Thursday 4 March 2021

Understanding Modi's U-Turn on China

Understanding Modi's U-Turn on China

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 04 March 2021


The Modi government’s sudden U-turn on China is a long overdue correction in India’s foreign policy. India has finally realized that it lives in a Pax Sinica, and that it has engaged in a foolish and destructive policy for the last nearly 7 years since Narendra Modi took over as PM, with his pro-US tilt. The skirmish in Ladakh in the summer of 2020 that resulted in the irreversible loss of Indian land to the Chinese, the death of 20 soldiers, and the aftermath of the incident seem to have finally made the Modi government realize the futility of a confrontational policy with China. Unfortunately, we have wasted more than six years of a possible peace that could have helped India develop faster, and lost valuable real estate and the lives of our soldiers in the process.

The U-Turn

Now this is what you call a U-Turn Sarkar (Government).

After whipping up hysteria for years against China, foolishly joining the US-led Quad, even having the Home Minister, Amit Shah, say arrogantly and pompously in Parliament that all of Aksai Chin (which is not even under Indian control today) belongs to India, provoking the Chinese to show India its place and taking whatever it wants (Chinese troops are still in possession of Indian territory even now, in Depsang and Gogra), now the Modi government has finally extricated its head out of the sand and realized that you cannot adopt a confrontational policy with the superpower next door. According to a news report,

Sanjeev Sanyal, principal economic adviser, told journalists last week that if someone wants to set up a button factory in India, it doesn’t matter if that somebody is an American, Indonesian or Chinese. “Except for strategically sensitive sectors,” he added, “we have sped up clearances from China and we plan to clear them quite fast.”

So India is planning to soon clear 45 investment proposals worth millions including from auto companies like Great Wall Motors and SAIC Motor Corp, which were put on hold when the large-scale Chinese intrusion across the Line of Actual Control came to light last May.

This also means that India has given in to the Chinese demand that the border troubles be segregated from the rest of the India-China relationship – notwithstanding demurrals by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last week that it cannot be business as usual.

The Pangong Withdrawal

The precursor to the normalization of trade between India and China, announced by the Indian Government, was a joint press statement released by India and China on 21st February that read,

On February 20, the 10th round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting was held on the Chinese side of the Moldo/Chushul border meeting point. The two sides positively appraised the smooth completion of disengagement of frontline troops in the Pangong Lake area, noting that it was a significant step forward that provided a good basis for resolution of other remaining issues along the LAC in Western Sector. They had candid and in-depth exchange of views on other issues along the LAC in the Western Sector. The two sides agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, continue their communication and dialogue, stabilize and control the situation on the ground, push for a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues in a steady and orderly manner, so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.

The Indian government has been trying to portray this disengagement on the Pangong Tso sector as proof that peace has been achieved on the border confrontation with China with honor. But this press release talks only about Pangong Tso. It does not talk about Depsang or Gogra Hot Springs, where the Chinese are very much present, and in an advantageous position. According to Col. Ajai Shukla, there is no incentive for the Chinese to back off in those regions, and the only way for India to achieve a peace in those sectors is for them to create a buffer, demilitarized zone within Indian territory. In other words, the Chinese will withdraw from Indian territory, and the Indians, too, will withdraw from Indian territory.

One could fairly argue that this is the first step of a multi-step withdrawal – that withdrawals in Depsang, Gogra, will follow in due course. But then, should relations with China have been normalized when the Chinese are still illegally in possession of Indian territory? Can one normalize relations with a country that has annexed parts of your country? The only conclusion seems to be that the Indian government has realized that they will never get those regions back and have agreed to a peace with the Chinese while quietly accepting Chinese conquest of parts of India.

Make no mistake, this is not peace with honor. It is a humiliating comedown for India.

Understanding Realpolitik

But India had no choice. The Chinese had made it clear in the summer of 2020 that they could invade and take Indian territory at will, and would do so if India did not behave itself and drop its confrontational tone against Beijing, instances of which were Amit Shah claiming that Aksai Chin belonged to India; BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi joining the inauguration of the Taiwanese president by weblink and posting about it; India joining the anti-China Quad; India making statements about Hong Kong; and India allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh.

The territory we have lost in Arunachal and Ladakh is gone, it won't come back. But at least, having bowed down to China, we will not lose more. Modi finally understood that if he continued on the ill-advised path he was on, China would take over at least half of Arunachal Pradesh, including the very important Tawang, while we could only watch. They had already demonstrated intent by building a village in Arunachal Pradesh under our very noses.

It is not a mistake to bow down to China – that's realpolitik. We have no choice. What was a stupid mistake was to fire up nationalism and attack China for so long in the media and in international fora for years and cozy up to the US, when you have a superpower in your backyard, and that too, a country that is going to be the number one superpower in the world very soon. As this article says,

There are two reasons for this shift in strategy. The first is that China is bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic like no other country and is expected to overtake the US to become the world’s biggest economic power by 2028.

Of course this is true, but any blinking idiot could have figured this out 6 years ago – that China was going to be the world's biggest economy in short order. Are Modi and his team so dense that it took them six years to figure this out? Maybe it took a limited war and the loss of territory for these dilettantes in foreign policy to understand reality. Until then, they were pumping the news and social media with stupid anti-China sentiment.

I am reminded of that mindless idiot in Gujarat who destroyed his Chinese-made big-screen LCD TV by throwing it from the balcony of his home because he didn't want to buy Chinese goods. How this helped his cause at all is not clear because he had already bought the TV and paid the money that went to the Chinese company. His actions hurt no one but himself.

The Indian government should have learned from its misadventure in Doklam. In 2017, the Indian government stood up to Chinese attempts to encroach on Bhutanese territory. That standoff ended with the Chinese backing down, but it quickly became clear that the stand-down was only temporary. More recent satellite pictures from 2018 and 2020 have shown that the Chinese are back inside Bhutan, building a village 2 km inside the border and building a road that stretches 9 km inside Bhutanese territory.

We cannot ignore China's wishes. We live in a Pax Sinica - a peace on Chinese terms. Play nice with them and you can progress. Fight them and you will be destroyed.

This has been the case whenever there has been a superpower in the world. In Roman times, there was a Pax Romana. When Britannia ruled the waves, countries had to make adjustments so that Great Britain was not offended. And from 1945 until 1991, the world was divided into those who toed the line with America or the USSR.

Despite the “non-aligned” tag that India gave itself, it aligned itself with the USSR. That's because you have to pick a side. Nehru and Indira understood (apart from their own socialist persuasions) that you have to have peace with the big Russian bear next door, not worry about the Yankee who is 10,000 miles away.

That's what mature leaders do in foreign policy, and that is what Nehru and Indira were. It is a philosophy known as realpolitik. But our present government and its narcissistic leader are so dense, it has taken them 6 years, the lives of 20 soldiers, and the significant loss of territory to realize this. And they have hoodwinked the Indian public for all this time and denied them the benefits of peace with China which could have led to much greater prosperity for India.

It is not about good or bad, right or wrong. Might is right. The Chinese are superior to India in every way: economically, militarily, and technologically. Our future lies in cooperation with the Chinese, even on their terms – and so I am happy that wisdom has finally dawned on Modi.

As I had written in my recent analysis, India's historic confrontational attitude towards China was a mistake. China has no fundamental quarrel with India, unlike Pakistan. Peace with China will help us have peace with Pakistan, because China has huge investments in PoK that it does not want to jeopardize, and so they can keep the Pakistanis under check – for their own benefit.

Peace is the first prerequisite of progress.

Of course, now all the slavish panjandrums of the government who were saying exactly the opposite thing until yesterday will come out in droves and praise this government for its U-turn, and call it a “master-stroke.” No one will talk about the six years of failed foreign policy.

That shouldn't surprise us. As the Hindi piece of doggerel goes,

Raja ne kaha raat hai
Rani ne kaha raat hai
Mantri ne kaha raat hai
Santri ne kaha raat hai
Ye subah subah ki baat hai.

Which can be translated as

The King said, ‘it is night.’
The Queen said, ‘it is night.’
The Minister said, ‘it is night.’
The Soldier said, ‘it is night.’
But, in fact, it was early morn.

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.

1 comment:

  1. For its part, the Narendra Modi administration merits praise for its political risk last year in rapprochement with China, as well as for placing such a high value on the diplomatic endeavor.
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