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To deal with China, India needs to return to strategic fundamentals

  Mar 27, 2017

To deal with China, India needs to return to strategic fundamentals

India’s ties with China are seemingly becoming more complicated by the day. Despite the dialogue held recently at the strategic level, the continuing stalemate over both the proposal at the UN to designate JeM Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist and India’s entry into the NSG are visibly deepening suspicions that may snowball into other areas where the two countries entertain misgivings about each other.

Other critical issues are:
Way forward
 
Countering Indian tactical moves
Both New Delhi and Beijing are deeply aware about the need to reset the terms of engagement. There is a need to move away from the current “disjointed approach” to pursuing a deeper strategic model of engagement in order to start the process of building trust. But the attempts of both countries to do so has faltered over differing perceptions and political signals on what ‘strategic dialogue’ actually implies.

Strategic
Top-down waterfall approach
The fact that India and China never tried to evolve a framework to guide their relationship ever since the 1954 Treaty of Panchsheel became redundant after 1962 remains a deficiency. A good example to emulate is the top-down waterfall approach, espoused by Russia and China to lower tensions between them which led to the desired windfall results in the last two decades. In fact, the old Indo-Soviet model was not a bad sustainable strategic tie, though the context in which it was framed was different.

Signals
The problem is that India lacks Sinologists to read the Chinese mind. It hasn’t invested enough in developing a hard understanding of Chinese historical, political and economic system, as compared to the kind of efforts made to learn about the Western world. This leads us to understand China the way we want to understand it. We always want our signals to be perceived by the Chinese in the manner in which we want them to be perceived. In contrast, the Chinese claim their 2,000-year long experience of understanding the Indian mind, style of thinking and their moves. As a result, signals sent by the Chinese do not often come out clearly to us.
 
Faulty Indian approach
India and China have their own historical points of connections. They needn’t look for new symbolisms. In fact, minus the superficial rift, the ground is extremely fertile for a strong understanding to grow.

Embracing the reality
Instead, India should seek to reconcile with China, though, of course, without compromising on its core interests. It is time to engage in a dialogue process not just for enhancing strategic trust but also to think more cunningly about how to benefit from China’s riches, by gaining access to Chinese credit and technology, and securing markets for Indian products. Of course, the Chinese also need to reformulate their thinking on the nature of India’s rise in the system.
Realistically speaking, we should not find too ominous China’s rise and its assertion. Its rise is no different from the rise of other major powers like the US, USSR and even Great Britain in the past. It is possible that future rising powers, including India, might have to assert in a similar manner for achieving their strategic objectives. But for India to emerge as a global power of any reckoning, it has to start realizing that a narrow tactical pursuit devoid of strategic thinking will lead to nowhere.
We need to reframe our terms of relationship with China; rethink our own posture; rescue ourselves from experiencing a delusion of grandeur and instead persevere to emerge as a confident and aspiring regional power.