The Indian tiger and the Chinese dragon: the next frontier

The India-China border dispute

While BECA and the Quad 2+2 Malabar war games bring India the comfort that it has allies in its struggle against the Chinese dragon, the Indian tiger must start engaging China at its underbelly, its global economic dominance campaign.

Much has been spoken of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new international diplomatic offensive to keep China in check. During his first term (2014-2019) he had the dynamic Sushma Swaraj as his Minister of Foreign Affairs who revolutionised India’s image abroad.

New leadership at the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Swaraj’s abrupt passing away left a void in both the BJP as well as a potential successor to Modi nationally. Her replacement is low key, however has not let up pressure on India’s enemies abroad. S. Jaishankar, the current minister of foreign affairs, has done an excellent job as has the new foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. The dynamic duo are experienced old hands of Indian diplomacy and come from the cadre, which also implies that Modi has wanted to maintain control of the political narrative in his second term.

While internally, the agenda of the BJP has thrown no surprises, Modi’s foreign policy has been rather hesitant. India will, in 2030, be the most populous country in the world with over 1/3rd of its population between 15-34 years. It is already the largest democracy in the world. On the global stage however, India continues to play defence. It continues to react to China and Pakistan while seeks alliances to consolidate its position and security.

India tries continue to try and counter China in the Indo-Pacific and keep busy at the task her direct neighbours have engaged her with, trying to play keep up with a hostile China-Pakistan alliance and with a balancing act with Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

China-Pakistan-Turkey-Iran-Qatar

The China-Pakistan-Turkey-Iran and Qatar axis has engaged the west on several fronts. Turkey is now a surrogate for China in the Mediterranean and for Iran and Qatar on several fronts in Africa. Italy has had to depend on Turkish intelligence in Somalia, Libya and Mali to free its nationals held hostage or protect its embassy. Turkey has challenged the EU by its aggressive exploration in the Mediterranean and with the coup in Mali now controls all migrant routes to Europe. Turkey controls the Italian funded Libyan coast guard, the routes which pass through Mali (which includes uranium and gold mined there, the Somali coast and the Somali government. Erdogan and Imran Khan have struck a very strong alliance and as reported by Hindustan Times, Turkey is the second largest sponsor of terror in India after Pakistan. Turkey is also a China surrogate, the latest example being the port of Taranto in Italy which has been taken over by a Turkish Chinese consortium. While India has been concerned with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Gilgit-Baltistan highway being used against its own security, it hasn’t highlighted the territorial contiguity this creates for Cina, right through to Turkey.

With the signature of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership China has cornered the Indo-Pacific market, inviting India to join under its leadership.

Modi needs to engage beyond the neighbourhood, he needs to engage the Indian diaspora and networks in Africa, he needs to assist his allies in Europe where they have most needs and India has legacy experience, in Libya. For this he needs a daringly new foreign policy and intelligence policy to lead the global fight against terror of which India is a primary victim. He needs to do this with his embassies and with his intelligence assets on the ground, in Libya, in Mali in Europe and in Africa. India’s natural allies are Israel and the South European countries-its assets are its goodwill and diaspora in Africa and the Middle East.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken a page from the Palestinian playbook and created a public relations paradigm of “occupied” Kashmir modelled after “occupied” Palestine. Modi needs to take a page from the Israeli playbook and strengthen his position in the seas where India has no shores. Guerrilla warfare in the new cyber age is intervening where it hurts your enemy the most, for China that is no longer the Indian border, but its Belt and Road Initiative and the ports it is trying to control in the Mediterranean directly and through other surrogates like Turkey.

Modi doctrine: The need for a new international paradigm

For this Modi needs a new charismatic leader in the foreign ministry, who will develop India’s international political narrative full time and take the offensive. He needs to engage captains of India industry to bring Indian industrial presence where it is needed, in the EU. He has to attract European small and medium companies to India, protecting them and providing them with incentives. He needs to use India’s vibrant democracy as an asset, pitting the one thing that Xi cannot change in China against Xi, India’s democracy. India has a vast diaspora in Africa and has legacy experience operating in Libya, Syria, Somalia and Iraq. Where India’s intelligence and diplomatic reach is limited, business person’s of Indian origin are commonly found. They are India’s asset. India should take lessons on diaspora recruitment from Israel, which has perfected the art.

The pandemic has destroyed India’s GDP, but has also given Modi a new opportunity to change his international narrative. Now is the time to open the doors to Europe, which is as worried about the RCEP as is India. It is time to take the fight to the Mediterranean and North Africa and consolidate India’s position as a world leader. Only then by 2030, India will have the resources and investment it needs to make that jump to a developed country. It remains to be seen if Modi’s legacy will remain his internal policies and the pandemic or the world will have a Modi doctrine to remember him with. Narendra Modi’s legacy should be to break away from the mould of other Indian Prime Ministers before him in foreign policy and prepare India for its position of leadership in the world in 2030.