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View: Why India should have a ‘tit-for-tat’ approach with China

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View: Why India should have a 'tit-for-tat’ approach with China 1

By Omkar Goswami

After the Soviet Union’s demise, China has had an unambiguous view that there will be only two global superpowers, China and the US, in that order. Over the last three decades, it has singularly worked at making this a reality. Consider two sets of facts.

First, GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) measured in current prices, culled out from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook. In 1980, China’s was at $304 billion. Believe it or not, India’s was 26% higher at $383 billion. Fast forward to 2019. China’s GDP (at PPP) in current prices was $27.3 trillion, which was almost 2.5 times that of India’s at $11 trillion. In plain English, we meandered along while China raced ahead.

Second, examine military expenditure at current prices, which is from the World Bank. In 1990, China’s was $10.1billion. Ours was mildly larger at $10.5 billion. By 2018, China’s annual military spend had risen to $250 billion, which was 3.75 times ours at $66.5 billion. Simply put, China has leveraged its stupendous economic growth over the last three decades to build a modern military juggernaut that is by far the largest in Asia, and the second largest in the world after the US.

China has been strategically encircling India. It has invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that involves expressways from the Pakistan-China border down to the newly constructed deep-water port of Gwadar in Balochistan. Though the project has been mired with delays and cost overruns, the fact is that when operational, China will have a leased deep-water port in the Persian Gulf. It won’t be only for trade.

Go next to Hambantota on the Indian Ocean. A broke government of Sri Lanka, indebted to the neck thanks to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s never-ending loans from China, was forced to hand over the port and 15,000 acres of surrounding land to China on a 99-year lease. Though meant for civilian use, China will twist Sri Lanka to accede to setting up military and naval facilities, thus having a strategically located port on the Indian Ocean.

Now go up north to Myanmar’s deep-water port of Kyaukpyu or Sittwe. China has built two pipelines for crude oil and for natural gas, running for 771km up the Irrawaddy up to the border at Ruili before turning east to Kunming. The pipelines not only ‘free’ China from potential threats along the Straits of Malacca, but serve to have Myanmar in its pocket.

Then move to the Tibetan plateau. With the Zangmu dam built on the Yarlung Tsangpo, China has reduced the Brahmaputra’s waterflow into India. More dams are in the offing. Moreover, enjoying the advantage of the plateau, China has extended allweather roads right up to its side of the Line of Actual Control (LoAC), built airstrips, and significantly expanded its military presence, especially after the Dokalam stand-off in 2017.

The latest infringement in the Galwan Valley resulting in 20 Indian casualties is not the only one this year. There have been at least six instances of Chinese ingress in Ladakh: at Chushul, Pangong Tso, three in the Galwan Valley and one in the Depsang Plains — where China now occupies the heights looking on to our Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road.

It is difficult to predict whether China will give up all the infringed territories and return to its side of the Lo-AC. I suspect not, especially the newly occupied strategic heights.

This is not a ‘let us test the Indians and then pull back’ exercise. It looks like ‘let us capture key points and hold’. Why? Because Xi Jinping wants to teach India a lesson.

We have rightly stayed away from his ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative. We are a part of the Quad — a strategic information exchange and military cooperation forum between the US, Australia, Japan and India. For all the tête-à-tête between Xi and Narendra Modi, we are not in China’s pocket. Instead, we are a huge bordering nation.

China is not, and will never be, a friend. It is forever a potential enemy. In that context, how should we react? We can’t wish away Chinese imports. But we can certainly cancel Chinese infrastructure projects. We should be ultra-careful about Chinese telecom hardware. We should be on high alert for Chinese hacking. Most importantly, while diplomatically negotiating, we must quickly increase our military resources on the border. That includes rapid air support capabilities, mortars, Howitzers and high-altitude artillery, missile defence systems, and more heavily armed better equipped feet on the ground.

We have the newly formed Mountain Strike Corps. Can we not increase the size of the Corps, and position fully armed advance units nearer the borders? Can we move from purely defending the LoAC to ‘tit-for-tat’? If you ingress, I too will do so at your weak points. Can we see some real action along these lines? Or else we will have to relive the sorry picture of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain alighting from a plane on September 30, 1938 claiming that he had brought ‘peace for our time’. Eleven months later, Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.

The writer is Corporate and Economic Research Group (CERG) Advisory

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