India & China: Tale of 'confused' and 'Confucian' diplomacy

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The Indian media is trying to treat China at par with Pakistan over the recent provocations over the border. "Why don't we warn China?" or "India should take a tough stand" are some of the questions being raised by some belligerent mediapersons, but this is a kind of oversimplifying foreign policy issues, something which an important country like India has not prioritised on expected lines.

We can afford to scoff at Pakistan for the latter is a country with no credibility, except nuclear weapons. But we can't really adopt a vague stand on a country like China, which is much powerful than us in terms of men and material. While Indians tend to raise their voice against Beijing in the unofficial circles whenever there is a provocation from the latter's side, their official position is always marked by timidity. This exposes our position further before the Chinese.

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Why is India confused while dealing with China?

Confusion prevails in India's minds when dealing with China. Should we go to the offence or defend ourselves? A solution for this could be found in China's own conduct in international behaviour.

Let's understand the issue. There is a tendency to categorise nations either as 'hard power' or 'soft power'. This is not true. In an integrated world of today, there can be no such black-and-white distinction between soft and hard.

China, for instance, has a history of exercising a soft power in its neighbourhood in eastern and south-eastern Asia, and it has soft relations between a number of countries in this region (trade or other popular contacts).

China learnt it from the US

But it has not left a one-dimensional power-relation with its neighbours. It has equally stressed its military prowess and has transformed itself from a receiver of equipment from abroad to a supplier of such equipment. Its defence budget has gone on multiplying and this hardness has put the smaller neighbours under apprehension and many have tilted towards powers like the US. But what is interesting to note is that this combination of power exercised by China is something which the mighty US had also put to use.

The US had realised after the end of the Cold War that just relying on military might wouldn't help its cause and there was a need to rely on other softer means to expand its influence across the globe. Terms like 'neo-liberalism', 'cultural imperialism' or 'diplomatic appeasement' that we often curse today to reassert that US hegemony is still not a thing of the past, are actually the softer sides of the American assertion of power.

The US has skillfully combined, what a scholar said, McDonald's (soft power) with McDonnell Douglas (hard power) to evolve an effective foreign policy to preserve its global grip and the Chinese have copied this dualism in eastern and south-eastern Asia.

India's softness gets projected as helplessness

It is not that the Americans and the Chinese have been successful with this combination of power , but what they have done is that they have established an influence which can not be ignored. India, which is perhaps the strongest soft power in the world, has not backed its softness with the required force. As a result, the soft power of India has been proved to be a sort of helplessness, which shouldn't be the case.

China, even though annoyed its neighbours through the projection of hard power, did not let itself get bogged down by any rival power in its own backyard. India, on the other hand, has committed mistakes while diplomatically dealing with some of its neighbours and allowed them to tilt towards China.

There is very little chance of India and China getting engaged in a full-fledged war again, but still China is managing to score a victory over the former in a psychological battle because India doesn't have a stable stand on how to tackle it.

Homegrown problems rattle India

The Indian establishment is increasingly getting rattled by homegrown problems like corruption and political compulsion which are putting the national security at risk and this is something which the Chinese are not unaware of.

Softness has a virtue but it shouldn't resemble weakness. The defence minister speaks out time and again saying India has come a long distance from what it was in 1962 but there is no doubt that the Chinese have covered even a greater distance in the last 51 years.

It is high time that India asserts that it has a strong capacity to back its softness and can never be intimidated at will. India should look to transform itself into a self-sufficient nation in terms of military might and also chalk out policies to ensure that its neighbours do not easily get influenced by the Chinese.

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