Time to be Tough with China

Even before the ink of the Goa declaration dried, Chinese made a drastic U-turn in striking down Prime Minister Modi’s reference to Pakistan as “Mothership of terror”. By glaringly hyphenating Bharat and Pakistan as victims of terror, China deliberately down played Bharatiya concerns. While China’s volte-face on issues crucial to Bharat are not new, its tacit support is emboldening Pakistan’s unrelenting pursuit of inflicting damage to Bharat. With cross-order terrorism and unceasing infiltration across LoC reaching newer heights, China’s reluctance to incorporate cross-border terrorism perpetrated by Pakistan in the Goa Declaration validates its complicity.

Prime Minister Modi in a bid to propel Bharat’s growth trajectory invested tremendous efforts in resurrecting ties with Pakistan and China in the last two years. But both neighbors, the thickest of friends, overpowered by antipathy towards Bharat had responded inimically. China is now propping up Pakistan to keep Bharat preoccupied with unrest and cross border tensions so that New Delhi’s ambitions of emerging as a potential regional counter balance to Beijing are thwarted.

Propping up Pakistan

In recent years, China is currently luxuriating in the huge bilateral trade deficit with Bharat largely in its favor. While ensuring its economic and trade investment interests are least hurt, Beijing is draining Bharatiya energies by buttressing Pakistan. With Pakistan factor looming large, PM Modi met President Xi Jinping along the margins of BRICS 2016 summit. China’s implacable attitude and obduracy are now denting Bharatiya interests.

China’s rigidity in stalling Bharat’s NSG membership despite repeated pleas for consideration at various levels and contentious vetoing of ban on Masood Azhar by the UNSC 1267 Sanctions committee have irked Bharat. On September 30th, China extended technical hold on proposed UN sanctions on Azhar. It was the 5th time China tried to block Bharat’s UN resolution since September 2014. China has also paralyzed Bharatiya efforts to proscribe United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin, the principal orchestrator of Kashmir insurgency. It shielded Pakistan from censure for freeing LeT commander Lakhvi and for averring on probing sources of finance to Hafiz Saeed, master mind of 26/11.

All these attempts unequivocally make China complicit in Pakistan’s terror strikes which left 19 soldiers dead recently at Uri. While nations defended Bharat’s right to self-defense for launching surgical strikes on terror launch pads across LoC, China supported Pakistan’s position on Kashmir and raised doubts about Bharatiya claims of strikes. It expressed concerns over Bharat’s decision to completely seal the western border by 2018. China’s decision to block the tributary of Brahmaputra, Xiabu originating in Tibet from flowing into Bharat citing construction of the most expensive Lalho hydroelectric power project, undermining the interests of the lower riparian states, has now sparked new tensions.

Modi in a bid to end the diplomatic unease, during his bilateral talks with Xi at Goa, raised several issues where combating terrorism dominated the agenda. While Modi tweeted, that talks were fruitful, China’s quick reversal of stand on terror clearly indicated that Beijing connives Pakistani perfidy. As opposed to its much-touted peaceful rise policy, China’s egregious and ambitious accretion is tremendously changing global geopolitics. The rapid rise of China has perceptibly changed the dynamics of the region. China’s footprint is growing in the subcontinent, eventually boxing Bharat. With its deep pockets, China foreclosed Bharat’s efforts of strengthening trade and bilateral relations with its neighbors. China’s expanding presence in Bharat’s immediate vicinity is now truly intimidating.

Before landing in Goa for the BRICS summit, President Xi in his brief stopover at Dhaka extended $25 billion credit line which pales Bharat’s $2 billion pledged by Modi last year. China has carefully revived Sonadia port project with Bangladesh. Apart from the Colombo port and Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, this Bangladeshi port off the Bay of Bengal coast suffices China’s aspirations of gaining access to Bharat’s sphere of influence. China’s overwhelming influence in Maldives is well documented. By earning Afghanistan’s confidence through arms delivery and military aid, China is slowly roping in Bharat’s traditional friend. Recently, China has pledged to Nepal to modernize its Army and disaster management systems, and proposed enhanced security cooperation. A plausible agreement over extension of the rail line between Xigaze (Tibet) to Nepal border under Trans-Himalayan Railways connectivity reinforces penetrating influence of China in Bharat’s backyard.  With its iron brother, Pakistan, China is already escalating trouble in Bharat. All these developments forebode Bharat’s notion of South Asia and Indian Ocean as its natural sphere of influence.

Dynamic Strategic Alignments

Burgeoning hostilities between the West and Russia are forcing Moscow to enter the Chinese orbit. China is also emerging as an indispensable partner of Russia for development in Arctic Region. In fact, Russia under China’s duress omitted any references to Pakistan based or cross-border terrorism or state-sponsored terror in Goa declaration. It must be remembered that China’s implicit leverage to North Korea flared up tensions in North Asia.

In the meanwhile, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s gesture of extending hand of friendship to China, downgrading military ties with US, has come as a shot in the arm for Chinese claims in SCS (South China Sea). Addressing officials in Beijing, Duterte had perceptibly mellowed Philippines position on Scarborough Shoal and enthusiastically reached a consensus on joint exploration of resources in South China Sea (SCS). Beijing suitably rewarded Duterte’s announcement of separation from US, both militarily and economically, on its turf by pledging $13.5 billion deals to Philippines. Earlier in 2012, Philippines pulled up China for taking control over Scarborough Shoal to International Court of Justice, Hague. Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) thrashing claims of China over territorial formations upheld Philippines claims. Disconcerted China refused to accept the judgement inviting the censure of the West.

Though China’s smaller ASEAN neighbors in SCS are miffed by Chinese claims, ASEAN meet failed to issue a statement on SCS as the resolution was blocked by Cambodia. Reciprocating Cambodia’s support, China generously signed over 30 cooperative agreements in areas of agriculture, infrastructure, investment and economy, besides promising $600 million in aid towards Cambodia’s election, health and education. Swelling Chinese hegemony and its unprecedented penetration into various regions clearly reflects its veritable obsession to wield power.

China’s efforts to destabilize Bharat

Within South Asia region, while the material indices gap between Bharat and Pakistan are at an all time high with Bharatiya GDP now almost 10 times that of Pakistan, Chinese backing invigorates Islamabad to challenge Bharat’s influence. As a matter of fact, a debt-ridden Pakistan gives a greater leeway to China to strategically penetrate it. Bharat’s concerns of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) passing through its legitimate territory are truly genuine. While China made rapid forays into Bharatiya territory way back in 1970s through construction of Karakoram Highway, now under the ruse of CPEC, China is deploying troops in Gilgit-Baltistan region.

China has indeed left no stone unturned to destabilize Bharat. Evidences suggests that China dispatches arms to Bharatiya rebels through Myanmar. China intermittently launches cyber-attacks and hacks strategically important Bharatiya portals. It tried every trick in the book to keep Bharat off-balance to capitalize on its asymmetrical advantages. China is now contemplating use of water as political tool. Before Communist regime China had 22 dams, now it has over 85,000 dams both big and small. Beijing, known for its infrastructure building prowess, is now planning to construct 14 dams along Brahmaputra. It has targeted rivers originating in Tibet and Xinjiang region – Arun, Indus, Sutlej, Irtysh, Illy Amur and Salween but flowing into Bharat, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Russia and Myanmar. China is not shying away from playing water politics if needed.

Recent announcement of Renminbi’s inclusion in the elite global reserve currency club is now boding well for China’s growing economic clout. Aside its rapid rise, now Chinese ideology is slowly becoming inimical to Bharat’s domestic arena. Beijing’s objections to US Ambassador Richard Verma’s visit to attend the Tawang festival at Arunachal Pradesh recently demonstrates China’s obstinacy towards false territorial claims.

Burgeoning Congeniality between Communists and Islamists

Waving of the Chinese and Pakistani flag in Kashmir Valley after the Friday prayers coinciding with President Xi’s visit to Bharat is an alarming development. Pakistan flags have made their entry into the valley several decades back. But the appearance of Chinese flags as a solidarity is indeed a dangerous precedent. While the new development is orchestrated by Pakistan, it testimonies growing congeniality of Jihadists and Communists. With Communists and Jihadists working hand in glove in the Kashmir valley, why would China not veto Bharat’s attempts to ban Azhar at the UN.

In February 2016, Bharat witnessed brewing anti-national rhetoric with JNU at the helm of affairs heralding a new moment of fondness between Islamists and Communists. Now, after the Uri attacks, the indifferent response of Communist lobbies towards Bharat’s retaliatory surgical strikes and their overdrive pushing Bharat for talks with Pakistan reflects the obvious. Recent arrest of over 10 Naxalites who were planning attacks in Delhi by the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) in Noida, sums it all. Clearly, a coordinated network of anti-nationals is tearing the nation asunder. Till now Bharatiya media has significant chunk of Pakistan sympathizers, now China backers are making their way into main stream media unabashedly playing a pro-China card. This quick turn of events is truly alarming and demands immediate attention of various strata of Bharatiya administration.

Way Forward

Clearly apart from the border disputes, Bharat and China have several outstanding issues to sort out.  An economically strong and resilient Bharat can alone circumvent the overwhelming influence of China. The panacea of all strategic aliments afflicting Bharat lies in sturdy economic growth and development. Bharat in its attempts to tame the prodigal Dragon must press the right levers of Tibet and Xinjiang to its advantage. Earlier this year, Bharat withdrew a visa issued to Uighur activist Dolkun Isa for the fear of political reprisals from China. But now, Bharat displayed some mettle by consenting to allow Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh next year in March.

Despite Bharat’s largesse towards China in recommending it for the UNSC permanent membership and later helping it get entry into WTO, China never reciprocated. China is now building several multilaterals institutions like Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), New Development Bank and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Bharat lent its support to all these frameworks. In return, China never supported Bharat’s bid for an extended UNSC, stalled NSG membership, vetoed Azhar’s ban, capitalized on Bharat-Pakistan disputes and propped up Pakistan to expedite its anti-Bharat agenda.

China unequivocally questions Bharat’s growing closeness with US invoking threat of regional imbalances even as it continues to extend its tentacles into Bharat’s neighborhood. With every passing year, bilateral trade is drifting largely in favor of China reducing Bharat to a supplier of raw materials and a dump yard for low quality Chinese products. Bharat must evolve a policy whereby trade deficits can be reduced. With potential to grow faster and by providing free access to a 1.3 billion strong market, Bharat can’t afford to remain hamstrung. While Beijing voices concerns about Bharat-Vietnam collaboration to explore oil in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in SCS, Delhi is expected to remain a mute spectator even as China explores Bharat’s legitimate territory in PoK for economic gains.

Delhi should now support Pakistan lawmakers who expressed concerns over CPEC as “another East India Company in offing” and worried that CPEC is now aided by local financing instead of Chinese funding. China is capitalizing on Bharatiya deficiencies. Delhi has a poor reputation of delaying foreign projects. Bharat should shed the laggard image and proactively engage with neighboring countries in collaborative projects assuring timely completion of projects. Alternatively, it can competitively bid for infrastructure projects in immediate neighborhood with like-minded partners like Japan. Above all, it is time to hone diplomatic skills invoking the incisive Chanakya’s Raja Mandala theory of hard diplomacy and steer the economy by implementing tough economic reforms.

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About the Author

Ramaharitha Pusarla
Ramaharitha Pusarla is a molecular biologist by training living in New Delhi. She is an active blogger, avid reader and passionately curious about latest developments in the World. She writes on foreign affairs, contemporary issues, politics, environment, travelogues, sports, and science. She has contributed articles to various newspapers, magazines and websites.