February 26, 2024

Article by Col Prashant Jha (Retd.)

China has been a nation of concern, especially for all its neighbours, the United States and the developed West. Why and how did China become so powerful developed, rich and silently assertive with its arm-twisting and debt-trapping character, merits a deeper study! The aim here is not to fully emulate the narrative but to try to understand this yellow nation.

A few basics about the present before we start thinking of the future. China is a middle-income, mid-aged, highly advanced technology with, a huge export in both manufacturing and service-led economy of 19 trillion-plus USD. The world at large can curse China but can’t undo China. There is hardly a nation which has a trade surplus with China.  Each household from the Western nations to India, Africa and Latin America has a sizeable content of Chinese goods. Our NRI children in the West and Americas have most Chinese FMCG. We at home, like many Indians, own a Chinese smartphone, a Chinese TV, Laptop among many items and so do our families.

India has been formally an adversary of China for the last 60 years. But, today, the Embassy of India reported a 101 bn USD surplus trade with China

India has been formally an adversary of China for the last 60 years. But, today, the Embassy of India reported a 101 bn USD surplus trade with China making her the largest trading partner in India. Does it not sound simply a paradox? Can anyone insulate from China?  Let us have a look at the below interesting graphics about what few mattering nations feel about China.

Do we call the above graphics as propaganda? Chinese has outwitted the world at large in every aspect of international trade and affairs. The developed world is so heavily dependent on China due to its cheap manufactured ready products and the whole trade is very much intertwined by a complex multilateral supply chain system. The poor global south looks up to China as their saviour and hence favours the Chinese.

The famous adage by Sun Tzu – Know your enemy and you need not worry a consequence of a thousand battles hold so good and so right. Chinese have ensured that their enemies are not able to know them and their intent never since the cementing of the CCP. They are a registered and declared opaque nation and you can do little about it. Their electronics are a confirmed snoop and despite this, the world continues to buy and cares less about it due to the basic fact that it’s cheap. The driver chips for every LED bulb are ex China. India is still to make them despite all the noise of Make in India and make by India. All this is because of what and why, we can make our guesses.

If we study the Chinese establishment’s behaviour over the last few months, we would infer an internal consolidation in China with focus on increased domestic investment, economic growth, and big no to corruption, disloyalists and military growth in the South China Sea to unify Taiwan. Unification of Taiwan though is planned by 2047, may happen much earlier. The Americans can’t stretch it any further. The one country many systems seem to work so well in China. It has four major municipalities led by Shanghai and Beijing. It has rich regions like Hong Kong and Macao.  And it has more than a million TVE (Towns and village enterprises).

China has outwitted the world at large in every aspect of international trade and affairs

Chinese do not seem to be much concerned about alternate reshoring of low-end manufacturing under the China Plus One policy. The Chinese labour today is still cheap, competitive and huge in numbers. China looks more at markets in the global south, the Central Asian republics and East Asia. It considers engaging with India as an elder brother! That’s where India has a right concern.

If we look at the political map above, China is at an inflexion point and wants not only to dominate the seas in the east but down south and the huge rare earth minerals in the west of China in the Central Asian Republics. The BRI is just one of the many projects. Apropos, it is not at all complex to understand and accept the fact that Chinese are on a higher path in every sense of the word. If we study Chinese Global times, South China morning post and the diplomatic stance of the present Chinese establishment, we will observe a paradigm shift towards more pragmatism, positive engagement, less of war or arm-twisting rhetoric and a policy of peaceful means to further their national ambitions and foreign policy. Recently, two major stances merit reference here. President Xi asked diplomats to be more articulate and conciliatory on all foreign policy issues and the latest appreciative article in the Chinese media about rising India under the present establishment.

China looks more at markets in the global south, the Central Asian republics and East Asia

How do we treat our boundary issues? Simple answer!  Occupy and hold if you do not want to lose any more territory. It’s a thousand times easier to hold than capture an occupied area. The latest deployment post the Galwan incident and fortifying border defences is an apt example. India will have to double its efforts in building its border military surveillance and defensive infrastructure.

Lessons from the TVE (Towns and village enterprises) of China to transition India into a manufacturing and service-led export nation is the need of the hour.

The disregard to Indian claims will continue and thus India will certainly need to deal from a position of strength as we grow stronger. How do we reduce our dependency on Chinese imports? The noise around make in India, all the PLI around electronics manufacturing and much more need to be actualised. Lessons from the TVE (Towns and village enterprises) of China to transition India into a manufacturing and service-led export nation is the need of the hour. It’s not happening at the speed of the noise that is being made about the same. India needs to implode here. It’s easy here, because we are a thriving democracy.  In the same breadth, it is very difficult here, because the land, selfish motives, poor governance and corruption still thrive here. Concluding my thoughts by just making a few simple points!  Let us break the mould and remould India! Let India implode bottoms up and export. The ODOP (One District One Product) is just the tip of the iceberg. Why can’t we have city-states, and export zones and free them to do global trade? The template is available. We need to just sign it off. India must engage more with China than less.

Author

  • Col. Prashant Jha (Retd.)

    Former commander at Air Defence regiment, Indian Army. Alumni of Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Army War College, College of Military Engineering and National Defence Academy. He has undertaken many corporate leadership roles at Wind World India, Pearson Co., Shell Technologies and Honeywell India. His core interest areas are tech-centric development, sustainability, EAI, KOS, Digitisation, smart systems, cybersecurity, skill development, risk management and leadership development. He has recently authored the book Billion Unlimited Mind.

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