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September 12, 2020

China is now assertive, aggressive: Shashi Tharoor

National

September 12, 2020

LAHORE: “There is now an assertive and aggressive China,” noted Member of the Indian Parliament and acclaimed author and commentator Dr Shashi Tharoor while speaking to journalist Khurram Husain at the Afkar-e-Taza ThinkFest Conversations online on the post-COVID-19 world.

Recalling that China was in the ‘dog house’ initially due to the rise of the COVID-19, and was sending help to different countries in order to earn ‘brownie points’, Tharoor said now China had changed since their seemingly successful containment of COVID-19, they now want to be the ‘guarantor of the global public good’.

“They have taken away the semi-autonomous status of Hong Kong under the cover of COVID-19; they have conducted exercises near Japan and in the South China Sea, and with Australia they have imposed sanctions and even launched cyber-attacks against their government and businesses,’ noted Tharoor. ‘They have now begun what is called “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy” in order to assert themselves in the world, he argued.

Speaking specifically from the Indian perspective, Dr Tharoor underscored that India had also believed in the ‘peaceful rise’ of China but that recent actions of China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh had opened eyes in India.

‘Recently the Chinese fired shots at the LAC, the first time since 1976, he pointed out, emphasising the change in China’s attitude towards India. ‘India is only 2% of Chinese trade, so maybe they have decided that it is time to show India its place, even if it is in a hostile camp,’ said Dr Tharoor.

Khurram Husain then pointed out that for countries like Pakistan, the Belt and Road Initiative of China was seen in a very benign light, as no other country was ready to invest in such big infrastructure projects. To this, Dr Tharoor replied that the “thinking in India is that CPEC and BRI is a debt trap in the making. Sri Lanka has already found out over the Hambantota port, and others might follow suit.”

Dr Tharoor noted that it was only recently that the China-India relationship deteriorated. “Once Chinese leader Deng Xiaopeng said to Rajiv Gandhi that the 21st century was the century of India and China, but now it seems that it is only China’s for them,” emphasised Tharoor. “Modi has met Xi 19 times in 9 years, and even lifted restrictions on Chinese companies that the Congress government had imposed, so the relationship was very good,” he said. “But the attacks in Galwan shocked India, and changed everything, which is unfortunate since we in India always had a notion of the two great Asian civilisations cooperating,” Tharoor argued.

Asked what options India has in dealing with China by Khurram Husain, Dr Tharoor said there were only two real options: first was to go back to the status quo ante of April 2020. But that seemed improbable since the Chinese were strengthening their positions. In this case, India would have no option but to retaliate and also occupy some positions along the LAC. Another thinking in India was to drop India’s ‘strategic autonomy’ and align more closely with the United States against China. Dr Tharoor however emphasised that rather than going fully into the US camp, India should focus less on “containment and more on constraining”.

Explaining this idea, he said: “Containment was offensive, but constraining is a defensive posture.” “India does not need to threaten or oppose China, but needs to leverage its relationship with China to manage and limit China,” he argued. This, he noted, could be done through better cooperation with the rest of the world, such as the Quad which included India, Japan, the US and Australia, and also by increasing cooperation with the “5 Eyes” (US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) on intelligence sharing. “India will never sign a formal defence pact like Pakistan did with CENTO, but can increase its cooperation with other countries,” he said. Speaking of other effects of COVID-19, Dr Tharoor noted how the post-COVID-19 world was leading to a certain “de-globalisation”. “Around the world more and more countries are adopting isolationism and protectionism, which would not have occurred without Corona,” he noted. “There has been an extraordinary transformation in the post-COVID-19 world, with changing flows of global capital, restrictions of travel, energy issues, and even an end to borderless Europe”, he argued.

Returning to China and its importance in the global market, he said: “People are now questioning the real cost of that 5 dollar t-shirt”, pointing out that many countries are now working to get manufacturing back within their borders. “Japan has recently set up a 2.25 billion dollars fund to bring back companies to the country from China and other countries,” he noted. “The era of cheap goods might be over,’ Dr Tharoor exclaimed, underscoring the global impact of COVID-19.