‘Modi has done little to punish China’

‘It is only when Beijing sees a country with an infirm political will such as India that it acts up as the PLA has done in eastern Ladakh.’

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist party of China, in Wuhan, April 28, 2018.

Will Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan have a domino effect across the world?

Can India use its fallout to turn the tables to its advantage against China?

Bharat Karnad, Emeritus Professor at the National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi think-tank, discusses the possible outcomes of the Pelosi visit.

“The Modi regime has so far done little to punish China by way of cutting off Chinese access to the Indian market in the hope that this show of moderation will dissuade Beijing from resuming offensive military activity in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.


The biggest takeaway for India from the Pelosi visit and the subsequent belligerent display of Chinese firepower against Taiwan should be that China can be contained.
Are there lessons India needs to learn from this?

I have always maintained that China is less (strong) militarily than it projects itself and when challenged by a resolute adversary usually thinks better of it and either does nothing or, as in the post-Pelosi trip Taiwan case, lets off steam ex-post facto.

It is only when Beijing sees a country with an infirm political will such as India that it acts up as the PLA has done in eastern Ladakh.

It is obvious that Xi Jinping does not want to precipitate matters till the Chinese Communist party’s 20th congress in October and he succeeds in getting an unprecedented third term.
The stakes are too high for him, but will he find different ways to get back at the US?
Is that likely in the near future and what form will that take?

The results of the 20th party congress are a foregone conclusion. Xi has strengthened his support among the key elements of the State, especially the PLA by cultivating the base and installing leaders/commissars/commanders of his choice in strategic posts.

The question is can Xi get punitive without hurting China’s interests? He can’t. The access to US technology and talent is already closed off. But despite tariff increases, America is the richest market that it (China) simply cannot afford to lose.

So other than a symbolic gesture here, a fired-up confrontational rhetoric there, and continued fire drills and combat aircraft flights crossing the median line and offering the barest provocation in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing will do nothing.


IMAGE: A Taiwan Air Force Mirage 2000-5 aircraft lands at the Hsinchu air base in Hsinchu, Taiwan, August 7, 2022. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters

Some experts believe if China receives a rebuff in Taiwan, Xi will seek to scale up China’s international status by seeking a military victory against India. Is this likely to happen? Is India ready to meet such a challenge given that the Chinese have been strengthening their positions on the Indian territory they took over in 2020?

Xi will get China into even deeper trouble if he thinks he can vent domestic pressure building up because he did nothing to prevent Pelosi from visiting Taipei as he had promised, by initiating hostilities against India.

The Modi regime has so far done little to punish China by way of cutting off Chinese access to the Indian market in the hope that this show of moderation will dissuade Beijing from resuming offensive military activity in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

When this assumption is proved wrong. Modi will be forced to take conspicuously strong economic measures to severely restrict bilateral trade of nearly $126 billion in 2021 heavily favouring China.

It is in India’s interest that China continues to be engaged with Taiwan and the US, so as to decrease the likelihood of a Chinese attack. By October, winter will have set in the upper Himalayas, will that decrease the likelihood of a Chinese attack on Ladakh/Arunachal Pradesh?

For the reasons adduced above, there’s no possibility of China militarily acting up anywhere along the disputed border anytime soon.

IMAGE: A People’s Liberation Army Air Force aircraft flies over the 68 nautical mile spot, one of mainland China’s closest points to the island of Taiwan, August 5, 2022. Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters

If we tie up the knots, is the recent US arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and Pelosi’s visit, all part of a concerted US attempt to reclaim its leadership in the global arena?

You assume that the US is capable of expertly manipulating developments and juggling various policy balls in Arab West Asia, Israel, India, Iran, China, Taiwan when, in reality, like India, it is in the business of dousing this or that bushfire as the occasion demands.

There’s no hard strategy as such because as Henry Kissinger famously said America is too wealthy, too powerful, to need to plan or even strategise!

Nancy Pelosi’s visit factored in the fact that economic conditions in China are not so good and China being an export driven economy will not be in a position to face economic sanctions.

That’s what most effectively deters a mercantilist China — the threat of the loss of markets.

Some experts believe QUAD has not created the kind of momentum expected from it.

True. But was it ever really expected to? It is precisely the reason why I advocated in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, that a better geostrategic arrangement to serve Indian interests is for India to securitise two schemes — a modified quadrilateral or Mod Quad with the US, retaining a role of the extra-territorial balancer it has always performed but otherwise replaced in the Quad by a group of capable Southeast Asian States, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and BRIS (Brazil, Russia, India South Africa) — BRICS minus China.

BRIS will work because Russia is as keen as the US in ensuring India is enabled to balance China’s growing power in Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

IMAGE: US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Photograph: Kind courtesy Tsai Ing-wen/Twitter

Will growing tensions between China and Taiwan affect the supply of semi conductor chips given that Taiwan is the largest producer of these chips in the world?

China is setting up its own very large fab units to produce high calibre chips.

In the period it will take to erect these facilities, it has to rely on TMSC and other Taiwanese chip producers because it cannot anymore get them, nor the chip manufacturing wherewithal from the US.

Already we are witnessing a major conflict raging between Russia and Ukraine. Given global warming etc, is this the time to precipitate more military action in the eastern hemisphere?

Global warming will exacerbate the tensions between the developed North and the developing South with mass migrations from climate-affected countries of Asia, the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and South America to the more prosperous nations of Europe and North America.

Published by RediffNews, Aug 9, 2022 at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/dr-bharat-karnad-modi-has-done-little-to-punish-china/20220809.htm

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Africa, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indo-Pacific, Japan, Latin America, MEA/foreign policy, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian military, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Taiwan, Tibet, Trade with China, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to ‘Modi has done little to punish China’

  1. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    A charter flight carrying 107 Indian businessmen arrived in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province, on Tuesday evening, marking the second charter flight for international buyers organized by Zhejiang in 2022, and the first business charter flight from India to China.

    Over the past two years, flights between China and India have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.

    After a “7+3” quarantine, which requires seven days of concentrated quarantine in a dedicated place and three days of self-quarantine at home, those Indian businessmen will head for Zhejiang’s Yiwu, the world capital of small commodities, a source at the Yiwu municipal government told the Global Times on Wednesday.

    India is Yiwu’s second-largest export destination. The arrival of this charter flight marked the re-opening of the door for Indian merchants to return to Yiwu for procurement.

    More than 2,000 Indian merchants reside in Yiwu in the peak period, according to the source.

    In 2021, Yiwu’s trade with India reached 17.58 billion yuan ($2.6 billion), with year-on-year growth of 38.5 percent, with exports reaching 16.76 billion yuan, up 33.8 percent, according to statistics from the Commerce Bureau of Yiwu.

    A few excerpts from the following;


    These 107 Indian businessmen must be the top buyers of Chinese goods to export for the Indian market. All of them have houses in/around Yiwu. They surely must be contributing handsomely to the BJP party fund.

    Being myself based in China, I know that factories here offer 2.5-5% commission to the agent of the buying side.

    The trade between China and India reached $79.77 billion during the first seven months of 2022, up 18 percent year-on-year, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs of China on Sunday.

    China-India trade is on course to surpass $100 billion for the second consecutive year in 2022.

    Excerpts from this article;


    There is no way that Chinese exports to India will slow down. When so called developed nations in Europe and US haven’t been able to de-couple from Chinese exports. What are the chances of a highly price sensitive market like India doing so?

    Zero or put in mathematical terms negative/minus.

  2. Amit says:


    I’m more in alignment with your earlier article where you said Mr. Modi is not confident of Indian military capabilities in taking on China more directly. The significant changes in the Indian military ecosystem started only after China threatened India. It’s still got some ways to go.

    In terms of economic measures against China – here again the Indian economy has major gaps. So while economic warfare would be a way to punish a China, given the sorry state of economic affairs in India, it will suffer too. The Indian public is addicted to low cost everything. It’s one of the reasons it’s hard to make money in India. No one wants to pay much for anything or anyone. Low prices, low wages, low profits. So economic warfare will be hard on India too.

    I see India getting more aggressive with China as its economy grows and its military modernizes. I think the old days of pusillanimity are gone.

    You make some good points about Chinese dependence on the US. The US is actively trying to roll back China or contain it. It has stopped exports of semiconductor equipment to China. So Applied Materials cannot supply to SMIC or Tsinghua Unigroup. That will definitely hurt China. While SMIC has developed 7nm tech, they can’t produce at scale. The Chinese dragon breathed fire too soon and from too far. I can only see US China tensions increasing from here on.

    While I agree with you that Russia has an interest in ensuring India’s rise against China, its antagonism against the US (USA’s fault) complicates the situation. So a BRIS with the US acting as an off shore balancer is unlikely. Unless the US changes its Russia policy. With Vietnam, Indonesia and Philipines its already happening.

    • I expect my well-informed readers to aggregate. Add the market access cutoff to Chinese goods — that I have been suggesting for over a decade now — to the Indian military’s incapacity to fight a sustained war with China, etc. I don’t have to keep repeating the same things every time I open my mouth and in every post on the subject.

      • Amit says:


        India has boycotted goods from Britain in the past – that required extreme provocation (from Britain) and strong leadership (Gandhiji). In recent times the US has raised tariffs on Chinese goods, but it has led to no reduction in the US’ trade deficit and has contributed to inflation. How long the US public will tolerate this is anybody’s guess. But the US has initiated a long term decoupling from China. How neat the decoupling is will depend on how threatened the US feels with China.

        India’s capacity to tolerate higher inflation compared to the US is lower. So India will be more cautious than the US. US support for the Ukraine war actually makes it less likely as that is a new inflationary event. I just don’t see India doing more than it is already on the economic front, unless China provokes India more.

  3. nileshko says:

    Modi is slave to the defunct economical theories of free-market capitalism and invisible hand, so it’s not surprising that the Chinese and Americans are running circles around him. If anyone could translate Clyde Prestowitz’s The World Turned Upside Down into Hindi and give it to him or place the copies of it in every department and every desk, then maybe we have a chance of getting realistic about economic policy, but alas, given how much the Laissez-faire delusion has taken hold of GOI it’s very unlikely to happen.

  4. Deepak says:

    Sir,only card India can play is Tibet but unfortunately successive governments never openly supported Tibetan Independence or even Dalai lama’s middle path solution of real autonomy to Tibet.A buffer state Tibet can only bring permanent solution to chinese problem but our leadership is not making any visible moves on Tibetan issue.
    Economic boycott of chinese products has not yielded desired results as people are still buying chinese products as usual.QUAD also failed to archive desired results. Modi is not a risk taker so there is no possibility of any offensive from India in LAC.
    Where do you see India China conflict headed towards in next decade assuming Modi stays in power for 1 or 2 more terms due to Tina factor and Xi also continues to be in power in next decade as there is no serious challenge to his leadership?

    • The territorial dispute is unresolvable and the tension will therefore remain in bilateral relations. The question is whether India will take any punitive steps to make it progressively costlier for China to hold on to the new territory it has occupied along the LAC in the last ten years or so.

  5. Sankar says:

    This column reminds me of the observation by George Fernandez, the former Defence Minister in Vajpayee era who also flagged China as the real enemy of India (instead of Pak), that the nation (India) has no shame!

  6. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    A Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship will dock at Hambantota port on Sri Lanka’s southern coast for a week beginning August 16, PTI reported on Saturday (August 13), quoting sources.

    Sri Lanka, which had earlier asked China to postpone the arrival of the hi-tech vessel following concerns raised by India, cleared it for docking on Saturday, the report said

    Excerpts from the following;


    So much for India’s so called influence even in its neighborhood of South Asia. Come on Modi extend the line of credit to Sri-Lanka by a few more Billions.

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