When dealing with China, India should not be a pushover: The Statesman Columnist

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre), Home Minister Rajnath Singh (left) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah (right) looking on during the BJP's parliamentary committee meeting at Parliament House in New Delhi, on Dec 16, 2016.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre), Home Minister Rajnath Singh (left) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah (right) looking on during the BJP's parliamentary committee meeting at Parliament House in New Delhi, on Dec 16, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

KOLKATA (THE STATESMAN/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister, there were hopes of a closer Indo-China relationship. After all he had visited China and established close bonds with the leadership during his tenure as chief minister. He himself was hopeful that relations would come on an even keel and investments would flow. The first visit by the Chinese president post Modi's takeover was expected to be the take-off point.

China made the right noises, the correct gestures, but refused to budge and accept India as an equal. That visit was followed by a series of interactions at every level, from the President downwards, yet nothing changed. Over two years have gone by and the situation is clear. China believes in listening but not moving forward.

China's recent posturing, statements and actions have indicated that it is an adversary. It is Chinese diplomatic and military support to Pakistan which enables it to continue supporting terror groups operating against India. Hence China ensures India would always face a nuclear-capable Pakistan, pursuing an anti-India policy on its western border, with a possibility of a two-front war.

For China, India is a competitor, the only power in Asia which can threaten its hegemony and stand up to its bullying. Therefore, it grabs every means to act against India, whether it is the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the UN nominating Masood Azhar as a terrorist or establishing bases surrounding India.

The recent speech by the prime minister at the Raisina dialogue indicating that it was not 'unnatural for two large neighbouring powers to have differences', was putting it across mildly. The foreign secretary was blunter when he stated that China should be sensitive to India's concerns, especially as it concerned the China Pakistan Economic Corridor transgressing disputed territory. The fact remains that China has never shown sensitiveness to others' concerns, especially when it affects its national interests.

Its actions in the South China sea brushed aside any concern of its smaller neighbours and at times even threatened them with its economic and military power. Expecting any concern towards an adversary like India is unlikely, unless India shows resoluteness and competitiveness.

India therefore needs to reconsider its China strategy. It has limited options ranging from open confrontation to acceptance of Chinese hegemony to creating alliances to counter China. Ideal should be a mix with the intention of conveying the message that India too can hurt China in some measure, if not equally. Seeking alliances with smaller neighbours of China may backfire at some stage. The US-Philippine relationship is heading for difficult times, as China has won over the country with an economic carrot. The same is also likely to happen to the US-Cambodia relationship. India-Vietnam may also go the same way at some point in time.

India came to Mongolia's aid in its confrontation with China, but soon Mongolia succumbed to Chinese pressures. The only strong relationship which we need to develop is with Japan, a nation whose enmity with China would remain, irrespective of any overtures by China.

India has the trump card of the Dalai Lama. While his movements and statements would continue to irk the Chinese, India should resist imposing any restrictions on him, instead enhance his visits. The Chinese may criticise or comment, but it should be ignored. This would convey the message that one nation cannot be sensitive to the interests of the other, both need to be equally concerned.

India made the mistake of cancelling the visas, on Chinese request, of Uighur exiled leaders, an action which it should never repeat in the future; after all, if Masood Azhar cannot be declared an international terrorist, India should feel the same way about anti-China terrorists.

Our acceptance of Tibet as part of China in exchange for them recognising the merger of Sikkim was possibly a wrong decision. However, with the Dalai Lama card, India could consider iterating the settlement of the Tibet issue. Though such words may take an already troubled relationship to further depths, as Tibet has always been a super sensitive issue with China, yet it may have to be raised.

India should deepen its relationship and cooperation with the US. Trump has issues with China, which would only increase with time. His policy of mending relations with Russia, while challenging Chinese hegemony, should be exploited by us. The two navies, operating jointly, to counter Chinese forays into the Indian Ocean would convey a stronger message. The aim should not be to challenge China but counter its actions, by a show of force.

Simultaneously we should seek bases to counter Chinese expansionism. Early development of Chabahar port would counter the Chinese base at Gwadar. Enhancing naval exercises with Vietnam and other nations of the region is essential. Simultaneously, there is a need to enhance the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) with adequate resources to dominate the Indian Ocean and monitor hostile shipping in the region. The Indian Navy is presently ahead of the Chinese in capacity and should remain so.

Other military actions should be faster raising of the strike corps and enhancing deployment of air assets in the Eastern theatre. This would convey that India can counter Chinese misadventures.

India should continue testing and induction of its Agni series of missiles. The one advantage which China always possessed was the ability to target India, while we could only target Tibet. The induction of Agni IV and Agni V (which will still need more tests) and the Arihant Submarine would bring in compatibility in missile capability. Losing this advantage has irked the Chinese, as their press statements indicated. With CPEC and India's rise as a military and economic power, China-India relations would always be one of competition. While China remains an economic and military powerhouse, India is no pushover. It is only by showing determination and unwillingness to back down, that we can indicate it takes 'two to tango'. China will not change its policies anytime soon, however such actions by India may result in Beijing softening its stand.

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.