The Global Times, China’s propaganda mouthpiece, has mentioned in many editorials that India should be careful about the way it responds to American provocations. It should not act in a manner that makes China an adversary. It has stated that India needs China to develop economically. Similar words were echoed when India blocked Chinese investments. The Chinese press has commented, “If India joins the US in confronting China, China will not hesitate to protect its own interests, whether political or economic.
The cost of losing China’s friendship will be too high for India to bear.” China mistakenly believes that its economic and military superiority gives it the power to dominate the region and India must toe its line. Is this a reality? Has China ever considered the impact of having the second most powerful nation in Asia as an enemy? Has it realised that India can, with time, reduce its economic dependency on China, the loss of which would be China’s.
It has possibly ignored the first blunt message sent by India when it imposed restrictions on Chinese investments. China may currently feel secure on Indian policies of Panchsheel and non-interference in their internal matters, but once India changes tack, it could embarrass China. China assumes that its larger military budget and better hybrid warfare capability with non-kinetic weapons would give it an advantage.
However, it needs to realise that ultimate victory would flow from capturing claimed territory. For this, it would need to overrun Indian defensive positions, occupied by the same troops who displayed confidence, ferocity and an unwillingness to back down, despite odds at Galwan. In 1962, despite poor weapons, logistics and clothing, the Indian soldier stood his ground and even gave the Chinese a bloody nose. The Indian army is vastly stronger today. Chinese operations would never be a cakewalk and would add to their record of humiliating withdrawals as in Vietnam.
For China, India is a market it cannot lose. Its desperation for India to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), proposed by Asean, is on account of the size of the Indian market. China may sound indifferent to Indian calls for boycotting Chinese goods, but it is concerned. A Chinese editorial stated, “Chinese experts warn Indians, boycotting Chinese products will bring no good to India.” The government decision to ban Chinese apps, reduce power and solar sector imports, block participation of Chinese concerns in India’s development projects and monitor Chinese investments have impacted China.
The ban on Chinese Apps by India would be emulated by other nations. The Chinese spokesperson and their Ambassador in India have been regularly voicing concerns on this decision, but to no avail. India is a nation sought globally as a strategic military and economic partner. This is because of its growing power. The Indian armed forces are the only one in Asia to challenge Chinese might. The fact that India does not seek confrontation is because India desires peace and development. India has iterated on multiple occasions that its alliances are not against China.
However, if China continues its offensive approach, Indian policies could undergo a change. India could participate in activities alongside the US and QUAD, adding strength to their power. It could lead in militarising the QUAD. Providing berthing facilities to the US in any Indian port would ensure that Chinese shipping in the Indian Ocean would remain under scrutiny. CPEC is no counter to shipping. It adds to costs. For every barrel of oil moved through the CPEC there is an additional cost of $ 12.
India has never participated with the US in its Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South and East China Sea. Would China desire that India join such operations? Globally, India has multiple avenues to embarrass China. Granting greater visibility to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile, adversely commenting on Chinese actions in the South and East China Seas and as head of the World Health Assembly direct the global investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan are just some measures. Embarrassment can be added by reneging on its One China policy and raising voices in support of Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
This would hurt as such calls would flow from a country which has maintained a studied silence on Chinese internal matters. India can add to Chinese worries by constantly enhancing pressure, both military and diplomatic, on Pakistan. It could commence providing open support to the Baluchistan insurgency on the same lines as China supported the North-east insurgency in India. This could open all its CPEC projects, particularly in Baluchistan and at the terminal stage near Gwadar, to interdiction.
It would make operating the Gwadar port a major challenge. In Southeast Asia and Europe, China is fast losing its grip on nations. Its offensive activities and wolf warrior diplomacy have pushed it aside. The US challenges China economically and militarily in the Indo-Pacific. Asean nations have united to criticize China. Australia desires to enhance military ties with India to counter China. In summary, while China is being rejected, India is being accepted. Post Covid-19, while China lost credibility and friends, India gained in far greater measure.
Thus far, India has never been a threat to China, never sought territory beyond what it currently possesses, never sought to threaten Chinese projects under the CPEC transiting through disputed territory. However, when China resorts to unilateral actions, India may be compelled to reconsider its policies and act in strong national interest, ignoring Chinese objections. The Indian armed forces have displayed that they would never back down under any form of threat and possess the power to counter Chinese aggression.
It is essential for China to reconsider its outlook towards India, rather than the other way around. At a stage when China is alone battling the world, it should seek cooperation from India rather than enmity. In the long term, enmity with India would impact China adversely. It needs a friendly India more than India needs a friendly China.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)