China sees India’s march to prosperity as something to be afraid of and perceives its success in world affairs as a threat
The India-China spat about who requested a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi during the BRICS meeting is unfortunate. We have still not understood China’s mentality. As a people, the Chinese do not take religion seriously. It is said they have Taoism for breakfast, Confucianism for lunch and Buddhism for dinner and that too as good conduct for living and not channels of faith, far lesser as explanations of life. In times of anxiety, the Chinese have no divine to seek, unlike the Hindus who have karma. The Chinese civilization has not developed sufficiently to have a script for their language. They have thousands of pictographs, rather like when the humans began to learn to write in caves. Despite ideas in simple pictures; they have no alphabet. The Chinese therefore, in many areas are driven by emotions rather than reason. Pride matters more than facts; conceding that they requested a meeting with PM Modi means China’s need is greater than India’s, unacceptable when mentioned in public. The Chinese end of the scale must be higher than anyone else’s.
One shouldn’t bargain with a Chinese businessman or shopkeeper. At most, say that his property or item is beautiful, but I cannot afford it. That protects his pride; it conveys, that I am not rich enough. Such things are beyond Indians’ imagination.
Britain ruled Hong Kong until 1997. Till World War II, it dominated China’s southern provinces around Canton (now Guangzhou). The rulers mostly preferred Indian Sikhs for their constabulary, who discovered the common Chinese dreaded a kick on their backsides. This discovery made constabulary effective for the enforcement of law and order. Those Chinese of the region who recollect the constabulary do not like Indians. India’s image after the humiliating defeat of 1962 in the border war is still remembered by the Chinese. They believed they had “shown India its place.” The Chinese are still unable to reconcile to the fact that India is no longer afraid of them, or that they can no longer be dismissive or disrespectful towards us.
Look at how China began its economic rise. It picked on the building industry i.e., real estate, boosting its cement and steel industries, plus other building materials besides providing a great number of jobs. Build, build and build was China’s mantra. Roads, highways, parks and buildings were the result of this government-driven construction boom. Their regime also resorted to building residential houses by the thousand.
In 2001, I travelled by car 300 kilometres from Shanghai on a magnificent highway and saw thousands of ten-storeyed residential buildings on my way back at nighttime. I was surprised to see very few lights in those buildings, indicating that most flats were unoccupied. Millions more apartments must have been constructed after 2001. It’s a moot question how many have found buyers. Would Indians have the boldness to go on a construction spree of this scale without worrying about buyers?
China’s industry has followed a similar path. Land and factories were leased at virtually no cost. Term loans were granted for acquiring machinery at an interest rate of 1 or 2 per cent. The promoter(s) was assured of zero labour trouble, the only expectation from him was to export about 75 per cent of his production to earn hard currency. These were not exports but dumping. Yet, despite the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the world, including the USA, Europe and India imported these goods in the name of free trade.
India still imports about USD 100 billion worth of goods from China annually, comprising raw materials and consumer goods. Our exports to China are only about USD 30 billion. The Chinese cannot understand the contradiction between our treating them as both geopolitical adversaries and trading partners. My own experience in industry has taught me that there is no such thing as an indispensable supplier. If the alternative supplier charges a higher price, an efficient manufacturer can find a way of adjusting the cost of production, offsetting the higher cost in another area of production. One doesn’t let oneself go out of business. Buying Chinese because it is cheaper is an escapist action for a lazy manufacturer.
On the consumer goods front, how many items are indispensable? If we compare ourselves with the USA which is doing the same as what we are, this is simply incorrect. America has no geopolitical quarrel of the nature of a boundary dispute. Moreover, it is incomparably richer than us and can afford the luxury of this laziness. This conveys to the Chinese that trade is far more important than recovering territory. Jawaharlal Nehru even said in Parliament; “Not a blade of grass grows there (Aksai Chin) meaning, that territory is not vital to India.
Owing to their linear and rather one-track thinking, and the lack of understanding of the complexities of life, the Chinese cannot comprehend that the Hindu can both grasp and harmoniously co-exist with them. Given this insularity and absolute lack of freedom, it is no surprise that China sees India’s recent success and march to prosperity as something to be afraid of, as the latter has amply demonstrated that a free and open society can deliver the designed outcomes. China’s hostility towards us has to be seen in this light.
(The writer is a well-known columnist, an author and a former member of the Rajya Sabha. The views expressed are personal)