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India battle-ready as Xi appoints ‘combat expert’ military leaders

WorldIndia battle-ready as Xi appoints ‘combat expert’ military leaders

Army commanders discuss implications of the military reshuffle in Beijing; Jaishankar sends out a blunt signal to Chinese leadership over border disputes.

Even as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “quiet move” to appoint six “combat experts” as military leaders signals his more military focused approach towards regional disputes, the Indian establishment has become active and alert, carrying out review of the preparedness along the borders with China as well as Pakistan. The diplomatic establishment is, on a day-to-day basis, making an assessment of what the military reshuffle in Beijing actually portends. Highly-placed diplomatic sources told The Sunday Guardian that senior diplomats are in regular touch with top defence and security officials in Delhi, updating them on their feedback related to this development in China. “The defence establishment has already carried out a full-fledged and comprehensive review of the preparedness along the borders not only with China but also with Pakistan,” sources said.
The six members appointed by Xi Jinping in his third term as Chinese President will sit on the Central Military Commission (CMC), which is China’s top military body. They will be shaping China’s military and security policy for the next five years. “The new military leaders line-up in Beijing, in fact, reaffirms India’s earlier belief that China under third term of Xi Jinping is going to pursue more aggressive policy in terms of Line of Actual Control (LAC) and other border disputes with India,” Indian diplomats told this newspaper. Some experts might say that since most of the generals are “Taiwan experts”, it indicates that Xi is going to be more focused on the Taiwan issue. But the diplomats here are of the view that the appointment of combat experts to the CMC amply suggests possibility of more aggression in China’s approach towards the LAC and other border issues with India. “This possibility cannot be ruled out,” said a diplomat.
What is worth noting here in this context is Xi’s statement on Thursday, in which he asked the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be ready to fight and win wars. Only last month, the Chinese President had asked the military to “shape its posture to win local wars”. Undoubtedly, after being re-elected consecutively for the third term, Xi has got unprecedented power. “With Xi being in a more commanding and more powerful position now, China may be seen flexing muscles more aggressively in the Indo-Pacific, South China Sea and in the border areas,” sources said. “His call for winning the local war is being analysed and assessed in the diplomatic establishment here in South Block,” said a diplomat. It could be a signal for the Taiwan issue, but India cannot take it lightly as well, given China’s ‘unrelenting attitude’ towards LAC and other regional disputes, he added.

Sources said that Quad countries—India, US, Australia and Japan—kicked off their Malabar naval exercise off Yokosuka near the East China Sea. The exercise assumes significance in terms of giving a message to Beijing amid high-level military reshuffle there. “China’s aggressive moves in the Indo-Pacific were the focus of the exercise,” sources said.

A conference of the Indian army brass recently analysed the Chinese factor while reviewing the security preparedness and combat readiness along the borders with both China and Pakistan. “The implications of Xi’s decision to appoint war expert generals were also discussed during the conference,” say sources. Defence envoys were also present during the meeting, who shared their views, a source said. With China in mind, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh urged the military commanders to maintain operational readiness amid on-going standoff along the LAC, and obviously in view of the high level military reshuffle by the Xi dispensation in Beijing.

Amid apprehensions about the Chinese President planning to be more aggressive, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar came out with a clear message to Beijing. At a function, he said India’s ties with China won’t be normal unless peace and tranquillity is restored at the Line of Actual Control. He signalled to Xi Jinping that there is no ambiguity in New Delhi’s stand vis-à-vis the border issues.
What Indian security and diplomatic higher-ups cannot ignore is the fact that Xi chose his military leaders, keeping in mind “the operational priority and military contingency”, which underlines his military focused approach towards different disputes, be it along the LAC, in the Indo-Pacific or in South China Sea. The CMC is China’s highest military operational and decision-making body which is led by Xi Jinping, who is its chairman, two vice-chairman and four other members who together form the nucleus of China’s military operations. According to diplomatic sources, the military level talks between India and China in future may see a different set of PLA officials appointed by the new line-up of military leaders in Beijing.

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