Opinion: What does Xi's autocratic position mean for India?
With a greater possibility of facing an aggressive, unchecked Xi Jinping, India needs to work on enhancing hard as well as soft power. Photograph: (Others)
President Xi Jinping’s position before and after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has a very little direct impact on India. Notwithstanding Xi's boastful speeches to his captive audience at the conference, there is not much change in the stance and drivers steering China – India relations.
Evidently, there is no appreciable change in the areas of convergence and divergence in the national interest of two countries. India is unlikely to join Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) even if Xi has included these in the Chinese constitution. These initiatives are seen as no worth to India and clearly as violating Indian sovereignty.
Rather, indirect factors may cause a major difference for India. For instance, some of our common neighbours may give in to the more aggressive ‘Purse diplomacy’ of China or may even get coerced into accepting it. Maldives signing free-trade agreement (FTA) with China, land grabbing efforts of China in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan are few such examples affecting Indian security adversely, which India needs to work on.
With a greater possibility of facing an aggressive, unchecked Xi Jinping, India needs to work on enhancing hard as well as soft power. China’s strategic leveraging of water sources by diverting it or flooding it (being upper riparian country) is a new threat to South Asia, which India needs to be prepared for.
When President Trump indicated his enthusiasm to work with India to improve capabilities of Indian military on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit, it has some positive message for India, because no nation has ever become a recognisable power in global history without a strong military. Besides ongoing efforts to strengthen Indian military, we also need to increase the pace of infrastructure development on the borders and Northeastern region.
On the diplomatic side, we need to not only ‘Act East’ but ‘Act West’ also. India is better located to be the hub of global sea lanes with lesser choke points on either side, and is working towards this capability to provide an alternate model of global connectivity like Asia- Africa Growth Corridor connecting further West.
The inauguration of Chabahar port in Iran, with an opportunity to connect with Afghanistan, CAR, and further West carries the message that determined nations will find its way even if blocked by adversarial designs. If India could stand up to China to protect its strategic choices during Doklam episode, I am sure that it can do the same in future as well, on its own strength. Any leverage we derive from friendly countries/groupings/strategic partnerships/alliances should be treated as a bonus.
(Disclaimer: The author writes here in a personal capacity).