Monday, 25 January 2021

The Consequences of Hubris: Modi’s Disastrous China Policy


The Consequences of Hubris: Modi’s Disastrous China Policy

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 24 January, 2021


Abstract

India, under Narendra Modi, has made a huge strategic blunder over the last six years by adopting a confrontational policy towards China and a pro-US tilt in its foreign policy. China is far too powerful for India to contend with, and the Modi Sarkar has simply bitten off more than it can chew. The net effect of Modi’s policy towards China is that China today openly takes Indian land without opposition and without even a declaration of war, and India is too weak to evict Chinese forces from its territory or even, for that matter, oppose China. In light of India’s weakness and inability to stop the Chinese from taking whatever they wish, it is clear that India should have pursued friendly relations with China and perhaps even agreed to a land swap and closer alignment of its policies with Beijing in return for a permanent peace on its borders with China (and Pakistan).

India needs to reverse course and pursue friendly relations with China on terms acceptable to the Chinese. Failure to do so will mean ever-increasing losses of territory to China (and perhaps Pakistan) without any compensating advantages such as peace, and continuing erosion of India’s international stature.

It is better to swap land for peace with the Chinese than have them take Indian territory anyway without India getting anything for it.


Background: 2014 to 2020

The Indian government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has pursued a close partnership with the USA and a confrontational policy against China since 2014, both of which are marked departures from previous governments. Examples of the former are the 2+2 dialogues with the USA, which pull India into a closer and closer strategic embrace with the USA, and India joining the military alliance known as the “Quad,” the other members of which are the USA, Australia, and Japan. Examples of the latter are the 2017 standoff in Doklam on the India-Bhutan-China conjunction; Indian MPs’ support for Taiwan; the Indian Home Minister making statements about Aksai Chin (which is under Chinese occupation) being part of India and India working with Vietnam to explore the South China Sea for oil


Location of Doklam, the Tri-State Junction of India, China, and Bhutan. Source to Photo.

China considers the South China Sea its backyard and is extremely annoyed by India’s attempts to undermine its supremacy in the region. China also considers the USA its primary rival and interprets India’s growing closeness to the USA as a hostile action. It would be natural for any rational person to expect China to retaliate against what it clearly sees as hostile actions on India’s part.

Map of Kashmir Area Showing Aksai Chin, Which the Chinese Wrested from India in 1962. Source to Photo.

China was taken by surprise by India’s response in 2017 at Doklam, where Indian forces tried to stop the Chinese army’s attempt to build a road inside Bhutan near the site of the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction, and the matter ended in a stalemate. But the Chinese were not put off. Their failure to achieve their objectives in Doklam only strengthened their resolve to forge ahead. Immediately after the ceasefire was announced, China resumed their construction of a road in the same area, as satellite photographs revealed, and even built a village 2 km inside Bhutanese territory. The Indian response was to pretend that nothing was happening and that the problem would go away if only they closed their eyes. Unfortunately for India, that did not happen.

Satellite Photos Showing the Construction of a Full Chinese Village 2 km Inside Bhutanese Territory Near Doklam. Source to Photo.

Things came to a head in May 2020, when Chinese forces crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de- facto border between India and China, but one that has never been ratified by either country – at several places in Ladakh, including Galwan. Despite several skirmishes, Chinese forces have made a significant gain in territory in Ladakh, of the order of 1000 square kilometres and, despite several talks between Indian and Chinese commanders to defuse the issue, the Chinese have not backed off. According to Indian defence analyst Col. Ajai Shukla, Indian forces have pulled back 12-15 km westwards into Indian territory in Depsang, 1 km in Galwan, 2-4 kms in Gogra and 8 kms in Pangong Lake. Col. Shukla called this the “largest loss of territory to China since the 1962 war.”

Satellite Photographs Showing Chinese Construction in the Galwan Valley in Indian Territory. Source to Photo.

This Chinese intrusion in 2020 has clearly terrorized Modi, to the extent that he has been wary of naming China as the aggressor in even a single speech since the Ladakh incursions. It is clear that Modi fears that China may encroach further into India, so he is being careful not to utter a word of criticism against China. What is also abundantly clear is that China can take what it wants at will and India can do nothing about it. After all, if India could, India would have already thrown the Chinese out of Ladakh.

Modi had been trying to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds as far as China is concerned – before the Chinese incursions in May 2020. On the one hand, he held lavish receptions for President Xi in India and took every opportunity to visit him, even wishing him on his birthday every year since 2016, a tradition that only stopped in 2020 after the Chinese incursion in Ladakh. It should be noted that Mr. Xi has never wished Modi in return. Modi has met Xi a total of 18 times, the most interactions by an Indian PM and a Chinese President, in India (Ahmedabad, Mahabalipuram, Goa), China (Xian, Xiamen, Wuhan, Hangzhou, Qingdao), as well as neutral venues (Brasilia, Ufa, Tashkent, Astana, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Bishkek, Osaka). 

Modi with Xi in Ahmedabad, India, in 2017. Source to Photo.

Yet at the same time, Modi has also angered Xi by trying to act as a big power in the South China sea, by agreeing to joint oil exploration in that sea with Vietnam. He has also pushed India into a close military partnership with the USA, which China regards as its natural rival. This alliance has turned more worrisome for Beijing with the Quad military alliance with Australia, Japan, and the United States. In addition, Modi has been silent as his own Home Minister, Amit Shah, has said in the Indian Parliament that Aksai Chin is an integral part of India, and as prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs, such as Meenakshi Lekhi, attended the swearing-in of the President of Taiwan. The net effect of this flip-flopping – between appeasement and provocation – seems to be that Modi’s peace overtures were seen by the Chinese just as a front for more nefarious designs.

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah Proclaiming in the Indian Parliament in August 2019 that Aksai Chin is Part of India. Source to Photo.

The Chinese incursions in May 2020 seem to have brought home the realization to Modi that the Chinese can occupy Indian land at will and that India can do nothing to reclaim that land. Hence the radio silence on all Chinese actions since then, while stoutly claiming that China has not occupied an inch of Indian land. Such a narrative, of course, suits the Chinese, since if they are said to have not occupied any Indian land, they cannot be accused of being aggressors.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Claiming in Ladakh in July 2017 That "Not an Inch of Indian Land Can Be Taken." Source to Photo.

The Chinese Village in Arunachal Pradesh

The latest development in the saga of deteriorating relations between China and India is the recent news that China has built a village in Arunachal Pradesh, on India’s side of the LAC.

Photograph of Chinese-Built Village in the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh. Source to Photo.

The Indian government denied this fact, saying that the village the Chinese built was on their own land, on their side of the LAC. But in an absolute news shocker that was reported in the papers on 22 January, 2021, the Chinese spokesperson confirmed that indeed, China has built a village on the Indian side of the LAC. The Chinese admission punctures the lies of the Modi government to the people of India, many of whom still believe the previous lies of the government that “not an inch of India is under Chinese control,” as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said.

According to a report in the Hindu on January 21, 2021,

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday said at a press briefing, to a question about the construction, that China’s “position on Zangnan [or South Tibet, as China refers to Arunachal] region is consistent and clear.” “We never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh,” spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “China’s development and construction activities within our own territory is normal. This is beyond reproach as it is in our territory.”

The Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper, in a report earlier this week, said the area “has never been recognized by the Chinese government.” “China and India haven’t demarcated the border line of this area yet. So they cannot accuse China of building a village on the Indian side,” Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, was quoted as saying.

So the lies of the Indian Government have been exposed. The Chinese have openly encroached on what India considers its territory, by their own admission, and there is nothing India can do.

The Chinese are quietly moving into India and taking what they want, when they wish. Our Prime Minister, despite his vaunted boasts of having a 56 inch chest, is watching powerlessly.

The Chinese have made their intentions very clear. They have said that they do not recognize the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. They call it “South Tibet.” It is, therefore, not inconceivable that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) will simply march down into Arunachal, first taking places like Tawang, which is very important to them because it is a centre for Lamaist Buddhism, the leader of which is the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India; but within probably a year or two, all of Arunachal Pradesh. And all of Ladakh will also likely be gone. Because the Chinese believe that these regions always belonged to them. The question for Indians is, what can India do about this?

The American alliance or the Quad will not be of much help to India in that event (they are of no use today either). Part of the reason for this is political, on Mr. Modi’s part. To even ask for help from America is to admit that India has lost territory in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Modi is very wary of admitting this, because he has created a “strongman” image among his fans in India, which would come crashing down if it were widely realized and accepted that he actually gave up territory without a fight. This is why members of the ruling BJP party have vehemently been denying that Indian territory has been lost.

Second, even if India did ask the US for help, it is highly doubtful that the US would go to war with China over a few border villages of India. It will probably ask India and China to work it out among themselves. If India had continued to maintain their friendship with their previous all-weather ally, Russia, the Russians might have used their good offices with the Chinese to help India, but that boat sailed a long time ago when India dumped the Russians like a hot potato.

How to Win Territory Without Bloodshed

Xi Jinping prefers dealing with a leader like Narendra Modi. And there is a reason for that. Wars are messy. They cause bloodshed and ill-feeling and can cause your own people to throw you out. There was a time when China could afford to lose a million soldiers in a war (the Korean War of 1950-53), but today’s China is a far more prosperous country than the China of 1951. Today’s China is a country where human lives have some value. Perhaps not as much value as in the United States, but certainly more than in India. Modi is very convenient for Xi in this regard. He lets Xi take whatever he wishes without a fight, without spilling valuable Chinese blood.

That is because Modi has not lost anything personally. His popularity is intact. After all, Chinese troops did not walk into Modi's house. Some remote parts of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh are what we are talking about. Most Indians have no idea where these places are, and nobody is even going to talk about it – the media, which is completely in the grip of the ruling BJP, will ignore it even when China is in control of all of Ladakh and Arunachal. There is little political capital to be lost with the loss of Arunachal or Ladakh (well, one Parliamentary seat for the former and two for the latter, but these are in the noise as far as numbers go.) In fact, the entire Northeast is irrelevant to Modi’s plans for India, so it is likely that nobody from the BJP will mention it even if India loses that whole area to the Chinese. Modi and the BJP will pretend that it never happened, as they are doing now. India's Defence Minister will continue to claim that “not an inch of Indian territory has been occupied” even when Chinese troops are on the borders of Assam, as he did after the Chinese incursions in May 2020.

According to Hindu texts, the four ways of dealing with an enemy and resolving conflicts are saama (conciliation), daana (bribery), bheda (deception), and danda (punishment). But there is one more way of defeating an enemy: bhaya, or fear. This method is useful against leaders who are cowards and braggarts and whose populations are gullible. These are people who are so afraid of danda (punishment) that they give you whatever you want without a fight without the need for negotiation, bribery, deception, or violence. Modi is among those.

While the Chinese might take all of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, they will also leave a threat of invasion elsewhere if India does not behave itself. They know that India cannot defend itself against a two-pronged attack, and there is the constant latent threat that with Chinese help, Pakistan can annex Kashmir. This gives the Chinese leverage to extract trade concessions from India – namely, that Chinese products will not be subjected to any tariffs at all in India, and the giant Indian market will become an exclusive market for the Chinese. India, in effect, will be subject to Chinese economic slavery.

The Baggage of 1962

It is ironic that, for a man who made his career criticizing Jawaharlal Nehru on his Chinese debacle of 1962, Modi has made exactly the same mistake that Nehru made, viz., of underestimating the Chinese and their resolve. It was folly on Nehru’s part to take on the Chinese in 1962 after they had demonstrated the extent of their resolve in the Korean War against the Americans. The Chinese did not even have a nuclear weapon in 1951, and yet Mao Zedong decided that he would not allow American forces to be on the Korean-Chinese border during the Korean war. When General Douglas MacArthur continued to push American forces up to the Yalu river, the border between China and North Korea, after his successful counter-attack at Inchon (see map below), the Chinese attacked with overwhelming force, massacring the Americans. Even though the Americans eventually stabilized the front at near the 38th parallel (see the Truce Line in the figure), the boundary between North and South Korea, they had learned the lesson of not taking the Chinese dragon lightly.

Map of the Korean War, 1950-53. The Blue Solid and Dotted Lines Show the Furthest Extent of US/UN Troops in North Korea, Close to the Yalu River. Source to Photo.

As a highly respected world statesman, Nehru should have taken this very seriously. Yet, in the lead-up to the 1962 war, he pursued a “forward policy” whereby Indian soldiers established positions ahead of the Indian border, into Chinese territory. The reason for the policy was that the McMahon Line, which was considered (by India at least – China never accepted it) as the international border between India and China in Arunachal Pradesh, was a few kilometres south of the high ridges that would provide for adequate defence. Nehru therefore told the army to establish positions on the high ridges. He justified this move by saying that this was the real “intent” of the McMahon Line – to give the high ridges to India for its defence. This was part of the Indian forward policy. While Nehru's interpretation was reasonable, this was technically a violation of the international border that India had itself subscribed to. China, on the other hand, never accepted even the McMahon line because it was negotiated between the British Empire and Tibet, and because, in China's view, Tibet was not authorized to determine the boundaries of China. China claimed a boundary further south, into what is considered Arunachal Pradesh today. Nehru authorized the aggressive forward policy because he never thought the Chinese would react militarily, and that was his folly. Contrary to what many Indians think today, Nehru was not a coward or afraid of China. Quite to the contrary, he was too aggressive and just exceeded his grasp. And, despite the “Hindi-Chini-bhai-bhai” (“Indians and Chinese are brothers”) slogan, Nehru was under no illusions and did not trust the Chinese one bit. He just never thought it would come to war.

The McMahon Line. Source to Photo.

The result of Nehru’s overconfidence is now history. India suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1962 war with China. The Chinese took Aksai Chin and created a new LAC in Ladakh. But they moved back to behind the McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh as before, even as they called it an illegal boundary.

In 1962, India and China were roughly equal powers, and yet India lost the war because India was not as prepared for a war and simply did not expect war. Fifty eight years later, the Indian army is in full readiness for a war; however, China is a superpower both economically and militarily. Even if Indian soldiers were to bravely fight in a war, the superior economic might of the Chinese means that they can easily outlast India in a war of attrition, which will lead to another humiliating defeat for India. In addition, today Pakistan is an all-weather ally of China, and so they could use our preoccupation in any war with China to grab Kashmir.

GDP Per Capita of India and China Compared (USD), 1985-2017. Source to Photo.

Unlike in 1962, China today is a global superpower which is capable of challenging the USA for world supremacy. When your next door neighbor is the 800 pound gorilla, you do not try to annoy him. You do not try to irritate him. You try to keep him happy.

And that is what Modi should have done with China. The entire effort to make the US our prime strategic ally was one of the most foolish mistakes any Indian PM could have committed. The US is 10,000 miles away, and it cannot help in any meaningful way in an India-China war. Furthermore, the US is not interested in an actual war with the Chinese, notwithstanding all the noises emanating from Washington about Chinese aggression. It has its hands full with low intensity wars like the war against the Taliban, the war in Syria, and the war in Iraq. The last thing it wants is a major confrontation with China. And the Chinese know it.

What India should have done is the very opposite of what India did under Modi. One of the big problems in India’s China policy over the years is that it has been coloured by the 1962 war. To protect Nehru’s reputation in history, the Congress-ruled central government kept painting the 1962 war as an example of “China stabbing India in the back” over the years, whereas, in fact, it was a war that India had fully provoked and should have expected.

Times of India Headline on November 4, 1962, Alleging Treachery by the Chinese. Source to Photo.

Because of this legacy, India has avoided patching up the Indo-China relationship for decades. This has led to India having to prepare for wars along both its western and eastern borders for decades. This line of thinking misses something quite fundamental about the Indo-Chinese relationship.

India and China have not historically had any quarrel. There is no cultural hangover between the two countries in the same way that, say, China and Japan have, or indeed, as India and Pakistan have. That is the key difference between Indo-China and Indo-Pakistan relations. Pakistan is a sworn enemy of India because of the crucible of partition that was responsible for the genesis of both nations, and the Hindu-Muslim enmity that was the cause of that partition, and that has been growing in India with renewed intensity in recent years with the rise of a Hindu supremacist party, the BJP, in power at the centre and most of the states. This enmity has grown even more over the decades because of the Kashmir conflict and the associated cross-border terrorism since 1988, and the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971. It might be fair to say that the India-Pakistan relationship will never normalize.

Pakistani General AAK Niazi Signing the Instrument of Surrender in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, with Indian General JS Aurora Watching. Source to Photo.

There is no similar fundamental difference between India and China. 1962 was an unfortunate war that should never have happened and was caused by many misunderstandings and missteps. The only reason this relationship was not patched up for decades is that for a significant portion of that time since 1962, India was ruled by Congress governments, who wanted to protect the memory of Nehru. A rapprochement with China might have meant (to them) making peace with the country that was the cause of their leader’s disgrace.

One would have expected things to change with the arrival of Modi; one would have expected that he would take a more pragmatic view of China, since he was not weighed down by the Congress baggage of 1962 that had weighed down all the Congress governments at the Centre ever since. Unfortunately, Modi and the BJP seem to have bought the Congress propaganda on 1962 hook, line, and sinker. This is not surprising since all history textbooks for schoolchildren since 1962 have been written to exonerate Nehru and claim that the Chinese engaged in an unprovoked war in 1962, essentially back-stabbing India after agreeing to the Panchsheel principles of mutual coexistence.

The Panchsheel Principles of Mutual Co-Existence. Source to Photo.

Furthermore, in light of China’s superpower status, Modi should have realized that India and Indians live today in a Pax Sinica. India has to be more accommodating of China today than at any other time in history. In the 1960s, Chinese products were known for their poor quality; today that nation is sending missions to the moon and is a pioneer in developing self-driving cars, to name just a couple of examples of worldwide technological leadership. It is an economic, military, and technological superpower.

Self-Driving Car in China. Source to Photo.

Taking all this into account, India under Modi should have pushed hard for a permanent peace on the borders. They should have conceded some territory in the same way that Pakistan traded the Shaksgam valley for peace in the 1960s. In fact, before the 1962 war, Zhou Enlai, China’s Premier, suggested to Nehru in 1960 that he accept China’s claims in Aksai Chin in return for China dropping all claims on Arunachal Pradesh, but Nehru arrogantly refused.

Pandit Nehru, India's PM, with Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Indian Vice-President, Zhou Enlai, Vice-Premier of China, and Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Indian President, during Zhou Enlai's Visit to India in 1960. Source to Photo.

Even without a peaceful relationship with India, China is dominating India economically. India exports less than $17 billion worth of goods to China today, while importing more than $65 billion from China. Chinese goods are seen everywhere in India and have already displaced Indian products in many sectors, including electronics, fireworks, and manufacturing. 72% of all cellphones sold in India are Chinese-made, even after the aggression by the Chinese in May 2020.

Market Share of Chinese Smartphones in India. Source to Photo.

Taking all this into account, India should have permanently buried the hatchet by offering land for peace and forging strong economic links with the Chinese. Indian foreign policy, barring the one disastrous mistake with China, has historically been very pragmatic. For decades, the Soviet Union was India’s strongest ally. While a large part of this affiliation was motivated by shared philosophies – India, being a socialist country, found the communist USSR closer to itself than the capitalist USA – geography also played an important part. It is foolish to align yourself with the Yankee eagle sitting 10,000 miles away while the Russian bear is right next door, and so, Indian governments in the past, very sensibly, did not make this mistake.

But the BJP has abandoned socialism completely. This is fine, but there was no need to abandon our relationship with Russia. After all, Russia herself is no longer a communist country but a totalitarian capitalistic country. There is no philosophical barrier that would have stopped the Modi government from continuing with the close relations with Russia that India had historically forged with the USSR. Instead, India dumped the Russians like a hot potato. The result of that foolish decision is that India today has nobody to lean on when things get rough in their neighbourhood. In the past, whenever things got hot with China, India could always rely on the good offices of the Russians to help them out with the Chinese. No longer.

The Way Forward

It is not yet too late. India should drop its belligerent attitude towards the Chinese and realize that this is a much bigger adversary than it can handle; that India exists in a Pax Sinica; and therefore India needs to offer their obeisance to their mighty neighbour. India needs to get down from their high horse and settle the border dispute in a way that China can accept. Otherwise India is needlessly and fruitlessly going to lose more territory.

However, things have changed a lot since 1962. In 1960, Zhou Enlai was willing to accept Aksai Chin in return for dropping claims to Arunachal Pradesh – but that will not be enough for China today, mainly because Aksai Chin is already in their control. What they will want from India today is allegiance and fealty – a stop to the westward tilt that has been the norm since Modi took over, and an acknowledgement of China’s great power status. India lives in China’s shadow today – militarily and economically. The Chinese will want to see India show deference to China in its actions. No more cosying up to Vietnam in the South China sea or friendly ties with the USA. They may allow India to keep the Dalai Lama in India and let him live out the last years of his life in peace, as long as India does not let him step out of his ashram in Dharamsala and does not let him make any provocative speeches, including visits to Arunachal Pradesh, as he did in 2017. There are consequences to being a neighbour of a great power. Indian commentators need to stop the hyphenation of India and China. India is not even in China’s league, and it is best that India recognizes this truth as soon as possible. Most of all, India is still a major power in the world and the biggest democracy in the world, and so, India acknowledging China to be a superpower is a big publicity coup for China. If India does all this, China might agree to settling the border question.

The Dalai Lama on his Visit to Arunachal Pradesh, 2017. Source to Photo.

And this is where it helps that there are no lingering hatreds between India and China, the way they exist between India and Pakistan. Because there is no such bitterness in the India-China relationship, things can be repaired. The Chinese may drive a hard bargain, but they do want peace. This is quite unlike Pakistan, who would like India to be completely destroyed. This is why, against all obstacles, India should push for a peace with China, even on unfavourable terms.

Modi needs to decide what is better – losing more territory and eventually losing face with the Indian public (as the truth must eventually come out), or reach an agreement with China that makes them happy – which might involve ceding some territory and offering obeisance and also stopping the antagonistic behavior. There are very serious consequences to not seeing this reality.

It is important to see how significantly things have changed in India’s own neighbourhood. India is losing friends to the Chinese as they have encircled India with their “string of pearls” strategy. Nepal, once one of India’s closest friends (and a Hindu country to boot) is now firmly in China’s orbit. China is building a railway from Xigatse in Tibet to Kerung on the Nepal-Tibet border to Kathmandu and continuation of the railway within Nepal. Such a railway would relieve Nepal of its dependence on India, which allowed India to bully Nepal in 2015 by imposing a blockade on it. India might soon be staring at Chinese troops on the India-Nepal border when Nepal is unable to repay its loans to China for the railway (worth about $5.5 billion) under the Belt and Road Initiative

The China-Nepal Railway Line. Source to Photo.

Sri Lanka is already deep in debt to China and China is in the process of making that country a dependent, as it already has done with Pakistan. Sri Lanka has ceded the Hambantota port to China for 100 years because it cannot afford to pay them for the cost of the building of the port. China is also building the Port City near Colombo at a huge cost of $15 billion – again, an amount that Sri Lanka cannot pay back, which means that China will own some more real estate in Sri Lanka. Bangladesh recently signed a number of agreements with China that extensively deepened their dependence on the Chinese, with $24 billion in loans from the Chinese to Bangladesh and a total of $40 billion in Chinese investment in Bangladesh. It is just a matter of time before Bangladesh becomes an economic vassal of China and allows the Chinese to establish a military base in Bangladesh. What is clear from all this is that all of India’s main neighbours – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal – are all firmly in the Chinese zone of influence. India can never hope to compete economically or militarily with China for influence in South Asia.

Aerial rendering of Proposed Port City in Colombo. Source to Photo.

On the other hand, being deferential to China has many advantages, chief of which will be that they will guarantee the peace on our borders. China already has invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan, worth $62 billion today. It is not interested in a war between India and Pakistan, because such a war would threaten its investments in the CPEC. If India were to become friendly with China (even with a power relationship acknowledging China as the senior partner), China would put sufficient pressure on Pakistan to curb their terrorist activities. If India can ensure peace on both her western and eastern borders, it would be a huge fillip to economic growth in India.

The CPEC Projects. Source to Photo.

The choice is between China taking Indian territory without a fight and without giving anything in compensation and India striking a “land for peace” deal with China. India will lose territory either way, but with the latter option India can at least ensure peace.

The age of the American empire is ending. The age of the Chinese empire is beginning. It is important to decide which side of history India will be on.

Some may say that what I am proposing is a capitulation, a surrender to the Chinese. But the history of the world has shown that very few countries have been truly independent – a few countries have always dominated the world. Only those at the top of the food chain can afford to be independent in their actions. The rest have to make compromises to survive. The world has always been dominated by a few superpowers over the years – for example, the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the British Empire, and most recently, the Soviet and American Empires. Could any country afford to be truly independent in its actions during the Cold War? Even India has been guilty of duplicity, many times. Nehru famously claimed to be non-aligned, but he would not openly criticize the Soviet Union’s actions in Hungary in 1956. And the Indian government under Indira Gandhi, while unwilling to criticize the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was quick to criticize the Americans for building a military base in Diego Garcia, saying that they were opposed to militarizing the Indian Ocean.

Some friends of mine have also told me that they fear that the Chinese cannot be trusted, that they will enter into an agreement but later will demand more concessions. If that does happen, India will have to deal with it. India is in a disadvantageous situation with China. It has been 8 months since the incursions in Ladakh when China occupied about 1000 sq. km. of Indian territory, and India has still been unable to retake the territory that China illegally occupied. India is not in a position to hurt China economically either. Despite all the bluster about boycotting Chinese products, China’s share in India’s mobile phone market has not diminished. Indians clearly value their pocketbooks more than their patriotism. So India really has no choice but to sign a peace deal with China on unfavourable terms.

Such things are normal in international relations. It is just like planets being forced to orbit a massive star because of its gravitational attraction. Einstein said that a massive star distorts the fabric of spacetime and forces nearby objects to move around it in orbits, bending even light. Similarly, the presence of a massive country (economically and militarily) like China forces other countries to orbit that country in deference to its size and follow its lead. It is meaningless then to talk about absolute independence.

To take a different metaphor, we can think of Aesop’s fable about the oak tree and the reeds. The oak tree stood proudly when the mighty winds blew, whereas the reeds bent low and sang a mournful song. The oak tree arrogantly told the reeds that he did not need to bow down before the winds because he was strong. The reeds replied, “do not worry about us. The winds do not harm us. We bow before them and so we do not break. You, in all your pride and strength, have so far resisted their blows. But the end is coming.” When the storm ended, the oak tree had been uprooted and lay dying, but the reeds were still alive.

What will India do under Modi? Will she be pragmatic like the reeds? Or will she die like the oak tree by refusing to bend before China?



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

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