In the wake of the border conflict between China and India in the Galwan Valley, both the Indian government and a group of Indian individuals have clearly demonstrated their vehement ultra-nationalist zeal and extreme Sinophobia.This type of Sinophobic zealotry is attempting to exacerbate a simple border conflict into economic decoupling. After some Indian nationalists advocated boycotting Chinese goods, surprisingly, the Indian government was soon infected by their irrationality to and abused the concept of “national security” to ban 106 Chinese apps. New Delhi moved even further and irresponsibly disallowed Chinese companies to participate in road construction projects in India.
By contrast, neither the Chinese government nor the Chinese public have launched any restrictive policy or any headline-grabbing boycott movements against India. Any sort of anti-Indian sentiment cannot be found in the broad Chinese society. The totally different stances of the two countries are quite an interesting phenomenon to analyze.
While China and India have taken totally different attitudes as aforementioned, China actually understands the feeling of India very well. After all, this nationalistic fervor in India is the same as what many Chinese people felt 10 years ago when they boycotted Japanese products due to disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. But the Chinese people are no longer interested in such movements.
China is now a relatively strong and affluent power of the world. It is no longer as weak as it was decades ago when it comes to the current power dynamics of international relations. We are confident that the Chinese government is capable of defending the interests of China and her people against any foreign invasions. Thus, there is no need for mass movements as a means of defending the motherland.
Besides, the Chinese government smartly knows that nationalist mass movements will not only fail to actually achieve the patriotic goals as they mean to but also cause harm to the long-term interests of China and the Chinese people. Therefore, instead of being infected by those nationalist emotions, the Chinese government takes a remarkably rational attitude.
The fundamental roots of the protests and boycott movements in India are exactly the same as the Chinese ones a decade ago: Historical trauma and the sense of diffidence caused by power dynamics.
Regarding historical trauma, China and India have totally different collective memories. For the Chinese people, the 1962 Sino-Indian War was nothing but only a small war on its border. It had caused neither huge losses for the Chinese side nor any negative effects on China’s international status. For India, however, it was a totally different story: Although it was India who initiated the war in the first place, the Indian army was quickly defeated and suffered huge losses.
Moreover, this humiliating defeat severely harmed India’s international status as one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. China and India’s different historical memories caused the fact that many Chinese civilians do not even necessarily remember the 1962 war. Meanwhile, the Indian public is still a mental prisoner of the 1962 syndrome and thus much more sensitive toward the so-called Chinese threat.
It is undeniable that China is much stronger, much more influential, and much more affluent than India from the economic, political, and military perspectives. Therefore, the Chinese people do not feel any anxiety whenever China is in a conflict with India. Indian nationalists, however, are aware that their country is in a relatively disadvantaged position in the current power dynamics. They thus tend to be much more sensitive.
Indian people’s lack of confidence in the power dynamics is natural and understandable – we the Chinese have gone through that phase as well. What is dangerous at this moment, however, is that unlike the Chinese government, the current Indian government is infected by this type of nationalist zealotry. It is even instigating nationalist Sinophobia for its own political agenda.
Such a behavior will cause the border conflict to spread into the economic sector – which has always been the ballast stone of China-India friendship. One should never forget that China-India friendship from the very beginning was established on the spirit of the diplomatic principle of “seeking the common ground while putting aside the differences.”
The two countries certainly have considerably different stances on the border issue. But economic and social cooperation is the precious common ground linking the two nations together. It is the responsibility of both sides, especially India at this moment, to protect this common ground for the peace, stability, and mutual prosperity.
Zhang Sheng is a research fellow with the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs. Long Xingchun is president of the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs.