The world is in turmoil during the last six months, battling against the coronavirus pandemic, which many experts believe, was exported by authoritarian China.
Unlike the 1918 Spanish Flu holocaust, when the term became a mill around Spanish necks, China has escaped the opprobrium of Corona being branded a Chinese Flu! It would certainly have gladdened Indian hearts, but, alas, not to be.
In the modern world, nearly 200-plus nations on the planet are tackling disputed national boundaries to safeguard natural resources and to ensure the freedom, liberty, peace and prosperity of their citizens.
Traditionally, most nations were carved out after disputes over natural resources, since gaining independence from their colonial masters. In some cases, nations were also born out of disputes over religious faith and communal antagonism; such nations, often, ended up with leaderships more interested in power and establishing dictatorships at the cost of peace and prosperity of their citizens.
Only a few nations have a long history of civilisation, antiquity and harmony, with peace as the fundamental motive of carving out a national boundary. India is one such country, which continues to strive for world harmony and peace.
While the mid-June Galwan Valley clash in the Himalayas over an unsettled border dispute between India-China has received worldwide attention, even amid the China-inspired corona crisis, the fact is that Beijing has been persistently pushing its territorial claims across several countries, including India.
The trigger for the current Chinese aggression against India is the outcome of the Big Dragon’s burgeoning economic prowess and its domination of international trade and commerce over the last many decades. What has given China the big window of opportunity is its ability – or perception – that it can take on the United States, both economically and militarily. To be sure, this is not something the modern Chinese visionary, Deng Xiaoping, envisioned for his country when he opened its economy to the global market.
It would be interesting to recall the unusual, if accurate, narratives of eminent writers and philosophers in the 20th century, which can be considered relevant to current Sino-Indian ties.
One fundamental difference between India and China is vividly encapsulated in the immortal words quoted by William I Chamberlain (1862-1937) in his book, Education in India, (1899). “Chinese educate for practical life, the Indians for the ideal; those (Chinese) for earth, these (Indians) for heaven; those educate their sons for entering the world, these for going out of it; those educate for citizenship, these for priesthood; those for industrial activity, these for knowledge; those teach their sons the laws of the state, these teach them the essence of the Godhead; those lead their sons into the world, these lead them out of the world into themselves; those teach their children to earn and enjoy, these to beg and to renunciate.” How lyrical, representing two world views, but nonetheless, spectacular.
Irrespective of agreement or the lack of it, it is difficult to better these words, which capture the difference between India and China in its ethos and antiquity. The economic, social, and political developments in these two countries must be seen through the words of German historian Heinrich Wuttke (1818-1876).
During the last century, relations between India and China were never static; it was always dynamic, with China more than keen to play the Big Brother.
Eminent Indian historian, Dr. Ramesh Chandar Majumdar’s (1884-1980) warning several decades ago, encapsulates it well. His vivid assessment of Chinese behaviour and thinking, which he penned down for the Diwali issue of Organiser in 1965, is quite telling: “There is, however, one aspect of Chinese culture that is little known outside the circle of professional historians. It is the aggressive imperialism that characterized the politics of China throughout the course of her history at least during the part which is well known to us. Thanks to the systematic recording of historical facts by Chinese themselves, an almost unique achievement in oriental countries … We are in a position to follow the imperial and aggressive policy of China from the third century B.C. to the present day, a period of more than twenty-two hundred years … It is the characteristic of China that if a region once acknowledged her nominal suzerainty even for a short period, she should regard it as a part of her empire forever and would automatically revive her claim over it even after a thousand years whenever there was a chance of enforcing it.” Prophetic, it can be said, from the benefit of hindsight. During the last half-century, this has been proved by China across the territories of no less than 17 nations!
The eternal truth is that the West has ignored authoritarian China for far too long. In post-World War II, China has been non-aligned with the world order on crucial subjects like civil liberty, individual liberty, rule-based democracy, transparency in government functions, policies and integrity of data, among other subjects.
Consider the prescient summation by none other China’s former strongman and the man who set out his country on the road to economic superstardom, Deng Xiaoping. In a speech at the United Nations on April 10, 1974, Deng said, “China is not a superpower, nor will she ever seek to be one. What is a superpower? A superpower is an imperialist country which everywhere subjects other countries to its aggression, interference, control, subversion, or plunder and strives for world hegemony. If capitalism is restored in a big socialist country, it will inevitably become a superpower …. If one day China should change her colour and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression, and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her as social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.” Amazing lucidity.
While concluding his historic address, Deng was a model of sobriety, whose relevance can come back to haunt China and the world today. “The whole world is in turbulence and unrest. The situation is one of
great disorder under heaven,’ …. Thisdisorder’ is a manifestation of the sharpening of all the basic contradictions in the contemporary world. It is accelerating the disintegration and decline of the decadent reactionary forces and stimulating the awakening and growth of the new emerging forces of the people.”
Combining reasoning with logic, Deng stated: “We have every reason to unite more closely, and no reason to become estranged from one another.” It would help if Chinese President, Xi Jinping, takes a leaf out of his distinguished predecessor’s book!
India must learn from the mistakes of history and make efforts to introduce structural reforms to transform its economic strengths to uplift itself in the world – like China has.
If the prophetic teachings of great scholar- statesmen like C. Rajagopalachari, Vallabhbhai Patel, B.R.Ambedkar, Cho S.Ramasamy and others, continue to be ignored and forgotten, India will be stuck permanently in a limbo.
If anything, India could do well to learn from Deng himself: “… political independence and economic independence are inseparable. Without political independence, it is impossible to achieve economic independence; without economic independence, a country’s independence is incomplete and insecure.” With such leaders at the helm, little wonder that China has reached the stage it has.
Even India’s clarion call for self-reliance or aatmanirbharta, could take inspiration from what Deng said in 1974. “By self-reliance, we mean that a country should mainly rely on the strength and wisdom of its own people, control its own economic lifelines, make full use of its own resources, strive hard to increase food production and develop its national economy step by step and in a planned way. The policy of independence and self-reliance in no way means that it should be divorced from the actual conditions of a country; instead, it requires that distinction must be made between different circumstances, and that each country should work out its own way of practicing self-reliance in the light of its specific conditions.”
The great Rigveda sums up the same thing, differently. “Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions” (1.89.1 Rigveda). Indeed, why not.
IndianLiberals.in is an online library of all Indian liberal writings, lectures and other materials in English and other Indian regional languages. The material that has been collected so far contains liberal commentary dating from the early 19th century till the present. The portal helps preserve an often unknown but very rich Indian liberal tradition and explain the relevance of the writings in today’s context.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.