Disclaimer: I have written this blog based on Mr Bambawale’s zoom meeting with Indian Express that I attended. If there is some incorrect explanation, it is because of my misunderstanding. It has nothing to do with Mr Bambawale’s views. His views were crystal clear!
Yesterday I heard Gautam Bambawale’s interview on the China situation. The Zoom meeting was arranged by the Indian Express; the interviewer was Shubhajit Roy. For records purposes, Gautam was India’s ambassador to China. Incidentally, another Indian Ambassador to China, Nalin Suri was my hostel mate, in Elphinstone, in the year 1967- he was in the arts stream!
Years back, Andy Grove used to teach at Stanford. Some students were asked how they felt when “THE” Andy Grove taught them. Their answer was simple. They said, ” We felt as if God was teaching us!” I will not take Gautam to that level about his knowledge of China, but he was almost there. He was soft-spoken, knowledgeable, and humble. He had the clarity that he had retired and politely replied to a question that it was not for him to comment on a specific tricky question about future policies. He also refrained from talking about political issues.
In the beginning, he explained beautifully, the difference in the Chinese philosophy of life and our philosophy—the meaning of word China means Zhong Guo (Middle Country). It means that they are at the centre of the Universe. The 21st century is not going to be the century of Asia, as per the Chinese. As per them, it is going to be the Century of China! Indian thinking is वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्, the world is one family! Gautam explained that because of the difference in basic thinking, Chinese are of expansionist mentality, and Indians want to get along smoothly with all others.
About the Galwan crisis, he said that it is the game-changer in the India/China relationship. Last so many years, both sides have shown restraint. There is an agreement that during any clash, bullets will not be fired. The practice was followed by both the parties during Galwan skirmish too. As a democracy, our government has shared the details of our casualties with all. The Chinese shared the details of losses on their side in the 1962 war in the year 1994. So we may never know the Chinese details about casualty anytime soon.
By game-changer, he meant that China now probably feels that India can be pushovers. Chinese GDP is almost 4 ½ times that of India, which could have given false notions to them about India’s weakness. According to Bambawale, the Indian army has given a fitting reply to the Chinese in Galwan, and we should be proud to have such strong armed forces. He also said that India had matched the Chinese buildup in Ladakh. All the previous events involved not more than 100 to 150 men, but this time buildup is enormous on both sides. Deaths have occurred in such events after more than forty years.
One of the reasons for disputes is that there is no clear cut border demarcation. During the last few decades, border disputes and trade disputes have been handled independently of each other. The border disputes were sorted out over a period, but that did not put brakes to the trade activity. Now the trade between the two countries has reached a level of 100 billion US dollars. According to Gautam, the time has come to delink border disputes and the business. China sent a message to India in no uncertain terms about their intentions. Probably they misjudged the bravery and courage of our troops. They may try to push us again anywhere on the 3400 km border.
But India is also in the preparation mode to give it back to Chinese all along the border. India should reset all the previous ways and give a fresh thought about handling the situation. India’s sharp reply to a brutal Chinese attack is a message sent to China in no uncertain terms. Just after I exited the Zoom meeting, I saw the news on TV that the Indian government has banned 59 Chinese apps from India. It has given instructions to service providers and Google/Apple not to allow users to use or download the apps- they are given 48 hours to do it.
The naysayers will, of course, ask how India will be benefitted from this action. There may not be severe damage financially, but it is the first clear message to China to behave. Commercially there are many things that government can do. But the society in general and the business houses also have this responsibility. He gave a couple of examples. In India, Chinese cell phones have a 60 to 70 % market share. For our next phone, all of us can switch to Samsung- he jokingly said that he is not the agent for Samsung. He also further noted that individual components, products may become expensive for the initial period. It is the cost we as a nation may have to bear to reset our equations vis a vis China.
He was asked why China has started the border dispute? Firstly, he felt that China wants to bring all the Asian countries under their hegemony. This thinking has probably started because there is a global pressure from the world regarding Corona Wuhan’s episode. On the side, the US and China trade war has been going on for a couple of years. China is also in conflict with Japan. But China also gets into fights with the outside world when it has internal or party clashes going on within China. These are their standard diversionary tactics. Overall it seems that China is driven by their wish to show that they are going to be number one in the world over a period.
From here onwards, I will write my two cents on the subject. Why do political parties not come together even in an event when there is a threat to national security? Is tweeter a medium to air one’s views on security matters? Do opposition political parties expect the government to share information about Galwan in the public domain? The government needs to think, discuss, plan execute plans ruthlessly if required. We should not make any decisions emotionally, but we should not forget that the effect of this reset is going to be long term. Colossal money will have to be budgeted for the expenses on the armed forces.
Even if there is a four-day war, we cannot afford it because the economy is already fully stretched due to the pandemic. But if the need arises, we may be forced to make the ultimate decision. If we hesitate, China will try to go for a kill which we can ill afford!