A latest sign of mounting anti-Chinese nationalism in India is the trending #ThrowChinaOut on Twitter, and it coincides with the Indian government carrying out decoupling policies including banning dozens of apps with Chinese links. However, taking it as a chance for political gain, the Indian National Congress (INC), India’s current opposition party, has criticized the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for not being tough enough toward China.It seems both the ruling party and the opposition forces in India are competing in a race to see which side can be tougher against China, a familiar tactic among US politicians who are doing the same regarding US-China relations.
India’s ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, an alliance of India’s center-right and right-wing political parties, is now entangled in the backlash among the Indian public for its populist policies which on many fronts are damaging Indian public interests and welfare. It has failed a paramount task for Modi 2.0 on the economic front – no deep-level economic reforms have seriously been implemented and the boom of India’s sluggish economy is nowhere to be seen to stimulate another round of rapid growth. In terms of social governance, the coalition was eager to dive into its divisive right-wing agenda, such as the promotion of the Citizenship Amendment Act, which triggered nation-wide protests and violence in many places.
The Indian government’s poor performance in fighting against the COVID-19 epidemic has only served to exacerbate domestic pressure, and a hostile international trading environment caused by US President Donald Trump’s administration further hit the Indian economy. Against such a background, a convenient scapegoat was found, China. It works well for the BJP, and now the same tactics have been adopted by the opposition to beat the ruling party.
The opposition forces’ engagement of the trending #ThrowChinaOut indicates their newly found interest in using blame-China rhetoric. They are well aware that foreign policy can hardly determine the outcome of general elections in India; domestic issues are the dominant factor. Opposition forces also realize that decoupling with China will hurt India’s development badly, which means a huge blow to the BJP’s development agenda.
Now all political forces in India have agreed to devalue India-China relations and they are both falling into a competition over who’s better at playing tough on China-related issues. The charm of the tactic is that both sides can gain benefits from it. The ruling party can find a scapegoat for its domestic policy failures and the opposition party can increase its chances of winning more votes by pushing the BJP to adopt policies that hurt India’s economic development.
If Indian politicians have learned anything from the US, it is that adopting an anti-China stance will bring instant benefits when it comes to elections. However, in the long run, India’s decoupling policies will only backfire.
The US is setting the example of how anti-China polices can serve as a double-edged sword to its interests and trying to initiate protectionist policies in a new attempt to de-globalize. It might work for the US since its sheer size of GDP translates to a stronger capability to resist damage with history proving that its hegemonic position allows flexible space for it to re-direct its policy whenever it needs to. Blindly following the US will destroy India’s own economic prospects. As a developing country, it is in India’s interests to defend globalization and multilateralism since a global world helps bring in foreign investment and technology, and a healthy competition with foreign actors can help to drive domestic economic reforms.
For the moment, Indian political parties are only pinning their eyes on short-term election results, rather than long-term economic and social development goals by observing public interests. As a result, ordinary people will suffer.
For now, rational voices on policy regarding China can hardly be heard in India, and some come under fire for expressing a different view on China. When ordinary people end up irrationally supporting political parties which are blindly inciting their anti-China sentiments and hurting their interests, it is unlikely to see the current Indian government finding the space to adjust its policy choice based on the country’s interests. But the game won’t last forever and today’s populist parties will be either hit by new populist campaigns or be abandoned by the Indian people when they realize the hard fact of political parties’ shortsightedness.
The author is an assistant professor at the Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University.