The death of scores of Indian and Chinese soldiers at Galwan in eastern
this week on the disputed border between the two countries, have led many to ask the questions — What is it that China wants? Where does it see itself going? What is this China Dream that they keep talking about?
In order to answer these and similar questions, we need to put out of our minds (for the time being) the recent events in Ladakh and focus on the long term, strategic issues which animate China. She looks upon much of the 19th and early 20th centuries as a period of shame when China was relatively weak and was subjugated by the superior weapons and technologies of the Western nations which had already experienced the Industrial Revolution. China was forced to concede trade and other rights to the western powers, which culminated in the Opium Wars and the ceding of Hong Kong to Britain.
Now, after four decades of economic reform and opening to the outside world which produced fast paced growth, China has pulled herself back to the position of being the second largest economy of the globe. Simultaneously, she is also accumulating military power and especially under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China has started flexing its muscles as an important regional power which aspires for much more. Which brings us to the question of the China Dream. This dream is nothing else than to dominate the world, become the sole superpower in international politics and create a Pax Sinica. To be able to do so, she needs to overtake and replace the United States, a process already underway and described as the hundred-year marathon by one American thinker. So, China is focused laser sharp on her main rival, the US.
Where does India fit into this larger strategic narrative of China’s? She realiss that her comprehensive national power exceeds that of India. If GDP is taken as a simple measure of national strength, then China wields four and half times the power of India. However, she is also acutely aware that due to India’s geographical area, population, education levels and acknowledged strengths in science, engineering, IT, innovation, we have the potential to challenge China in future. India’s rise, particularly within a democratic setting and framework, could prove the lie to the China model or the
, that authoritarian rule delivers quicker economic results. Thus, it is important to ensure that India does not live up to its full potential by challenging it in myriad ways. Opposing our entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, raising tensions on the border as a reminder of the power differential between us and utilising
to keep us ensnared within the subcontinent are some ways of doing so.
So how should India be reacting? Should we simply accept a Pax Sinica or is the current Pax Americana better for us? The answer should be apparent to us. India will be very uncomfortable with Chinese domination of the world because our values are diametrically opposite to those of our northern neighbor. Our open, transparent, democratic economic, political and social systems are closer to those of the United States and the West. Hence, what India needs to do is to put her head down and build up her economic, scientific and military strength and reduce the asymmetry of power with China. We should not be coy in diplomatically leveraging China’s vulnerabilities in Tibet,
. Most importantly, we must unambiguously and immeasurably strengthen our partnerships with like-minded nations who share our value systems. The Galwan incident on our border with China, where the PLA has violated every bilateral agreement aimed at maintaining peace and tranquility, should stir us into reading the tea leaves and visualising our strategic future with clarity.
(The writer is a former Indian ambassador to
, Pakistan and China. Currently, he is a trustee of the think-tank Pune International Centre)