon insults and berates, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, Europe’s most shrewd diplomat in the 19th century. Xi goes a step further ahead and in the name of corruption, purges all opposition in the CPC.

  5. While Napoleon was on the retreat from Moscow, a group of generals tried to grab power by declaring he had been killed in battle. Back home no one shed tears for the untimely demise of their glorious leader. The scheme fell flat, but it demonstrated to Napoleon that his whole edifice of imperial glory had feet of clay. Xi would be very disappointed to know what citizens think of dictators across the globe.

Besides all the above facts, there are three very important turning-points in Napoleon’s life, which stand out and demonstrate his fall from grace. One can judge Xi Jinping’s misadventures in the light of Napoleonic tragedy:

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

Armand de Caulaincourt, one of Napoleon’s closest advisors warned him against his misadventure in Russia. However, he went against all the advice and invaded Russia in 1812. Napoleon had a superior army yet he failed to achieve the typical Napoleonic victory—utilizing his tactical genius to defeat his enemies in a pitched battle. Russian armies kept on withdrawing and declined to fight until the Battle of Borodino, near Moscow, which was indecisive. Napoleon seized Moscow but failed to take into account the Russian way of waging war. He thought that invading Moscow would compel the Russians to come to terms; instead, the Russians burnt down Moscow. Napoleon simply could not withstand the unfamiliar style of Russians. As a result, the normally goal-oriented Napoleon could not achieve his objectives and was instead forced to retreat from a devastated Moscow in winter. Napoleon’s 600,000 strong force reduced to less than 80,000 troops by the time they left Russia. Napoleon was unable to adapt his brilliant thinking beyond the localized context of the battlefield.

There is an uncanny resemblance between what Napoleon expected from Russians with what are Xi Jinping’s expectations from Indians. Indians did exactly what the Russians did. They defeated Chinese in the mind-games. China may believe intimidation and the sort of ‘salami-slicing’ in which it engages in the South China Sea will enable it to act without consequences against India, but India is not the Philippines, willing to roll over for a few yuan. The Chinese government was also overwhelmed by the Indian citizens, standing like a rock behind their government, similar to massive popular resistance to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. PLA dreamed of undermining the resolve of the Indian Army. Xi’s plot fell flat when it pitched psychologically weak(as per reports, 30% of PLA active-duty soldiers seek psychological help) and product of one-child-policy force, against battle-hardened Indian troops.


Courtesy: The Asian Age

In the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of Nations, Napoleon’s army was defeated by a coalition that included Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and Swedish troops. Afterwards, Napoleon retreated to France, where in March 1814 coalition forces captured Paris. On 06 April 1814, Napoleon, then in his mid-40s, was forced to abdicate the throne. With the Treaty of Fontainebleau, he was exiled to Elba, a Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy.

The Beidaihe Annual Meeting(secret conclave of the Communist Party) in China is going to be held shortly. The meet is attended by 10 to 20 figures who still influence the Communist Party. Four prominent names are – former president Jiang Zemin, former Premier Zhu Rongji, former president Hu Jintao and former Premier Wen Jiabao. They might not agree with each other but they all hold a common ground on one thing which is Deng Xiaoping’s ‘tao guang yang hui’ diplomatic strategy, meaning “keep a low profile and bide your time”. China’s increasingly tense relations with the Quad (India, Japan, Australia, and the USA) might affect these old leaders personally, as many of their children and relatives, as well as those of high-ranking bureaucrats, have spent time in the U.S. studying, working and investing. Many hold significant overseas assets, including land and properties. Hundreds of millions of dollars could be at stake. The wrath of the Quad could destabilize China beyond a recoverable echelon. During the course of this gathering, Xi Jinping would be personally held responsible for rocking the apple cart and bringing the rest of the world together against China.


Courtesy: HI Sutton

On 26 February 1815, Napoleon escaped Elba and sailed to France. Soon a coalition of allies(Austrians, British, Prussians, and Russians) who considered the French emperor an adversary, began to prepare for war. On 18 June, Napoleon’s 72,000 strong army marched towards the 68,000 strong coalition forces. The forces confronted each other in the village of Waterloo, near Brussels. Napoleon committed tactical errors and acted indecisively. Ultimately, the Battle of Waterloo marked the end of Napoleon’s glorious military career. On 22 June 1815, Napoleon was once again abdicated. He was exiled to the remote, British-held island of Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean. He remained there until his death.

In the annual work report published in the month of May 2020, Chinese Prime Minister Premier Li Keqiang dropped the word “peaceful” before “reunification” when discussing Taiwan. During the same month, President Xi Jinping, while addressing the PLA, directed them to “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war”. It looks like the hawks in Xi’s regime have gotten the upper hand and the invasion of Taiwan is inevitable. The invasion of Taiwan could become Xi Jinping’s Waterloo. If Xi orders PLA to undertake any such misadventures, it would be a huge gamble for armed forces which have not been deployed in combat duties during the careers of even their senior-most officers. PLAN has no experience in aircraft carriers and amphibious operations. On the other hand, Taiwan is not Crimea.  Militarily, Taiwan has capabilities that, coupled with Quad support, would repel an invasion, and inflict significant damage on China. A military failure along with a crashing economy and an unprecedented rise in unemployment would be a humiliating and possibly career-threatening experience for President Xi Jinping and for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).


Courtesy: The Print

The CCP’s outlook is coloured by a cynical notion in the power of greed. The party is convinced that Western governments are slaves of capitalist interests. The CCP believes that the West could not afford to lose access to the Chinese market, especially if their capitalist adversaries stood to profit as a result. Until now, the Western concessions in the face of Chinese assertiveness seemed to have vindicated the CCP’s Hobbesian worldview. After all, Bill Clinton had ended the link between China’s trading privileges and human rights, despite promising to act tough on China in his 1992 election campaign.

Before the rise of Modi and Trump, Chinese leaders had encountered virtually no pushback, despite overplaying their hand repeatedly. In Trump and Modi, China has finally met its match. Both of them are unafraid to utilize raw power against their foes. It is CCP’s tough luck that it has to defend against far more tenacious opponents. Today Western and Asian powers are willing to absorb enormous short-term economic pain. China has to realize that greed has lost its primacy and they have handed its adversaries a long-term strategic edge. CCP had never ever imagined that these countries would be willing to write off the Chinese market in the quest for larger geopolitical objectives. Since the end of the ‘Cultural Revolution,’ the CCP faces an existential threat for the first time. CCP leaders know that they have committed a strategic error and capitalistic suicide. The latest intervention in Hong Kong, the mass detention of Uighurs, aggression in the South China Sea, border clashes with India, handling of COVID-19 and thereafter vindictive actions against the vocal countries indicates that no one in China has guts to show Xi Jinping a mirror and how he is taking his country on a disastrous path.

This is a display of rare behaviour by the Chinese policymakers, which not only exhibits traits of Napoleon but mental instability at the same time. Deng Xiaoping had warned the countrymen a long time ago about this over-concentration of power. He had warned them that if inside the system, voices of dissent or disagreement are not heard, then it would have a domino effect. One mistake would follow another. Xi Jinping is hell-bent upon reliving the disastrous mistakes of Napoleon.

The 1945 George Orwell novel ‘Animal Farm’ had two pigs as protagonists, ‘Napoleon’ the selfish egomaniac leader of the farm, and his challenger, another pig, ‘Snowball’. In present-day China, everyone knows who is Napoleon, but who would be the Snowball, only time would tell. People are talking about the impatience of the Chinese populace, but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because opposing forces moved too late. It is not the case with the Chinese citizens. They understand the main principle of the Animal Farm very well. After all, they have the first-hand experience: ”All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. 

(Cdr Sandeep Dhawan was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Qualified Flying Instructor. He served in the Indian Navy between 1988 – 2009 ( PMR) with vast experience with Indian Air Force and Indian Coast Guard. He has been a civilian pilot since 2009 flying for commercial airlines with King Fisher, Spice Jet, Jet Airways and Indigo. The views expressed are personal and does not reflect the views of C3S.) 

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