China will be an ongoing challenge for the Indian foreign and security policy establishment. Its hegemonistic ambitions are clearly evident from the fact that its territorial ingress and disputes are with more countries than it shares a border with.
After the perfidious war of 1962, India became wiser and focussed on creating stronger defences against Chinese designs which have become far more robust during the past few years as greater focus on creating state of the art border infrastructure and quick response mechanisms have been created.
The unwritten peace for decades broke down when Galwan happened in 2020. But India’s firm and determined counter-action and eyeball-to-eyeball response made Beijing pause and think if it could push its luck further.
Despite India and China cooperating in multilateral and regional formats like G20, SCO, BRICS and RIC and even 18-19 meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping, the loud and clear message was conveyed that border incursions and nefarious designs on India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will not be tolerated at any cost.
As India prefers dialogue and Diplomacy and perhaps China would also not like to indulge in foolhardy and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) syndrome, painfully slow border talks and discussions in the WMCC have continued to contain the situation from further escalation. Even then repeat incursions in Tawang and psyops in Arunachal and elsewhere have continued unabated but have met with a firm responses.
India has followed a policy of Competition with Cooperation, but China has added another C of Containment of India through its ‘String of Pearls strategy, Belt and Road Initiative and pivoting an unstable Pakistan and its terrorist designs against India.
The iron-clad Sino-Pakistan nexus will be a profound challenge that would have to be understood and factored into India’s proactive, comprehensive response, including a readiness to confront a two-front war, if imposed. With Indo-Pacific emerging as a new theatre of Sino-US competition, India’s maritime power and prowess, especially in the Indian Ocean, will come under stress.
It is imperative that the SAGAR doctrine and Indian Ocean initiatives will need to be further accentuated as the relationships with other major powers in QUAD and other formats provide greater heft to Indian response potential in the event of her interests are challenged by the Chinese hegemonistic ambitions.
Like rest of the world, India’s trade and economic engagement has moved apace crossing over $125 bn with huge trade deficit in China’s favour with critical dependencies still inherent which would need to be addressed both through futuristic policy refinements in a dynamic manner and alternate credible partnerships to enable India to be a trusted part of the global and regional value and supply chains.
India has taken some actions like banning apps and calibrating the FDI and FII policies with regard to China. Beijing, despite having a five times larger economy, considers India a credible competitor of consequence and hence wishes to undermine and contain it within the neighbourhood and its Asian periphery.
But India does not seem to mind this challenge and is ready to accept it head-on since the world is its oyster. The G20 Summit expanse, Vaccine Maitri, growing soft power, increasing hard power, top performing fifth largest economy and functional largest democracy or even mother of democracy and becoming a Voice of the Global South as well as her strategic autonomy and leadership in fighting injustice, climate change and terrorism have added up to make India a global power to be reckoned with in every major strategic calculation and announcements and explicit recognition of this fact by major global powers.
One area in which China has mastered is the art of deception and ‘Grey Zone’ and disinformation campaigns and warfare which would pose India a major challenge going forward especially as it enters the election year. Hence it is essential to have a proactive, dynamic and comprehensive communication strategy with sharpened toolkits.
Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar has often reiterated that while border tensions continue, “business as usual” can’t be the model for interaction with Beijing. His 3Ms prescription of Mutual Respect, Mutual Interest, and Mutual Sensitivity could provide the matrix going forward provided Beijing is on board – which is unlikely as the global order remains in transition. Caution is the buzzword and capacity to inflict costs is a way out.
This article was first published in DaijiWorld.com as The Chinese challenge and India’s growing global clout on April 16, 2023.
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