Let’s admit it, China is not our enemy

Uday Balakrishnan | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on December 29, 2016

Enter a new world Prosper with China as a partner REUTERS

Our myopic view of the Asian giant is influenced by western prejudices. China can be a great partner in India’s growth

It is time we Indians did a rethink on China and reconfigured our relations with that country while it is still possible. Unfortunately, we are being driven by an early 20th century mindset, conjured grievances, a sclerotic military-bureaucratic complex and an insecure, anxious West, to confront our largest neighbour and most important trading partner — one that has historically never been our enemy.

In the process, we are not satisfied with effectively shoring up our defences against China, but are also bent on challenging it militarily in our near and extended neighbourhoods.

There is little subtlety in the kind of relations we are trying to forge with Japan or the quasi military cooperation emerging with Vietnam; both are the outcome of our China phobia.

Lately, there is also an overemphasis on an unstated alliance with the United States, a fickle partner in the best of times, and now, with the emergence of Trump, heading into an isolationist hole, compelling countries, especially those in SE Asia to seek individual accommodations of their own with China.

Driving China away

In the process, we are diverting billions, to achieve the impossible and also the most unnecessary — matching China militarily, and geopolitically through a string of measures guaranteed to reinforce a rivalry that is clearly unaffordable and already counterproductive. It should not be lost on us that China is far richer than we are; soon after India announced a $2 billion package for Bangladesh, China committed twelve times that amount.

The lasting outcome of our stand-off against China is to have driven it firmly on to Pakistan’s side. That is something we must do everything possible to reverse. It is bad enough to have one enemy at the gate, it is positively foolhardy to persist with two, especially when one of them need never have been our foe in the first place, and can be our friend again.

It also makes abundant sense for us to join hands with China to make for durable peace — surely even with Pakistan — and accelerate development in our neighbourhood.

This is something the West, directly at war in Afghanistan since 2001, has failed to achieve, despite the enormous cost in human lives and money! The US military expenditure there peaked at around $200 billion in 2008 and continues to be over $50 billion today.

Chinese network

That is the kind of transformational money that China is pouring into the region, building roads, ports and railroads across Asia with results for all to see. The first freight train to Europe was flagged off on its 9,800-km journey to Hamburg in 2015 and another arrived in Tehran earlier this year, covering long distances, through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan from Zhejiang province.

Within the next few years China would have connected by rail and superhighways to all of Asia and be at our doorstep in the East, the West and the North.

It would make abundant economic and commercial and even strategic sense to plug into this network rather than persist with our getting-nowhere efforts to connect to south-east Asia by rail and road.

In fact, feelers for this have been unmistakable coming from China on and off and we should be smart enough to make the best of them rather than feel threatened and besieged.

After Mongolia and Russia, China has its longest border with us and that too in arguably in one of the most geologically challenging parts of the world. The Himalayan glaciers are melting faster than anyone expected them to and our major river systems, on which millions depend, are seriously endangered.

At the end of the day, we need to accept that we can never hope to mitigate the impact of climate change without China’s cooperation. So, what should we do?

For a start, we’d do well to acknowledge that we seriously erred in making an enemy of China in the first place and worse, sustaining the hostility for over a half a century and more.

Now that much of the evidence is in, the 1962 border war with China appears to have been as much our fault as it was China’s — if we are mature enough to accept that. This is not just Neville Maxwell’s view but that of most experts except, unsurprisingly our own.

Going by the border settlements China has arrived at with Russia and Vietnam, a final deal with it should not be bad for us either. All that is possible if we woke up to the realities of geo-politics and displayed a willingness to settle instead of continuing to whip up public opinion against giving up, ‘even an inch of our territory,’ in a possible settlement.

Let’s be partners

We have big lessons to learn from China. It has come out of nowhere to challenge the United States for global supremacy in every area. China’s universities and research establishments are among the very best in the world and it has practically licked the kind of poverty and illiteracy that is endemic in our country. Clearly, those are the areas we need to best China!

Unfortunately, we live in denial about China and refuse to accept how much we stand to gain by actively partnering rather than confronting it. It is no longer news that China is the world’s factory for everything from toys to smart phones and laptops; less well known is the fact that it has quietly overtaken South Korea and Japan as the world’s leading shipbuilder.

China has also has emerged as the global leader in DNA sequencing and is placed only next to the US in nano technology; India by contrast, is placed a lowly seventh.

Utterly lacking in home-grown expertise required to understand China, we continue to see it through western eyes and remain wary of a country that we have less reasons to fear, and many more to partner and ensure that the 21st century witnesses an Indian-Asian miracle and not just a Chinese one.

The writer is visiting faculty at the Centre for Contemporary Studies, Indian Institute of Science-Bangalore

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Published on December 29, 2016
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