“Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”- the famous quote from Mao’s Red Book defines the guiding philosophy of China under Xi Jinping. The attempt to change the status quo at the border, its growing interest in the Kashmir region, and its willingness to go the extra mile to closely engage with Pakistan, and twist the foreign policy of Nepal are not isolated events. They point to an aggressive ‘dictatorial’ power trying to avert the possible change in the power balance in Asia post-COVID pandemic.

Faultlines in the China-led world order exposed

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the faultlines in China-led world order, or the bipolar world order with China and the US as two poles. The pre-COVID-19 world order saw focussed Chinese investments in the US in the order of 14 billion dollars. Even in India, more than 2/3rd of the startups valued more than 1 billion dollars have at least one Chinese Venture Capitalist. COVID-19 crisis made the world realise its mistake of supporting an unchecked China. It is ironic how one party, one leader, one ideology China abused rules of free trade, principles of democracy, and equality to economically grow, and in parallel, set up a debt trap for smaller nations.

When the Malaysian Prime Minister cancelled the 2 multi-billion dollar Chinese projects because Malaysia could not repay its debt, he said, “We do not want a situation where there is a new version of colonialism”. Fortunately, COVID-19 is making the world realise its mistake. US and Brazil are examining limiting exposure to Chinese technological company Huawei. Australia recently asked for an independent probe into the origins of COVID-19. In these changing global dynamics, India should not hesitate to effectively counter China.

The clash at Galwan has displayed India’s military prowess. India’s brave soldiers inflicted more than 40 casualties on the Chinese, with speed of road construction near Galwan increased, not halted. But this should be the start. India should go beyond the standard operating procedure at the border if China repeats the provocation. The current clash at Galwan was a violation of the mutually agreed process of disengagement on June 6. An unprincipled neighbour does not merit a principled military response. 

Along with military option, India should make a plan for Poorna Swaraj. This Poorna Swaraj involving a boycott of foreign goods was first envisioned by Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal in 1905. Inspiration should be drawn from it to achieve complete substitution of Made in China goods with Made in India ones. When provided an alternate quality product, customers will choose swadeshi. It also gives India an opportunity to be the new epicentre of global supply chains. The world is looking for this shift away from China. Though, India is facing a realistic challenge from Vietnam for this spot.

It will not be possible for India to achieve complete economic insulation from China without the success of the Indian growth story. Indian growth story needs to give preference to Indian bidders over China. The Indian government took a positive step by preferring Indian companies for contracts less than Rs 200 crore. It should be coupled with discouraging Chinese bidders. When bids are similar, Indian companies should be given preference over Chinese ones. For instance, Indian company L&T should be given priority over Chinese company STEC for the Delhi Meerut RRTS project. Atmanirbhar Bharat needs to deliver higher economic growth than China for at least five consecutive years.

India lacks scalable long term research in high-end technology like China. As per a Brookings report, India has 18% the number of researchers China has. Partnerships with the US, Germany Japan, Israel should be leveraged to fill this gap. The government needs to be large-hearted in supporting Indian companies. The day more Indian companies than Chinese feature in the Fortune 500 list, we will see more strategic acceptance of India’s soft power as an alternate economic poll of the world.  As of 2019, India has 7 and China 119 companies in Fortune 500.

The world respects strength not weakness. India under PM Modi has displayed self-confidence in foreign policy. This self-confidence was seen in how we could foster an equally strong partnership with both Israel and Palestine. India needs to extend similar confidence in its policy against China. Support to the democratic movement in Hong Kong, the establishment of strong defense, and economic ties with Taiwan, and resisting China’s Tibet plans should form pillars of India’s response to China. China has spent enormous money across the globe in enhancing Chinese propaganda. A country without free media has reportedly given millions of dollars worth advertisement to press in the United States. As per documents filed by a China daily with the Justice Department, it has paid more than 6 million dollars to Wall Street Journal and 4.6 million dollars to Washington Post.

There should be no surprise that similar money might be flushed in India through dubious channels in the near future to shape public opinion in its favour. Chaos and instability in India will serve Chinese foreign policy. It will keep them at a position of strength on the negotiating table. Intelligence agencies should keep a close watch. Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist quotes, ” If you know the enemy and know yourself, your need not fear the result of hundred battles”. Expansionist China under Xi is inspired by Mao and Sun Tzu. A self-confident India under PM Modi should march on a national renaissance for an economically and militarily stronger India. Only strength can tame the dragon, and it will take time and stamina.

 

~PRADEEP BHANDARI

Credits: Republic World