China has done it again. Beijing has brought out a new map that claims vast swathes of Indian Territory in the North-East and the entire South China Sea. That too after Narendra Modi’s active participation in BRICS, subsequent one-to-one meeting with Xi Jinping and the perceived thaw in the relationship in the run up to G-20 Summit next week in New Delhi. All the efforts and expectations on normalisation of relations seem to end in smoke. As we have persistently maintained in this column, China’s belligerence goes unabated, New Delhi needs to seriously rethink its China strategy.
The Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources brought out a map on 28 August that shows within China’s borders all of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chinn. Expectedly, New Delhi has reacted strongly to the new map. The External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said next day on 29 August that the Government of India, “is very clear about what is our territory and making absurd claims does not make other peoples’ territories yours.” Recall, Beijing had in 2019 strongly objected to an Indian map showing the newly-created Union Territory of Ladakh. New Delhi had underlined to Beijing that the map had not changed India’s external borders.
Despite India’s clarification on the above said map, Beijing did not seem to withdraw its strong protest. Now, in response to India’s protest, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that the map was a part of a routine exercise, “It is a routine practice for China to exercise sovereignty in accordance with the law. We hope the relevant side can stay objective and calm, and refrain from over-interpreting it.” In fact, he is reiterating the claim made in the map. How ridiculous!
It seems obvious that China is testing India. Also, the timing of the cartographic aggression is perhaps to undermine India’s stature in the eyes of the world as it hosts the powerful G-20 Summit with several world leaders participating. New Delhi should have no doubt that Beijing has an incorrigible appetite for territories. It has territorial disputes with all its neighbours. It sees India as its competitor in the geo-politics of the region. New Delhi needs to factor this into its strategy vis-à-vis China.
New Delhi may have to continue with its twin strategy of containing and confronting China. In fact, it has to choose one of them. For now, New Delhi seems to contain China not confront it unless it is forced to. This may not work. Beijing should get the vibes from New Delhi that it will be ready to confront China at any time. From my conversations with Indian Armed Forces, they are willing and ready to take on China should such an eventuality occur. They are sure that the preparedness as well as the capacity of our Armed Forces is qualitatively much different from what it was in 1962. They say, “Although we may be smaller in size, our determination and commitment is greater than that of Chinese PLA”.
War is avoidable any day. In Indian tradition and culture, peace is always preferred to war. Remember, Lord Krishna’s effort to achieve peace and avoid the epic battle of Mahabharata. He himself went to the Kuru dynasty in Hastinapur as the messenger of peace. He advised those itching for war the tragic consequence of any war on both sides in terms of loss of men and material, many innocents sacrificing their lives for no fault of theirs. Having noted that, let us also remember that Lord Krishna was clearly committed to protecting the virtuous (Dharma) and to destroying the evil (Adharma). While talking peace and giving everyone opportunities to embrace it, he was preparing for a decisive war to establish dharma. As the omniscient God, he knew that war was inevitable, because of persistence of Adharma by Kauravas.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is evoking the organising principles in our Vedas and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. So, it is expected that the government will do well to recall the above anecdote so popularly presented in the long-running TV serial Mahabharata in dealing with China. That said, one is conscious that armed confrontations in the present era, influenced by globalised economy and technology, tend to be global. So, the war between Russia and Ukraine is not just bilateral: it is global as Ukraine is said to be almost the proxy of the United States and its allies. That is why New Delhi should start consolidating its strategic alliances in confronting China.
Although we have discussed many a time in this column India’s prospective allies vis-à-vis China it needs briefly recounting the arguments and analyses in the wake of the new map brought out by China on the eve of the G-20 Summit in New Delhi. One strategic argument is that India should stand firm and resolute on its own. That goes without saying. But pragmatically and in view of global geo-politics, alliance-building is indispensable. Two countries have been important for India in relation to its China policy — the United States and former Soviet Union, now Russia.
The prevailing perception about United States is that it likes to fish in the troubled water. It has done the double-speak on Pakistan. While Washington recognised Pakistan as a terrorist hub, it continued to arm Pakistan perhaps to pressure New Delhi. This has created lingering doubts about the dependability of US as an ally.
The situation involving USA, China and India has drastically changed. It is no more India needing US support to confront China. It is US seeking India as an ally in containing China in the region which will diminish China’s influence in the world. So, New Delhi’s and Washington’s interests for the first time in their bilateral history coincide. Both countries must realise that and stop testing each other’s nerve. The US President Biden is making a maiden visit to New Delhi in the event of the G-20 Summit.
His huge entourage indicates Biden’s intention of consolidating ties with India. Narendra Modi should reciprocate and indicate India’s willingness in deepening India-US ties in all possible sectors. At the same time, Modi should assert India’s position to Chinese leadership through the G-20 Summit and in the fringe meetings.
The traditional ally USSR does not exit any longer as it was. Its successor Russia is tied with its own troubles. By badly calculating the war on Ukraine, Russia has saddled itself in self-created isolation. Russian ‘strong man’ Vladimir Putin cannot travel for fear of arrest issued by International Criminal Court. He did not go to Johannesburg to attend the BRICS summit and cannot come to New Delhi for G-20. So, relying on Russia to restrain China is no more realistic.
In sum, New Delhi cannot trust Beijing as the latter never keeps its words and excels in duplicity. Though Beijing is struggling to stabilise its economy and to cope with the western boycott, it cannot restrain its territorial ambitions. New Delhi should never be lulled into complacence by its advisors, policy makers, so-called friendly countries; it must be ready for a multi-pronged defence preparedness against China.