External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar has recently said that India does not need to be scared of China and it has the capability and confidence to compete with the country. He also said that it was necessary to acknowledge China will influence India’s neighbours but New Delhi must not be scared of such “competitive politics”. While interacting with media and students at IIM Mumbai two days back, Jaishankar made these remarks which are timely and serve an important purpose at a time when China is aggressively working on the agenda to expand its influence further in the neighbourhoods such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal.
In fact, Jaishankar’s remarks should be seen as a clear-cut strong message for China on two counts. One, Jaishankar has categorically signalled that India is not going to dilute its stand that “there will be no normalisation of ties with China without peace on Line of Actual Control (LAC). The message is that Beijing is mistaken if it is under the impression that New Delhi will backtrack on this stand due to China’s aggressive campaign to expand footprints and influence in the immediate and extended neighbourhood of India. India is not at all afraid of China, no matter whatever intimidatory tactics it resorts to. That is why Jaishankar has emphasised that New Delhi need not be scared of Beijing. Jaishankar’s remark assumes significance also because it has come days after the statement of Wu Qian, China’s defence ministry spokesperson saying that “the boundary dispute is a legacy issue between China and India, but it does not represent the whole picture of bilateral relations”.
The Chinese official criticised India’s attempt to link the border situation with bilateral relations as “inappropriate”. What China conveniently chooses to ignore is the provocative activities of its army People Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers along the LAC. A circulating video depicting Chinese soldiers intercepting Indian shepherds in the Kakjung area in Ladakh contradicts the reality that the Chinese government always seeks to portray about the border. So Jaishankar’s clear message that India must not be scared of China should be seen in the wider context of India trying to convey that Beijing must address the border issues first if it wants the normal diplomatic ties to be restored with New Delhi. What is worth mentioning is that it was just a week ago that Jaishankar had made it clear that unless China finds a solution on the border, it should not expect the relations between the two countries to be normal.
The second reason why Jaishankar’s remarks assume significance is his assertion that India is strong enough to compete with China. In an interview to a news channel and also at the Mumbai event, Jaishankar said that India is in a very strong position in the neighbourhood when it comes to connectivity projects, mobility of people, social and intellectual spheres and trade and by every other yardstick. This statement should be seen in the backdrop of reports that China’s economy is slowing down, and foreign investors are leaving the country at regular intervals. Reports suggest that there is a sharp sense of nervousness visible on the Chinese side due to the negative development on the domestic economic fronts.
With this in the background, the Indian foreign minister’s comment that New Delhi must compete with China in terms of trade, commerce and economy should be seen as a meaningful message to China. “I don’t think we should be scared of China. I think we should say, okay, global politics is a competitive game. You do your best, and I will do my best. China is a major economy, it will deploy resources. It will try and shape things in China’s way. Why should we expect otherwise? But the answer to that is not to complain about what China is doing. The answer is, you are doing it. Let me do better than that.”
This statement from EAM Jaishankar carries a message to China which has always weaponsied its growing economy to strengthen its agenda of expansionism in the neighbourhood of India. Beijing’s sinister agenda to expand footprints in countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh is no secret. Jaishankar has also given a message to Indian foreign policy makers and diplomatic establishment that there should be a more aggressive approach towards implementation of strategy to do better than and surpass China in all spheres. India should continue to expose that China is unwilling to resolve the differences with India. That Beijing is in the habit of violating agreements and confidence-building measures should be brought to the notice of the international community and global platforms like the UN repeatedly. India must fast-track diplomatic and strategic efforts to ensure that China does not succeed in prolonging the conflict for strategic advantages.