Saturday, December 2, 2023

Can India stand up to China? Does our civil society help or hamper the quest?

(India and China lay uncomfortably next to each other. A discussion on the matter took place which had some distinguished participants. Namely:

• Dr. Rajiv Ranjan is an Associate Professor, College of Liberal Arts, Shanghai University and Adjunct Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi.

• Manoj Kewalramani – A fellow-China Studies at The Takshashila Institution and Journalist. His research focuses on Chinese politics, foreign policy and approaches to new technologies.

• Dr. Atul Bhardwaj is the Hon. Research Fellow, Department of International Politics, University of London and Ex-Indian Naval Aviator.

• Dr. Sriparna Pathak is an Associate Professor in the Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA) of O.P. Jindal Global University.

• Dr. G Venkat Raman is currently faculty in in the IIM Indore, Humanities & Social Sciences. His research interests include Sinology (Chinese Govt. & Politics), India-China Relations. Currently he is working on an ICSSR sponsored project on BRICS nations with JNU Faculty.

• Dr. Raviprasad Narayan is the Associate Professor of Center For East Asia Studies, School of International Studies, JNU.

Moderator- Yajar Arora

Bhumika Arora has transcribed and condensed it for our readers’ benefit). 

 China is powerful—and aggressive. The rapid-rise of Chinese military infrastructure concerns India which shares a border 2100 miles long, disputed water etc. In global terms, India is at the centre of any international strategy to counter-balance China. But the question is, can India really stand up to China? Today we have a panel of eminent experts and scholars of Indo-China relations to share with us their opinions. 

Dr G. Venkat Raman: Let’s first admit both countries are interdependent. Despite the political low between the two, they came together in the Glasgow Summit and issued a joint statement on climate change. We are also an integral part of the BRICS experiment. 

China is talking of a moderately, prosperous society in 2045. Their 14th five-year plan is focussing in a big way on R&D, manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence etc. There is a lot of contradiction here. 

Dr. Sriparna Pathak : Can India stand up to China? Well, India has shown will and capability to stand up to China in border conflicts. But. It’s also true that India hasn’t been able to repel China’s advances. But yes, India’s response has probably caught China off-guard. Our bilateral tade though continues to be heavily skewed in China’s favour.

India, like the rest of the world, is heavily dependent on Chinese imports. About 70% of electronic components, 45% of consumer durables, 70% of APIs, 40% of leather goods, all come from China. There is a need to shift from this sort of dependency. There was a survey which showed that 87% of Indian consumers are willing to boycott Chinese goods. We need investment in education, R&D. So while militarily we have responded this time, we need to be much better prepared for the future. 

Yajar Arora: What about the demographic edge a young India has to ageing China? How important would be this be in terms of India’s ability to deal with China?

Dr. Atul Bhardwaj: We have a demographic advantage but we are going to lose it in 2-3 decades. But this advantage is also blunted by technologies which are coming in. China is definitely ahead in artificial intelligence,, robotics etc.  So dealing with China, we have three options: Cooperate, Confront or Compete. So far we’ve been competing with China and have been fairly successful. But there are big policy issues. 

Our long term basis has to rest on growth and our capability to innovate. If we don’t do this, we could have small,, pirated victories but it’s not going to solve our problems vis-a-vis China. We could be part of a larger grouping but it would also erode our strategic autonomy. 

Dr. Rajiv Ranjan: India and China both are trying to reassert at the global stage. Both are trying to deny the other. So India’s desire for UNSC is thwarted, NSG. Is thwarted, and India on its part is not joining the Belt and Road Initiative. 

Dr. Raviprasad Narayan: Can India stand up to China. NO, in capital letters. We have the willingness. When it comes to reality, we don’t have it. And why are we harping on a permanent position in the UN Security Council? Is the UN effective at all? Besides, our foreign policy is limited to a very small spectrum of our civil society. And the bilateral trade between us shows we are dependent. 

In China, their army, PLA, is testing Xi Jinping because the latter has no experience of dealing at the battlefront. And they feel that he is encroaching on their economic interests. And what is China’s perspective of India?

Manoj Kewalramani: How does India deal with China? Well it needs to have access to Cpital, technology know-how. Now this requires certain kind of actions at home and abroad. It requires some stability along your frontiers; social stability at home. You need to undertake domestic economic reform. More and more countries are looking at trade from a strategic perspective. At present, we are struggling with factor market reform. We’re struggling with the land acquisition. We struggled with rule of law when it comes to protection of IP contracts. We could invite partners to invest in it. I mean we don’t need to look at 60-billion trade deficit. I really don’t care if cheap Chinese clippers, shirts, lights in Indian market is driving consumption, is creating value for the Indian consumer. So we need to identify domains where dependency creates strategic vulnerability. API is one such example. We need trade with China. But if you want to stand up to China, you need to invest in right kind of policies. To go past China, it has to be economic growth and investing in human capital, military modernisation etc. 

Yajar Arora: Why do we always think of China as an adversary? 

Manoj Kewalramani: From the point of China’s elite, India is a regional power only. They on the other hand have influence everywhere, whether UN Security Council, energy, dialogue, technology, Belt and the Road Initiative etc. These are all sort of influence. They see India essentially lacking in instrumental power.China sees the Big Game only against the United States. But India can actually hem China’s rise. So there is a capacity. 

India’s trouble with China, it has to do with history. Part of it is the contested border. Part of it is China’s relationship with Pakistan. Part of it is the fundamental values, political values. India is not a perfect democracy but I could take the Indian government to court. It’s extremely difficult for a citizen in China to do so. Citizens in India could protest farm laws for a year and a half. It’s really difficult to happen in China. There’s a fundamental difference. 

Yajar Arora: So just to be the Devil’s Advocate, India is hardly driven by democratic principles when its looking for alliances. We are weaving ties with Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE who don’t care much for human rights and democracy…

Raviprasad Narayan: Jut a decade and a half ago, Sri Lanka approached us to develop a fishing village. We refused within a week, saying we didn’t have the resources. And Sri Lanka has been with China. It has made Hambantota. Couldn’t we have seen the importance of Hambantota? The Mahabharata and Ramayana is called Mahayamsa there. Our representatives haven’t even read the English translation of Mahayamsa. This is where we suffer. Our foreign policy is very personality centric. We have river disputes with Bangladesh which has been glossed over by the media. Unless we have that across the country agreement, we can not have a consistent foreign policy. 

Atul Bhardwaj: China is a very big maritime power. It has the largest navy in the world. It’s shipping industry, it ports are the world’s best. We are only now trying to catch up. Now we have the British coming in to the Indian Ocean region; we have the French coming in. There is of course the US; Australia is getting more maritime oriented. It really removes us as the security provider in the Indian Ocean region. The Anglosphere is reasserting itself in the region. So we have to be very careful in devising strategies Because it’s part of a larger power play. The two big actors in the region are China and the US. 

Should we get sucked into the power play? Start spending more and more on things which we can avoid or do spend more and more in developing ourselves?

China is now a 18 trillion dollar economy. We are just about three trillion dollar economy. We are still aspiring to be a five trillion dollar economy. There is a huge asymmetry. Like there was an asymmetry between Pakistan and India. What did Pakistan do? Pakistan tried to address this asymmetry by becoming irritant to us, by sending a few terrorists here and there. But in the process, Pakistan has eroded itself. So we don’t need to manage the asymmetry with China. We need to basically bridge the gap as fast as we could. 

That’s where the strategic autonomy becomes important. If you don’t have that, you will not have the power to decide where you need to spend your money; not have the power to decide where you want to focus your energies upon. China ha always perceived India as an ally to the imperialist forces, the Anglo-American parts. They feel we are aligned to West. And therefore the distrust between India and China is too high. We need to lower this distrust. 

In 2007 we saw Obama changing tack with China. He was not confrontationist which Trump became. Trump came in 2016 and there was a policy shift in India. So we need to be very careful in remote defining, where we stand in relation to China. 

Dr Venkat Raman:  Just a few remarks on whatever we discussed. The fact is that if India has to fulfil its aspirations to become a significant power in the 21st century. A lot of it depends on how do we deal with China. Number two, I agree with you that you that our relationship with China should not be very reactive. It should be pre-emptive. Our choices are whether we engage or disengage with China. The question is do we have that luxury? There is no way we could disengage with China. 

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