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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  What India should learn from China

What India should learn from China

The way China crafts its foreign policy has important lessons for India

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint Premium
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

If Sun Tzu were alive and had a Twitter account, he would probably be telling the world how proud he is of his country. The Chinese military strategist has several reasons to revel in the rise of his homeland; not least of which is how well his descendents have read and adhered to the Art of War.

Sun Tzu wrote in his famous book that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. Today, China’s foreign policy is doing exactly that and there is much that India should be concerned about, but also learn from.

Earlier this week, China and Pakistan announced a $45 billion investment plan within the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. CPEC aims to connect Xinjiang in China’s northwest to Gwadar port in southwest Pakistan. When completed, the more than 3,000km road will give Pakistan’s sober economic fortunes a much-needed boost. For China, this investment is akin to killing several birds with one stone. This has been the case with previous Chinese foreign investments as well. Slowly, a pattern seems to be emerging. India should take note of how China is tackling five core issues.

Strategic interests: By design, for a long time now China has been encircling India by investing in mega-infrastructure projects in the subcontinent. Now, one may say there is nothing new here and the string of pearls strategy has been around for a while. But that is how encirclement works, slowly and surely. Gwadar port in Pakistan and the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka have both been developed with substantial Chinese involvement and funding. In Nepal, China intends building a 540km high-speed rail link from Tibet passing through a tunnel under Mount Everest. This rail link will come right up to the India-Nepal border.

Economy: In the first quarter of 2015, China grew at its slowest quarterly pace in six years. How can the country keep its growth engine whirring? An answer is provided by analyst Jacob Stokes in Foreign Affairs magazine: “As Beijing tries to cool an overheated domestic infrastructure sector without creating massive unemployment, plans that channel investment-led growth beyond China will be key (China’s Road Rules, Foreign Affairs, 19 April)." China’s foreign investments are geared towards addressing its domestic economic woes.

Internal stability: It is no coincidence that China is investing in projects in its northwest (Xinjiang) and south (Tibet). Both Xinjiang and Tibet are centres of ethnic unrest. They are also underdeveloped. By boosting investment in these regions, China hopes to boost growth and employment. It hopes that in the long run this can help in minimizing domestic strife.

Funding: The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) proposed by China is garnering immense popularity. As of last week, AIIB had 57 members, with most major economies except the US, Japan and Canada becoming a part of the venture. AIIB’s purpose is to provide funding for Asian infrastructure projects. It is a no-brainer that funding for China’s projects in its neighbourhood will be drawn from AIIB. The New Development Bank formed by the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is likely to share in this objective.

Energy: Every economy needs oil to fuel its growth. Despite having the world’s third largest coal reserves, China imports coal, oil and gas. Why? Because it maintains a strategic petroleum reserve which is essentially an emergency oil store to deal with supply shocks. China can afford to do this because it has formed strategic partnerships with almost all oil and gas exporting countries. The country is also estimated to have the world’s largest recoverable shale gas reserves, reserves that it has as yet kept unexploited, no doubt for future use.

China’s rise since 1979 has not been a series of happy accidents. It has been the result of immense planning and foresight. The country’s foreign policy has been geared to meet its security, strategic and economic needs in a masterful way. If India is to have any hope of standing up to its powerful neighbour, it needs to take note and formulate its foreign policy similarly. Else, as Sun Tzu warned, the war will be lost without a fight.

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Published: 23 Apr 2015, 06:52 PM IST
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