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How to handle a regional bully like China

China has been a regional thorn for India ever since the 1962 war. India took a severe beating (due to Jawahar Lal Nehru’s shortsightedness and the foreign policy ridden with a personal agenda) in that war. India’s military power has improved tremendously since then, but obviously it cannot match China’s might due to its sheer size. China knows this.

Aside from repeatedly crossing the Indo-China border and carrying out various mischieves it has also started to meddle with India’s foreign policy vis-a-vis other regional countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, etc. The recent example is the indirect warning against India’s forays into oil exploration in the South China Sea in collaboration with Vietnam. According to India, ONGC-Videsh (ONGC’s overseas arm) is carrying out its operations fully in compliance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.

This particular problem is not directly related to India because China considers the region being explored as a disputed territory and it is already embroiled in heated exchanges with countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. So India going ahead with collaborative oil exploration means Vietnam taking unilateral decision and asserting its right on the region.

Anyway, this is just one of the issues. China is a tough neighbour to handle. Beyond doubt it is a regional bully and to make the matters worse, it is not even a democracy. It is headed by a communist regime and most of its people (not everybody, understandably) support such a government. It has no interest in establishing and maintaining friendly ties with the country it looks down upon: India. India is an economic competition but more than that it is a nuisance for them simply due to some perverted habit. Pakistan’s hatred towards India can be defined on the canvas of religion and historical references, but China dislikes India just for the heck of it, it seems sometimes. Both the countries have enjoyed historical ties but something happened in 1962 and they were permanently broken.

So how should India handle a neighbour who is not interested in peace and who doesn’t respect you? China is almost double the size of India and nothing can be done about that and this is a reality we have to live with. It is economically stronger, militarily stronger and even its influence on the international politics is much greater than India. China is one of the biggest holders of US debt (the US public debt is 98% of its GDP). There is practically no country in the world that can directly challenge China or come to India’s support due to whatever reason.

I think we should learn a lesson from Pakistan. Despite being comparatively smaller and despite its economy being in total shambles, Pakistan has created a significant deterrence against India. Should India have more nuclear warheads with their nozzles pointing at China? I’m not a military strategist so I don’t know how much of it is going to be effective.

By nature India is not suicidal. India can obliterate Pakistan completely and in retaliation even Pakistan can cause lots of harm to India. In desperation Pakistanis will be okay with the fact that they will be completely destroyed as long as they can inflict a significant wound to India. India on the other hand cannot have similar approach towards China. The Chinese can completely finish off India and India can cause a significant damage to China. Being a country optimistic about its future India will never tread upon such a path.

Similarly, China will be ready to bear significant damage, just like Pakistan, if such a case scenario manifests, as long as it can incinerate the whole of India. As a layperson, I see this as a lose-lose situation. Both Pakistan and China can be reckless and this makes them more dangerous. The only saving grace in the case of Pakistan is perhaps India can contain it before it can launch its nuclear warheads.

Jingoism and filibustering is not going to help. This issue needs a long-term policy. Every problem has a solution and so must this one. I think if India can sort out its massive corruption it can invest a good chunk of that money in defence-related research and development. It desperately needs to upgrade its warheads – on the seas, in the skies and on the ground. It’s high time India stopped purchasing out-of-use or second-hand warheads and started developing its own, targeted versions.

The current political establishment is quite directionless as well as pussilanimous (but then how can you expect the corrupt to have a vision for the country?). People of this country must work towards completely changing the establishment and encouraging people who have a vision and direction. We must have a strong and well-defined foreign policy. We should clearly know how the government is going to respond to unfavourable overtures, physical as well as verbal. We are always reacting and even those reactions are not actually reactions but fumblings. Just like corruption, terrorism, price rise and religious/class conflicts we should choose political parties that have a clear foreign policy agendas. The next time your local politician comes to seek votes, ask him or her, how his or her party plans to handle China?

The solution to China-problem lies more with people of India than building a strong military deterrence (although that too is necessary, but it will happen gradually). China is a real problem gawking at us and challenging us, although we cannot see it directly or experience it immediately. It is like the bull in the china shop and you never know when it will turn violent.