The Chinese board game Xiangqi is not only a game but a part
of larger Chinese culture. It was considered an essential part of the training
of men who aspire to rise to commanding heights in various walks of life. Kings,
generals, people of letter, and high priests were expected to be well versed in
this game. Xiangqi was considered to cultivate virtues like patience,
forethought, resolve, and long-term planning. To a bystander, the game may lack
action and thrill but to the players and an ordinary Chinese, this is the way of
life in China. Every action must be forethought in every possible detail, though
trivial, to avoid changing minds midway or to face some embarrassment as a
result. This habit of overthinking is visible inactions of individuals and state
functionaries in every day working of the Chinese.
Cultural habits influence our actions. The Chinese thus, as a matter of habit
and compulsion, take a long time to react and they do so in such well
thought-out manner that it is hard to find deficiencies in their conduct of
statecraft. Take the example of Indian unilateral and illegal action of 5 August
2019. India repealed Article 370 of their Constitution and divided the state of
J&K into union territories of Jammu &Kashmir and Ladakh. It was hailed as a
monumental step by the Indian right-wing and extremist parties of various hues.
Moderate Indians were shocked and expressed their outrage through various forums
BJP stalwarts made provocative statements of intent to take back Pakistan
administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan with force, if necessary. Similar
claims were made about the Chinese administered Aksai chin.
There is always a difference between addressing domestic audiences and handling
a tricky trilateral issue of sovereignty over a piece of land. Amit Shah, the
Indian firebrand and the go-getter home minister, made an incorrect assessment
of the situation which was to cause India the embarrassment of the century in
less than a year later.
China was put on the defensive for the first time when India compared the
occupation of Aksai chin with that of Azad Kashmir. It certainly roused China’s
fears of India falling too heavily in American, thus rival, camp. It is no
coincidence that in the immediate aftermath of 5 August action, India went on to
sign bilateral agreements with all 3 member states of quadrilateral dialogue,
adding a military angle to the quad agreement.
India’s political leadership is badly drenched in their self-claimed economic
miracle and have started to punch far above their strategic weight. India has
always had the advantage of projecting its soft power through its world-class
cinema industry and yoga and herbal medicines. The world’s fondness for Indian
Ayurvedic medicines and yoga has been misinterpreted by the Indian strategic
thinkers as a substitute for hard power. To give a further boost to
self-intoxicating “victories over Kashmir” of Indian political leadership, the
Chinese recorded their routine diplomatic displeasure over unilateral changing
of the status of Kashmir. That was enough to give a fillip to the Indian leaders
that they had humbled the Chinese dragon and are a force to reckon within the
international arena. How easily can one fall prey to one’s propaganda!
17 June 2020 is the date of election of new Non-permanent members to the United
Nations Security Council. India is contesting for the Asia Pacific slot
unopposed. Election to this body adds to the prestige of any country. For India,
nothing could have been more heaven-sent than to sit on this apex world body and
resist any meaningful discussion on Kashmir for the next 2 years. But destiny
has its ways to humble humans grandstanding exercises.
India has fared poorly in managing coronavirus. Hordes of migrant workers,
walking, and dying in the road and train accidents have brought India into the
negative focus of world media. The year 2020 began with the anti-CAA protests
across India, including Delhi, that too during the visit of Donald Trump. The
visit of American President attracts international media on a large scale and
India found itself criticized for abysmal treatment of its minorities.
India had perhaps not consideredthe Chinese cultural factors while wargaming the
consequences of changing the status of Kashmir, unilaterally. It’s here that the
game of Xiangqi becomes relevant. India was about to learn this through the hard
way that patience and self-control is a virtue and not a weakness. No Chinese
response between August to April made the Indian leadership complacent and they
thought that they had destined Kashmir to the dustbin of history. Then came May
The world woke up on a May morning to the news of Sino-India border skirmishes
in the Ladakh region. Similar skirmishes occurred in 2017 in the Doklam area of
the Sino-India border but were settled amicably. The Indian leadership was,
however, quick to “claim victory” over China. The Chinese did not contest the
Indian claims and went about with the business as usual. May 2020, therefore,
was full of surprises for India. This time the Chinese came with larger numbers,
better prepared and had dug in with heavy weapons in support.
While the Ladakh conflict has displayed an utter nonprofessional approach of the
Indian military at the strategic and operational levels, and their failure in
guarding their borders, it has also revealed the total bankruptcy of any
possible solutions available to India. The Indian Prime Minister has not spoken
a word in public about Ladakh in the last 6 weeks. Its media has received gag
orders from the government to avoid coverage of the issue due to its
sensitivity. No central leader of the ruling party has spoken of Ladakh and its
possible solution. There is a deafening silence in media, government, and
intelligentsia forums. The Indian military veterans have warned that there is no
possible military solution to this crisis.
While the Indian diplomats were busy garnering support for their bid to the UN
Security Council seat, destiny was laughing at their impending ignominy. Seat in
the Security Council, where the fate of international disputes is decided, is
not meant for a country that is unable to fend off aggression. If you cannot
manage your border disputes, how on earth can someone trust you to resolve the
The Chinese have moved and occupied areas which are up to China Claim Line, and
not the Indian territory. This area is disputed and both sides lay claim to it.
The Chinese have advanced in four different areas spread from Ladakh in the west
to far eastern border regions. Sources privy to Sino-India talks of 6 June have
disclosed rival demands. India demands the status quo ante of April 2020; China
demands the status quo before 5 August 2019.
While the Indians are quick to chest-thumping after making small and
insignificant gains, the Chinese have displayed their cultural strength in
handling intricate and demanding issues. No wonder the Xiangqi game has so aptly
been internalized by the Chinese leaders for centuries.
(The writer is security analyst based in Islamabad)