SOURCE: THE WEEK
It’s only going to get much worse, before it even begins to get better. That is the India-China relationship in the near-term. The Chinese dragon is making bold swipes at neighbourhood territories, either in the belief that as the most powerful it can do this with impunity, or with a calibrated aim of keeping regional powers just that, regional. India will have to hit back, even if the punches—economical or international—may appear ineffectual against the giant. Because, that is the only option available, unless India is willing to quietly accept Chinese hegemony. And if India joins forces with other nations, the hitting back will become much more effectual.
At a talk organised by the Institute of Chinese Studies on Wednesday, speakers were emphatic that the old policy of engagement with China has run out of steam, and that the new reality calls for a new set of actions.
Former ambassador to China, and now a distinguished professor at Symbiosis International University, Gautam Bambawale noted that there is a qualitative difference between the recent incidents on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with any other incidents in the past, and that the differences between the two countries will take time to resolve. He advocated an aggressive approach towards China economically. Banning 59 Chinese apps is the first step; India should next look at banning cooperation with China for 5G trials.
“We should look at the entire gamut of engagements to reduce our relations with China,” he said, pointing out that while this is going to be a painful exercise, it has to be undertaken, else we end up negating any of the sacrifices at Galwan.
Participants spoke in favour of economic decoupling, in various degrees, and noted that while individual countries in the region might not have the wherewithal to take on the Chinese might, together they could still form a substantial wall against China.
“We need to join forces with the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia and western Europe [to take on China economically],” said Bambawale.
Rajesh Rajagopalan, professor of international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University agreed that India might not have the internal capacity to take on China individually, but together with like-minded nations, it could make things uncomfortable for China. He noted that India needed to join forces with the US, something India hasn’t fully embraced.
“All other Indo-Pacific nations are far weaker, so any initiative against China needs US involvement. Even with the US, it won’t be easy. There is a natural temptation to pass on the burden to a more willing and able partner, but the US is no longer in the mood to permit free-riding,” he noted.
The speakers said that India needed to take off its gloves when dealing with China, and sometimes to press on its tender spots—Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong. India needs to speak on these issues at international platforms, and should not consider Chinese sensitivities any more. Opposing Chinese positions and projects like the Belt and Road initiative and forming an intelligence cooperation are other options. Rajagoplan said that countries need to speak in one voice. If China imposes punitive sanctions against any one, others have to rally behind that nation.
All this will require a serious rethink of India’s China policy. The cost will be high, given that China will retaliate. Tom Miller, researcher and analyst on India and China, pointed out that global economies were intrinsically enmeshed with one another, and decouplings are not that easy. So, a lot will depend on the political leadership.
“Will Mr Modi pitch national interests over economic ones is a political question,” Miller said. He noted that how China responds to the de escalation exercise at Galwan would give Modi the chance to make nuance his economic decisions. Because, economic retaliation will also hit India bad.
Other speakers pointed out that when it came to China, any action would be expensive—whether military or economic.