Key issues in the China-India confrontation

UK-India relations in the new age of Pax Sinica:
Five points needing greater dialogue

1) Understand Chinese Strategic Complexity
2) Share Intelligence
3) Normalise joint exercises and planning
4) Analyse Pakistan’s role
5) Accept the meta-threat of Pax Sinica
6) Supply Chain Management and Industrial Collaboration

There is a clear common cause between India and the UK in the containment of Chinese ambitions in multiple theatres. The basis of that common interest is in the realist analysis of China to see more clearly the common areas of concern and to understand the real nature of a new age of “Chinese peace”. We suggest here five areas in which there can be a more focussed strategic dialogue between the UK and India on the common meta-threat represented by Chinese foreign policy.

Understand the complexity of Chinese strategic thinking
The UK and India both have long experience in dealing with the Chinese mainland. There is an important need for launching joint studies in both Chinese political and strategic behaviour, these must include a credible SWOT Analysis. There are strategic and tactical weaknesses in the Chinese military industrial complex which need to be better understood. Chinese public opinion is also a complex entity and there needs to be much more analysis of the way that opinion is expressed and articulated especially as much of that articulation can be seen online. For example, detailed sentiment analysis of Chinese social media platforms like Weibo need to be conducted to help deconstruct the often-monolithic presentations of Chinese public opinion and the context this provides for Chinese strategic decision making.

Intelligence sharing and situational awareness
The UK has huge capabilities in all forms of intelligence gathering both stand alone and as part of 5 Eyes. India is already getting reasonable intelligence and data for precision strike capabilities from the US. This needs to be extended to closer co-operation across the full spectrum of intelligence and not just the focus on the sharing of intelligence on counter terrorism and countering extremism which already exists as part of the India-UK strategic relationship. This focus on the threat of non-state actors remains important but the main point of discussion going forward needs to be on the intelligence architecture for pooling intelligence on state actors. In turn the use of this intelligence should mirror the joint work that has been done on countering the messages of violent extremism. The strategic communications that can flow from the intelligence work should be part of a broader propaganda response to the BRI.

UK in the Indian Ocean: joint force projection
The UK base facilities in Bahrain and attempts at undertaking Arabian Sea oriented Malabar exercise, show there is a scope for UK and European partners such as France and Germany to undertake joint exercises in the Indian Ocean. These could be modelled on the recent Passex between India and Japan. Democracies need to send a clear message that while China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia can carry out joint exercises these can countered by joint exercises by the UK, India, and our allies. These exercises provide important counter leverages to Chinese movements and they provide a powerful narrative to the physical dominance as a prelude to claimed sovereignty that China asserts in many contested spaces. The introduction of a US Task force in these exercises from Centcom and also elements of Africom, can provide an even deeper alternative perspective on contested spaces. They should become a normal part of the common security apparatus. More broadly there needs to develop a strategic culture in which joint scenario building exercises together with the US and other allies become normal practice.

Role of Pakistan
There needs to be much more serious discussion on Pakistan’s role in the present crisis. The implications of Pakistan’s attempts to wade in the present crisis need to be discussed. India has been surprised and alarmed by regular flights of Chinese cargo planes to Gilgit. Some serious messaging to Pakistan is necessary. No country is in a better position to attempt this than the UK.

China is a meta-threat: the basis of Pax Sinica is not peaceful co-existent but domination
The Chinese system of government is an authoritarian one that has set out to reshape the Free World. This is therefore a confrontation between a world view based on freedom and a world view based on authoritarianism. If India is subjugated politically, economically, and strategically then this will remove the Western bookend of the India – Pacific strategy. It will leave Asia open for Chinese domination. It will undermine the US Free Open India Pacific strategy. There is therefore a fundamental common cause between India and UK along with the US and others like Japan and Australia, who need to work together to uphold a “Free and Open World Order. This overview must be the beginning point of any discussion on forms of co-operation and strategic dialogue because it is fundamental.

Supply Chain Management and Industrial Collaboration
Creation of US led Economic Prosperity networks comprising countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, coming together to reorganise global supply chains to reduce dependency on Chinese manufacturing, offers scope for UK – India collaboration. Recent advocacy of breaking supply chain dependency on China by the 5 eyes powers supports the importance of this area: “across the five powers as a whole, countries are dependent on [China in] 260 categories of goods, 54 of sectors of goods, and five industrywide forms of goods.”
Vietnam provides a good example, of global supply chains coming together to provide network products. Instead of producing goods from start to finish it specialise in particular tasks or stages of the goods promotion sequence. Both countries can look into stages of networked production a possible area could be joint development and staged production of 5G Equipment as also in pharmaceuticals, information technology, nanotechnology, fintech and other areas of strategic importance and shared expertise.