A test for India: How do you deal with a bully like China?

Two years ago, when the global financial crisis gave rise to breathless commentaries about the imminent decline of the Western developed economies and the rise of China, a Marxist journalist came out with a book that encapsulated that transition to a nicety.

The book, unsubtly titled When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World, argued that in the future, when China rules the world, it would invoke its civilisational attributes – among other things, a belief in a hierarchical world and on racial (Han) supremacy – to reshape the world in its image.

 A test for India: How do you deal with a bully like China?

China’s cussedness about anyone who deals with the Dalai Lama is well known. Reuters

The book was well received in China. And given China’s recent conduct in its neighbourhood, and farther afield, its leaders presumably believe that China’s time has already come. Only that can account for why they’ve already begun to expect neighbouring countries, including India, to conduct themselves like vassal states and kowtow whenever the Chinese overlord’s name is invoked.

China’s most recent effort to brazenly flex its muscles at India came today when its consul-general in Kolkata sought to get West Bengal officials, including chief minister Mamata Banerjee and governor MK Narayanan, not to attend a ceremony in Kolkata attended by the Dalai Lama.

To his eternal credit, Narayanan, a former National Security Advisor who knows a thing or two about China’s undiplomatic excesses, paid no heed and went ahead and attended the event alongside the Dalai Lama. Mamata Banerjee did not attend, but party leaders made clear that it was only because of her mother’s ill health and that in any case, Didi was present in spirit.

China’s action in this matter amounts to brazen meddling. Coming so soon after China unsuccessfully sought to get the Indian government to cancel a Buddhist festival to be attended by the Dalai Lama in New Delhi, even going so far as to call off the Sino-Indian border talks, it reflects a disturbing escalation in China’s effort to inflict pain by a thousand cuts on India.

China’s cussedness about anyone who deals with the Dalai Lama is, of course, well known. Yet, its recent efforts to step up pressure on Indian officials – at both the central and state levels – to dissociate themselves from the Dalai Lama are beginning to border on the reckless.

There are, of course, Useful Idiots, including many in India, who reason that it is somehow India’s fault for hosting the Dalai Lama and who claim, without basis, that India is using the Dalai Lama to needle China for its infirm hold on Tibet. The circumstances in which the Dalai Lama came to India – and China’s iron grip on Tibet, which has given rise to a spate of self-immolations by Tibetan Buddhist monks - are well chronicled.

In media commentaries, the Communist Party-owned Global Times, dubbed the Fox News of China for its over-the-top jingoistic commentaries , has been going for India’s jugular, perversely blaming “nationalism” in India for the recent strains in Sino-Indian relations.

The irony is that it isn’t just India that has faced the brunt of China’s reckless bully tactics: virtually all of China’s neighbours around the South China Sea have had China figuratively stepping on their toes.

Recent tensions in the South China Sea have escalated to such an extent that for all their commercial dependence on China, these littoral states have sought out increased US naval and military presence in the region to establish a sort of security umbrella. President Barack Obama’s recent tour of duty to the Asia-Pacific was intended in large measure to signal to China that it owed it to the world as a rising power to conduct itself responsibly in its neighborbood and not disrupt sea lanes, as it has sought to do.

India, which has a long-standing border dispute, and for whom China has only a sneering disdain, is particularly vulnerable when China’s hormones begin to act up. India’s diplomacy vis-à-vis China has found new-found maturity in recent times: as was manifested in the Kolkata episode, it has stood up for its core interests without giving into any adventurism that could escalate the tension.

Chinese provocations are only bound to increase over the next year, as China’s economy goes through a difficult transition. With the Chinese military also jockeying for positions of power in the run-up to next year’s generational change in China’s leadership, the situation is fraught with many disquieting possibilities. Indian diplomacy will be on stern test, but it’s proven eminently capable of defending India’s interest without kowtowing to inflated Chinese opinions of its place in the world.

Updated Date: Dec 01, 2011 19:33:51 IST