Speaking about her book, Radhika Iyengar sat in conversation with The Statesman at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet.
In a podcast with ANI, External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar stated, “Look, they (China) are the bigger economy. What am I going to do? As a smaller economy, I am going to pick up a fight with the bigger economy. It is not a question of being reactionary, it’s a question of common sense.” He blamed China for breaking agreements, claiming India would never do so. This statement from a senior government functionary projected a defeatist image of the nation and its policies.
It would have made perfect sense had Jaishankar stated that India as a nation does not covet territory which does not belong to it and historically India has never initiated a conflict; however, it would defend what belongs to it. Economic and military power, as believed by Jaishankar, are never the criteria for victory and defeat in war. There are multiple examples of weaker nations stopping a major power. Vietnam, which forced the US and subsequently the Chinese to suffer defeat and withdraw in disgrace, is a prime example.
Others include North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba which refuse to be cowed down by US pressure, including imposition of so-called crippling sanctions. Taiwan, aware of the Chinese intent, is arming itself to stem off threats rather than bow down to it and change its stance on reunification. In Afghanistan, a rag tag Taliban forced the US and its allies with immense military power to pull out in disgrace and defeat. It had earlier inflicted a military defeat on the USSR.
Currently, it is Ukraine, though with active support of the West, which has kept a far more powerful Russia at bay. For over a year, Russia has failed to suppress a nation which it believes had no right to exist. Whether Russia will ultimately succeed or be sucked into an unending war remains to be seen. Thus superior military or economic power have never dictated victory, rather it has been the reverse. India’s defeat in 1962 was due to lack of military preparedness as a result of faulty policies of the political class. Such an error is unlikely in the future.
India is far more powerful than any of the countries listed above. It has an armed force, trained, equipped and experienced to counter any Chinese threat. Its array of missiles may be qualitatively and quantitatively lower than China’s but are sufficient to impose punitive damages on it, embarrassing it. India’s nuclear weapons and triad of delivery means would impose a caution on China though quantitatively they may be fewer. China may possess a larger military; however, it cannot apply its complete military power against India. Terrain would dictate numbers employed, axis exploited as also impose caution including in logistics, as most choke points are susceptible to destruction.
For China, India is a nation which it seeks to embarrass, intending to break the unity of the Quad and finally dominate Asia. The territory which it claims is not within its capability, especially considering the terrain in question, which favours the defender. Any assaulting force would suffer a higher level of casualties, which may not be acceptable to the Chinese public. Within years, the dwindling Chinese population would add to its burden.
The fact remains that India’s policies against China have been flawed. While forces from defence and home ministries are deployed for securing the LAC, statements concerning any Indo-China incident are the responsibility of the MEA, adding to the confusion. This gives the bureaucracy the power to dictate limits to which the army can push. Non-uniformed bureaucrats are in awe of Chinese power as was evident from the words of the EAM. Thus, they seek to defer to the Chinese rather than challenge them ignoring that the Chinese hesitate when pushed back. The MEA blunders while the blame falls on the military.
The government blocks Chinese apps and imposes other minor limitations, while permitting trade to flow increasing the trade deficit. Currently it stands at over $100 billion in favour of China. Simultaneously, Jaishankar states that bilateral ties cannot be normal unless the situation at the LAC returns to pre-April 2020 status. The Chinese have been insisting that the border issue be kept aside, and bilateral ties permitted to grow, a statement echoed by the Chinese foreign minister last week, without officially stating this is exactly what India has been doing, engaging with China where it benefits China the most, trade.
The government, rather than working collectively to cut down the trade imbalance with China, accuses industry for it. Addressing the Asia Economic Dialogue in Pune, Jaishankar stated, “Responsibility for (India’s) trade imbalance with China is not just of the government, it is an equal responsibility of businesses.” He added, “Indian corporates have not developed the kind of backward (integration), vendor supplies, components and parts, ingredients and intermediates that should be supporting us.”
Added is the government policy that Indian troops employ similar medieval weapons as the Chinese. This conveys to the Chinese that India fears escalation. In his interaction with the newly appointed Chinese foreign minister, Jaishankar termed the relationship between the two countries as ‘abnormal.’ If everything benefits the Chinese including continued diplomatic engagement, then why should they seek to change the ‘abnormal.’
Globally, China faces strong resistance. The West, aware that China will provide armaments to Russia have warned it of sanctions. Its BRI is stalling, the economy moving downhill and internal dissatisfaction is on the rise. Simultaneously, the US is arming Taiwan intending to make it beyond the reach of China to overpower easily. China cannot risk any failures along any of its borders. This is the scenario India must exploit by enhancing its aggressiveness, changing its economic policies and also asking its troops to employ weapons in case China attempts to intrude, an act which is legally justifiable.
Mollycoddling by the MEA, overawed by Chinese power should cease and a comprehensive China policy formulated by a body including military experts. The policy, even if not publicly enunciated, should be based on assessment of actual capabilities and their utilization. Unless India exploits the current scenario and builds pressure, it will remain advantageous to China.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)