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China’s realism versus India’s mythology

Editor's Note:

This article first appeared in Live Mint. The views are of the author(s).


The India-China impasse at Doklam, whatever the outcome, is likely to have several long-term geopolitical implications for bilateral, regional, plurilateral, and global governance relations. It is quite possible that Doklam will become the graveyard of pan-Asian solidarity and the birthplace of unbridled rivalry between the two most significant rising powers; disrupt any prospects of furthering regional economic cooperation; lead to the demise of the painstakingly crafted BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping; and end the concept of classic nuclear dyad relationships (given China’s concerns vis-à-vis the US and India’s consideration of both China and Pakistan’s arsenal). In short, post-Doklam will revive the arcane 19th century balance of power groupings (albeit with nuclear weapons), lead to greater global disorder, and highlight the inability of the two Asian powers to create an alternative ideological narrative for a more cooperative and benign global order.

To be fair, despite being the two biggest economies half a millennium ago, neither India nor China were really global actors. Global order was established by European private actors and then states in formation first as explorers, then as traders, and finally as rulers and colonizers. It was always going to be a long shot for either democratic India or communist China (both concepts developed in the West) to challenge or create alternative norms to the dominant discourse in the brief period of their existence as independent nations.

Unsurprising then India came up with the anodyne Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and China with the even more improbable “peaceful rise” concepts. Neither was borne out by their manifestations. In India’s case the most potent instrument of its soft power—Bollywood films with their depiction of dysfunctional families, which avoided damnation only through divine intervention—did very little to advance India’s strategic interests. At best it provided fleeting escape for viewers from Marrakesh to Moscow from the drudgery of their lives. Similarly, while China propounded the idea of “peaceful rise”, it was a mere interlude for unhindered economic growth while Beijing developed its sinews of power.

Having acquired substantial military edge over all its immediate neighbours (including India) and the ability to check even the US in areas of vital strategic interest to it, China has simply abandoned the “peaceful rise” mantra and embraced the approach of traditional Western powers. In addition to displaying its hard power, Beijing has magnanimously offered membership of the One Belt, One Road (Obor) network as a sop to countries willing to accept its regional dominance. In fact, the outcome of Doklam will also determine the future of Obor, especially if China is seen to be gaining the upper hand.

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