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Can India Survive in a China-Centered Asia-Pacific?

  • Dr. Lakhvinder
  • Feb, 2020
  • 133
  • The Pulse

India needs to drastically overhaul its current strategy - or risk ceding the region to Chinese control.

The successful completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with Asia-Pacific countries is more evidence that the center of gravity in the region continues to move toward China. The United States, which long dominated the region both economically and militarily, is being pushed back and the vacuum is being filled mainly by China, which is emerging as the largest trading partner with most counties in the region and is on the road to becoming the biggest military power as well. Given the growth of China’s economy and the developmental projects it is carrying out under the Belt and Road Initiative in recent years, more and more counties are aligning themselves with China.

China’s soft power is also on the rise. Increasingly regional students prefer to study at Chinese universities. Slowly the “American Dream” is being replaced by the “Chinese Dream.” This Chinese charm offensive is expected to accelerate in the coming years. The worldwide network of Confucius Institutes and Chinese-controlled international media are playing a major role in increasing and spreading its soft power influence. It is just a matter of time before all roads literally lead to Beijing.

What Does It Mean for India?

The regional tilt toward China is bound to stimulate the growth of Chinese power in many ways. In short order, China may become not only the biggest economic and military power but also the biggest technological and soft power holder. However, despite all the growth of wealth and prosperity, China is still a communist country ruled by a totalitarian regime. The Communist Party of China still holds the supreme power. Any demand of sharing political power is considered a serious challenge to its authority and met with brutal force.

Thus, in a China-led Asia-Pacific there is the high possibility that “democracy” might become the most despised political phrase in the region. Given the social and historical traits of the region, most countries may have no qualms with accepting some principal rules of China’s governing legal framework. However, given the sociopolitical realities of the Indian state, India cannot survive as a united nation without a strong democratic set up where different communities and regions are given fair and just representation in the governing order. No amount of brutal force can keep India united. Democracy and rule of law is the only option.

Given China’s newly acquired economic and military might, India may not be able to successfully resist Chinese pressure on its governing system and maintain its way of life. China might see India as an open challenge to the supremacy of its one-party system and thus a possible political rival in the region in future that needs to be restrained as soon as possible.

Furthermore, given the expected growth of the Chinese navy in coming years, it will be nearly impossible for India alone to maintain a balance of power in the region and keep the Indian Ocean free from Chinese dominance and control. Without a free and open Indian Ocean, India will face an uncertain future.

Given the integration of regional economies with the Chinese economy at large, it will be almost impossible for India to practice a free and open market economy and continue trading with Asia-Pacific countries as before, since cheaply produced Chinese products can creep into Indian market through the back door via third countries and cripple the local economy. The Indian economy might go into a deep recession under a China-tilted economic order in the region,

Lastly, there is a high possibility that India may not have any friends or partners left in its own neighborhood in a China centered Asia-Pacific. Given the extent of the Chinese push into the Indian neighborhood, smaller countries in the region may not be able to resist Chinese economic incentives and pressure, posing serious political implications for India and the whole region. India may be left on its own.

The Way Out

Given the gravity of the situation, India needs a comprehensive strategy that can serve India’s national interest in the region. First and foremost, Indian policymakers must forego the attitude of denial and accept the current reality. They must accept that there are serious shortcomings in our current China strategy of trying to become friends with China through the “Wuhan spirit” or seeking to reassure through Indo-Pacific strategy. Both are not working now and are destined to fail.

India needs a course correction. Currently India has two options. India can continue with its current low-profile engagement policy, let China take over the whole region, and be ready to be eventually...

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