In this very timely book, Pradip Baijal, an eminent civil servant who dealt with many of India’s economic problems, outlines the threat to India from China and suggests that the only way to fight off China is by doing it together — India, US, Japan and other democracies should put up a united front.
By TCA Srinivasa Raghavan
In this very timely book, Pradip Baijal, an eminent civil servant who dealt with many of India’s economic problems, outlines the threat to India from China and suggests that the only way to fight off China is by doing it together — India, US, Japan and other democracies should put up a united front. This is because he sees China as a major threat to world peace. And he is not far wrong — a rising power always threatens the status quo. In the 19th century it was Germany and Japan that did it. In the 20th century it was the Soviet Union. And now, in the 21st century, it is China. All three have one thing in common — they don’t play by the rules set by the incumbent power or powers. “Why should we?” they ask, “if these rules favour only you.”
The result in the beginning is a lot of hand-wringing by the incumbent powers. This is followed by resistance, accompanied, at first, by annoyance, then anger and finally direct action. In the past, the last part would invariably turn out to be a full-blown violent war. Now, it is the trade war declared by the US against China. Basically, the US is making import of Chinese goods costly. China has retaliated by mirroring the US actions and by devaluing its currency to compensate for the additional import duties imposed by the US. However, in all such conflicts, it’s the bystanders who always get hurt. When it is a violent war, people die; when it is a trade war, people lose jobs.
This is particularly worrying for Baijal, who strongly recommends that China’s growth and quest for world dominance be blocked. He traces the growth of China since the Deng Xiaoping years, and how? by taking the route of deceit and subterfuge, it has grown into a major economic and military power in Asia. The author has included six annexures, one of which is President George Bush’s (Sr) secret letter to Deng in 1989. In it, he pleads with China to behave like a civilised country. It was to no avail. China doesn’t believe in the ordinarily accepted norms of human rights.
Chapter 8, titled My Money, sums up Baijal’s worries. He asks a direct question: Is China ready to take over global governance in the 21st century, which is what it is aiming for?
The most telling comment is the one about President Xi Jingping, who last year made himself president for life!
“A critical analysis of President Xi’s on political governance suggests that China is serious about fair political relationships.” Baijal goes on to show how China starts interfering in the internal affairs of smaller countries and even suborns their leaders. He omits to mention, however, that all major powers have always done and still do so.
So what should India do? It has bought peace on the border by agreeing to import an increasing amount of Chinese goods. Its trade deficit is now around $60 billion, up from around $40 billion in 2014. China, meanwhile, has been slow to give access to Indian goods.
At its root, the problem is — while China is a low-cost economy, India is not. This has tilted the balance, but Baijal is silent on this aspect. Along with forging a united front against China, it must also put its own economy in order.
The book is rich in anecdotes, analyses and diagnosis of the different problems that China has created. The author has put them together in a coherent whole. This should act as an important input into India’s policymaking in the years to come.
(TCA Srinivasa Raghavan is a writer. Views are personal.)