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‘Nonalignment 2.0’: Thinking asymmetrically about China

Chinese economy ($7.3 trillion in 2011) is nearly four times as large as that of India ($1.8trillion).

Written by C. Raja Mohan
New Delhi | February 29, 2012 5:59:12 pm

For long,India has seen itself as an equal to China. Delhi’s sense of strategic parity with Beijing has been boosted by the recent international chatter about the rise of China and India in the same breath.

Sections of India’s strategic community in India,however,have been deeply conscious of the rapidly widening hard power gap in China’s favour. While Indian economy has done rather well in recent years,the Chinese economy has performed a lot better.

While China and India were perhaps roughly equal in economic size a few decades ago,the Chinese economy today ($7.3 trillion in 2011) is nearly four times as large as that of India ($1.8trillion). Beijing’s defence expenditure too overshadows Delhi’s by a similar factor.

This gap in hard power is likely to widen for the foreseeable future. Matters could get a lot worse,if Indian economy slows down faster than that of China. Put simply,India is not in a position to ‘catch up’ with China in the near future.

Recognising this reality,some in India have begun to call for an asymmetric strategy towards China. In other words,India should not try and match China weapon to weapon or focus on simply raising more troops for deployment on the China border. Instead,the argument goes,India should build on its own strengths and target China’s weaknesses.

A policy report called ‘Nonalignment 2.0’–released in Delhi this week in the presence of national security adviser,Shivshankar Menon,and his two predecessors,M.K. Narayanan and Brajesh Mishra — develops the elements of an asymmetric military strategy towards China.

The authors of the report include well-known scholars,former diplomats and soldiers,and public figures. (They are Sunil Khilnani,Rajiv Kumar,Pratap Bhanu Mehta,Lt. Gen. Prakash Menon (Retd),Nandan Nilekani,Srinath Raghavan,Shyam Saran and Siddharth Varadarajan).

On managing the long and contested border with China,the report calls for a strategy that goes beyond the current purely defensive approach that is focused on preventing the loss of a single square inch of territory.

The report proposes that India should respond to any Chinese occupation of Indian Territory in a future border war with a land grab of it own across the current border with China in Tibet. “Such a strategy”,the report says,“will not only wrest the initiative from the Chinese,but will also be useful for our diplomatic efforts to restore the status quo ante”.

The second element of the asymmetric strategy proposed by the report is “to accelerate the integration of the frontier regions and its people by speeding up and improving communication infrastructure with the mainland”. It calls for discarding the long-standing framework that treats the border regions of China as a no-man’s land.

The final dimension of India’s asymmetric strategy proposed for India is the naval one. The report calls for an end to Delhi’s traditional narrow focus on land boundaries and build on its natural advantages in the Indian Ocean.

China in contrast has many physical and political constraints in

developing a credible naval presence in the Indian Ocean,even as its economic dependence on the littoral grows. For Delhi,this means devoting more budgetary resources to naval expansion,a purposeful national maritime strategy,and above all a more imaginative strategy towards China.

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