The news of US President Donald Trump seeking truce in the trade war with China of Xi Jinping, while relieving the world economy, comes as a strategic concern for India. With this development, several goods that would otherwise be impacted in supply and price are soon likely to turn accessible and affordable on the one hand. On the other, the US-Japan-India axis that Trump wishes to build to challenge the imperialistic expansionism of China in the Indo-Pacific region moves to the backburner. Worse hit are the ASEAN nations troubled by China’s hegemonistic muscle-flexing over the South China Sea. And totally forgotten is the plight of India that has suffered from the proxy war unleashed on it by Pakistan through the terrorists Islamabad sponsors with moral, logistical and geopolitical support of Beijing. The duplicity of China in oppressing the Uyghur Muslims of its Xinjiang province in the name of fighting a rebellion and blocking international efforts to declare Jaish-e-Mohammed honcho Maulana Masood Azhar, in any case, never figured in the Trump-Xi bilateral talks. With the world and Asian leaders in economy cosying up to each other, the military cooperation Uncle Sam seeks from New Delhi to contain China has been reduced to a farce.
Cornering China is yet not a lost cause. Just a couple of years when the northern neighbour pulled back its troops from Doklam, other than the resolve of the Indian Army jawans at the border, the massive Indian market was what made Beijing see sense in de-escalation. Trade is, therefore, clearly the language China understands, as will the US too in the near future when push comes to shove in the matter of import tariffs. Why should the Narendra Modi government then wait for an extreme situation like the Doklam standoff to arm-twist China? Any talk on reducing the trade imbalance and duties on Chinese products must be subjected to the condition of China prevailing upon its all-weather friend to act against JeM, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and their ilk. At the same time, Washington must be told that its Indo-Pacific project has turned untenable in the light of its renewed efforts in building bridges with China.
Such a foreign policy would, of course, have ramifications for domestic politics in India. Activists will do well to pressure the government to ease doing business further in India to make indigenous goods compete with near-regulation-free made-in-China commodities rather than demand a mindless boycott of all imports. The big Indian market can be made a greater attraction for a salivating China or an opportunistic US if Modi widens the scope of ‘Make in India’ to ‘Discover, Invent and Innovate in India’, as the manufacturing country still earns less from any product than what the patent-holding country does. As China realises that 1962 cannot be repeated with a militarily stronger India where the government cares for the defence forces more than then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did, the deceleration of Chinese growth would make it more reliant on exports. The MEA has, for reasons known best to it, never made trade talks with China incumbent upon the latter’s equations with Pakistan. It’s time this was done.