Enough is enough
True, it is to the credit of China that in recent decades, it has risen as a global power — economically, technologically and militarily. But, while its noveau riche and noveau puissant (new powerful) status has flamed its ambition to be the unipolar centre of world power at the cost of one and all nations, its behaviour resembles that of a school bully.
And now, it has stirred an entirely avoidable dispute at the point where its borders meet those of the tiny kingdom of Bhutan and India. And what is more, like the carnivore in ‘the wolf and the lamb’ story, it is accusing India of violating its soil. The impasse, the harsh exchange of words and belligerent posturing are now in to the third week.
This comes in the wake of their running roughshod over many an Asean country’s right to navigate the international waters of South China Seas — Brunei, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. China, the big bad wolf, wants all their oceanic territories now and has disrupted peace in the region asking every country in the region to give way to its whims.
That’s not all. China has particularly taken it upon itself to walk all over India, especially in the recent years. In 2009, it had the temerity to object to then president Pratibha Patil’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh; in 2011, it started the practice of issuing stapled visas to residents of Arunachal; in June 2016, it prevented India’s admittance to the Nuclear Supplier Group and continues to do so; in November 2016, it denied visa to Bamang Tago, the manager of India’s badminton contingent to China Super Series, who hails from Arunachal. Worse, twice in 2016, it blatantly blocked India’s bid to get Masood Azhar declared a UN-designated terrorist.
It has the gall to defend the China-Pak Economic corridor which runs right through the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and had imperiously summoned the Indian ambassador to protest against Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal, in less than diplomatic language. And currently, they are reminding us of their 1962 aggression, where we came a cropper, to force us to give way in Bhutan, on our doorsteps.
In short, in China’s books, India does not even deserve the diplomatic niceties of polite language. Unfortunately, India’s response has all along been pusillanimous. Instead of summoning the Chinese ambassador in New Delhi and telling him to tell his masters not to meddle in India’s internal affairs, we humbly reassure China that the Dalai Lama’s visit was only for religious purposes. We try to be diplomatic when we are being kicked in the teeth again and again. Our response to China’s presence in PoK remains is equally feeble.
While India may have good reasons not to heighten tension with a more powerful neighbour, or with any neighbour for that matter, we need not be so timid or timorous. Neighbouring a hawkish Pakistan and a big bully China, India needs to assert itself, even as it works internally to strengthen itself, say, over a five year period.
How do we assert ourselves? Revisit trade relations with China so as to hit them where it hurts most; shun Chinese products and shift instead to Taiwanese and Vietnamese products, with whom the government could develop more active trade; develop full-fledged diplomatic relations with Taiwan (US has made a start); amass strategic deterrent-military-ware in the northern borders including the border closest to the Belt and Road Initiative; accelerate strategic ties with Japan and even South Korea; cooperate strategically and cooperate with all the Asean nations who are defending their rights to navigate international waters in SCS.
And finally, rather than relegate much of China’s achievements to their autocracy and chalk up our own failures to the democracy account, we need to strengthen our democracy, and work towards that seat on the UN Security Council by working for a significantly better India. How?
By transforming ourselves into a truly happening and a performing nation. By realising that nobody will hand us over a seat on the UNSC on a platter; we need to earn it. We can only do so by cracking up impressive performance on an array of dimensions. For instance, we need to:
Significantly improve our industrial and agricultural productivity, leveraging the strength of our ‘demographic dividend’. These in turn call for serious investments in infrastructure and reforms in education to give Make in India or Skilling Mission some substance.
Foster a judicial system in which contracts are enforceable, kangaroo courts and vigilante justice are seriously discouraged, and the delivery of justice speeded up significantly.
Bring about reforms in political funding and fight corruption seriously nationwide and make India truly attractive for genuine overseas investments; not just recycled black money of the corrupt from tax havens, returning as participatory notes.
Invest judiciously in improving our military hardware; speed up and scale up defence R&D and ramp up manufacture of missiles, fighter planes and submarines domestically on war-footing.
Ensure that every state government and local government invests significantly in a clean India, with a significant Railways budget to close all its lavatories in its trains for starters, with focus on cleanliness rather than cow protection as a symbol of patriotism.
If we want to be counted as an international power, and stand up to bullies like China, we need to look, feel and behave like a confident nation which the Asean region, if not the world, looks up to as an inspiring nation. We cannot remain laggards in every index — social, economic, legal, administrative, health or literacy — and hope for the world to respect us or for the likes of China not to bully us.
(Raghunathan is an academic and author)