New Delhi: Three days and seventy-seven years ago, Adolf Hitler’s public works and war production minister, the civil engineering genius, Fritz Todt, who planned and laid the great German autobahns, died as his aircraft exploded minutes after taking off from an East Prussian airfield servicing the dictator’s wartime headquarters called Wolf’s Lair. Todt had an acrimonious last interview with Hitler advising him to terminate the war which he thought was unwinnable with the entry of the United States with its huge economic and industrial resources that he had studied on a visit to the country. This preceded the catastrophe of Stalingrad which would encourage other doubters in the Third Reich political hierarchy (ironically lead by Joseph Goebbels) and in the Wehrmacht but Hitler, for once, was intolerant of Todt’s farsightedness. Initially, Todt’s death was attributed to the explosive interview and subsequently joined with the intriguing presence of his successor, Albert Speer, at the same time in Hitler’s Eastern Front headquarters. After the war, fingers were pointed at the aircraft’s self-destructive mechanism which Todt may have accidentally activated squeezing into the cramped cockpit. After all these decades, it is not Todt’s death, sad as all deaths are, that has acquired a dark and profound salience as his prescient warning to Hitler that he was prosecuting a war he couldn’t win. This advice could today be given to the Chinese leadership as it fights a losing battle over claims to the South China Sea and the East China Sea against a backdrop of a failing economy and Donald Trump’s rousingly successful trade war against China.

China has reached its zenith as a Major Power without ever being a Great Power and unmistakable decline has set in. Its greatest opportunities of rise were present before Donald Trump came to occupy the White House. As a dodgy and successful businessman, Trump knows that the motor of the world, including geopolitics, runs on money. Lots and lots of money, that is. He has concluded that America has to withdraw from such foreign wars as do not affect America’s strategic interests overwhelmingly and immediately and this explains impending retrenchments from Syria and Afghanistan. Monies saved from these wars can not only be invested in the US economy under his Make-America-Great-Again programme but also employed to square off real and present threats to America and predominant of those is the economic and military aggression of China. Merely confronting China militarily would have upended any benefits from containment whose danger Trump’s predecessors, especially Barak Obama, never clearly foresaw. Trump, however, did, and he understood the sector of China’s soft and vulnerable underbelly perfectly, this being the economy, which he commenced incrementally to attack in a well-planned campaign.

It is not enough to be the world’s greatest and largest manufacturing economy. Without large, open and rich markets to sell, manufacturing heft means little. While he erected trade barriers against all significant economies, including the European Union and India, Trump reserved special venom for China, against which he slapped tariffs on an expanding number of goods, and tariffs will rise to a staggering twenty-five per cent if China fails to make dramatic and far-reaching concessions at the current trade talks in Beijing. Simultaneously, US warships have conducted freedom-of-navigation manoeuvres in open seas that China claims disregarding howls of Chinese protests. If it comes to a military contest, China will be lacking for allies; even Vladimir Putin’s Russia will stay clear of confronting the West despite frayed ties. On the other hand, NATO Europe, Australia, most of the ASEAN states, Japan and likely India will comprise the anti-China US coalition. The wise words of Fritz Todt echo here. And there is the critical core of the economy to consider. Despite the opacity of the Chinese economy and the fudged data, China can no longer conceal unsustainable losses from the trade war with the United States. And the fact that China cannot win economically against the United States puts Washington in a psychologically commanding position.

In consequence, China has to make one concession after another after this. Under US pressure, Huawei is being blacklisted across the Western world. In due course, other Chinese majors will be targeted for breaking US sanctions laws, intellectual property theft, unfair and restrictive trade and commercial practices, and so on. If China is giving in on trade as looks likely, it cannot keep up Major Power military pretensions for long. Sooner or later, it will have to realize that blue water expansionism cannot be sustained by a sinking economy which is further alienating Taiwan and making reunification impossible. The stage has been reached where China will lose regardless of steps taken to arrest decline. It has reached its Fritz Todt moment. Wisdom lies in recognizing and making amends for the fateful turn of events.

Editor’s Note: Would the government, regulatory authorities and shareholders trust a company balance-sheet whose CFO doubles as external auditor? Plainly not. So how can the CAG audit of the Rafale deal have sanctity when the CAG was party to the deal while serving in government? All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Humpty together again.