Delhi should remain firm against Dragon

India must stand its ground vis-à-vis China albeit in a calm and restrained manner without taking recourse to jingoistic sabre-rattling or vocal hyper-nationalism.

The top-level meeting between Lt General Harinder Singh, the Leh-based 14 Corps Commander, and his counterpart South Xinjiang Military District Commander Major General Liu Lin on 6 June has initiated a welcome thaw in the border dispute. Statements emanating from both sides post the conclave that spoke of “consensus”, “peace and tranquility” and “overall development of bilateral relations” are definitely reassuring; so is the news of a limited disengagement between the two sides that has been set in process.

Nevertheless, it would be naïve to assume that the path ahead is going to be a smooth one considering the strategic interests and global ambitions in play in this imbroglio. To make the Chinese revert to the prior status quo is especially going to be challenging.

In further negotiations, it is vital that India stands firm and protects its interests without succumbing to its traditional adage of peace for the sake of peace; nor should it be boxed in by the trumped-up narrative of a vastly superior China and an infinitely weaker India, rolled out by China in recent times.

 In a span of less than two weeks, the Global Times, the official organ of the Communist Party of China, has published innumerable opinion pieces (25, 28 and 31, and 6 June) and news reports that pooh-poohed the India-US strategic partnership, berated the move to boycott Chinese goods and brazenly flaunted its supposed military sophistication.

 However, this self-serving pitch fails to convince; it is a diabolical mind game of demoralisation, overt intimidation and scaremongering that is meant to compromise India’s stance at the negotiating table. Despite this over-the-top hubris and the cocky military bluster, a close reading of the Global Times reveals an undeniable undercurrent of trepidation on the Chinese side.

Fully conscious of the fact that in a new Cold War that pits China against the United States, India can be the tipping factor; the authors of these articles posit a range of arguments that are lopsided.

The US is portrayed as a selfish, unreliable partner whose explicit motive is to exploit the India-China discord for its own interest. Wang Wenwen (“China, India don’t need US help on their frictions; Global Times, 28 May) writes: “For the US, a conflicting ChinaIndia relationship serves its interests… An opportunist US has never given up its attempt to drive a wedge between China and India. The administration of former President Barack Obama repeatedly stated that it saw India as part of its rebalancing strategy aimed at China, and the Trump administration emphasises India as a major pillar in its much-touted Indo-Pacific concept.”

Long Xingchun (“India should eschew Western views of China for border peace”, Global Times, 25 May) warns that India cannot count on the US in times of need: “Even those pro-US Indians will not count on the Trump administration, which advocates the ‘America First’ policy, to really back India.”

An editorial on 5 June (“India should not be instigated by US or media hyping”, Global Times) counselled India not to be carried away by an “illusion of strategic superiority toward China”.

Taking the argument a step further, in another op-ed China warns of retaliation in case New Delhi decides to side with the US: “If in a new Cold War, India leans toward the US or becomes a US pawn attacking China, the economic and trade ties between the two Asian neighbours will suffer a devastating blow. And it would be too much for the Indian economy to take such a hit at the current stage.” (“Advisable for India not to engage in USChina confrontation”, Global Times, 31 May 2020.)

 The proximity between Washington and New Delhi is undoubtedly giving China sleepless nights. The launch of a new app by an Indian startup called “Remove China Apps”, which deletes Chinese apps and which has seen almost 1 million downloads in two weeks, has also exacerbated Chinese apprehensions. Claiming that such a move would be counterproductive, the Global Times warned of a tit for tat, stressed the indispensability of China to the “Make in India” initiative and. indicated that it is such Chinese apps that have “provided plentiful employment for Indian workers” (Global Times, 4 June 2020).

This immediate strong retort to lay public opinion, not an official response (the GoI does not advocate a boycott), points to a growing insecurity in China about its own future economic viability in a new Cold War. Additionally, China has not resisted from flaunting its military prowess with impunity to daunt India — another negotiating ploy; it has highlighted its supposedly superior military arsenal and its capacity to move a large number of troops to the contentious high altitude zone. (“PLA expands highaltitude arsenal to address border threat”, Global Times, 31 May; “PLA conducts manoeuvres in high-altitude NW China amid border tensions with India”, Global Times, 7 June.)

Adopting a stick-andcarrot attitude, China then strikes a note of reconciliation. An editorial in the Global Times (“India should not be instigated by US or media hyping”, 5 June) averred: “China does not want to fall foul of India. Good-neighbourly relations have been China’s basic national policy over the past decades… With ChinaIndia cooperation, India will enjoy a peaceful international environment.”

Another op-ed pontificates (Global Times, 25 May): “As an ancient civilisation, India is wise enough to avoid understanding China through a biased US lens. It is in the interests of India to understand the real China and make correct and strategic judgments on this basis.”

By the same token, China must stop viewing India through the eyes of its allweather partner in crime — Pakistan. India, on the other hand, has always maintained a sense of balance in its relationship with China. India has no desire to rival China or engage in a military conflict. The IndiaUS strategic partnership is a recent phenomenon — the direct consequence of China’s continued efforts to contain India by cajoling India’s immediate neighbours via financial incentives and its unfettered support of Pakistan’s shenanigans.

China must realise that in the world of hard realpolitik there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. If China is really sincere about “maintaining a cooperative relationship with India”, then it must walk the talk. First, China must disengage from Pakistan’s terrorist activities, recognise Kashmir in return for the recognition of Tibet, facilitate India’s entry into the NSG and endorse India’s quest for a permanent UNSC seat.

Chinese vulnerability is clearly showing. So, despite India’s own vulnerability — a sliding economy, increasing Covid numbers and China’s apparent superiority both military and economic — India can and must stand its ground albeit in a calm and restrained manner without recourse to jingoistic sabre rattling or vocal hyper-nationalism. It is in the interest of both countries that they disengage from the border dispute in a dignified manner and concentrate on mutual cooperation for the good of the region. But for that to happen, China must be more transparent, honest and sincere.