India needs to restore deterrence if it wants to stop China from attempting to nibble at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and changing its status quo, noted strategic affairs expert and former National Security Adviser and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon said on Saturday. In an online discussion, he said making noises or building some international coalition in response to what China has been doing will be ineffective and India needs to strengthen itself along the LAC to make sure that the neighboring country is not able to change the situation in its favor.
“The answer is not making noise or building some international coalition or passing resolution at the UN. To my mind (it) is ineffective. If you want to stop them from nibbling at the LAC and changing the status quo, you need to restore deterrence which we did partially around Pangong in August. You need to restore it across the line,” he said.
Menon, whose book ‘India and Asian Geopolitics: Past, Present and Future’ has just been released, was replying to a question at the discussion organised by the Indian Women’s Press Corps.
He also called for a broader vision of India’s relationship with China.
“If we are saying peace and tranquillity is an essential condition for the rest of the relationship, then how do you explain the fact that in 2020, China again became your biggest trading partner overtaking the US which has been your number one trading partner in 2019. How do you explain the first quarter of this year, where trade has boomed between you and China, maybe because of medical supplies and the outrageous prices they are charging, whatever it is,” Menon said.
The former NSA also said that problem arises when attempts are made to spin the issues.
“The problem is when we start spinning these issues when we play them for domestic politics when we start telling lies about what is happening, what is not happening. Then you cannot deal with it effectively on the ground. Then it becomes very difficult,” he said.
He said there was a need to think about how far India can economically decouple itself from China and what it is going to do to strengthen itself on the LAC to make sure that China cannot keep changing the situation in its favour whenever it suits it.
Asked whether the perception of India’s mishandling of the second wave of the coronavirus crisis will have an impact on its image, Menon said it was not possible now to gauge if there would be any long-term impact.
“I do not know about the long-term impact. I do not think we can say anything yet. But it certainly means that people will not rely on you to some extent,” he said.
On what should be India’s foreign policy priorities, Menon said it must focus on consolidating relations with countries in the neighbourhood as also in the Indian Ocean region which included Southeast Asian nations.
“You have to be much more with your neighbours, especially when the world is getting more and more chaotic, more and more fractious, much more difficult,” he said.
In that context, he also mentioned that walking away from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was a “huge mistake” by India.
In November 2019, India pulled out of the RCEP over unresolved core concerns saying the pact in its current form would have an adverse impact on the lives and livelihoods of all Indians.
“So this idea that we can cut off from the word and we are a world unto ourselves; we have so much demand at home and we will run ourselves; for me, that’s crazy thinking,” Menon said, adding there could have been many ways to deal with the issue.
To a question, whether domestic politics was driving foreign policy he suggested that it has been the case always.
“If you have a domestic politics which is clear about the kind of India you want and the kind of world you want to enable that India; then it is much easier to deal with the world and the world also knows what to do with you,” he said.
“They also know what to expect from you and at least for a very long time, we had a very clear view where democracy we were building as a secular, modern democratic country of our own and that is what we would like the world to be a democratic place where laws applied, which is peaceful, and therefore, enabled the rise of India,” Menon said.
He said India was a very active participant in the international processes and that it had a very clear view of its role in the world and what kind of world it wanted.
The former foreign secretary also cited examples of how neighbouring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka looked up to India in drawing inspiration.
“That’s stopped; why, because you are not clear what kind of India you are building up. You are busy arguing about that among yourselves. And the India that they see some people are arguing for in India is not very attractive to your own neighbours. So the power of example today no longer works.
“So, it is not just, oh, we dragged domestic politics into our foreign policy, it is the kind of domestic politics we have dragged into our foreign policy that makes the trouble,” he said.
Asked about the escalation in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, he said the problem is that Israeli politics were in a very complicated state.
He said there is a real risk of further deterioration of the ground situation because of the nature of Israeli politics with the ambition of individual politicians wanting to look more heroic than their rivals.
On the Quad or Quadrilateral coalition comprising India, the US, Australia and Japan, Menon said New Delhi has significant interests in ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and it must seize the available options considering its strategic interests.
He said if the Quad serves some of India’s interests, then it should go for it.