A former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis once told his Marines that “The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.” Today, with the battlefield extending to countries’ economies, another ‘six inches’ have become important—the wallet in our pockets. Globalisation has made national economies more interdependent and consequently, more vulnerable to hostile economic actions by some rival countries. This doesn’t mean that globalisation, as a concept, is inherently deleterious but means that the expansionist powers such as China, take undue advantage of it to establish a neo-colonial empire that thrives on the economic invasion. Therefore in a world that is witnessing economic warfare, what do we, as citizens cum economic units of a country, buy with our wallets, is a critical question.
'To fulfil the Atmanirbhar Bharat dream, we need an integrated infrastructure. For this, we have prepared a huge plan to connect the entire country through a multi-modal connectivity infrastructure'
China, since the late 1970s, has registered strong economic growth and has emerged as a global factory on account of its having benefited the most from globalisation. Leveraging its strength in terms of cheap raw materials and labour, China has emerged as a strong manufacturing hub and a significant trading partner for almost every country in the world. China’s trade dominance can be gauged from the fact that in 1995, it had a 3% share in global trade and today has more than a 12.4% share, becoming the world’s largest trader and bypassing the United States (US) that has a share of 11.5%. Today it enjoys a trade surplus with countries such as the US, India and countries in the European Union. And that is where the problem starts or makes itself conspicuous. China, in the wake of backlash by the international community over former’s negligence and failure in containing the Wuhan virus outbreak, has attempted to leverage its mercantile strength to coerce the international community into not uniting against it and not calling for an independent and impartial investigation into the origin of the Wuhan virus. This essentially means that China has waged an economic war on different countries for not being the silent observers of the former’s military and economic unilateralism waged at the cost of international peace and order.
India, by virtue of being one of the major countries of the world in economic, military and political terms and more importantly, the rising dragon’s immediate neighbour, has not been untouched by China’s unilateral actions. From the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean, the Indian subcontinent has become a primary theatre of geopolitics between the two most populous and growth-hungry countries of the world. After a prolonged military stand-off, wherein India’s erecting border infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control irked China into starting a skirmish resulting in casualties on both sides, the action has shifted to the realm of economics and trade. The Indian Government has realised that apart from a strong military response, a strong economic response is critical too. After all, China gets its weight in the international community from the economic heft it commands. Attack its economic frontiers and the Chinese Communist Party will start to worry! So will the People’s Liberation Army.
Therefore, the ‘wallet’ in our pockets has never carried more weight in our country’s history. It is for the first time that India is gearing up for a gradual, sustained and long term economic war against China. From banning Chinese apps to cancelling infrastructure tenders in which Chinese companies are bidders, India has begun its economic warfare against China. As Kanchan Gupta at Observer Research Foundation (ORF) writes, “This is in tune with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ or self-reliant India.”
What is the nature of this call? Is it a mere political slogan by the political executive of a country that is teeming with anger against an expansionary power? Is it a mere economic argument advanced by a Prime Minister looking to uplift the domestic economy out of the mess created due to COVID-19? No. The call by the Prime Minister for an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is a war cry for the country’s more than 1.3 billion citizens to join the economic war against a neo-imperialist power that seeks to subdue the rest of the world. The call is a reminder to the country’s citizens that they are not mere cheerleaders but active soldiers in the process of building the nation and protecting it. After all, didn’t we, “the people of India”, together “resolve” to “constitute India” into a “sovereign republic”? “Strength on the border needs strength within the border”, writes Gautam Chikermane. Atmanirbhar Bharat invites us to do just that. It places upon us, the citizens, a responsibility to make our country self-dependent enough to thwart the colonial aspirations of an expansionist power. It is not a call for isolating ourselves from the world. On the contrary, it is a call for making ourselves strong enough to carve an equal and strategic partnership with the rest of the world to nip the dragon in its enlarged bud.
The Indian Government has realised that apart from a strong military response, a strong economic response is critical too. After all, China gets its weight in the international community from the economic heft it commands. Attack its economic frontiers and the Chinese Communist Party will start to worry! So will the People’s Liberation Army
Rudyard Kipling, the great novelist, said in 1915 that “However the world pretends to divide itself, there are only two divisions in the world today—human beings and Germans.” The same can be said for today’s world, albeit the two divisions today are—human beings and Chinese. Its military and economic adventures across the globe have announced its conception of a zero-sum world wherein China’s rise has to come at the cost of the rest of the world’s well-being. Its principles stand in complete contrast to that of India, which imagines a positive-sum world wherein countries can co-prosper, co-operate and co-exist like in a family. Thus, it is high time that we as citizens of a democratic, principled and civilisational nation of India converge and act against an autocratic, unprincipled and rogue state to our north. The action has to emerge from the realms of economics and trade. “It (China) has perfected the ability of sleeping with its enemies and selling to them as well”, writes Samir Saran. It is for the country’s 1.3 billion citizens to puncture this ability.
(The writer has worked as a political consultant and as an assistant to Lok Sabha MP Parvesh Sahib Singh. Currently, he is working at Observer Research Foundation under its distinguished fellow Kanchan Gupta)