US-China trade war, coronavirus opportunities for India: Former foreign secy

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The US-China trade war and the spread of coronavirus in China are an opportunity for India on the economic growth front, to fulfill the country’s global aspirations, former Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said in Pune on Tuesday. He also said China looks at Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a decisive leader and sees that use of force by India is no longer ruled out.

Gokhale was delivering the keynote address for the seminar ‘India-China Relations in the 21st century: Challenges and Opportunities’, organised by the Centre for Advanced Strategic Studies (CASS), along with the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy (CCAS), Indian Council for World Affairs (ICWA) and Maharashtra Education Society (MES).

Gokhale, an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer of the 1981 batch, said in his address, “China is likely to follow a two-pronged strategy with us in the coming 15 or 20 years. They will first try a softer approach of lessening tension and making tactical concessions to prevent us from tilting towards the Unites States. The harder second option is of building pressure directly through military and security means on Line of Actual Control, in the north-east and through Pakistan. We must be clear that China will continue to follow its firm policy of strengthening its military and economic presence wherever possible in our immediate neighbouhood in Indian Ocean and circumscribe our global ambition by denying us space in International forums. Simultaneously, they will build asymmetrical military balance vis-a-vis us and strengthen their strategic ally Pakistan’s capacity as a hard deterrent”.

He pointed out that this scenario presents both challenges and opportunities. “First, there is no substitute to serious economic growth. If we allow the current GDP gap to grow from current 4:1 to 6:1 by 2030, the window of opportunity will not open for us at all. We cannot challenge the Chinese if we are economically dependent on them. The Make in India campaign has to succeed if we are going to be a country which has global aspirations. The China-US trade war is an opportunity for us, coronavirus is also an opportunity for us to do so. Industry wants to move away from China. But we have to rid ourselves of the notion that we are the inevitable stop for such companies. We need to re-engineer our policies to ensure that we attract those companies into India… Military modernisation is vital. The new Chief of Defence Staff is taking the lead in jointness and theatre commands. But we are seriously lagging behind in manufacture of military hardware,” added Gokhale.

Gokhale served as the 32nd Foreign Secretary of India and retired in January this year after a two-year stint. He was also the ambassador to China at the time of the 2017 Doklam crisis. He further said in his address, “The Chinese deal with us based on how they see us. In terms of overall comprehensive national power, they don’t consider us to be an economic challenge at the moment. In military terms, the Chinese feel we are unlikely to develop independent military capabilities to rival them. As a global power, China does not consider us as equal. But there are new factors that Chinese are believed to take note of. They take note of Prime Minister Modi as a decisive leader… something they have not seen since Indira Gandhi or perhaps Rajiv Gandhi. They clearly see that strategic culture is changing under the current government. India is willing to take risks… the use of force is no longer ruled out. As a regional power, they understand that India is growing in influence and capacity and it is more and more likely to challenge China’s interests in Indian Ocean. They see our influence in the region as very persistent and strong.”

CASS Director Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (retired) delivered the opening address. Among the speakers for the seminar were Jayadeva Ranade of CCAS, Former Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Pravin Bakshi (retd), Former Ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale, Commander Arnab Das (retd), Nitin Gokhale, Ajit Ranade and retired diplomats M K Mangalmurti and Sudhir Devre.