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China and the ambition of world domination — past, present and future

Amiti Sen | Updated on December 15, 2020 Published on December 15, 2020

Long-cherished dream: In the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 BCE) of Chinese history, strategists and thinkers of the Eastern Zhou dynasty came up with the concept of the ‘Great Unified Empire’. File image from the 70th founding anniversary of People’s Republic of China in October 2019   -  REUTERS/JASON LEE

Iqbal Chand Malhotra’s new book ‘Red Fear’ is a ready-reckoner of events that shaped China through centuries and sets the template for India-China relations

* The author traces how China aspired to put in place a ‘Great Unified Empire’ as early as over 2,500 years ago

* Malhotra illustrates the exploits of the East India Company and the British colonial government, which waged opium wars against China

* He links India’s decision to amend its FDI policy in April 2020 to discourage opportunistic investments by China to the PLA military vehicle intrusion at Pangong Tso in Ladakh

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China, to many observers, is almost synonymous with planning. It is difficult to think of any step taken by the country that is spontaneous, knee-jerk or oblivious to the big picture. Everything — good, bad, or ugly — appears well meditated. Whatever we are witnessing today — the country’s aspirations of dominating the world or its tumultuous relationship with India — has a well-entrenched past and, logically, a future roadmap that time would unfold.

Iqbal Chand Malhotra’s latest book Red Fear: The China Threat is an attempt at going back in time to trace how China evolved as a nation over centuries, aspiring to put in place a ‘Great Unified Empire’ as early as over 2,500 years ago. The author spins an interesting tale around the British colonial rulers using India to dominate and exploit China, the opium wars and its devastating effect on the Chinese people (most of whom became addicts) and its economy, the growing influence of Russia, especially in Sinkiang [Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in north-west China], and the rise of Communist leader Mao-Tse tung.

Red Fear: The China Threat / Iqbal Chand Malhotra / Bloomsbury / Non-fiction/ ₹799

 

Malhotra, a television producer, delves into the relationship between India and China post-1947, focussing on the growing acrimony between the two neighbours over Tibet, the India-China wars that hurt both countries, the continuing border disputes, Deng Xiaoping’s adoption of the market economy model and China’s eyeing of the Indian market before he zooms into 2020 interpreting its unusual happenings.

As a ready-reckoner for the major events that shaped China through the centuries and set the template for Sino-Indian relations, Malhotra’s book has merit. It is intriguing to read how in ancient times — the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 BCE) of Chinese history — the strategists and thinkers of the Eastern Zhou dynasty came up with the concept of the ‘Great Unified Empire’. The idea of bringing the entire world under the leadership of the Chinese emperor was actually hatched in a different era!

The author draws an interesting comparison between China’s present plans of taking over water ways to what it did in the15th century, during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, when Chinese interference and politics in Cochin and Calicut set a pattern of using maritime power to establish colonial hegemony. The Ming court promoted alternative ports to established ones as a strategy to secure control over the network and institutionalise dominance.

However, Ming China’s treasure fleet withdrew from the seas in 1433, leaving space for European powers including the Portuguese, the French, the British and the Dutch — which, the author says, is deeply regretted by China’s present supreme leader Xi Jinping who doesn’t want his country to repeat such a mistake. The reader is, however, left wondering what made Ming China take the decision of withdrawing its fleet.

Malhotra illustrates with interesting examples the subsequent exploits of the East India Company and the British colonial government which waged opium wars against China that could have led to the gradual growth of bitterness towards Indians amongst the Chinese. In the political, economic and horticultural war waged against the Qing Empire, the cornerstones of the attack were Indian troops, Indian traders and Indian resources, all deployed to enrich itself at China’s expense, the book points out.

Later, in 1911, during the Chinese Revolution, a large number of Sikh policemen were deployed in Shanghai for traffic duties. The author writes that they used to pull Chinese ‘coolies’ by their pigtails and brutally beat them up for breaking traffic rules. Sikhs were also the main choice for riot duty and were involved in incidents of firing on Chinese students.

China’s hostility towards independent India increased over New Delhi’s continued help to Tibet, although covertly, in its struggle against Chinese designs. The author blames India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was in Washington DC in October 1949 when the formation of the People’s Republic of China was formally announced, for failing to gauge the situation and make a strategic ally of the US at that time. In fact, Malhotra goes on an over-drive in his criticism of Nehru and blames him for everything that went wrong between India and China post-independence. For any right decision Nehru may have taken, the author promptly gives the credit to his aides. A little more balance in his assessment of Nehru could have given more weight to his criticisms. Similarly, Malhotra’s observations on Mao-Tse tung appear a bit overboard, especially when he describes his sexual exploits in detail, all based on the version presented by Mao’s physician. Since the physician’s “disclosures” have been challenged by many intellectuals in China, a more rounded version could have been presented.

The book deals with the border tensions that continued between India and China at Nathu La in Sikkim and Sino-Indian border in Ladakh finally leading to the eighth round of border talks in November 1987, when it was decided to upgrade the consultatations from the bureaucratic to the political level. Following Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988, a Joint Working Group (JWG) was set up to discuss, among other things, the alignment of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The unresolved border issues, however, remain a source of continuing tension between the two countries.

In the post-script, the author fast forwards to the year 2020 and raises interesting questions about China’s intrusions at the LAC in Ladakh and the Covid-19 pandemic. He links India’s decision to amend its FDI policy in April 2020 to discourage opportunistic investments by China to the PLA military vehicle intrusion at Pangong Tso in Ladakh.

Malhotra writes that despite Narendra Modi and Xi’s post Doklam summit meetings in Wuhan in April 2018 and in Mamallapuram in October 2019, it seemed that China wanted India to vacate more territory in Ladakh and also resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue by sitting down with both China and Pakistan. While the first supposition seems to be a distinct possibility, the one on J&K sounds difficult but intriguing. One has to wait and see how the cookie crumbles, Malhotra rightly surmises.

On the Covid-19 pandemic, the author cites many reasons to give credence to the rumour that the virus may have been manufactured in Wuhan. He leaves readers with the disturbing question of whether humanity was indeed witnessing a new form of warfare.

Amiti Sen

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Published on December 15, 2020
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