China and its “peaceful rise” have been talked about a lot in the recent years by the world media. Considerable scepticism has been expressed regarding this rise and there has been assertions questioning the logic behind this assumption. The apprehensions were expressed where a Thucydides Trap was considered inevitable between USA and China in the near future. The COVID-19 pandemic and an increasingly aggressive posture of China afterwards has proved these apprehensions justified. And the fast changing global order has brought China in a situation where the only way it seems fit for itself is more aggression to counter the alienation it is facing around the world.
The Galwan Valley face off between India and China is another instance which shows how China has been behaving with India since the establishment of PRC in 1949. By applying the Salami Slicing tactic China has taken over large tracts of Indian land post 1962 war. Flouting all the international norms of diplomacy it has occupied 5000 sq.km of land in Gilgit-Baltistan region of POK. In addition it lays claims to Arunachal Pradesh and till 2003 China asserted its right over Sikkim as part of South Tibet.
Moreover China’s aggressive diplomacy in our neighbourhood has created an unstable environment which has been a cause of concern in security and diplomatic circles since a long time. While Pakistan has been a willing partner in this strategy of China in order to quench its thirst for parity with India other countries have been victims of either political hegemony, for example Nepal, or economic colonialism, for example Maldives and Sri Lanka. The controversial String of Pearls strategy, vehemently denied by China, has become a reality with Hambantota and Gwadar ports becoming the pressure points on Indian security matrix.
And this strategy of capturing territories and spreading economic colonisation is not restricted vis-à-vis India or South Asia. China has been pursuing its Nine dash line policy since long-time in South China Sea and now claims the whole of South China Sea as its own. It calls the Japan administered Senkaku Islands as Diyaou and proclaims its sovereignty over it. And that’s not all. China is embroiled in territorial dispute with as many as 21 countries at present and the latest victims of its territorial ambitions are Russia and Bhutan. Earlier a cause of considerable concern for its neighbours China now has become a cause of concern for the whole world.
But what is the reason behind this behaviour of China?
The reasons are historical, as they are proclaimed by China, as well as geo-political which we may consider to understand such an approach of China. The Century of Humiliation, which is considered a dark chapter in the history of Chinese nation, is another reason behind the increasing assertiveness of a country which has become an economic powerhouse and a regional military power in the last two decades.
The current President of China Xi Jinping has made the hide and bide policy of CCP overt and explicit with respect to its attitude towards its neighbours as well the rest of the world. China intends to become the number one military and economic superpower by the year 2049 which marks the 100th anniversary of PRC. All these factors when combined with the fundamental ideology of Communist Party of China make the rationale behind its aggressive posturing a little more clear which is vital for Indian foreign policy makers to consider when dealing with China.
And how Indian policy makers have responded to this not so peacefully rising China?
Historically the Indian State has been a great appeaser of Chinese territorial ambitions. India was the first country to recognize the annexation of Tibet by China in as well as the One China policy of PRC as early as 1950. Similarly the occupation of Aksai Chin by China in 1962 was condoned by Nehru by the famous blade of grass remark and his infamous radio message where he said “ My heart goes out to the people of Assam” are still etched in the wounded memories of Indians for the 1962 humiliation. The UPA regime gave away silently around 640 sq km of Indian Territory during its second term.
And what did India get in return? Regular incursions by PLA in the Eastern Ladakh, stapled visas for the residents of Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, Doklam Standoff and the latest attempt to encroach more area in the Galwan Valley. The foreign policy miscalculations did cost us dear and what we got in return is debatable. The insidious web of political hegemony woven by China in Nepal over a period has brought a situation where one of the most reliable and time trusted ally is on the brink of becoming a declared enemy of India. Our markets are captured by China by subsidised products of CCP controlled companies and the amount of data theft and cyber attacks done by Chinese are acquiring alarming dimensions.
The writing is on the wall; Chinese ambitions for territories and global superiority are not going to die, even if at present it finds itself increasingly cornered and alienated at the Global stage. Therefore a reconsideration of the One China policy by India is necessary and urgent. The good news is that following the Galwan face-off the present dispensation has ramped up its efforts to take on China head-on rather than cooling down the tempers till the next tension arises. By sending two BJP (which is largest partner in NDA coalition) MPs for the swear-in ceremony of Taiwanese President the Government has given the right signals. Similarly the mention of India’s concerns regarding the new security law in Hong-Kong in UNHRC’s latest session in Geneva is a step further.
The issue of Taiwan and Hong-Kong are the Achilles Heel of One China policy and nothing hurts China more than the denial of its existence. In fact the whole existence of China with its current territorial boundaries is a history of communist imperialism. Tibet, Xinjiang, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia all are the victims of Chinese expansionist state. And these designs don’t end with the land grab. A planned and systemic demographic invasion of all these territories by the ethnic Han Chinese population has created internal conflicts and CCP is sitting on multiple volcanoes. The social contract between Chinese Population and the CCP is in deep trouble and the economic onslaught on China by the rest of world has the capability to destabilise and weaken the Chinese State further.
So what should be India’s approach in such a scenario?
While Indian government is reconsidering and reconfiguring its economic relations with China we need to understand that China will not mend its way easily. Owing to its superior position in global supply chain and deep pockets China can withstand the economic onslaught and survive. But the progress and prosperity showcased to the world is relying on a very delicate balance. A thoroughly thought out strategy to exploit the fault lines in Chinese body politic can not only stop the expansionist PRC in its tracks but it can also start the process of democratization in China. Ultimately it’s the CCP not the Chinese people which is becoming a threat to a rule based global order.
Strengthening of democratic voices like in Hong-Kong, support to the independent existence of nations like Tibet and Taiwan and raising the concern about the treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang can be effective strategies to counter the unprovoked violent behaviour of China on our frontiers. Opening of a Taiwanese Embassy in New Delhi must be considered and standard diplomatic relations must be established with Taiwan for counterbalancing the aggressive posturing of China on the Jammu and Kashmir issue post the abrogation of Article 370.
Moreover India must wake up to the reality of the world and should acknowledge the futility of the Non alignment. The foreign policy makers have to come out of the chimera that is called strategic autonomy and stop being paranoid about losing it. In foreign policy ultimately the interest of India must be paramount. At present USA and India can take on China as both of them has a common adversary. All the regional alignments, like QUAD, must be strengthened in order to prepare for the future contingencies. Slowly and steadily this strategy is taking shape with the strategic alignment of these countries in the South China Sea.
The recent developments on the domestic front in this regard offer hopes as Indian Government is realising the huge importance of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in this context. The decision to connect the Island group with high speed internet with the mainland is a first step in this direction. As quoted by Dr Manish Kumar, chief editor of Capital TV, Indian Government is eagerly looking forward to develop Nicobar Island as a world class port. This will not only make it an economic hotspot in the region but will also give India a huge advantage to choke the Malacca Straits which is another Achilles Heel in the economic matrix of China. On the economic front, the decision of Indian Government to ban Chinese apps and excluding the Chinese companies from the bidding process in India are the welcome signs for the future strategy of Indian State to tackle the Chinese Menace.
Considering the past mistakes committed by our early political masters and economic might China enjoys at present, it’s a tough challenge to contain China. But ensuring self-reliance in the Global Supply Chain, a strategic realignment with countries sharing common interests, emphasis on self-reliance on the economic front vis-à-vis China and reconsidering One China Policy are the surest way forward to counterbalance the behemoth that is China.
Tilak Devasher, Pakistan: Courting the Abyss, New Delhi, HarperCollins, 2016
Mei Fong, One Child Policy: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, London, One World, 2016.
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