It is quite evident that India’s political narrative is undergoing a paradigm shift with the title of antagonist changing from Pakistan to China. Since the formation of the Indian union, Pakistan was always seen as a belligerent neighbour and played a significant role in galvanising modern Indian nationalism. This even though Pakistan lost all four wars which they fought against India, and have been said to try and destabilise India using non-state actors, supposedly with the blessings of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Throughout these years, India’s political parties, while using Pakistan to accumulate their political capital, remained mute on China since they were aware of the fact that unlike Pakistan, China was never an ‘easy’ target.
The failure of India’s political elite to understand the expansionist Chinese policies resulted in India’s humiliating defeat in the 1962 war. It took years for India to realise that China was slowly occupying its territory in Aksai-Chin and it was too late when the nation finally responded.
Even after the war, New Delhi was never really keen on protecting its territory, leaving a vacuum in the region enabling China to occupy more areas slowly and enhance their border infrastructure.
Even the State government of Jammu and Kashmir didn’t consider it necessary to protect Ladakh from Chinese aggression. The trend continued without much resistance from the Indian side. In 2013, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) crossed the Line of Actual Control and occupied 640 Sq. Km area of Indian territory in Ladakh. Even though this was a blatant attack on India’s territorial integrity, the then government was not serious enough to escalate this matter.
Post-2014, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government fast-tracked the construction of border roads and enhanced the infrastructure along the Chinese boundary. This move rattled China to a greater extent, thus raising objections to various road construction activities inside the Indian territory.
The Indian government was keen on improving trade relations with China. PM Modi and Chinese premier Xi Jinping met 18 times in 6 years including the informal summits at Wuhan and Mahabalipuram. In 2017, China’s attempt to construct a road in Doklam was resisted by Indian army resulting in a standoff between both the forces. China has deep strategic and financial interests in Pakistan and uses the latter to create internal troubles in India.
The current Communist regime in China is said to have been pumping millions of dollars to the kitty of India’s immediate neighbours in the form of loans and investments. Even India’s all-weather ally Nepal turning its table against India is interpreted as China’s strategy of isolating India. China’s doctrine of the ‘String of Pearls’ has been instrumental in encircling India in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Now the question is, even after knowing that China is seemingly hostile to our interests, did the government of India act smarter enough to ‘bell the dragon’?
In 2014 during the swearing-in of the Modi-led NDA government, PM Modi had invited the heads of all SAARC nations to attend the ceremony. But the new government couldn’t maintain the momentum it had. The terror issues with Pakistan, the Madeshi blockade in Nepal, India’s exclusion from the Afghan peace talks and rapid Chinese investments in SAARC nations, Indian diplomatic missions had too many problems to handle.
For a short period, India tried to project BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC, but that couldn’t be a masterstroke. India is also worried about other issues concerning its immediate neighbourhood. Sri Lanka has fallen into China’s debt trap, the Chinese government is building a submarine base in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar region and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of Xi’s ambitious Belt Road Initiative (BRI) is passing through Gilgit-Baltistan( which India claims as its territory).
India is still heavily dependent on Chinese imports, ranging from electronics to pharmaceutical materials, and has a trade deficit of $48.9 billion with China. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 hundreds of international companies decided to quit China. But global news agencies claimed that many of them would shift their bases to Vietnam and other South-East Asian nations while only few would opt for India. It raises severe questions on the much-hyped ‘Make in India’ initiative of the Union government. If the Modi government wants to take China head-on, then there is no way other than becoming an economic superpower which requires massive reform in the financial sector.
To become a real competitor to China, India has to be more assertive. As the 5th century, BC Chinese strategist Sun Tzu in his book Art of War said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” With its $14 billion economy and global dominance, China has a psychological advantage over India. Here, Indian brains have to derive a strategy to contain China.
The QUAD alliance comprising of the United States-Japan-Australia-India seems to be formidable in the Indo-Pacific region. With incorporating small nations in the South China Sea with whom China has border disputes, the anti-China block has the advantage. Recently, the European Union also expressed its reservations on Huawei’s 5G apparatus and the possibility of information misuse by the Chinese surveillance system.
Soon after the LAC Fiasco, India ordered 33 fighter jets from Russia for immediate delivery. Within few months Rafale Jets will also join the Indian Air Force. Expecting a war in the 21st century between the two nuclear-capable Asian giants seems unrealistic. Up-gradation of the military is a necessity to check an aggressive China, but its global dominance can only be countered with a booming economy.
In the all-party meeting hosted by PM Modi, all political parties, barring Congress and the Communist Parties, pledged their support to the Union government. The brute majority that the current dispensation has in the parliament should be used to keep the nation intact, reforming various sectors and making India competitive in the global framework. The need of the hour is to have the political will to take bolder decisions, to protect the nation’s boundaries, and to outsmart China in their own game.