It is not easy to deal with China. In addition to long history, culture and traditions of a proud civilisation, Chinese government is also heavily influenced by its communist system. Dealing with it takes a lot of finesse. Are our loud mouth netas and babus up to it?
Diplomacy with Chinese characteristics
- China has many advantages when it comes to handling conflicts as a result of its culture, cilivilsation, demographics and political system. Chinese by nature obey the ruler. They are much more homogeneous than most countries, obviously India is the other extreme.
- For example, it can raise nationalist sentiments to fever pitch and organise demonstrations, boycotts, online outrages whenever it suits its purpose. And more importantly, turn it off like a TV, when its goals are met. It has done this with Japan several times, and against US, Denmark, Korea and others too. On the contrary such sentiments, to borrow the words of Ghalib are like a fire that cannot be lit, and once lit can’t be extinguished in India.
- It can also keep news bottled up without a single leak, when it doesn’t suit its purpose. Just as it concealed casualties of the recent Galwan valley conflict.
- Obviously things are much more difficult in the internet era, the Great Firewall notwithstanding. But let us just say China can do it several times better than any other country.
- Flowing from its Confucian and other traditions, it can also use flowery words to keep its real intentions secret. Nehru was fooled exactly by such words. All the while the knives are being sharpened, to be used at the right moment.
- It simply cannot be trusted. Not because of any racial stereotypes you may attach to China or Chinese. That is unfair. But because this is NOT a power that is comfortable in its own skin and position in the world. Underneath the facade of bravado, it is not a self confident power. To put it simply, it is like a wounded tiger. It thinks the world has conspired and denied China the rightful status for centuries and it is the right time to claim it. Oddly enough, this is what many Indians, at least Hindus think in the Modi era.
The argumentative Indian
- On the contrary, Indians by nature are loud, opinionated and dont hesitate to voice it out. They are argumentative as someone rightly pointed out!
- Our political system too fosters conflict. Doves become hawks and hawks turn doves depending on who occupies the chair. The entire CONLEFT ecosystem, which used to call Modi a warmonger, hyper nationalist and immature, and successfully turned the word nationalism into poison, acts hyper-nationalist, immature and war-mongering! Far from advocating de-escalation and quiet, mature handling of crisis, it tries to paint Modi as a weak leader that can’t handle the Chinese aggression. Exception to this have been very few (M K Bhadrakumar come mind.)
- So-called defence analysts that are nothing but corrupt brokers for overseas arms merchants and sycophants of corrupt families, call the border “undefined” therefore prone to misunderstandings in the UPA era but now know exactly where each Chinese army tent is and how many inches into “Indian” territory today!. Whether BJP is not guilty of similar crimes or whether such tactics will work are topics for another day!
- The global left liberal ecosystem and the NYTs of the world too gives these charlatans and frauds OpEd space because of the belief that anything that harms Modi, even if India itself becomes collateral damage, is worth it.
- Lastly, the Modi government as well as the BJP is full of loud mouths that talk recklessly and out of turn, and seem to think bombastic words are substitute for quiet action. They don’t seem to realise this actually harms Modi because it gives him less room to play with and plays right into Congress hands.
It is easier said than done, but handling China, with a weaker hand economically, militarily and strategically, takes a lot of skills. Like in a game of poker, it can be done though.
China gave a sample lesson of its own tricks and tactics with the “butter wont melt in his mouth” statement from its Ambassador, HE Sun Wei Dong. If you read it, you might think the entire Galwan episode is a fiction of someone’s imagination and India is being unnecessarily hostile. (1)
The most foolish way to get back would be to issue strongly worded statements, that too from people that have no business within the cabinet to be commenting on such matters. Even senior leaders of BJP should act circumspect. There is also no point in accusing China of hypocrisy. Leave that to the online crowd! The ideal way would be to get our ambassador to China issue a similar statement with even more flowery words and leave it at that. Wait for action on the ground.
Above all, be clear on what we want from China or from the India-China relationship? Once the goal is clear and communicated effectively to internal audience, it can be pursued with steady and consistent steps.
The goals have to be consistent with India’s own interests, values and culture. For example, perpetual hostility with China is just not in our DNA. We have no issues with the Chinese nation. We never had, prior to 1950s. Or with the Chinese race. We are not like Islamists that adopt a “convert or die” approach that simply cannot be negotiated with.
What is also not negotiable is we are not going to sign up as China’s vassal or tribute paying mini-kingdom. That is exactly what India’s left wants, although it covers it with equally flowery words that can give China a run for its money. That is simply impossible.
Having said that, what can be India’s strategic goal? Here is a short wish list, that can be fine tuned. Obviously China may have its own, and we ignore that for now.
China should give up trying to contain India to South Asia. If there are any anti-China angles to any such forays on India’s part, that can be on the table for discussions. This also means a complete stop to its sabotage tactics in NSG, Permanent membership of UNSC etc.
China Pakistan nexus has to end. We are not talking about regular state to state relationships or even arms deals. We are talking about the nuclear umbrella, underwriting of terror infrastructure and using Pakistan, a cheap whore of a nation, just as Pakistan uses the so-called non-state actors. If China needs something in return, such as path to Indian Ocean, cooperation in other theatres or other such favours, those can be on the table.
A more balanced trade. Obviously China is partly right in that India’s own problems are stopping it from becoming a exporting nation. But there’s room for change.
A reasonable and quick settlement of border dispute. Not delay tactics. This doesn’t mean accepting our lines. There can be give and take.
If you look at the above list, there is nothing there that China can’t live with. Because they too, are a means to an end and a tactic for China and not a product of endless civilisational or religious hostility with India.
If we can get this going, Stage II of the relationship can take it further.
For example, China can even agree to stay away and be neutral if India chooses to retrieve POK, with the understanding that trade routes and other Chinese investments and other interests will be well protected.
It is very much in China’s interests for Balochistan to be independent and northern parts of J&K to be in Indian hands, given the situation in Xinjiang and the vastly superior trade routes through the Karakoram pass and the G219 highway into India’s heartland states. Right now it is unimaginable of course.
Do’s and Don’ts
With all this in mind, we have to take each step with logic, precision and strategic thought. Not impulse. Here are some do’s and don’t that come to my mind:
- Make it abundantly clear Chinese people are our friends and we have issues with Xi JinPing and his regime, not all of China.
- Welcome investment and trade where it benefits us and make a song and dance about it. If any ban is to be done, do it quietly with minimal noise. Couch it in neutral language. Make it appear China is NOT the target. Now we are doing exact opposite. Not a day passes without some silly headline about “China will be kept out of…”. NO!! Ministers should deny that China is kept out, even if they do exactly the opposite! That’s China’s way and we better learn.
- Welcome prominent academicians and others from China to visit, give them a good reception and build ties. This cannot be done with a fanatic barbaric terrorist state like Pakistan wedded to anti-Hindu terrorism for life. But China is different. We can invite Chinese dissidents too, but that has to be done with finesse.
- Don’t mess about in Taiwan etc., without ALL of the moves worked out in advance, perhaps in coordination with Uncle Sam. If not, it will simply rake up China’s fury for no benefit. We simply can’t move faster than Taiwan itself on this! Or it will be unrequited love and become another Bollywood drama. Inviting Taiwanese investments and trade is quite a different matter and that can and should be aggressively pursued. That has plausible deniability.
- Go about building defense capabilities but talk peace. Dont have to plant stories in media that every purchase of a rifle is to “handle China threat”. That is stupid.
- Similarly, every business or investment move need not be tom-tomed as anti-China. We attract investment because we NEED them. Not to score brownie points vs China or because we don’t like China.
- Move forward on Quad etc. but go slow on getting too close to USA. There has to be some cards to deal. No point throwing it way.
- Don’t talk to Pakistan. Make clear to China that Pakistan is IT’S problem, not ours and defanging it is a pre-requisite for better India China ties.
- Impose gag order on anyone other than the EAM, PM and BJP Chief from talking about China. At lower levels, anything goes. Make clear to China that anyone else is just talking through his hat and doesn’t constitute policy.
- On Tibet issue, a clear understanding of India’s goals (independence?) is very essential and that has to take into account Tibetans own desires. Proceed with caution but don’t give blank cheques. Refuse to put in routine “Tibet is part of China” clauses in agreements and joint statements. That keeps China on its toes but not openly hostile.
If we can do this over next ten years or so and keep the economy moving at 8-10%, then the game changes. If not nothing to talk about!