Rivalry to Relationship?
While PLA is reminding India of the latter’s humiliating defeat in the war of 1962 and the recurrence of the same in future (not so distant), India is contemplating sectors that it can throw open for the Chinese investment! The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has asked the Home and External Affairs ministry to earmark the sectors which it perceives to be a formidable security threat for a Chinese investment so that the remaining regions may ask for Chinese help and funds.
While Xi’s China is heading towards transforming the nation into world’s largest super power and as India Today’s report from Delhi confirms that China has placed India under the third broad head of countries that China needs to “try and control”, Modi’s India is seeking China’s capital as the PM of India did for his state during his tenure as the CM of Gujarat. Modi is clearly trying to replicate his Gujarat model. One needs to remember that going by Xi’s promise to invest $20 billion in India back in June 2014, not even 1/4th of the same has materialised.
Projects like Chinese Wanda’s industrial Park in Haryana to automobile park in Maharashtra, all are moving at snail’s pace. Reason cited are many. Among which the unreasonable demands of Chinese companies are one. Nandan Nilekani in his book once wrote that India with its huge work age population is set to reap the demographic dividend if everything goes right. By ‘everything’ he must have meant jobs for the huge influx of 6.5 millions of working age people every year till 2030. Between 2004 and 2011, China generated 16 million manufacturing jobs on top of an existing 112 million, says Jonathan Holslag, author of “China and India: Prospects for Peace”. India, in contrast, could create only 3 million jobs with 11 million existing. As I see it now, India is well set to see its worst demographic disaster in the coming years!
While India and China are still grappling with many issues like the longest boundary dispute of 3500 km, China’s objection to India’s membership at NSG, its refusal to sanction Jaish-E- Mohammad Chief Masood Azhar its reluctance to pressure Pakistan on terrorism, India’s Tibet Card, its BRI stand etc. our PM seem to believe that the only way forward with China is by alleviating the distrust and increasing the bilateral trade. The country that is mostly responsible for India’s trade deficit and also one of the largest trading partner of India is now given an open invitation for investment in her long-standing most protected and secured sector the railways by loosening the FDI cap.
Modi is reinventing the country’s relation with China in a way that has never been tested before. His personal equation with his counterpart and his China thrust policy can be regarded as ‘bold’ but whether such boldness is smart enough or not that surely time will tell. The real India wants something in hand, real, not chimerical… out of this bilateral dialogues and this nonconventional diplomacy. Well, for the starters, Modi can beat his 46” chest for China has responded to his optimism and his personal charisma by freeing most of the Indians arrested on charges of diamond smuggling in China… but if that is all then I must say that Modi has got a bad deal, and has exchanged elephants for peanuts. China starts connecting its Yadongwith Doklam plateau by road which is a disputed area.
Bhutan raised an objection which China ignored. India, citing her Friendly treaty with Bhutan, comes forward and sends her army to the region to stall the construction work in Doklam. Doklam is strategically and topographically very important to India and is well known to the three involved parties. The Sikkim side of the plateau is the only region where India enjoys the elevation and its advantageous position over China. Therefore the sudden Doklam road construction project without any provocation and muscle flexing is surely not a welcome gesture from Xi’s regime and India has got enough reason to cry foul. On the other hand, China starts building its CPEC, especially in PoK, without consulting Modi Government which would certainly deepen the suspect for our neighbour.
Both the leaders have agreed that the disputes that the two countries share cannot be written off overnight, instead Xi’s Diplomacy rolls out the red carpet of Informal meets, dropping differences for the moment, for Modi’s nationalistic dreams! Will that be called as a fresh beginning? I doubt.
The chain of High-level engagements between the two countries preceding Modi’s “Informal” meet with Xi, for example External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, National Security advisor Ajit Doval, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale with their Chinese counterparts after the Doklam incident, states one thing clearly that the two age old hostile countries are not up for any friendly “informal” chitchats and will strictly read out from the scripts. No matter how hard Modi tries to bring out the “wellness” of China before the Indian audience, the skeptical Indian population and media’s long standing dues with China is not ready for an applause, yet. China is all words, no action. Not positive ones!
One needs to understand that the all-powerful Xi under his leadership would sustain the audacious measures and would go all out when it comes to the issue of sovereignty. The newfound softer diplomacy is for the time being and might be due to many issues: Trump to impose trade tariffs including import of Chinese high-value electrical machinery, developments in Korean peninsula etc. But the Mao’s dream of Tibet as the palm of a hand and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA are its five fingers, that needs to be liberated, is still alive in robust China.
China and India have shown careful and strict restraint across the border. Not a bullet has been fired in the last 4 decades but tension has amplified several times in the last couple of years. Its diplomatic maneuvers in the South China Sea has been a cause for worry for a long time. More recently good neighbours of India seceding from India and fraternizing with China is a threat to our skill, security, and challenge to our external affairs ministry.
An island, that got all of India’s attention and care from the day of its independence in 1965 till date, that enjoyed India’s patronage in world forums, that got its recognition as an independent nation first from India, that houses Indian embassy for now almost 50 years, have now joined hands with China. China that established its embassy for the first time as late as in 2011 in the island- Maldives. Maldives have got everything from India that a son can ask for from his parent: foiling a coup in 1988 by deploying its own paratroopers and restoring the sovereignty of Maldives to supplying 1000 tonnes of drinking water to 150000 Male residents who were left without water in 2014 when the generator of Male’s water treatment plant stopped functioning all of a sudden.
Indian and Help:
India responded first in all the hours of needs. It has extended all kinds of technical and financial support to Maldives: from building of Hospitals to colleges, sending of relief and supplies during 2004 Dec Tsunamis to huge bilateral trade, India was there through thick and thin. Now the question that there is that what went wrong between father and son that the Maldives has warned India against any kind of intervention from Indian side since the developments in the Maldives are completely their “internal matters”? Ouch! That hurts indeed. The island nation has supported China’s Belt Road Initiative and Mr. Yameen, President of Maldives, have thus joined China’s Silk road project while China has invested hugely in the recent past in Maldive’s tourism sector.
After Pakistan, Maldives has become the 2nd country in South Asia to have signed a free trade agreement with China. Mr. Yameen’s pro-China tilt has become so much so that China is heard to have begun the process of setting up a military base in one of the islands leased to it by Mr. Yameen. Now, there is a great cause for India to frown upon. Given the Geo-strategic location of Maldives, China’s growing presence in the island and President Yameen’s latest suspension of its three Councillors for allegedly meeting with the Indian ambassador clearly muddies the bilateral bond and ties that the two nations have shared for so long.
China’s propensity and its course of action are understandable if we remember the Mao’s dream and hence is perfectly set on the right path to rule the world, economically or politically. But what India under Mr. Modi is doing is not very clear. The “neighbourhood first policy”, Sushma Swaraj’s “Act East policy” are all on a go-slow mode and very good to ears. But the point is Xi Jinping’s China is not going to give the time, not in his second term of Presidentship. He has earned his countrymen’s faith, his party’s loyalty. China is playing all its cards at once.
The fear now looms is good neighbours like the Maldives are seeking China’s aid for their country’s internal developments and China is lapping up every such request with much pleasure. The youth of Maldives are joining terrorist groups like the Islamic States, being trained on the soil of Pakistan in Pakistani Madrassas. Wahabism is being aggravated in the country, the Maldives is encouraging students to undertake studies in Saudi and Pakistan. Such radicalization in the immediate neighbourhood of India and that too when India has banned organisation like SIMI and IM and its members are searching for another thriving Petridis for its culture is not a good news!
The case is not only for the Maldives but also applies for Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Myanmar’s democracy is still in a bad shape and trade with India is very little. But India has got its interest in the region as India needs Myanmar to secure the southern Indian Ocean. The Rakhine state is a crucial link for India’s Hydrocarbon and trade ambitions. Four North Eastern States of India Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram share not only boundaries with Myanmar but also ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic ties as well. North Myanmar is under de-facto control of China that borders Indian State.
China is increasing its influence there and is supporting the rebel and insurgent groups in the area. China is the largest trade partner of Myanmar, has made huge investments in the country and has earned credibility with various good deeds. Myanmar, in its initial days of democracy, is subjected to diplomatic external pressure from all around the world, east and west. India in its look east policy may capitalise this hour of Myanmar needs and cater to their requirements, starting from Rohingya issues where it had already supported Aung San Su Kyi’s stand. The main challenge for India is its internal dissent on every subject, even on this Rohingya issue, which China seldom encounters. But, hey, that is why we are a democracy and you can’t really complain, right?
The shortest distance between India and Sri Lanka is 22 km and a Chinese nuclear missile base in the developing ports in Sri Lanka propelled Modi to take hasty measures to rebuild spiritual heritage based on Buddhism with his Sri Lankan counterpart. Sri Lanka unable to pay the huge debt to China, handed over the strategically located Hambantota port to China. It was a major acquisition for her Belt and Road Initiative as it lines Europe, Africa, the Middle East to Asia.
As we have already seen China is willing to dole bucks out of her deep pocket for infrastructural developments in the poorer and or smaller countries in exchange of collateral like strategically important natural assets with high long-term value. It is encouraging its companies to bid for the purchase of Ports, where possible. Many such purchases have already been made from cash-strapped Greece and Australia. China is carefully exploiting the internal differences and dissents in countries and intervening in their affairs, for example in Zimbabwe, it orchestrated the ouster of the Mugabe regime.
Australia has openly condemned such attitude of Communist party of China of interfering with their media and Australian universities and the decisions of their elected representatives. China is leaving no stone unturned, even if it means bribing its way to superpower level. It is no secret that Beijing companies have been bribing some of the national leaders just before their removal from office and forcing them to seal deals in a swift and hurried manner. Yameen of Maldives has been allegedly leasing out islands at throwaway prices to Chinese companies.
New Delhi can do nothing about it. Even the joint venture of US, Japan, and India is no match for the largesse of Beijing. The receiving countries are ready to give up their nationalism or for the moment ready to ignore the high interest of the loans that the bounty of cash is being accompanied with.
India’s nonaligned stance with respect to its International Affairs and its peaceful balancing act in the Indo Pacific region is not going to do any further good. It has already been accepted by the top honchos that India needs to be specific in its thoughts and workings. Modi’s government has to be nimble on his foot and agile in action. Time is less and time is challenging for India to carve its place in global dimension, in contrast to China. US’s open support in its NSS and recognition of India as emerging global leader and stronger strategic and global partner speaks clearly in opposition to China. The US supports India as the guardian of Indian Ocean. India should use this time to its enormous advantage, Act East Policy should in no way turn into look away from West policy.
Modi might have been portrayed in the bad light in the West for his alleged 2004 pogrom incident, but one needs to keep in mind that China’s aspirations cannot be contained by India alone or by its weaker neighbourhoods. Modi should give up writing eulogies for China and see for better and easier avenues to secure its stand and reduce most importantly its trade deficit.
The trade deficit is not a chronic problem for India. It is to be noted that after 2005 only, such trade with China has resulted in a deficit. The Informal Wuhan meet with China has assured that a balance of trade would be sought by both the countries. But India must increase its own industrial production and therefore export rather than relying upon China’s assurances as they are not going to last long. Every hand extended by China can never be one to help you out of your bad times but to wrest some more advantageous deals for itself from you. China will remain hostile for the times to come but India needs to remain better equipped than it was in 1962, politically, economically, diplomatically and physically.
References: The Hindu: Articles by Kallol Bhattacharjee, Pramod Jaiswal, Prof. (Dr.) Satish Kumar & Dr. Raghvendra Pratep Singh: and Prof. Anil Mahapatra: World Focus March 2018, Swaran Singh, “India China Tussle in Myanmar” New India Express, V.P Dutt: NBT, Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 2016: Jingdong Yuan and other newspapers and magazines.