India needs to strengthen ties with liberal democracies, South Asian neighbours to counter China

India needs to consolidate its relationship with the immediate neighbors by resolving the pending issues, particularly, the issue of immigration with Bangladesh and territorial disputes with Nepal, writes Dr. Arshad for South Asia Monitor

Dr. Arshad Jun 30, 2020
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The rise of the global authoritarianism has threatened the liberal international order that has produced a favorable environment for authoritarian China to use aggressive and violent measures to capture territory in Galwan Valley.

One of the major repercussions of the 2008 global financial crisis were that it increased the presence of authoritarian governments in western and non-western countries. The increasing job losses, the extremity of poverty and the rising of the prices of the basic goods had exposed the failure of neo-liberal economic policies that generated people’s political and economic anxieties, successfully capitalized by the authoritarian leaders to grab the power. The rise of authoritarianism has not only challenged the democratic values at home in several countries, but it has also created the chances of conflicts between democratic and autocratic states, aptly described by the Kantian ‘Democratic Peace Thesis’. The spread of COVID-19 has further strengthened the authoritarian leaders to consolidate their positions and crush the democratic dissents.

To fight against the virus, the authoritarian leaders are changing laws, monopolizing powers and using emergency powers against the peaceful dissenters. The result is that major countries from Europe to Southeast Asia and Latin America have been grappling with the consolidation of authoritarianism.

China is authoritarian state ‘par excellence’

The transformation of China as a modern state was based on the centralization of power, authoritarianism, and desire for becoming the global hegemon. The modernization of China’s political, economic, and military structures has been carefully implemented by the agents of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The agents are comprised of generals, bureaucrats, and businessmen that control, formulate, and implement the foreign policy of China. The economic modernization program has increased its material supremacy because of the firm authoritarian and bureaucratic decisions without the consideration of the public opinion, rejection of the democratic values, and absence of individual freedom. Chinese President Xi Jinping has realized that in terms of material and defence capabilities, China has surpassed many great powers in the world.

The current violent standoff between the Indian and Chinese soldiers is the result of the usage of physical and military capabilities to perpetuate the domination of CPC's deep state called Ying Pai, comprised of generals, politicians, bureaucrats and top-notched business tycoons. The majority of the Ying Pai members are 'warmongers', aiming for becoming the 'superpower' by replacing the US. The displacement of the US is the primary target of the Ying Pai so that China’s imperialist agenda becomes a reality. The historical border disputes between India and China is an unresolved matter in the eyes of the Ying Pai that wants to follow the expansionist military-driven approach to capture the disputed territories in the Indian subcontinent. President Xi has realized that there is an ‘asymmetries of power’ between India and China in terms of material and defence capabilities. The lack of a ‘structural’ imbalance influenced Xi to use hawkish postures to achieve ‘absolute gains’ in the border disputes with India. Xi, personally, wants to consolidate his supremacy as a global authoritarian leader because authoritarianism is becoming a mainstream political ideology. In fact, Xi has to recover his image after he failed to control the spread of the coronavirus, stabilize Taiwan and clamp down on anti-China protestors in Hong Kong.  

Since Mao ruled China, he made it an authoritarian state ‘par excellence’, now using ‘sharp’ power to achieve its unilateral geostrategic and national interests. The Ying Pai has aggressively implemented the Mao’s brand of communism at two levels: at the domestic level, China established an orientalist ‘feudal state’, based on the ‘lord-vassal’ relationship; at international level, the desire of Mao to import the ‘lord-vassal’ relationship at the global level, dominated by China’s accumulation of power. Consequently, the Ying Pai not only deeply connected China with liberal international institutions to gain material benefits; it has also, at the same time, not allowed aggressively the ‘liberal’ values such as individual freedom, human rights and democracy to be percolated in Chinese society.

Opportunity to tame the dragon

India and China have once again come closer to the brink of war at Galwan Valley in Ladakh. The recent violent tussle explains China’s long desires for the re-settling of the world order. China’s conflict with India is based on the lack of trust, reliability, and farcical confidence-building measures because of the legacy of the 1962 war. The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu has deeply influenced the foreign policymakers of Beijing in devising the strategy to "attack only such places which are undefended to succeed in the battle." 

Sun Tzu used ‘deception’ as the way of ‘warfare’ that follows ‘asymmetric’ and ‘fluid’ strategy because conflict is an ever-changing situation between the two countries. Chinese policymakers applied Sun Tzu’s strategy to claim on several territories of India without having any evidence to support their claim. The reason behind these claims is to create confusion in the minds of Indian government about which territory China is going to claim next. The Galwan Valley had re-emerged as a focal point of conflict after the 1962 war, and it shows that China has never dropped its claim over the territory. The result is that China, on the one hand, never dropped its claim over the old disputed territory, while, on the other hand, it aggressively claims over the new territories to keep the conflict alive.

The Galwan Valley is not the only territory of India on which China has made its claim. In January 2017, Xi had unfolded its expansionist strategy when Chinese soldiers tried to construct a road at the China, India, and Bhutan tri-junction border at Doklam. India must understand that the sporadic border disputes with China are not the fight to resolve the border dispute but a fight to become a global superpower.

Since the US had recognized India as the ‘pivot’ to ‘balance’ China in Indo-Pacific region, President Xi has taken a more aggressive approach in terms of resolving border disputes with India. The One Belt-One Road and Maritime Silk Road Initiative is the twin land and water strategies to divert the flow of resources, technologies, and power from the US’s control to the hands of Ying Pai by using its material and defence powers. It is not meant for global prosperity and peace. They intended to replace the ‘liberal internationalism’ with the global feudal-vassal relationship in which China will be the only superpower. Chinese authoritarianism becomes more deceitful and aggressive since ‘authoritarianism’ goes ‘mainstream’ around the world. China already has ‘consolidated’ authoritarianism that makes it more proactive in the present global authoritarian environment to become a global hegemon. China, therefore, challenges the 'status quo' in all disputed regions to establish its hegemony. The result is that the numbers of conflicts have increased in South China Sea, Senkaku Islands, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Indian Ocean region and border disputes with India. The more democratic world order is, the more resilient it will be to counter the authoritarianism at the global stage and in China.

Need for revival of liberal internationalism

The rising authoritarianism tide has threatened the liberal international order that becomes a major concern for the spread of regional and global conflicts. The liberal international order must be protected by the strengthening of ‘multilateralism’ in international institutions, alliances, and rules. In the history of global politics, so far, the liberal internationalism has deep-rooted ideas and impulses to establish 'space' for liberal democracy and resolving the conflict between sovereignty and interdependence. China's authoritarian surge must be countered with the defence of democratic infrastructure, addressing political vulnerabilities created by economic policies, challenging backsliding in the West, influencing international institutions, and engaging democracies beyond the West.

Democratic countries which are concerned about the rise of China have made their alliance with democratic, peacefully rising, responsible nuclear-armed India. India is applauded as a successful example of the Global South countries that not only cherish but also promoted the liberal norms, values, and non-violent mechanisms to resolve the international and regional disputes. India is more credible than China in terms of international cooperation, but it is important for India to understand that wherever it has left diplomatic and foreign policy footprints, China has come speedily to fulfill those gaps. 

India needs to consolidate its relationship with the immediate neighbors by resolving the pending issues, particularly, the issue of immigration with Bangladesh, Kalapani and Lipu territorial disputes with Nepal. India has also taken several initiatives with Islamic countries to upgrade their partnerships to strategic level to isolate Pakistan on the issues of terrorism and radicalization. New Delhi’s closer proximity with the US and strengthening of ties with Quad (the US, Japan, Australia, India) has increased its global stature.

In the realpolitik discourse, nevertheless, India needs to use its soft power and democratic credentials to strengthen alliances with liberal democratic countries, combining with its expanding hard power to take a balancing approach toward China. Global history has always stood with those countries that are democratic, pluralistic, and liberals at home and abroad.

(The writer is a guest lecturer at Zakir Hussein College, University of Delhi. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at arshada8@gmail.com)

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