India’s China policy is defensive and lacks clarity

NS Venkataraman

NS Venkataraman

By NS Venkataraman

CHENNAI, India, 30 August 2020

Speaking in a meeting on 28 August 2020, India’s External Affairs Minister has said that “realism should shape India’s China policy”. He further said that India’s China policy will be “critical to India’s prospects” and will require “going beyond traditional assumptions”.

One really would not understand what the External Affairs Minister means by this statement, which obviously lacks clarity. When every Indian is wondering how India will tackle China’s aggressive postures, the utterances of India’s External Affairs Minister give an impression of indulging in an academic exercise in a debating forum. Probably one can understand if a professor or a retired diplomat would make such a statement, which would be read as a statement of no consequence and would simply be noted as the viewpoint of a thinker and an intellectual. Should the External Affairs Minister sound like an academician?

What is conspicuous about the speech of the External Affairs Minister is that he has not condemned China clearly for its aggression against India. Obviously, he wants to make a soft speech that would not hurt China. Would such an approach of the External Affairs Minister help India’s cause in dealing with an aggressive China?

In the past, China has not concealed its intentions to belittle India at every opportunity. It claims India’s province Arunachal Pradesh as its own. It is holding thousands of kilometres of Indian territory that it occupied after the 1962 war. China gleefully accepted the disputed land in Kashmir from Pakistan (which increasingly appears to be a subordinate nation to China) and is constructing its projects in the Kashmir region that Pakistan gifted away. Repeatedly, China has blocked India’s attempts to condemn the dreaded terrorist in the United Nations. Above all, China recently entered into a war with India in May 2020, when 20 Indian soldiers were killed by the Chinese army.

In such circumstances, when the External Affairs Minister has said that “realism should shape India’s China policy”, one cannot but think that it was the similar policy adopted by the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, when he refrained from protesting when China occupied Tibet and massacred large numbers of Tibetan protesters.

One gets the impression that for the last several decades China has been taking India for granted, and has never considered India as an honourable neighbouring country whose sentiments should be respected.

After the recent attack by China in the month of May, there has been expectation in India that the present Indian government would do everything possible to ensure that China would give up its anti-India posture. Certainly, appeasing China or adopting a soft policy towards China will not make China behave better.

Of course, India has taken some steps recently to restrict China’s investment and trade in India, but this appears to be more of a cosmetic strategy, since it will not have any significant adverse impact on China’s large economy. Indian government has also taken measures to strengthen Indian military, expecting that India may have to face war at two fronts, against Pakistan and China, at the same time, as both these countries share common enmity and hatred towards India.

What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that India has not condemned China’s actions in Hong Kong, where it is severely suppressing the freedom movement. China is threatening Taiwan all the time and India has not expressed its concern about this. China’s aggression in the South China Sea is watched by India silently.

China’s occupation of Tibet for several decades now has not been directly or indirectly challenged by India. On the other hand, India seems to be taking excessive care not to displease China, by not openly recognizing His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s role as an apostle of peace. It is shocking that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is known to be very communicative, has not cared to greet His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his birthday this year.

One wonders whether India’s External Affairs Minister wants to buy peace with China at any cost. His cautious statement that “realism should shape India’s China policy” makes one suspect that he believes that peace with China could be bought by appeasement.

Until China mend its ways and gives up its aggressive postures, India has to necessarily oppose China in every forum. This is the only language that China can understand.

Several countries in the world are now realizing the need to contain China and defeat its expansionist ambitions. As a country sharing a border with China, India is a victim of China’s aggression. Perhaps one country which has suffered more than India due to China’s ruthless policies and conduct is Tibet.

One cannot but wonder why India hesitates to reverse its earlier counterproductive policy of approving China’s occupation of Tibet, and to voice its concern about the present plight of Tibet and stress the need for Tibet liberation. The voice of India will be heard in the world and China cannot but take note of it.

What has India to fear about China, when China has already done the worst damage to India in several ways? There is no need for India to be afraid of China’s military strength. In the unfortunate event of war taking place, it certainly would not be a one-sided affair, and the world cannot afford to see China overwhelming India in a military confrontation.

India’s China policy as indicated by India’s External Affairs Minister is causing confusion and uncertainty about India’s determination to stand up to an aggressive China. The speech of the India’s External Affairs Minister reinforces this confusion.

Soft-pedalling the China issue by India will only please China and noone else. To do this is not in India’s interest. It is not in the interest of world peace either, as it is now clearly evident that China’s expansionist ambition is a clear threat to world peace.

About the author

NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.

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