Everything in India seems to revolve around the TV today. News channels in particular seem to believe that they are running the country. On TV, isolated incidents of violence are made to seem like precursors to World War III. Images are manipulated to create new truths and lies are peddled to give a sense of being powerful.
For some time now, China too has been subjected to these forces when it comes to representation in the mainstream media. In midst of the discourse of virulent nationalism, China can’t help but be the big bad dragon that is out to destroy India. It haunts the popular imagination in the form of an omnipresent threat.
Whenever a skirmish erupts between India and China, TV news channels begin flashing terrifying visuals frenziedly, enough to convince anyone watching that a war is imminent and India is sure to seek revenge from China for the humiliating defeat of 1962.
China is Not an Eternal Enemy
But there are truths beyond the TV screen. China is neither a terrifying dragon, nor a sworn enemy like Pakistan.
Communist leader Mao is reported to have told his commanders during the 1962 war that India and China are not made for “eternal war” and neither can the two maintain long-term enmity.
When India suffered a defeat at the hands of China in 1962, Mao had indicated that peaceful discussion between the two nations could finally begin, now that their military action had forced India to arrive at the negotiating table.
The war broke out at a time when the “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” sentiment was at its peak. Pandit Nehru and Mao were good friends as well. Trouble erupted when India agreed to provide refuge to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s religious leader.
Many political experts argue that the point of the war was not to conquer India but to send us a message that peaceful relations with neighbouring China could be maintained only by keeping in mind their interests. These experts assert that China could have easily seized significant areas of India in the war, but they chose not to so that their message could register loudly and clearly.
China is NOT Pakistan
Today, once again, the Dalai Lama has become a bone of contention between the two. In the light of his visit to Arunachal Pradesh, China has after many years threatened India with military retribution. Chinese media is rife with venomous tirades against India; the situation seems explosive. Is India ready for this? Can we truly withstand a war with China?
In our dealings with China, we should remember two things. One, it is not Pakistan. It is one of the biggest superpowers in the world today, second only to USA. Its annual growth rate might be slow, but there is no comparing the military and financial capabilities of India and China. We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that China’s slow GDP growth indicates weakness.
In my opinion, the growth spurt that China experienced after 1978 is now being slowed down. Xi Jinping is dedicating all his energies towards economic reforms and long-term growth to ensure China’s status as a global power. Those who say that democracy is not a part of China’s tradition and that such forces will ultimately destabilise its economy, are perhaps not familiar with Chinese history.
History of Transition
China was a very prosperous nation prior to the industrial revolution in the West. Its vast network of sea routes put it ahead of its western counterparts. In 1820, in fact, China’s share of world GDP rose to 30 percent, making it a wealthier nation than USA and Europe combined.
China has always considered itself the epicentre of global concerns, even christening itself the “Middle Kingdom”.
This historic consciousness of tradition-bound China makes it a class apart. Jiang Zemin, who took over the reins of China after Mao and Deng, spoke not just about economic progress, but socialist spiritual civilisation as well.
Zemin took up the legacy of Deng and propagated his ideas on this count with renewed enthusiasm. Zemin wanted to reawaken China’s sense of its history by tying tradition to economic advancement.
It will be good to remember that while India engaged in multiple battles over the past half-century as geopolitical conflicts played out and borders shifted, China was able to maintain absolute peace within its territory.
After 1912, China’s last dynasty, the Qing, was replaced and the country suffered a civil war until 1949. As such, China’s history is not one of great political instability.
China’s quick, peaceful transition from Mao to Deng Xiaoping, from communism to capitalism is unparalleled in world history. For precisely these reasons, India, with its TRP-nationalism, should proceed with extreme caution when dealing with its mighty neighbour.
Conflict With China Will Derail India’s Economy
Second, the era of cold wars has gone past. Then, the world was divided between the capitalist and communist powers, and their respective allies. India had an understanding with Soviet Russia. Things have changed today vastly. The USSR is no more. Socialism has been replaced by nascent capitalism in Russia, and a thinly disguised dictatorship is in place. India and Russia are allies no longer.
If India takes on China in the hope that it will be aided by Russia, it is severely mistaken. Our relationship with the US has vastly improved, however, it is based primarily on mutual economic interests and other areas of common interest.
Additionally, India is beset with terror threats. The situation in Kashmir is explosive. Pakistan too seems to be using every opportunity to stoke tensions and escalate conflict. There is a new and worrying closeness between China and Pakistan and it would be catastrophic to lock horns with two neighbouring powers at the same time.
In the light of all this, India must carefully consider its relationship with China. India might have made progress by leaps and bounds after 1991, but the state of our economy has been a cause for worry post-2011. India’s GDP growth rate, touted as the fastest in the world, might stand at 8 percent, but the narrative is not uncontested. The numbers after the note ban especially have not been reassuring.
According to a survey, the growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) from January 2015-January 2017 is a mere 1.1 percent. Despite there being 2 crore jobs across eight labour-intensive sectors, only 1.1 lakh new jobs were added between April 2016 and September 2016. There is no significant improvement in the import and export sectors. At a time like this, conflict with China will only serve to derail our economy.
Reaching Out to China
It is true that nationalism has become a prominent force since Narendra Modi came to power, but war is not the only test of a nation’s strength. Patriotism might unite the citizens of a country but its energies need to be harnessed, lest it channels itself into hostility against perceived threats. The Dalai Lama is our revered guest and a spiritual leader. India has already waged a war and suffered a defeat due to him. It is not ready for another and neither its citizens.
Our focus should be diverted towards maintaining peace with China and improving trade relations. Exchange of ideas and diplomatic visits should continue even during tense situations. India and China are super economies in the making; their combined force can forge new beginnings in the brave new world.
The West, the traditional stronghold of power, is going through a crisis of politics and culture and this is the perfect opportunity for India and China to wrest control. It is time we moved beyond petty TV debates to capitalise on that front.
Also Read: Boxing It In: China’s Approach to India
(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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