China’s credo: No give, only take

TCA Srinivasa Raghavan | Updated on May 02, 2021

Title: The Elusive Tipping Point: China-India Ties for New Order Author: PS Suryanarayana Publisher: World Scientific ISBN: 9789811225819 Price: $88

The book calls for a resetting of the thorny China-India ties

Until the Communists took over China, it lived peacefully with India. That was because neither country posed an existential threat to the other. The Himalayas made sure of that. Nor did either country have any aspirations of world domination. It was alien to their governing philosophies.

But in just 12 years, in 1962, the two countries fought a war in which China defeated a totally unprepared India. Since then they have been skirmishing both militarily and in other ways. But they have also been cooperating when it was expedient.

Then in about 2005 China left India far behind in economic and military power. It also started to flex this power. Everything it does now is underscored by aggression. Cooperation for China means no give, only take.

Now 15 years later, no one has any illusions about China’s ambition to replace the US as the pre-eminent world power, or hegemon, as the Communist term goes. Nor does anyone any longer believe that India can provide a countervailing force by itself. Indeed, according to many, at least as far as India is concerned, it is game, set and match to China.

The India-China Game

Both countries also know this. But both also know that they have to cooperate. So that is how the game is set up, says the author of this meticulously researched book.

It lays out the scene in just enough detail not to become too overwhelming and not to appear shallow. If you are looking for something to refer to get your facts right, this is the book for it.

One of its important merits is that it presents the Chinese point of view without any bias. We get a sense of what China wants without being subjected to needless adjectives. That is, in itself, a huge plus point, though some may feel that China is being given too much benefit of the doubt.

The book relies on official versions and facts so that there is no confusion about the stated aims and objectives of the two countries. This makes its detailed account of the Modi-Xi engagements since 2014 a very useful.

That’s the spirit in which it needs to be read.

Thus, to quote, “PRC is eager to shape a ‘global community of shared destiny’. This is what President Xi Jing Ping has said in 2020. His avowed aim is to create a new international structure, meaning make China the country that makes the rules for the others.”

The author thinks this is a legitimate goal. After all, why should the West have all the fun?

Meanwhile, India…

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, says the author, agrees with this objective but also says India wants “reformed multilateralism”. This is code for China can’t replace the US as the Big Chief. India would like to play an equal role, too.

But how is this to be done when it is lagging so far behind China? The author, in a chapter called ‘Towards a Post-Modern Order’, says he is looking for the tipping point that will enable “concerted Sino-Indian diplomacy for a new world order.”

He starts by saying that at present the India-China relationship is marked more by differences, disputes, hostilities and aggressive conduct. The first step therefore has to be to reverse all this and become good boys.

But who will take the lead in starting on a clean slate? This is the million dollar question on which the author is unable to offer much guidance. This is because he fails to distinguish adequately between China before Xi Jingping and China under him. The two are as different as chalk and cheese. Xi is not interested in cooperation except from a platform of entitlement. This is one of the two central weaknesses of this book.

The other weakness is the reluctance to discuss China’s vulnerabilities.. Their number beggars belief. China hides them but for how long? It can’t feed itself, for one thing; it doesn’t have its own energy, for another. And so on.

Finally, I will end this review with that famous dialogue from the film Deewar where Amitabh Bachchan boasts he has wealth and asks his brother what he has. The brother replies, “I have mother.”

Well, India has democracy; China doesn’t. In the end that’s what will count. Sadly, in the index at least, the term is not listed. If it is in the text, I must have missed it.

My apologies to the author.

The reviewer is a senior Delhi-based journalist

Published on May 02, 2021

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