November 20 is one of the blackest days in Independent India’s chequered history. On this fateful day in 1962, China declared a unilateral cease-fire, bringing – one month one day long war against India – to an abrupt end. The war had left India bruised and humiliated India badly. Since then, relations between the two Asian neighbours range between outright animosity and uneasy peace. The armed forces of the two countries since have had several eye-ball to eye -ball confrontations, skirmishes and localised clashes. A distant possibility of breaking of sudden large-scale hostilities looms large on the Indo-China border all the time.
None knows what would be China’s next move. It’s difficult to fathom its intentions because the country defies all known matrix. China is a declared communist nation, but doesn’t follow classical Marxist economic model. Its political system is a ruthless party dictatorship in the Stalinist mould, the economy, however, is run in a cold-blooded capitalist system, sans any human rights, freedom of expression or association. On the top of it, the country has imperialist ambitions – prowling the world, with a predator mindset.
Look at the contradictions. The Communist system claims to be a great champion of gender equality and minority rights. What is China’s record in this respect? Only eight women till now have been members of the CPC Politburo since 1949, of which three were the wives of the CPC’s founding members, including Jiang Qing, wife of Mao Zedong. No woman has ever served on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China’s supreme decision-making body, since 1949.
Muslims in China are a microscopic minority, less than two per cent of total population, mostly living in Xinjiang. Heart rending stories of their torture, including locking of lakhs of them in concentration camps, are regularly reported in the international media. The Chinese state apparatus is obliterating their identity. The Buddhist minority of Tibet too has been a victim of China’s Communist repression. Thousands of Buddhist monks have immolated themselves in Tibet to protest against atrocities by the Communist regime.
There are clear signs, China, now onwards, would be more brazen and ruthless in dealing with dissent at home, and in undoing what it perceives as historical injustices done to it by rest of the world. In an unprecedented move, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) anointed Xi Jinping as the leader of the party and hence, of China, for an indefinite time, brazenly dropping all pretensions of democratic functioning.
It’s obvious, whether it is Taiwan or Ladakh. Xinjiang or Tibet, China will be assertive, even belligerent, and may not necessarily honour established global conventions. Taiwan is a top priority, and China may not hesitate to use force for reunification. China has a hierarchical view of the international order. Many countries may opt for an easier course – to genuflect before China. Others, particularly the European Union, Australia, Japan and India would have to be ready to confront the dragon to protect their borders and strategic interests.
After independence, Pandit Nehru, living in a romanticised dream world of Hindi- Chini bhai – bhai, cultivated and humoured China, much to the chagrin of the USA and Europe. India was the second non-communist country to recognize the People’s Republic of China in 1950. Ove the last seven decades, New Delhi never mentioned Taiwan while adhering to the One China Policy. However, things are now changing. Since 2010, India has stopped mentioning the One China Policy in its joint statements with China.
China under President Xi Jinping began with the promise of a “handshake across the Himalayas” in 2013. A decade later, however, bilateral ties with India are either tense or cold – a fact underlined by footage of the Galwan clash being played at the recent 20th congress.
Notwithstanding, occasional bonhomie, China continues to treat India as an enemy. A number of actions by China underlines this ugly reality. China has been egging on Pakistan against India, promoting and financing anti- India elements in Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. It has blocked India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It has decided to build infrastructure projects in Pakistan Occupied-Kashmir and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Pakistan was formerly a strong critic of the Myanmar government for what it alleged was a “state-sponsored campaign” against Rohingyas in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Myanmar had in the past accused Pakistan of arming and training the radical group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. But China has played a role in bringing them closer and brokering arms deals. At the instance of China, the two countries, that were hostile to each other till recently, are coming together. The glue is provided by China, against a common enemy – India.
According to media reports, last month, a senior-level Pakistani military delegation visited Myanmar to inspect a defence industry complex near Yangon and participate in a workshop on JF-17 block II aircraft that Myanmar had purchased from Islamabad. Another Pakistani team had also visited Myanmar to provide technical assistance to manufacture weapons.
In fact, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has fast emerged as a neo-colonial power. According to Jean-Marc F. Blanchard, a China scholar, “the general features of China’s relations with many countries today bear close resemblance to the European colonial powers’ relations with African and Middle Eastern countries in the 19th and 20th century. Among other things, we witness countries exchanging their primary products for Chinese manufactured ones; China dominating the local economy; countries becoming heavily indebted to the PRC; China exerting greater weight on local political, cultural, and security dynamics; and Chinese abroad living in their own ‘expat enclaves.”
Beijing’s colonisation of unsuspecting countries is subtle to begin with. Infrastructural projects, like pipelines and highways, are the usual mediums to trap small and underdeveloped nations. Such innocuous projects are cleverly employed to deplete natural resources of the host countries, lure them into a debt trap and enrich PRC. Sri Lanka’s present existential crisis is largely on account of Chinese manipulation of the island nation’s economy for its own advantage.
Africa is another major victim of this Chinese neo imperialism. China’s domestic industrial empire is fed by raw materials, such as minerals, fossil fuels, and agricultural commodities, sourced, apart from other places, mainly from Africa. China is “present” in 39 African countries. Most of them are cash starved, and happy accept Chinese loans on Shylock terms.
Because of various factors, China today is a global manufacturing hub for most of the consumer and industrial products, giving it a great leverage in dealing with rest of the world. For example, China dominates the supply line of almost all the key components of electrical vehicles (EVs), particularly the key minerals required for batteries – lithium, nickel, cobalt and graphite. The next stage of the supply chain, the processing of ore/mineral concentrate into metal too is dominated by China.
So is the next stage, of cell components. China produces two-thirds of global anodes and three-fourths of cathodes. After that come battery cells, where China has a 70 per cent share. In EVs global production, China’ share stands at 50 per cent, followed by Europe, 25 per cent, the US 10 per cent and India doesn’t count. Most of the generic drugs too are produced in China. If China was to cut its supplies, the world pharmaceutical industry would come to a halt. The world will have to reduce its dependence on China in order to deal with it on an even kneel.
The only way to ensure peace at Indo- China border is to close the development gap between the two countries at a fast pace. The present Indian leadership recognises it and is working in that direction. China will continue with its policy of blowing hot & cold against India. The ties between the two are likely to continue in a state of suspended animation. The handshake over the Himalayas promised soon after Xi came to power, is not likely to materialise in foreseeable future.
Mr. Balbir Punj is a Former Member of Parliament and a Columnist.
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