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SOURCE: Times Now Digital

Before China’s belligerent behaviour at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh this summer shattered all illusions about how Beijing views its neighbourhood and the world at large, the consensus in New Delhi was that an equation of mutual respect and understanding each other’s core concerns was the only way forward.

Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invested personally in the China policy, meeting President Xi Jinping more frequently than previous prime ministers, with the presumed warmth in their rapport for all to see. The most recent of these meetings was the ‘informal summit’ at the backdrop of the spectacular Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu in October 2019, exactly a year ago.

Clearly, the personal chemistry between the two leaders, if it did exist, did nothing to prevent Xi from plotting an incursion across the LAC in the late spring and early summer of 2020 even as the COVID-19 pandemic was creating havoc in the world. In fact, some China-watchers have pointed out that the orders for transgressing into territory hitherto patrolled by Indian soldiers must have been given by Xi to his army generals not long after the Mahabalipuram meeting with Modi.

All that is history now. The bloody clashes in Galwan, the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers (an unknown number of PLA personnel died too) and the subsequent stand-offs at several key heights in eastern Ladakh have together solidified the sense in the top echelons of India’s political, diplomatic and military leadership that China cannot be trusted and the Xi Jinping regime is not fundamentally invested in the idea of an India rising simultaneously with China.

It’s clear that China wants a Chinese century, not an Asian one.

Militarily, India has made a flurry of moves – from fast-tracking long-pending defence purchases to shoring up troop and arms deployment along the LAC. China has taken notice.

Diplomatically, however, New Delhi has not yet done the kind of pivot which China’s behaviour demands. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is perhaps hoping that India’s show of strength at the border will deter further Chinese adventurism, and believes there is limited virtue in taking a very hard line against a nation as big and powerful as China.

But a growing school of thought among Indian strategic experts and defence analysts believes the time has come for a more radical shift in substance and tone when it comes to India’s China policy.

Tibet and Taiwan
India has every reason to play the so-called Tibet card. Not playing it has not made China any more respectful towards India’s territorial integrity. The Modi government can do a number of things: present the Dalai Lama with India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna; boldly take up the Tibetan cause in global forums in coordination with the United States; gave the exiled Tibetan community in India a much more visible profile; and start referring to the China border as the Tibetan border.

This is not to suggest an all-at-once knee-jerk response, but a carefully calibrated diplomatic offensive on the Tibetan front.

Ditto with Taiwan. India needs to take a firm stand on issues like Taiwan’s observer status in the World Health Assembly, and step up trade and business ties with Taiwan. India should also look at diplomatic exchanges between Taipei and New Delhi. Like India, Taiwan is a proud democracy, but unlike India it faces an existential threat from China given the power differential between China and Taiwan.

India’s unquestioned respect for the ‘One China’ policy has met a dead-end in the brutality at Galwan and the events surrounding it. While closer coordination with the Quad nations (the US, Australia and Japan) is welcome and necessary, shedding the diffidence in taking on China is something India will have to do on its own.