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China's GDP deterrent is patent rubbish

Saurav Jha @SJha1618

Updated: May 1, 2013, 11:31 AM IST
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To term the Chinese incursion in Ladakh a localised affair doesn't cut it. The Chinese move is clearly part of a larger strategy that is trying to make India blink into making concessions elsewhere along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This move is in clear violation of established mechanisms governing India's disputed frontier with China and needs to be countered actively. Continuing with diplomatic niceties, business-as-usual visits etc while a foreign power encroaches on Indian Territory is weak policy, to put it mildly. Most Indians believe that the burden of de-escalation rests firmly on the Chinese leadership's shoulders and should naturally be symbolised with a rapid withdrawal of ingressing Chinese troops.

Not that there aren't exceptions of course. And these exceptions are to be found in the op-ed pages of some of our newspapers. Such views range from trying to subtly justify the Chinese move to giving reasons as to why India should basically "put a lid on the matter". In the latter category falls the most dubious reasoning of all and one which I call the "GDP deterrent".

As per this school of thought India should not escalate matters to restore sovereignty over the encroached area in Burtse because China's GDP is 3 to 4 times larger than India's. Apparently this magically confers upon China an insurmountable deterrent which allows it to do whatsoever it pleases in its neighbourhood.

Now If the GDP deterrent indeed existed, then the Taliban should not ever have dreamt of fighting the United States. Nor should a Pakistan whose GDP is one-seventh to one-eighth that of India's constantly "punch above its weight" in its dealings with the latter. If the GDP deterrent was so compelling, Vietnam would not have given a bloody nose to the French, Americans and Chinese by turn.

In fact if it may be put a little crudely, this line of thought basically says that "If a richer man insults your mother, don't even think of a response till you become richer than him". But this is simply self-hypnosis in aid of inaction. Enterprising individuals, organisations and nations assess their capabilities and meet competition with solutions based on those capabilities.

The Taliban know that they cannot match the technology resources of a superpower so instead they devise asymmetric strategies using terrain and cunning to bog the Americans down who are now on the cusp of an ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pakistanis are using nukes and Islamists rather innovatively to keep larger countries off balance including of course India. The Vietnamese, every bit the doughty warriors, used training, specific weapons capabilities and plain old gutsiness to teach the Chinese the bitterest of lessons in 1979.

Indeed the main thing required to fight with anything and anybody is courage. Remember the bigger they are the harder they fall. If China is richer than India, then it also has that much more to lose. Doesn't it? Funnily enough it is precisely this idea that is turned on its head by the "Aman ki Tamasha" crowd in the India-Pakistan context to justify why India should not fight a Pakistan which apparently has "nothing to lose". So the "GDP deterrent" is flipped conveniently to falsely advocate inaction by India in dealing with intense provocations on both its flanks.

Naturally, the Chinese do not allow themselves the frailties of the 'peace at all costs' constituency. They are clearly working on the basis of a doctrine that seeks to leverage their domestic strengths to increase national influence.

They know that economics and security go hand in hand. Without power projection and hegemonic signals where is the question of engaging in the rent-seeking activity of the superpowers of yore, whether it be the British Empire or the Hapsburgs before them? One must remember that it took a World War II for the American dollar to replace the Pound Sterling as the world's dominant currency even though America had surpassed Britain in GDP much prior.

India must realise that its issues with China are far from localised. And this is no David and Goliath contest. India is a nuclear power with one of the world's largest growing economies and demographics which favours growth capitalism. China's demographics don't anymore, and frankly speaking they haven't been able to "open up" that much of a "lead" over India before ageing literally catches up with them. India has enough options on the table to counter China and impose unacceptable levels of geopolitical pain. Not to mention enough military counters to the current Chinese "squatting operation".

It is time that India looked at its own substantial resources and fashioned strategies based on our inherent strengths to deal with hegemonic designs in our neighbourhood and elsewhere. But more than anything else, India's leadership should not come across as too eager to "let things go". What is the point of being the world's largest importer of weapons if there is not the slightest inkling that one has the willingness to use them if necessary? Deterrence strangely enough, also requires an element of self-belief. Enhancing that self-belief longer term requires India to pursue indigenisation as an ideology. Nearer term, it involves setting a timetable for the Chinese to withdraw from Burtse.
First Published: May 1, 2013, 11:31 AM IST

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