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    View: China’s ominous turn and what it means for India, others

    Synopsis

    How should the world, and particularly India, then view the rise of China? If there was any illusion, it has been shattered by the recent Chinese belligerence against many countries in the Indo-Pacific: India, Australia, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia etc.

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    A file image of J-10 fighter jets of China's People's Liberation Army Air Force
    By Shashi Ranjan Kumar

    The old adage that ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is of course true, but power has many other attributes. For example, it also gives agency to latent human instinct to dominate others.

    Given this, it is surprising that a large number of people including some strategic thinkers still believe that China will be different from the superpowers of yesteryears. Yes, China may not enjoy as much power as the US did in its heydays, but similarly the US never had the kind of hegemony that Great Britain possessed. China’s behaviour may be different because the limits of its power will be circumscribed by a more constraining geopolitical environment, and certainly not due to lack of intention, or even will.

    How should the world, and particularly India, then view the rise of China? If there was any illusion, it has been shattered by the recent Chinese belligerence against many countries in the Indo-Pacific: India, Australia, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia etc. China has abandoned the ‘hide your strength and bide your time’ strategy of Deng and embarked on a path to establish its hegemony more overtly by bending others to its will.

    Its actions now dangerously resemble those of Germany in the early twentieth century, which similarly had discarded Bismarck’s policy of not disturbing the balance of power in Europe in order to preserve peace. During that period, Germany had alarmed Britain by its rapid naval expansion, riled Russia in the Balkans and humiliated France in two Moroccan crises. Germany’s bellicosity had precipitated the events leading to the First World War, the treaty of Versailles and the rise of the Nazis, finally culminating in the Second World War.

    China is also expanding and modernizing its navy at a breath-taking speed; it has already surpassed Japan and is now competing with the US in the Pacific. It has boundary disputes with almost all its neighbours. It has weaponized trade to harass weaker countries and ensnared some of them in debt, forcing them to forfeit part of their sovereignty, but more appallingly, it has securitized the pandemic.

    China shares with Nazi Germany the contempt for unwieldy and fractious democracies and exhibits the traits of a totalitarian state as prescribed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Polish-American political scientist and diplomat. It has crafted a compelling narrative of a century of humiliation to cloak its real intentions. Worse, in a data driven world, China is now extensively using totalitarian technology, which was not available to the Nazis, to control action and behaviour of people.

    Therefore, the conversation about how to live in a world dominated by China has acquired more seriousness in many capitals from Washington to Canberra. Especially in India, the debate about aligning with the US and the consequent loss of strategic autonomy has resurfaced. But is strategic autonomy an absolute concept or is it available only in degrees? When two countries enter into alliance or partnership, they voluntarily undertake to put restrictions on some of their actions in lieu of obtaining greater freedom in some other actions. Surely, in the event of India aligning with the US, it will lose some of the options it could otherwise exercise, but equally, it will gain some other options, which are not available now.

    The key to this calculus is whether India will have a greater degree of freedom in resisting Chinese aggression or not. And the answer to the question is pretty obvious for many reasons.

    First, the US is a distant power with whom we share no boundary while China is breathing down our neck; second, its relative power is declining while China is on the ascendant; third, it is a democratic country with tremendous diversity and shared values; fourth, we have lived with the US as a superpower, and although we have our fair share of complain against it, our sovereignty has never been threatened by the US in the way it has been done by China, without even being a superpower.

    True, the US has sided with Pakistan, but this is partly because we were closer to the Soviet Union while professing to be non-aligned, and of late, Sino-Pakistan axis has done more harm to India’s interest than the American alliance with Pakistan; and finally, we have some ability to influence the polity and society in the US while China is almost a black hole .

    At this moment, it is in the interest of China to keep its opponents divided, a game it is playing rather skilfully by threatening them to desist from entering into an alliance with the US so that it can bully them individually, until it acquires power to challenge them collectively. It has cleverly delegitimized any effort to resist its bullying tactics by terming it as ‘containment’, a terminology from the Cold War era with negative connotation; as if these countries are determined to stymie its rise, whereas in reality they may only be struggling to find a ‘coping mechanism’ to live with dignity.

    It is beyond the capacity of a single country to take on this growing hegemon; the democracies of the world must create a coalition to undertake this task, which has now attained urgency. The more they dither, the greater they will suffer.

    (The writer is an IAS officer and an alumnus of National Defence College. Views expressed are personal)
    (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
    (Catch all the Business News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on The Economic Times.)

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    23 Comments on this Story

    Narasimhan Bangalore21 days ago
    Kannada proverb says” pratykasvadru pramnese nodu” means even it’s visible touch it to verify. Treacherous China can not be trusted because of its past doings. It’s a venomous snake will bite helping hand!
    Krish21 days ago
    I like the article as it exactly reflects my world view for a long time. Alliances are made with those who are willing and India needs to realize that it cannot be a one way street and to our benefits only. A quid-pro-quo is an essential attribute to a true coalition. Time India sheds the Congress legacy and act smart unless it wants to commit harakiri. Krish
    Shyam Koppikar21 days ago
    China is not a country! It is a Nazi parry called CCP , masquerading as country!
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