We Need to Put in More Resources in our Soft Power and Military Capabilities, Onus not on India to be Friendly and Keep Peace with China: Former Ambassador Bambawale

Foreign Affairs

New Delhi: The onus on keeping Sino-Indian peace is on China and not incumbent on India and that there is need for a more “selective” approach to the relations, felt the authors of a book “China Challenge: Winning Through Strategic Patience and Economic Growth.”

Participating in a discussion on a webinar hosted by think tank Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), former Indian Ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale felt the onus is not on New Delhi to keep peace.

Ajit Ranade, one of the co-authors, suggested a more “selective” approach to India’s relations with China, pointing out that the two neighbouring countries could continue to engage on issues like climate change and others that are of common interest.

“Why do you think it is incumbent on India to be friendly to China? China has clearly indicated what kind of relationship it wants with India, she has attacked you in Ladakh… You must see the writing on the wall, let’s not pussyfoot about it,” said Bambawale, who served as India’s envoy to China in 2017-18.

“The onus is entirely on China. They are the ones who moved their troops into Ladakh. The onus is not on us to keep the peace,” he added.

Bambawale was discussing the book he co-authored with acclaimed scientist Raghunath Mashelkar, IT industry veteran Ganesh Natarajan and economists Vijay Kelkar, Ajit Ranade and Ajay Shah.

Released in September, the book, said Bambawale, suggests that India work towards closing the economic gap with China, and in the short-term, build relationships and coalitions like the Quad to protect its territorial integrity.

Bambawale felt that the Chinese were able to undertake “military adventurism” in eastern Ladakh because there is “asymmetry” between India and China, which on the surface appears to be economic — such as in terms of GDP. But there is also a gap in technological prowess and military hardware capabilities, he said, adding that even when it comes to soft power, economic growth plays a role.

“We need to put in more resources in our soft power and military capabilities. You need resources for this, and in order to get the resources for all this, you need your economy to grow,” said Bambawale.

Ranade pointed out the areas of common interest between the two countries and said that a complete “disengagement” between them was neither possible, nor advisable.

“When it comes to climate change, and perhaps other issues, there are areas of common interest [with China] that are worth exploring and exploiting on the international level. So, when we talk about China disengagement, it’s not a complete uncoupling. There’s going to be engagement, but we have to be strategic and selective about it,” said Ranade. “This is not the Cold War. Decoupling is impossible.”

Ranade also suggested India “relook” at being a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement (which includes China). India pulled out of the agreement in November 2019.

“Keeping out of RCEP keeps us out of a large trade bloc,” said Ranade.