Branding China as India’s biggest enemy is fraught with huge risks and self-defeating


The growing frustration and outrage in India over China blocking the move to designate Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, for the fourth time at the UN Security Council is justified and along the expected lines, but I think this anger needs to manifest in a proportionate manner.

Shouting from the rooftop that China is the ‘biggest enemy’ and widespread calls for boycotting Chinese pichkari (watergun) during Holi are political stunts that play on the public sentiments – pretty routine and toothless, more so on the eve of the general elections. These misdirected steps aren’t going to cut ice with the giant dragon on India’s north.

This is not how global diplomacy works, they work behind the scenes. A pragmatic and rational approach and engaging China is India’s only option.

China has justified putting a technical hold on the proposed UN resolution by saying it needed more time to conduct an ‘in-depth assessment’ of the application to designate Azhar as a global terrorist.

Here’s what the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said on the issue last week: “By putting a technical hold on the listing of Masood at the 1267 Committee, China aims to get more time for the Committee to review this issue and for all parties to engage in consultations and create a favorable atmosphere. In the long run, it will help ease tension and maintain stability in the region. If this issue is to be resolved fundamentally and in a sustainable way, we need a solution agreed by all. China will continue to step up communication and coordination with all relevant parties including India to properly settle this issue.”

There’s an inherent message of ‘communication and coordination’ involved in China’s official position. Which means, the options for diplomatic quid-pro-quo is open through consultations and negotiations and India needs to formulate a strategy to get the desired results.

Adversaries or strategic partners?

The Indian strategic thinking needs to evolve from this simplistic binary of looking at other nations as ‘enemies’ or ‘friends’. Geo-strategic realities are complex where no two countries are perpetual ‘enemies’ or ‘friends’.

Nations collaborate like ‘allies’ or ‘partners’ when there are common interests and oppose each other like ‘adversaries’ when the interests diverge. This is basic diplomacy.

I think large sections of the Indian intelligentsia and of course, general public, are stuck in 19th and 20th century geo-strategic notions while the world has progressed into the 21st century.

Branding China, which is poised to become the most powerful nation in many aspects in the remaining part of this century and is also our immediate neighbour to boot, as our ‘biggest enemy’ is fraught with huge risks and self-defeating. This will adversely affect the several other bilateral and global issues where China and India collaborate as ‘strategic partners’.

For the uninitiated, China and India are collaborating at many bilateral and multilateral platforms. These areas of cooperation extend from free trade to connectivity; climate change and environment; shaping multipolar world order; global security including terrorism (at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, despite the difference over Masood Azhar) etc.

China and India have also joined ranks to criticise US protectionism and hegemony with both taking identical positions defending globalisation while also resisting unilateral US such as sanctions against Iran and other interventionist actions elsewhere.

As two major members of multilateral blocs such as BRICS and SCO, China and India are also engaged in collaborative projects of connectivity under the recently envisaged ‘China-India Plus’ model of cooperation in places such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and in Africa.

Set eyes on the long-term goals

Also, the Indian economy is at a stage where it needs huge impetus on infrastructure development (roads, bridges, railways, bullet trains, dams, factories and industries) in the next few decades. China is perhaps the only country which has developed all of these and much more at such a scale in recent decades.

India could leapfrog in infrastructure development and be a beneficiary of the Chinese expertise if it opts for the path of collaboration. Thankfully, Indian policymakers appear to have realised this lately, which has reflected in the increased bilateral engagement at every level after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President Xi Jinping for an informal summit in Wuhan last year to reset the ties.

Many analysts believe that cooperation between India and China will help accelerate the growing convergence of interests between the two economies.

In the next 2-3 decades, both countries are poised to become the two largest economies of the world with a combined middle class population of more than 1.5 billion, nearly double the population of the US and the EU combined.

This will be a formidable draw for global investors and will decidedly shift the world order in favour of Asia, with China and India re-emerging after nearly five centuries as two of the predominant world powers. It will be in the interest of both India and China to set their eyes on that long-term goal and make all efforts to iron out their differences

So while India needs to maintain its strategic sovereignty on global affairs, it must engage with other nations, particularly China, on multiple layers of convergence and divergence. Collaborate where interests converge, stay away or oppose where they diverge.

Hence, to put this simplistic view of China being an enemy is not only shortsightedness, but also avoidable. A knee-jerk reaction by the Indian political class to exploit public sentiment through rhetorical anti-China slogans for electoral gains could be a diplomatic harakiri in the long run.

(The author is a senior Indian journalist and an International Editor at CGTN Digital, Beijing, China. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Janta Ka Reporter)