The thing that scares the CCP even more than a country pushing back on multiple fronts, is countries banding together to multiply their ability to push back.
Wentworth, Canada: So, the first thing to understand—and this is important—is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) believes it can rank countries based on what it calls Comprehensive National Power (CNP). It has an equation for it and everything.
To get at that golden Comprehensive National Power number, the CCP includes more than you can possibly imagine. Economic resources, human capital, natural resources, capital resources, technology, research, international influence, military, government spending, even lending pandas to international zoos counts in there somewhere.
The goal of the CCP is to dominate in CNP so as to preserve and promote the interests of the Party and its leadership.
As Prof M.D. Nalapat puts it: “The Chinese concept of war is not necessarily guns, artillery, bombers—all those wonderful things that we see on National Geographic or HBO. No, the Chinese concept of war is overcoming and dominating your enemy. It can be by guns, it can be by ships, it can also be by artificial intelligence. It can be by expansion of the economy. It can be by spread of goodwill. It can be by various means, but essentially it means having mastery over your foe so that you are acknowledged as the Middle Kingdom and every other kingdom comes and pays tribute to you.”
Why is understanding that important? Because if you understand that, you understand why the CCP deliberately and consistently uses misdirection to advance its interests—why it uses “fishing boats” to push maritime claims and sends People’s Liberation Army (PLA) scientists undercover abroad to study at research institutes. It is all part of the same mindset. Anything is legitimate if it advances Comprehensive National Power.
It’s also why, just because China withdraws in one area, it doesn’t mean it’s not advancing in another. Like an expanding balloon, you can push back PLA troops on the border, but if CCP-linked investments have taken over your high-tech start-ups, China’s overall CNP has grown just the same.
So, what to do? Pushing back against Comprehensive National Power requires Comprehensive National Defence (CND), and India has already started doing the needful.
Among the other defensive moves, there have been restrictions on Chinese FDI, on visas for Chinese, the arrest of a dubious Chinese hawala trader, redeployment of the Indian Navy, and the elegant ban on Chinese apps.
The apps were perfect CCP Comprehensive National Power tools—they siphoned metadata to develop China’s AI weaponization; they allowed communications intercepts for blackmail, intelligence and corporate advantage; they made their Chinese parent companies a lot of money, and more. The Narendra Modi government’s decision to ban them showed a deep understanding of the nature of Comprehensive National Power and the need for Comprehensive National Defence.
It’s worth making clear that, in the same way the CCP leverages its whole of society and economy influence, effective Comprehensive National Defence is beyond a whole of government approach—it is a whole of nation approach. It has to reciprocate (and then some) the way the CCP tries to infiltrate.
So, when a private Indian company decides not to take Chinese funding, or an Indian university refuses to host a Confucius Institute, or the people of India download the app that deletes Chinese apps from their phones, they are all part of India’s Comprehensive National Defence.
In fact, India is extremely well placed to lead on CND. It is unique in myriad ways that threaten core elements of China’s CNP.
For example, China’s soft power machine has been pushing spurious “silk road” related claims across the Indo-Pacific. However, as the Prime Minister said after the Ram Temple bhoomi pujan, the Ramayana resonates deeply across the region, including in Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal. And Buddhism has touched hearts from Japan to Europe—including China.
And given the current maritime construct of the Indo-Pacific, whatever ancient overland “silk route” the CPP can try to claim, it is nothing compared to India’s very real and extensive maritime Spice Route.
So, on historical/cultural connectivity, if activated, links out of India can more than give China a run for its Comprehensive National Power points.
Then, in terms of strategic positioning, there is no “Indo”-Pacific without India. And with growing infrastructure investments in the highly strategic Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India must be giving nightmares to PLA Navy planners.
As for military prowess, the Indian military may be under-equipped, but the men and women of the Services have shown their experience, skill, determination and bravery for all the world to see. It was not what the CCP expected. But it was what the Indian people expected, and they’ve shown their support for their bravehearts—again contributing to a distributed Comprehensive National Defence.
So, the CCP’s expanding Comprehensive National Power balloon is getting poked, but what would it take to make it burst?
It would take what retired US Coast Guard Captain Bernard Moreland—whose last posting was as US Coast Guard liaison to Beijing—has termed Comprehensive Multinational Defence (CMD).
The thing that scares the CCP even more than a country pushing back on multiple fronts, is countries banding together to multiply their ability to push back. That means the Quad, or an Indo-Pacific Charter, or the proposed Supply Chain Resilience Initiative between India, Japan and Australia.
The CCP’s Comprehensive National Power is most effective against isolated targets. It tried to pressure Australia into dropping its requests for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 by (in part) putting tariffs on Australian barley. Those plans were stymied when India agreed to take some of the crop.
The CCP built up the tourism sector in Palau—a country that recognises Taiwan—and then pulled out Chinese tourism to try to pressure Palau to drop Taiwan. Now Palau is asking the US to build a military base there.
The CCP hates it when we work together to defend ourselves. And it is not alone. The CCP is enlisting its partners to try to keep us weak and apart. And one of its major partners is Russia.
Moscow hates the Quad as much as Beijing, but it has access in India that China no longer has. So, while it may look like “old friend” Russia is reaching out for understanding, how much of that “understanding” also advances the CCP’s Comprehensive National Power? Is Russia the CCP’s Trojan Horse at the gates of Delhi? Is it time for India to activate Comprehensive National Defence against Russia as well?
India is well underway at understanding how its unique qualities, at this unique time in history, make it well placed to lead the way on Comprehensive National Defence and be a driver in Comprehensive Multinational Defence. But if the all-smothering balloon of the CCP’s Comprehensive National Power is going to be popped, it may take an even wider view of its methods of expansion.
Cleo Paskal is a non-resident senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.