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Friday, July 30, 2021

The Middle Path

As China celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic this week,India must take a deep breath and begin a fundamental rethink its strategy....

Written by C. Raja Mohan
September 30, 2009 12:24:10 am

As China celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic this week,India must take a deep breath and begin a fundamental rethink its strategy towards the rising giant north of our borders.

The recent anti-China hysteria in our mass media may yet serve a purpose if shakes our political classes out of their complacence. For nearly two decades,India’s China policy has stood on three legs: say nice things in public about Sino-Indian friendship,Asian unity and anti-Western solidarity; nurse intense grievances in private; and avoid problem solving because that would need a lot of political courage.

Our elite is now swinging wildly from being feckless to anti-China bravado. This merely replaces self-deception with certain self-defeat. As it seeks a new equilibrium with China,India needs a policy that is neither foolishly romantic nor stupidly hawkish.

Delhi’s new approach must be built upon an unambiguous recognition that the rapid rise of China is the single most important geopolitical fact of our time that must be addressed purposefully and on a sustained long-term basis.

It must also be based on the self-assurance that India too is emerging and can find its own rightful place in Asia and the world without having to treat China as a threat or become its subaltern.

The proposed realpolitik for India is not very different from that articulated by Chairman Deng Xiaoping for the Chinese leaders in the early 1990s. Deng’s advice is the virtual opposite of what has passed off as a debate on China during the last few weeks in Delhi.

While some Chinese leaders might be unlearning Deng’s wisdom,India must take it to heart. Here is how Deng summed up what later came to be known as the ‘28 character strategy’ for Chinese foreign policy in seven injunctions:

• Observe developments and analyse calmly;

• Deal with changes patiently and confidently; • Secure our own position;

• Conceal our capabilities and avoid limelight;

• Keep a low profile;

• Never become a leader; and 7. Make some contributions.

Looking inward

If our China debate during last few weeks was mostly about attributing hostile intentions to our northern neighbour,it said little about India’s own policy failures.

Take for example the situation on the border. The single most important change there has been the dramatic modernisation of transport infrastructure across the frontiers in Tibet and Xinjiang. This change did not,of course,take place in secret. Beijing announced its ‘go-west’ strategy with great fanfare in the mid 1990s.

Some the major projects of this strategy — such as the South Xinjiang Railway line to Kashgar just north-west of Jammu and Kashmir and the construction of the Tibet rail to Lhasa just north-east of Sikkim got massive international attention.

Yet,Delhi slept through the 1990s and in the early years of this decade. When it finally woke up a couple of years ago,Delhi did announce major road construction all along the China border. But the UPA government seems to have no capacity to follow through even when the projects are of such paramount importance for national defence and security.

The same holds true for the question of Chinese advances in our neighbouring countries. We can call it Chinese ‘encirclement’ till we go blue in the face. The problem,however,is rooted in Delhi rather than Beijing. So long as India refuses to imagine and implement policies that make economic cooperation with India attractive to our neighbours,Chinese economic penetration of South Asia will continue unimpeded.

It is Delhi’s strategic lassitude that makes Beijing look like an evil genius.

Investing in China

For all the talk about the China threat,there is little expertise in India about the world’s second largest economy that shares a 4000 km of land border with us and will soon be our maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean. As China rises,India needs deeper and broader engagement with China.

Neither our government nor our civil society has devoted the resources necessary to understand what makes modern China tick. The number of Chinese scholars studying the subcontinent and the reporters based in India is far higher than the pitiful Indian resources devoted to understanding China. When ignorance is combined with anger and incompetence,we have the makings of a perfect self-induced crisis.

The writer is the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress,Washington DC

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