India's major power dreams wrecked by attacking China

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/16 22:03:40

Illustration: GT

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday addressed the nation from the Red Fort on the occasion of India's 74th Independence Day. In the speech, Modi said India's armed forces "have given a fitting response to countries that threatened the country's territorial sovereignty."

Such statement can be explained from two perspectives. One is that Modi has become tougher and put on a combative look. The other explanation is that the Indian government thought it had done enough by demonstrating its attitude toward China. Therefore, what Modi said in his Independence Day speech is not very important - but what he will do next is. 

After the latest round of senior military-level talks between Beijing and New Delhi on August 8, India hasn't shown any sign of changing its stance. At the same time, China has also held its ground. As the two countries are still at a stalemate over key issues, Modi's real intentions will likely be revealed in his next moves. 

However, regardless of the recent border issue in June or of potential future conflicts, after setbacks China-India relations cannot be fully restored in the short term to what they were before the clashes. 

Although India is not likely to completely decouple from China - after all, cooperation between the two countries is beneficial to both - in  terms of its domestic economic dilemma, the Indian government might have to cozy up to its people by continuing its already implemented policies toward China (like the app ban) for quite some time. 

Nonetheless, no country makes policies depending purely on nationalist sentiments. There must be rationality with national interests at the foundation of the decisions. So in the long run, if China and India don't have any large-scale conflicts, the two countries will be back on the track of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. 

The two countries have been through many twists and turns, some of which were much severer than the recent border clash. But they have managed to get back on the right path. 

Of course, the problem now is that Modi has taken advantage of Hindu nationalism to shift domestic attention - and these sentiments have now kidnapped him to some extent. It is risky for any leader to fan the flames of nationalism as people's anger is easy to incite, but hard to appease. 

The Modi administration has made the economic sphere a battlefield with China, with repeated threats to decouple. But the fact is, although Indians don't say anything good about Chinese products, they are actually fans of "Made in China" products because these products are attractive in both price and quality. Take the mobile phones. Even if Chinese smartphone brands saw their market shares in India fall in June, they still hold 72 percent overall. 

Although China and India are not as closely integrated in economy like the US and China are, the two Asian countries' economic cooperation is quite deep and broad. If the Modi administration goes too far in this regard, it might collapse India's economy. This will spark new anger against Modi's government. How to handle this is a difficult problem for Modi.

It will be dangerous if the nationalist sentiments won't appease average Indians but become worse. Still, there is one thing that is good for Modi. Indians are easy to be instigated, but at the same time they are relatively inclined to calm down. The Indian government can create a favorable atmosphere to dispel people's anger.

India has ambitions to become an international superpower. From this perspective, China is an indispensable partner. If India develops smoothly, it may need 10 to 20 years to build itself up as a remarkable economy. But this road will be very bumpy as many global factors do not favor New Delhi. On the one hand, amid large-scale setbacks in globalization, India has cast a shadow over its prospect for economic advancement by ruining relations with China. On the other hand, there is barely any country except China that will help India out. 

Since India's independence in 1947, no Western country has really provided substantial economic help to India. Both Europe and the US see India as nothing but a market. They don't really trust New Delhi and are disappointed with India's investment climate. Therefore, by jeopardizing relations with China, India will only make its road to become a major power bumpier.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Xu Hailin based on an interview with Zhao Gancheng, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.


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