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  Opinion   Columnists  12 Aug 2022  Abhijit Bhattacharyya | Beijing bully runs berserk: Taiwan today, India next?

Abhijit Bhattacharyya | Beijing bully runs berserk: Taiwan today, India next?

The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College, and the author of China in India.
Published : Aug 13, 2022, 12:14 am IST
Updated : Aug 13, 2022, 8:41 am IST

What began in 1950 subsequently became a familiar pattern, leading to routine and repetitive acts

A military fighter jet flies above the Taiwan Strait as seen from the 68-nautical-mile scenic spot, the closest point in mainland China to the island of Taiwan. (Photo: AP)
 A military fighter jet flies above the Taiwan Strait as seen from the 68-nautical-mile scenic spot, the closest point in mainland China to the island of Taiwan. (Photo: AP)

The recent 24-hour whirlwind visit to Taiwan by Ms Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, has exposed like nothing else the extent to which the dictatorial regime running the People’s Republic of China can go with its bullying tactics at home and abroad and the fury with which it can lash out when democratic nations refuse to fall in line with their diktats. Like all bullies everywhere, Beijing’s Communist overlord and his cohort resort to juvenile-like tactics, honking and prancing to establish their self-proclaimed sense of importance and to draw the world’s attention with an endless list of unilateral, utopian demands.

As it has on past occasions, the bully’s familiar path follows the craft of turning its formidable backyard problems into an external opportunity to save their power through fist-pumping, missile-firing and reckless aerial fighter sorties around Taiwan. The crazy tactics of the Communist Party of China’s “core” comrade is a desperate bid to create a fear psychosis for all existing and potential adversaries, hoping to compel them stay away from the bully’s path. All this is with one aim: to save the emperor’s own skin from the stigma of chronic failure, at least on home ground, after its threats and warnings proved to have little effect. The ruling caucus of the CPC and its privately-owned military wing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its naval and air wings, have been past masters in bloodshed as it tries its histrionics with “live-war games” in the seas off Taiwan.

The CPC-PLA drama had begun seven decades ago, as dictator Mao Zedong had masterminded the October 1950 trampling of Tibet on the sly while Beijing was all at sea in the 1950-1953 Korean War front. The bloody war in Beijing’s north-eastern neighbourhood goaded Mao to change tack to show a “spectacular victory” to the home audience in the opposite direction; the extreme south-west terrain of independent Tibet where India always had an enduring relationship with Lhasa, owing to geographical proximity, cultural affinity, religious fraternity, mutual reciprocity and commercial connectivity. In contrast, to Tibet, China’s Hwang Ho Hans were alien, unfriendly strangers with no commonality.

What began in 1950 subsequently became a familiar pattern, leading to routine and repetitive acts.

Thus, when Mao’s absurd theories and ideas led to the 1958-1962 Great Chinese Famine, killing 30-55 million across the countryside, the Han dictator engineered another crisis, far from the mass graveyard of mainland China. The dictator began an unprovoked, naked invasion of India in October 1962, permanently damaging the honour, image and self-respect of a somewhat gullible India, that failed to stand up to the Beijing bully. This assault strengthened Mao’s powers as, despite the famine and starvation deaths, the Chinese people saw their “Great Comrade-in-Chief” lead them to “victory” over India. Mao reigned unchallenged till his death in September 1976.

These are age-old tricks of dictators, across continents. Whenever and wherever there’s the slightest internal trouble, an external “situation”, however tiny or innocuous, can be magnified for bloodshed as a “foreign bogey” always unites the ignorant, illiterate, ideologically blind masses who invariably tend to defend the indefensible but “victorious” dictators.

This is exactly the play that CPC-PLA supremo Xi Jinping made earlier this month over Ms Pelosi’s visit, trying to imply that the world wouldn’t see tomorrow’s sunrise if it did not give in to his wishes.

Unfortunately, however, the feisty US Speaker called his bluff. Though his third-term presidency is all but guaranteed, Emperor Xi is nevertheless facing a lot of internal adversity with the once-in-five-years CPC congress looming in November 2022. Xi is desperate to cast himself as the immortal hero in the epic of China’s national journey, at par with Mao. The Wuhan-origin Covid-19 pandemic has turned things upside down around the globe, the CPC’s multi-billion-dollar trans-continental projects are losing steam in all but a few geostrategic locations. For the beleagured Xi, aggression is no longer a choice, but a compulsion.

Simply put, the unprovoked firing of a flurry of ballistic missiles not only into Taiwan’s territorial waters but also into Japan’s exclusive economic zone may look like the sign of an ascendant superpower, but really it is the opposite. China isn’t a rising state at this point, only a peaking power that has managed to endow itself with coercive capability, supplemented by soaring ambition; but all heading towards worsening challenges at home and abroad. So, expect more violence and erratic behaviour from a desperate President Xi and his CPC-PLA, whose “unstoppable chariot journey” is facing increasing intercontinental hurdles.

Did Xi over-reach on Taiwan? Such questions are going to be asked at November’s CPC congress. For the first time since becoming President, Xi has turned from being the “hunter to the hunted” (like the Hindi song Shikari khud shikar ho gaya). Back home in America, meanwhile, Ms Pelosi has burnished her credentials as the “iron lady” in the mould of Indira Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher, standing up to the bully of Beijing and possibly establishing her legacy for the future, as President Joe Biden cuts an increasingly sorry figure, furthering doubts whether he will at all seek a second term.

For some time to come, Taiwan will be the Middle Kingdom’s highest-value target. The deep penetration airspace violations, the attacks on fisheries, the sinking of small (armed or unarmed) boats, sanctions-type acts aimed at Taiwan’s trade and commerce, the electronic media’s psy-war propaganda operations and, at an entirely different level, the high-visibility deployment of aircraft-carrier task force to the South China Sea are all in offing. The whole water body spanning Southeast Asia, Australia and Japan will be far, far choppier. The CPC-PLA will increasingly resort to “sanctions” on the weak, the vulnerable and the defiant. The way the West has been doing to all and sundry till now. Moscow learnt this trick quickly in the past six months. It is now Xi’s turn to take a muscular course and try to call the shots. While it may be Taiwan today, tomorrow it is bound to be India.

China has never ruled Taiwan; yet it claims ownership of the small island off its mainland. The same formula and absurdity lie ahead for Bharat, so don’t say that you were not warned. The bomb-brandishing bully of Beijing will soon be heading for the Indian border again.

Tags: people’s liberation army, nancy pelosi, taiwan, china