The continuation of the Donglang confrontation for nearly 2 months has tickled raw nerves of people and think tanks in both China and India. Many analysts cannot quite fathom the logic of India’s external actions, because, both from the perspective of international law or (overall) international trends, India should not be stirring up trouble. Judging by the importance of the confrontation site, the development stage of India and the risks that it may be exposed to, this is an extremely unwise and irrational choice on the part of India. But this is precisely one of the unique features of India’s diplomacy.
India’s greatest dissatisfaction with China and with the international community is to be not treated as a world power. Whereas Chinese often complain of excessive attention by the international community, the Indians frequently complain of not enough attention. In 1998, India conducted nuclear tests,. The ostensible reason was ” the growing threat it faced from a Northern country”, but the real reason was to gain the attention of the international community, especially the United States, and demonstrate India’s strategic importance in the wake no hope of winning the peaceful competition with China. So it wanted to move centre-stage through the nuclear explosion. This logic is basically the same as the idea that North Korea can make up for lack of conventional force strength through development of its nuclear weapons program.
However, since 1998, the gap between India and China has not narrowed, but only widened further. The great power acquired by the nuclear explosions is beginning to wear out. This faces India with a strategic dilemma: Confronting China alone is difficult for it to draw on the country itself; if it ropes in the United States to balance Chinese, it will fall under the control of the United States, and that does not accord with India’s own positioning of its power (profile). As a result, India has increasingly to rely on unconventional action to make up for its lack of power.
This leaves an impression on China and on the international community that India considers itself a great power and hopes to be given international respect. But it does not want to regulate itself with the standards of big country (conduct). This asymmetry between power and will, goal and means has long plagued India’s policy toward China and its external strategic design.
The diplomatic characteristics of India mainly stem from the following factors:
First, the cultural tradition of India. Hindu thought has exercised a great influence on India’s internal and foreign affairs. From the non violence and civil disobedience movements during its independence movement to its positioning (of itself) as a big country after independence, it is all related to Hindu culture. Hindu culture has brought many advantages for Indians, such as hospitality and self-expression. These have made India’s elite very successful in Western countries. But Hindu culture also has short points, such as no clear definition of “right” and “wrong”,;”right” and “wrong” being defined only w.r.t “friend or enemy”. This often makes Indians stubborn, both right and wrong, and rather uncompromising. Premier Zhou Enlai suffered a lot from the stubbornness of Prime Minister Nehru on the border dispute in earlier years. In recent years, there is the example of dispute between India and Italy fighting over two Italian sailors’ killing of Indian fishermen (called pirates), and disputes with the United States over detention of the Indian Deputy Consul General in New York and over (physical) searches (of diplomats). The Indian characteristic of ” commitment to posture ” gives endless headaches to opponents.
Secondly, there is the British colonial legacy. India traditionally pays attention to the relationship between man and God. It is the most prosperous and diverse place in the world. Secular national ideas were not important for Indians. India was only a place name; the great power dream was a British colonial legacy. From the name of India to the theory of natural boundaries, and to the special rights theory of India in South Asia, is all basically the legacy of the British colonial era. This is both a diplomatic treasure and also a heavy strategic burden for India. It makes it difficult for India to develop its relations with its neighbours on the basis of sovereign equality. They are either hostile, or hierarchical ones based on control or power, equal partnership is rare.
Third is the mismatch between power and goal. India inherited great power ambitions from Britain, but did not inherit the capabilities of the great powers that were needed to match the ambition. This leads to two characteristics of India’s external behaviour: on the one hand, India prefers to say “no” to show its strategic importance. Because the power needed to play a constructive role is far more than the development of destructive features of the demand for power. India’s neighbors in South Asia, basically speaking, do not have the means to take the initiative., and India has basically adopted the “no word” approach for domination of its South Asian neighbors. In the international arena, India often manifests this characteristic. In 2014, India suddenly opposed the previously agreed “Trade Facilitation Agreement”, which was poised to be adopted, and made the World Trade Organization face serious difficulties. Many international people think that India is a poison of multilateral mechanisms.
India, on the other hand, prefers speculative behavior. In 1974, India conducted a secret nuclear test, code named “Buddha is smiling.” Evidently, India is not willing to lay down the image of peace and non-violence but, at the same time, also want to enjoy the blessings of nuclear weapons. …………
The fourth is lack of experience in big country struggles. India was the “favourite” of international politics for a long time. It was the only country to receive aid from both the United States and the Soviet Union at the same time during the Cold War. This is of course an indication of diplomatic victory of India, but it also makes it difficult for India to form an independent diplomatic system.
When the United States encounters problems, the first thing they ask is where is their aircraft carrier. When China encounters problems, it first looks at the power equation between the two sides. When India encounters problems, the first thing they ask is where can they find help. In this (Doklam) confrontation, India has two main assumptions: First, China will not stir a finger, and second, the United States will support India. This kind of logic of formulating policy from the best possible standpoint is very different from the logic of conventional power struggle.
In short, the Indians are good at tactical design, not so good at playing the big game; ……… it is difficult to develop all round, comprehensive power like that of great powers; it is difficult to become an independent power center. One day, when India no longer looks for “my brother will help me”, it will truly have (developed) a big country mentality.
(This article obviously needs a better translation than the above literal one.)