New Delhi: A lot is being debated and written about India-China conflicts and respective histories based on the Galwan valley violent turmoil of 2020.
But both the Asian giants have typical similarities and distinct differences, and hence an objective comparison makes a lot of sense.
Foremost of all, while India is a democracy, China has all along pursued an authoritarian regime. In political science, academicians and experts say those who cling to absolute power end up with none. But in terms of external security, the democracy factor is not particularly important. China began as a unitary state and is still the same. The Chinese people believe and are conscious that theirs was the ‘largest economy in the world even around 1850; and that they have an imperial culture. Hans as a group was the largest ethnic group in the world.
In contrast, India has been a different world altogether where caste and economic hierarchies were linked and the creation of Pakistan (in 1947) during India’s birth itself gave it a serious challenge. The ‘integration’ of the Muslim segment always reminded every stakeholders about the blood-soaked partition. In international security, India started with a 14-months war in Kashmir while China got a major advantage with its membership of the United Nations Security Council. Did Jawaharlal Nehru start with a major mistake on that front too? Moreover, the Chinese communists who began to enlarge political strengths from the 1920s themselves were also military and security-oriented. China of course had lost around 1.35 million soldiers fighting the Japanese during the Second World War.
The entire approach vis-a-vis security by both China and India was different. India hardly worked on a strategy to develop an effective politico-military strategy.
Compared to this, under Deng Xiaoping (December 1978 to November 1989) and Mao Zedong (from 1949 until his death in 1976), Beijing provided a classic example of achieving external security goals at “affordable cost”.
In politico-economic terms as well, the unique synthesis of market economy and political control yielded huge benefits to China. Over 25-30 years, China was hardly on the scene as a global superpower.
Therefore, ‘The Economist’ was not wrong to say about a decade back that China’s ‘rise’ has been more impressive than “any burst of economic development ever”.
In 1949, truly China had inherited a far more dangerous external environment than India but gradually things changed.
By 1964-65, India faced a war with China and also its ‘protege’ Pakistan. Beijing had its nuclear explosion in 1964.
A former Foreign Secretary, Maharajakrishna Rasgotra, had said a few years back that Nehru should have accepted US President John F Kennedy’s offer of helping India detonate a nuclear device. Rasgotra had said if Nehru had accepted the offer, not only India would have tested the nuclear device first in Asia, before 1964 as was done by China. But it would have ‘deterred China from launching its war of 1962’. India was then producing 30 military aircraft and China’s figure was 400. Beijing also raised saleable, finished steel production to 18 million tonnes, India had only 2.6 million tonnes of saleable steel.
Some years back, there were reports that between 1977-97, China’s GDP went up by seven times against India’s 2.5 times.
The PLA in 1950 was numerically about six times as big as India’s armed forces. Moreover, such was the scale of lapses in military planning that till 1962 war, the defence services were not considered “a vital part of the national system”, as argued in the book ‘Society, State and Security – The Indian Experience’.
India had its delayed nuke explosion in1974 but then China reportedly assigned 12 scientists to assist Pakistan in its efforts to develop the nuclear capability. Things changed a lot for India first under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and at the later stage – post-2014 era – under incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Modi regime realised it well that submissive, keep-every side and passive approaches cannot remain the same. True, the world has changed and so has China, Asian security paradigm and of course India needs to be more focused and assertive.
New Delhi consciously moved away from the ‘formula’ – if at all there was one.
So now, there is the call for a new sensitivity. The foreign policy engine room in the last few years has gone beyond the mere acknowledgement of this urgency and initiated a sustained engagement with important powers like France, Japan, Australia and of course the United States.
The ‘new India’ vision also envisages among other things to take out India’s national security establishment from its obsession with grand global themes such as non-alignment and so-called equidistance from all.
The security and foreign policy doctrines are now more crystal clear and business-like. PM Modi has also ensured enhanced engagements with ASEAN – an area China had a free run for a long.
PM Modi and Sushma Swaraj duo between 2014 and 2019 also had pushed India to a new road map where New Delhi had shed its inhibitions in dealing with the Islamic world. This is crucial in taking on Pakistan and also exposing ‘Chinese iron brother’ links. Haven't these Islamic countries in the past always backed Pakistan on Kashmir?
But after the August 5, 2019 move in revocation of Article 370, the world was faced with a new reality.
Finally, India has perhaps also able to give a clear message that putting Islamic ‘Jihadi’ fundamentalists against ‘Godless Communists’ in Afghanistan-Pakistan belt have finally started to haunt the Islamic countries and the west as well.
The Chinese foreign policy has been excessively guided by its negativity and disputes with several countries including India, Indonesia, Russia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Thus, it is essentially structured on military principles.
India pursued a different approach to friendship but the Modi regime brought the ‘assertiveness’ – something which was lacking.
It is said the chief characteristic of diplomacy is that it is the child of its time. The Indian foreign policy is now being rightly given a balanced touch and is being fine-tuned to fit in the security priorities.