By Lt Gen A B Shivane (retd)
Last few days have witnessed geo-political developments politically, economically and militarily inimical to a belligerent Dragon. France extended ‘steadfast & friendly’ military support to India amid Line of Actual Control (LAC) tensions with China. US and Germany blocked China's move in United Nation Security Council (UNSC) on Terrorist attack on Karachi Stock Exchange.
US praised India's TikTok ban and other Chinese Apps. UK offered citizenship to 2.6 million Hong Kong people. US banned Huawei for links to Communist Party of China. Russia agreed for timely delivery of S-400 to India. US plans to train fighter pilots of India, Japan, Australia in Guam Island amid China’s growing belligerence in Indo-Pacific- a launchpad for future aerial attacks on China.
Myanmar called out China for arming terror groups as a bargaining chip for smooth implementation of Belt and Road Initiative projects. Pakistan moved additional troops to Gilgit Baltistan proving the evil nexus of revisionism to the world.
For the first time since the Hong Kong protests broke out last year, India spoke out at the United Nations Human Rights Council and said the relevant parties should address the issues ‘properly, seriously and objectively’. This is being seen as a retaliatory step in terms of reputational cost to Beijing, after India inflicted symbolic economic cost by banning Chinese mobile apps.
Things have just about begun for the dragon and its pawns, with these curtain raisers. Many more will follow inevitably, on a multi-front, multi-domain platform. Indeed enjoy the new international strategic episode, ‘Enter the Dragon’s Nightmare’.
In the meantime, Indian Foreign Policy and outlook to China merits a review in this volatile geo political times. Is the world heading for a new Cold War and if so what are the strategic options for India? Strategically, we cannot have a new possible power block of Russia-China-Pakistan-Afghanistan(?)-Iran(?)- North Korea(??), emerging inimical to our national security interests.
Neither can we shy away from our converging strategic security interests with USA and RIM nations in the Indo-pacific. India must thus balance and endeavour to improve its regional and global linkages, and dependencies based on multilateral alignments, foundational on common regional and global concerns.
India also needs to focus more upon its periphery i.e. the South Asian region too. It has lost many opportunities historically and the Chinese have filled up that void. Today when India has the necessary capabilities and means to do so, it must deliver and use them efficiently. It can ill afford to lose its dwindling ‘Strategic Space’ in the neighbourhood.
In the larger perspective of geopolitics, challenge for India is that our economic interests are with West but arms supply interests with Russia and Israel. Our Forex reserves have 500 billion not because of Russia but Indians in West and Middle East sending money back home. Strategically balancing Russia a trusted friend and USA a new found bonhomie based more on common threats, is the foreign policy challenge.
We need our trusted friend and the least a neutral Russia. Given Russia’s strategic concerns and economic revival focus, India needs to realise Russia’s current predicament and its limitations. Russia can thus be expected to be neutral nudging China and India to resolve the crisis through negotiations. India-China conflict is not in Russia's interests as it pushes India in a closer embrace with US and NATO. India too needs Russia as much as Russia needs India.
We also need to simultaneously build up strategic partnership with USA based on mutual benefit and give more teeth to arrangements like QUAD. If India in the current scenario fails to counter Dragon’s influence in the wider Indo-pacific region by using platforms such as Quad, it would forgo a golden opportunity and compromise its national interests.Thus geo-strategical balancing and geo-economic leveraging, must be based on a long term strategic vision, aimed at Strategic Autonomy complemented by multilateral and bilateral mutually beneficial partnerships.
Now comes the issue of multi front, multi domain challenges of the 21st Century. If India faces binary pull, the dilemma is greater for China. Chinese fault lines must be exploited to keep alive its greatest multi-front security dilemma. The world also needs to leverage Dragon’s contradictions / weakness to its advantage in an active and incremental manner as a counter to the proverbial Chinese “Salami Slicing”.
These include its vulnerabilities in South China Sea and Indo Pacific, debt diplomacy crippling foreign economies, atrocities in Xinjiang province, Pak-China-North Korea evil nexus, human rights violations, socio-economic disparity with Han dominated mainland and under privileged hinterland, greying population, playing Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan card, CPEC vulnerabilities and now the Wuhan virus.
The situation can be made grimmer for the Chinese, including tail twisting the Dragon’s role in UNSC and other global organisations. Trade is another weapon though double edged, and thus requires collective effort, economic resilience, decisive leadership and graduated complementary approach seeking alternate solutions. But it is something that would result in ‘hurting without fitting’ if not ‘winning without fighting’.
The reality of geo-politics is that, there are no interests but self-interests.; so all nations pursue alignments to suit their national interests foremost, as part of global commons. Thus in the long term India need’s a strategic vision based on strategic autonomy along with strategic multilateral and bilateral arrangements, which further our national interests.
Indeed interesting times for Chanakya Niti and not just ‘Taming the Dragon’, but grabbing the opportunity for India’s rightful place in the comity of nations. The world today needs India more than ever before. Every adversity is accompanied by a fleeting opportunity which must be exploited for India’s long term national interests. India needs a strategic vision, above short sighted petty politics. Indeed, “Nation Above All and India Circa 2050 Above All”.
Finally Indian traditional wisdom in the verse ‘Vinaash Kaale Vipareet Buddhi’ - “As doom approaches, intellect works against (his/her) best interest”. Indeed time for the Dragon to dance the Kung-Fu of its own doom. India needs to play the orchestra well.
*Author is Indian Army veteran. Views expressed here are personal.