A blueprint to counter CCP and Xi
This is ideology, group and politics neutral — its non-neutral only on the India-China equation. What follows is a comprehensive wish list, intended to recalibrate, re-imagine and reinvent that equation. If two swords — India and China — are to coexist in the Asian scabbard, reluctant respect and forced likability are required and these are the consequences of fear. While China has engendered that fear in India, it is time to reciprocally implant India’s fear in China. This alone will reset the equilibrium.
For this we need less talk, more action; consistency of application over years; taking care of the small things so that the big things take care of themselves; and a holistic, multipronged and preventive, not merely curative, approach. It requires a fundamental attitudinal change. Finally, it requires teamwork, a broad consensus, bridging the trust deficit, transparency and participatory approaches.
The military option is of least importance, in view of China’s size and might, but still vital to outstare the enemy. The appearance (not actual use) of India’s military might is vital to eventually restore status quo ante, since the so-called buffer zones are on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The Mountain Strike Corps, inexplicably downgraded, must be exponentially enhanced. The defence budget, below 1.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), must be pulled above 2%, preferably 3%, despite Covid-19 and economic woes. Open interoperability military exercises with the United States (US) and other big powers must accompany the accelerated completion of the Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road and building others on our northern and Arunachal Pradesh flanks. China has effectively deployed a mammoth drone armoury and we must significantly enlarge that arsenal.
The diplomatic option is highly underestimated. A blitzkrieg of naming and shaming China for its ruthless expansionism must accompany regular meetings and exercises of groupings such as an expanded Asean, Quad, Malabar, G10 and Democracy 10. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance of the European Parliament, with more than 100 members, is against expansionist China and India should seek consultative status on it.
Consistent China-critics such as Japan, the United States, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia and Australia have to be continuously leveraged. The current unprecedented global anti-China sentiment has to be exploited. The Philippines won significant maritime arbitral awards against China, and Vietnam fought China over the Spratly islands. India’s place at the high table of G10 cannot be delayed. These multilateral groupings have another unnoticed benefit: They turn India’s focus seawards, where Chinese military asymmetry qua India is much less than on land.
The two Ts — Tibet and Taiwan — old Chinese bugbears, need to be exploited much more. The Dalai Lama and persons like Richard Gere qua Tibet and Dolkun Isa qua Xingjiang must be allowed to travel and speak on Indian soil without restriction (subject to no violence and no official Indian government participation). India and Taiwan must have full diplomatic relations and Taiwanese companies must be wooed qua import substitution. Parliamentary alliances such as Friends of Tibet or of Uighurs must be allowed free play. We need to oppose the Belt Road Initiative and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) much more vocally at all forums. Buddhist diplomacy has great resonance across Asia. Both Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh occupy pole positions in this regard, but they remain underused by India internationally.
If Pakistan deters the Indian elephant by displaying the Chinese dragon in India’s backyard, India must flaunt the super dinosaur Russia overlooking the dragon’s own backyard. I deprecate India’s unfortunate dilution of its close ties with its oldest all-weather ally, Russia. The latter has to be immediately reassured that closer Indo-US relations do not affect our deep bond with Russia. Countering the latter’s newfound closeness to China and worse, even to Pakistan, should be the government’s top priority.
Turning to economic options, first, some Chinese investments can be terminated. The fear of breach of the Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) is exaggerated, since most have clear derogation clauses allowing invocation of the Essential Security Interest (ESI) exception. Second, while import substitution is not easy, we must snap the perfect symmetry between China as an export-driven engine and India as a domestic demand-driven economy.
Third, since China is a controlled economy, with land frequently being free with heavy subsidies built-in, India must use anti-dumping levies much more along with a judiciously-crafted and targeted mix of import substitution, discriminatory tariffs, steep duties, and bans in certain areas.
Above all is the most important facet which we ignore at our peril: The persona of President Xi Jinping. In eight years, he has risen from general secretary to the supreme autocrat of China. His journey to unquestioned leader status has included arrests of opponents, purging hundreds of officials close to his predecessors, bringing the security agencies and the army under his direct command, removal of the two-term limit on his presidency, his “New Guidelines for Political Life” replacing Deng’s 1982 ones and new courses in universities on Xi’s “China Dream”.
In one of his rare interviews, he said: “If you want to be a general, you must be able to win a battle. We do not have battles every day, especially in times of peace...Only battles can give an opportunity to show success...”
A man looking to leave his personal stamp on China and globally is hardly going to be content with jhoola diplomacy. He has to be retaught Mao’s dictum that power comes through the barrel of a gun, whether it is a military, economic or diplomatic gun. We should never forget: China is not the problem, but the Chinese Communist Party is and, more than that, Xi Jinping is.