WHEN the nation with a population of more than a billion is reeling from the havocs of Covid-10 pandemic, she is faced with a serious problem along the border, something that was always in the making. While Pakistan is busy with its provocations on the eastern front, its powerful ally is also opening a new front against India, at the other end. Nobody knows what Xi Jinping is up to, with his People’s Liberation Army (PLA) challenging India after a gap of three years, past the Dhoklam incident in 2017 when India stopped the Chinese in their tracks.
The stand-off this time started with the intrusion and transgression of PLA soldiers at different points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the snowy Ladakh region, leading to a deadly clash at Galwan valley wherein India lost 20 of its brave men. The Line of Actual Control or LAC is an imaginary and un-demarcated boundary line. This uncertainty about the border is used to best advantage off and on by the scheming Chinese. Since LAC is not demarcated, unlike the Line of Control (LOC) along the western side, the dragon takes advantage of the situation and uses this as an excuse for intrusions into the Indian territories.
While the world is fighting against the Covid-19 spread from Wuhan, believed to have originated from a government-run lab, there is talk about obvious mismanagement on the part of Xi in checking its spread in the initial stage. There are perceptions that Beijing deliberately concealed some findings about the virus and misled the world or kept the world in the dark which hastened the spread to various countries, principally the US, India etc as also Europe due to large-scale air connectivity. Anguished, several countries came together and signed a petition for a probe into the origin of the virus through the World Health Organization. India was also in this group of countries. This might be one reason why Xi is now seeking to train the PLA guns on India.
The People’s Republic of China led by the Chinese Communist Party(CCP) is flexing its muscles and aiming to become the most-powerful country. This is fine. But, with its newly acquired economic clout, it would be ready to go any extent or to play dirty games in accomplishing this task. A pre-requisite to becoming the most powerful country in the world is to first become the most-powerful entity in Asia. Neutralizing India is the way for it to reinforce its claim as the regional chieftain.
India has no military ambition. It follows the path of peace and wants to concentrate fully on economic development; something which China too had been doing in the past. Yet, India is bent on giving a fitting reply to the dragon in case it engages in any misadventure against this side.
India is both cautious and apprehensive in its approaches vis-à-vis China. For example, it did not agree to form part of Xi’s Belt and Road initiative that aims at linking various nations through a highly ambitious highway project. For China, India is the main threat to its supremacy in Asia, alongside Japan as well. India has its strengths. It is set to overtake China in terms of population to become the most populous country in the world by 2030.
Currently, India’s population stands at 1.38billion and China’s at 1.44billion. More than 65 per cent of the Indian population is below age 35; and the average age of an Indian is 28 years, whereas the average age of the population in China is 38 years. Realizing the dangers of an ageing population, China was forced to scrap the much-pushed ‘One Child Policy’ recently.
The amendment of Article 370 to bring Kashmir and Ladakh under the direct control of the central government as two Union Territories and the Modi government’s infrastructure development along the borders in an accelerated pace might have alerted China. There was a lull in such infra development in northern border regions during the UPA periods. This was advantage China. Now, the scenario has changed. One reckons that all these might be the prompting for Xi to let loose his PLA on India, and engage in deadly border clashes.
However, the script did not progress the way Xi planned it to be. After taking a hit in Galwan valley where it lost 30 soldiers, the Indian army hit back in full force and gave the PLA a bloody nose. China refuses to say how many soldiers it lost, but reports are that some 40 PLA men were killed in the Indian counter-offensive.
In India, emotions are running high against the Chinese government. There are nationwide campaigns to boycott Chinese products though this might pose some serious problems to India in the short term. India’s current dependence on Chinese goods, including electronic gadgets, is high. Chinese goods are cheaply priced, and thus have an advantage over Indian products. The government has banned several Chinese apps on grounds of national security, while some Chinese companies have been thrown out from government projects. New Delhi is also applying curbs on the Chinese investments in India. WTO rules, to which India is a signatory, would however limit India’s offensive against China on the commerce front.
Notably, the recent border crisis with the red neighbour in these testing times of the pandemic provides India with a great opportunity. There is a belated effort on the part of India to strengthen its manufacturing sector so as to reduce dependence on China in the long run. Fact is that there was a criminal neglect of the manufacturing sector here, and China took full advantage over the past several years in a progressive manner. India woke up late to the realities on the ground. However, the support from the public is essential for effecting a turnaround. The government, various agencies, the private sector, and the people as a whole must work hand-in-hand to make initiatives like the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ or ‘Self-reliant India’ a big success.
Pitiably, India is so much dependent on imports. In 2018, the total imports of India was of $618billion and the total exports from here were at a low of $322billion; resulting in a trade deficit of around $296billion. This is a pity. India has a huge domestic market, comprising the world’s largest middle-class segment with purchasing power. This should help promote the manufacturing sector to new heights on condition that the government gives the right push. With reduction in imports and a rise in exports, the national economy will look up.
The Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ should not remain simply a slogan. It aims to make India a self-reliant nation by promoting local products. As it envisages, a local product should have maximum local content, from the base raw materials to the final product, which could help create a local production ecosystem. It’s time we need be ‘vocal for local’. We may not be able to achieve self-reliance over a month or over a year’s time, but we can taste success if we have the vision, the willpower and a proper plan.
China is rich in natural resources and has extensive deposits of minerals and rare earths. Consequently, China exports raw materials all around the world. It is also buying up mines in foreign lands as in Africa at cheap rates, to keep them as reserve for the future. The Indian manufacturing sector also depends on these Chinese imports for the domestic production. We may have our limitations but the effective utilization of what we have with us is important.
For example, India has a rare-earths mineral deposit of about 7 million MT which accounts for about 6 per cent of the global reserves; and this is the fifth largest reserve in the world. China has the largest deposit of rare earths of about 44 million MT which accounts for 36 per cent of the global reserve. Even though India has a significant reserve of rare earth minerals, which is about one-sixth of what China has, India has negligible production/processing capacity compared to China.
In 2018, India produced about 1800MT of rare earth metals whereas China produced about 1,20,000 MT. China contributed 90 per cent of the world’s production and holds the monopoly in the supply of rare earth metals around the world. China supplies rare earth metals to countries including major players like the US, Japan and the EU. Understanding the importance of rare earth metals, the Indian government established the public sector company Indian Rare Earths Ltd (IREL) back in the 1950s. Still India failed to take matters forward. The main problem is the lack of production facility and right technology. The extraction of rare earth metals from the mineral is a complex process as it can also produce radioactive wastes. So a proper technology is required for mitigating the environmental risks.
This can be achieved through partnership mode as in PPP. When China holds the monopoly the world is looking for an alternative source. This is where India can step in. Increasing the production capacity of rare earth metals ensures the availability of these metals at cheaper rates. This also encourages the local production of components requiring these metals. This increases the local content of the final product and making the taglines like ‘Make in India’ or ‘Made in India’ really meaningful. This also opens up opportunities for our small scale and medium scale enterprises and will be a real push towards an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
Ultimately, what we require is strong vision, strong desire and strong leadership at all levels. There now is a serious deficit in this, and that’s the main problem for the nation. -IHN-NN
–The writer is a researcher and freelance journalist.
INDIA HERE AND NOW