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Reading Sun Tzu: Eerie Similarities Between Mao-Nehru And Modi-Jinping

File photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo: Reuters)

File photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo: Reuters)

In 1962, Chairman Mao Zedong was 'jealous' of former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's growing popularity among world leaders. It seems, Chinese President Xi Jinping has a similar complex against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

New Delhi: "We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbours," Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu wrote in his seminal work 'The Art of War' 500 BC. China's attitude towards India seems to be defined by somewhat similar scepticism, constantly searching for designs. Even during times when there was more to be gained from cooperation, China never fully committed itself to trust and friendship.

While one part of this bilateral relationship is defined by dependence on each other, both economically and strategically, the other is marked by fierce competition to emerge as the true Asian power on global stage. While China may have an upper hand in terms of hard power – military might and size of economy, their attitude towards India is marked with insecurity when it comes to soft power.

Sun Tzu's book and various interpretations of it have been translated across languages and sold millions of copies world over. Most business schools use the text to teach strategy to managers and so do military training institutions.

The recent Chinese aggression along the border can be seen through the lens of Sun Tzu's writing: "Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more."

A top BJP leader recently reminded me that the 1962 Sino-India war took place despite the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's slogan of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai. "Nehru wanted friendship, but China had different plans," said the BJP leader.

India was caught surprised because it didn't see any reason for going to war with China. Some diplomats agree with the BJP leader's point of view, noting that in 1962 Chairman Mao was 'jealous' of Nehru's growing popularity among world leaders. Does Chinese Premier Xi Jinping have a similar complex against Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

"Chinese are apprehensive about India's growing equation with the US and the new Trump regime. With this jostling at the border, the message they are sending is that while dealing with border issues, you are alone – Washington won't come to your rescue," said former diplomat Ranjit Singh Kalha.

Another interesting aspect of the recent standoff was that Chinese media and officials spoke out at a time when Modi was in Israel, striking deals on defence, agriculture and manufacturing.

This shows a pattern in Chinese reaction. A senior government official who has keenly observed India-China ties said, "It was Nehru's position as the tallest Asian leader that clearly played on the Chinese psyche when they deceived us. It seriously damaged Nehru's credibility as a leader who couldn’t even protect his own country,” said the official.

Deception is a word that keeps appearing in Sun Tzu's book: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."

The current tension at the border could also be an attempt by Xi Jinping to position himself as a nationalist before the National Congress of the Communist Party of China later this year. "Xi has been promoting the spirit of nationalism in China and he cannot afford to be seen in a weak position on foreign policy issues ahead of the 19th party Congress," Kalha said.

From the times of Rajiv Gandhi, India and China have continued expanding trade, academic and cultural relations despite border issues. Indian hopes to continue with this policy. After all, Sun Tzu wrote, "The greatest victory is that which requires no battle".