Friday, May 31, 2024

China and India


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The past guides us to the present and the future. Too much importance need not be attached to China’s positive signals to India like the planned visit by its foreign minister Wang Yi –after his presence at the Organisation of Islamic Countries meet in Pakistan and a stopover in Kabul. Expectations were that this would lead to a reciprocal visit by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to Beijing and Prime Minister Modi’s participation in the BRICS summit as also a Russia-China-India trilateral on the sidelines. In other words, a thaw in the strained relations between India and China is envisaged.
Wang Yi had visited India in 2019 to readjust bilateral relations a while after China’s 2017 intrusions in Doklam, Bhutan, that was challenged by India. In 2020 came the Chinese attack on the Indian military in a crude manner in Galwan Valley, Ladakh. There have been several incursions from the Chinese side thereafter too. The worst-ever was the Chinese attack on India in 1962, when it annexed large swathes of land along the border regions. It proved to be a low point in then PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership profile. Parts of those could be where “no grass grew” as Nehru sought to play down the loss. During Rajiv Gandhi’s term, China managed to restore relations with India in 1988, based on an understanding that the negatives can wait and the positives should be explored. India thereafter became one of the main markets for low-cost, low-quality Chinese products, a reason why the Indian manufacturing sector lost its energy. With the corrupt systems, the product costs in India remained high, which was Advantage China. No Indian government so far showed the nerve to seek back the lands that China annexed.
Till the turn of the Century, China was on an equal footing with India on matters of economy and military strengths. Today, Chinese strengths in such fields are five times those of India’s. As India now hails its $400 billion export profile, China has seven times this strength. For sure, there is more talk here. However, the Ukraine invasion by Russia showed that even a superpower cannot easily win a war if the rival side too has moderate strengths. With India’s slow economic progress and its decadent governance systems, it will not be easy for this nation to catch up with China’s economic or military might. Yet, China cannot afford to browbeat this country. India, the “beauty being wooed by all” as Xi Jinping once teasingly stated, needs to only know how and when to act.


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