The Chinese power and influence is growing in India’s neighbourhood. To the north, garrisons, airfields and missile sites, linked by modern road-rail network, underpin China’s dominant posture on the Tibetan plateau. The Xining-Lhasa rail link is progressing towards Nepal, where China has made significant political inroads.
The Asian giants — China and India — with their economic and military prowess rising, are on a collusion path. Never before, not even during the cold war era, India had faced such a formidable force to contend with. It is for the first time that China — a power outside the Indian subcontinent and the SAARC — is challenging India on many fronts — economic, military and diplomatic. China under Xi Jinping has become more aggressive and ambitious to extend its sphere of influence across the continents.
It is following a policy of encircling India. All the SAARC countries, Afghanistan and Myanmar are getting increasingly dependent on China for economic assistance. The One Belt One Road initiative saw 29 heads of state attending the summit on May 14-15, 2017 in Beijing. China continues to frustrate India on important issues — the Nuclear Supply Group membership and designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed as a terrorist — besides blocking its claim for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
The Chinese power and influence is growing in India’s neighbourhood. To the north, garrisons, airfields and missile sites, linked by modern road-rail network, underpin China’s dominant posture on the Tibetan plateau. The Xining-Lhasa rail link is progressing towards Nepal, where China has made significant political inroads. Nepal — the Hindu state that once wanted Pandit Nehru to take over — is sitting on the lap of China. To our east, China’s Yunnan province is gaining access to the Bay of Bengal via rail, highway and pipeline, linking it to the deep-water port being built by China at Kyaukpyu in Myanmar. To the south, China has built a new harbour in Hambantota and modernised Colombo port. All these ports could provide bases to ships and submarines deployed in the Indian Ocean.
India suffers huge trade deficit with China, increasing over the years: from $38.7 billion in 2012-13 to $51 billion during 2016-17. One of the reasons for the large deficit is Chinese tariff and non-tariff barriers which constrain Indian exports. And yet India is helplessly watching the Chinese goods flooding the Indian markets and its IT giants doing business here. The Doklam standoff has not resulted in satisfactory solution. Through the Doklam, China seeks to intimidate Bhutan and dissuade it from being depending on India, and gradually bring it under its influence. It is in India’s interest to strengthen economic and security relationships with its neighbours.
The situation in Maldives is disturbing. President Abdulla Yameen’s proximity to China is a matter of concern. A tiny Island nation in the Indian backyard looking to Red China has strategic implications. The traditional Maldives ‘India First’ policy is now being replaced by ‘China First’. Yameen, defying the Supreme Court Order, refusing to release the political prisoners, including the ex-President Mohammed Nasheed, and imposing the emergency, leading to the arrest of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, does not auger well for India. India must explore all possible avenues to restore democracy and normalcy in Maldives before it is too late, ignoring the China’s warning.
Yameen signed a free-trade agreement with China in December last and announced his willingness to allow Chinese warships. China has huge investments in Maldives — the friendship bridge between Male and Hulhule, real estate projects in Huylhumale and Chinese military base in Laamu Atoll — being part of its encirclement policy. China is trying to contain India as a rising regional power. And India must not brink and regain its preeminent position in the archipelago, enjoyed in 1988 when Rajiv Gandhi rescued President Gayoom from the invasion of mercenaries from Sri Lanka.
India looks to the US, Japan and Australia to checkmate the ‘colonial enterprise’ of China. Nevertheless, it is losing its sphere of influence in its neighbourhood. That the heads of ASEAN attended Indian Republic Day parade this year is a good sign of ‘Act-East’ policy. However, it is not able to contain the expansionist designs of China. Today, China is more a threat to India’s security than Pakistan. We must stand up against the Chinese hegemony.
India’s strength lies in its success as the largest democracy in the world, guaranteeing political and civil rights to its people, vis-à-vis China’s totalitarianism that suppresses the people’s rights. Democracy should have an edge over the authoritarian state apparatus. India has the potential of extending its spare of influence through its soft power, like the Bollywood films.
Today, Aamir Khan is the most influential Indian in China. All his films — Lagaan, 3 idiots, Dangal and Secret Superstar — had a runaway success in China. He earned the title of ‘Uncle Aamir’ on Chinese social media. His film Secret Superstar – that portrays the aspiration of a Muslim singer in digital India — has broken all previous records. It has earned a jaw-dropping $46 million within a week of its release in China. The Aamir Khan phenomena could be gauged from an article in the South China Morning Post that compared him to the eras of Buddha and Tagore: “While the Buddha has a long and deep impact across the Himalayas, Rabindranath Tagore’s stories have enthralled Chinese readers since the early 20th century. Most recently, Aamir Khan has drawn a new generation of Chinese fans to the power of India storey telling”. And “following the rousing success in China of his latest movie Secret Superstar, Aamir Khan has entered a rarefied space which is presently reserved for the likes of President Xi Jinping.” His popularity has effectively contributed to countering the negativity in social attitudes towards India as fallout of the Doklam crisis and combating diehard prejudices.
Why not appoint Aamir Khan as India’s brand ambassador to China to reach out to Chinese people and contain China’s aggressive policy? But it is important for Narendra Modi to check the ‘motor mouths’ in his party whose utterances and actions have caused irreparable damage to India’s image abroad. Vinay Katiyar, a senior BJP lawmaker, said recently: “Muslims (who constitute 200 million) should not stay in this country. They should go to Bangladesh or Pakistan…they have no business being in India.” This should have been condemned by Narendra Modi in unequivocal terns and action taken against him if he really means what he says- ‘Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas.’
The writer is a professor of Political Science and retired principal, who published his magnum opus ‘The Trial by Fire: Memoirs of a College Principal’.