Among the first foreign dignitaries whom Narendra Modi received after assuming the Prime Minister Office was China’s President Xi Jinping. Both the leaders share much in common. Both are strong-willed and nationalistic. Both seek a place of importance in the international stage. Both are passionately committed to accelerating economic growth in a difficult economic environment. President Xi recognises the need for substantive structural change in his country’s economic policies after three decades of unparalleled economic growth. PM Modi, in turn, recognises that for India to attain its due place in the comity of nations, a sustained growth of around 8 per cent or more is needed, for which the manufacturing sector has to be revived and modernised, and an environment created to enhance investments.
The Xi Jinping visit set the tone for increasing economic and diplomatic cooperation. But the visit was marred by a deliberate intrusion across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by China’s People’s Liberation Army. The differences were addressed and measures agreed upon to deal with their prevention and management of border security. These arrangements have led to an absence of serious incidents of concern along the LAC. But, on the negative side, one has seen a massive buildup of military potential and logistics just across our borders with Tibet.
The real issues of concern that India now faces are a Chinese military buildup across our sea lanes, with what is evidently an effort to effectively surround India, with massive economic and military assistance to its South Asian neighbours, with a singularly conspicuous effort to strengthen both the conventional and nuclear strength of Pakistan. The so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is brazenly routed through PoK, ignoring our sensitivities on the subject. China is giving new dimensions to its military cooperation with Pakistan, which has now been given maritime multi-warhead, sea-based, nuclear-capable missiles. More importantly, China is providing Pakistan with eight submarines and an equal number of frigates. The Port of Gwadar in Pakistan has been taken over by China. This is along with China getting a new equity stake and virtually taking over the Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka. China is now clearly positioning itself to take control of the sea lanes of the western Indian Ocean, potentially threatening our maritime and energy corridors.
Modi has confronted these challenges with considerable skill. His policy has been one to stand firm, sans being provocative. Unlike in the past, we have not allowed the Chinese to browbeat or intimidate us on territorial issues like their absurd claims to Arunachal Pradesh. Present Chinese claims to Arunachal Pradesh were never raised through the first three decades of the Sino-Indian negotiations. For over six decades, we never made our serious concerns known to Chinese leaders about their assistance to Pakistan with regards to nuclear weapons and missile programmes. We are now clear about our readiness to balance Chinese power by our interactions with partners like the US, Japan and Vietnam. All this has been combined with a readiness to work together with China, wherever possible, while developing the means to prevent tensions arising on the borders, by enhanced military to military ties. In an ultimate analysis, Chinese are supreme realists who recognise the crucial importance of economic and military power. Modi, likewise, knows and recognises this reality. The launch and impending operationalisation of Agni V missile clearly shook China’s customary nonchalance. China will take us more seriously when we accelerate and sustain rapid economic growth and enhance strategic partnerships, while simultaneously strengthening our military muscle.