Glaciers and Peaks: Chinese Aggression in the Himalayas
Chinese economic growth has led to direct military aggression. In contrast, India’s growth has led to the country receiving better bilateral and multilateral ties across the globe. People want to be friends with India while China is beginning to feel global pushback caused directly as a result of their soldiers, intelligence, and diplomats bullying their neighbours. China’s current trajectory is putting it in direct conflict with countries way beyond its borders. There is no better place to observe Chinese flexing than in the Himalayas.
India is once again, a frontline state in a global conflict. India’s struggles are now multiplying. Its worst fears are being realised. Afghanistan is now in flux. It was being stabilised for the good of global security. An international effort, cruelly sabotaged by India and Afghan hating ultranationalists in Pakistan’s security establishment. Pakistani security proxies are now in control in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and are causing misery again. The Taliban are currently consolidating power and terrorising their own population for now, but that could change. We are already seeing American weapons, ammunition, and NATO equipment being smuggled from Afghanistan to Kashmir just like what happened in the 1990s. A development which is forcing Indian security to upgrade their body armour plating to level IV. The 1990s, were a time when Pakistan’s ISI recruited an international mercenary force that eventually ended up with Osama bin Laden as its figurehead. China and Pakistan are now poised to cause India real problems. Another major challenge in the Himalayan theatre.
Adding to India’s headache is their pragmatic stance over the Ukraine crisis, which has won it both praise and condemnation in equal measure. But the only opinion that truly matters are nations state partners and western governments respect India’s position concerning Russia and Ukraine. There won’t be any ramifications, that is clear, despite what diehard Modi critics, former neoconservatives, and American think tank blowhards say in the press and in the social media bear pit. They never stop to think about India’s concerns or the realities of statecraft. Not surprising considering their own major policy failures. India’s heavy dependence on Russian arms is causing all sorts of problems. We all want peace in Ukraine. The fact that India’s main supplier is involved in a high loss conflict is certainly not great timing as China is pushing India and partner countries.
The last few years have been dominated by China asserting itself on multiple fronts. Covid has slowed it down to a certain degree. China is currently building on disputed land in the Himalayas, but they aren’t simply putting up hollow, Potemkin-style villages. They are providing advanced infrastructure to new towns and military facilities. Electronic warfare stations, outposts, radar, and bunkers. China is pushing India into a difficult position. Instead of bloody Chinese incursions which bring negative global headlines, Beijing has decided to become squatters on disputed land, sending in armies of construction crews to lay down foundations and build. A direct challenge towards India. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently told his Indian counterpart Rajnath Sign that, "Beijing is eroding the security of the Indo-Pacific region from its construction of dual-use infrastructure along your border... We will continue to stand alongside you as you defend your sovereignty."
Chinese plundering isn’t a new phenomenon, they have stolen land and even created their own artificial islands in territorial waters not belonging to them. The Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands are claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei. Yet, China has aggressively seized them in the South China Sea. They have also snuffed out democracy and liberty in Hong Kong. Chinese brutality and backward National Security Laws have forced Hong Kongers into mass exile. The British government has agreed to take in thousands of exiles now forced from their homes by Chinese aggression from the mainland.
China’s callous, almost robotic solution to Muslim autonomy in Xinjiang is to imprison and re-educate the Uighur population into becoming cultish drones. Beijing wants a population devoid of their souls. Religion and culture are what make us all unique. It gives us flavour in our lives. We have our habits, ways, and rituals. China does not like that- it’s leadership are still stuck with a totalitarian mindset. Chinese communism may have been diluted with capitalism to form a hybrid regime, but the resulting economic growth and development have mutated into brutal ultranationalism. Academics thought a growing middle class in China would lead to major democratic reforms. No, China is rising to dominate, not to emulate democracies.
Many have tried to excuse China’s behaviour against its Muslim population as being a poorly handled response to a global problem, much like how Myanmar responded to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s (ARSA) attacks in 2017. Myanmar is now in civil war as a result. Their leaders are being chased with war crimes charges because of their handling of the Myanmar’s Muslim population, the Rohingya. A cautious tale. China did face a real threat from terrorism that was once backed by their ‘iron-clad’ brothers in Pakistan’s security establishment. But somehow China has managed to get Pakistani Islamists, and their brethren in Afghanistan, on their side. In 2009, the late Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan, the “Godfather of Modern Jihad” signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese Communist Party to preach Dawa in China. A curious move, but China’s authoritarianism and control appeal to radical Islamists even though the Chinese are denying religious freedom to their Muslim population. So much for supporting the Ummah. The Chinese are enslaving Uighurs in concentration camps while forcing them to submit their minds to control from Beijing. China’s plotting with the Pakistani security establishment and its proxies are worrying for global security. India is once again on the frontlines. Religion should be protected due to respect for liberty and freedom, it should not be weaponised for authoritarians and ultranationalists to promote violence against other states.
Adding to the list of countries increasingly buckling under Chinese dominance is Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan who are all being courted, bullied, and cajoled into following Chinese diktats. The Himalayan region is under threat. Their economies are being undermined by Chinese debt-traps according to Brahma Chellaney, one of India’s top strategic thinkers and security analysts. People are feeling pressed. This will force India into taking and encouraging Himalayan nations into looking for a more global path that is not dominated by the Chinese. The citizens of these countries feel like their culture and individuality is under attack.
Indian analysts have complained about their peers across the world for not taking the Chinese Himalayan threat seriously, however, policies of containment or confrontation are exceedingly difficult to start or stop once we’re all fully committed. The Quad Security Dialogue has hopefully reassured India that we are all on the same page. That includes support from Europe, Southeast Asia, and North America. The clashes between India and Chinese troops in Ladakh is being closely monitored and the malaise is turning into real tangible efforts to hold China back.
India needs to take the lead in the Himalayas and beyond. It needs help charting a path that gives options to its neighbours. Collectively they must stop China from undermining their economies, culture, and security. Liberty is at stake. We’ve all gained from cheap Chinese supply and labour. But that wealth we’ve put into Chinese pockets has fuelled the mutation of an inward-looking society to an ultranationalism nation which is now seeking power and control beyond Chinese borders. We must challenge it. We need to give India all the help it needs to contain Chinese aggression. Events in the Himalayas, the roof of the world, are going to determine global futures. We have no choice. We’ve got to help India to secure it.
(Chris Blackburn is the Communications Director of the Swiss InterStrategy Group based in Zurich, Switzerland. He is the recipient of a “Friend of Bangladesh” award from the Government of Bangladesh for his work on counterterrorism. Chris is also the head of European Outreach for Global Friends of Afghanistan (GFA), a US based think tank that is working with Afghan figures from around the world.)