RAJMOHAN GANDHI | 25 JUNE, 2020
History Repeats Itself But the Explanation is Neither Easy Nor Sufficient
Tea and a walk in Wuhan
Unfolding history often repeats a pattern, and we humans love simple explanations. Thus 9/11 showed that Muslims constituted the world’s central problem. Nineteen years later, the Covid pandemic has shown that our world’s primary hindrance is China.
The rest of humanity, or the non-Muslim world, was just about perfect in 2001, and the same may be said about the non-Chinese world today.
In the US presidential campaign, the Trump campaign now insists that “China is the issue.” “Law and order” and “the economy” will also be talked about, but the threat from “Communist China” is what should galvanize the world (and American voters), just as the threat from “Radical Islam” evidently animated the world following 9/11.
For the umpteenth time, stories from the US and India coincide. The Trump-Xi bonhomie (“Terrific working with President Xi, a man who truly loves his country” -- Trump, January 22, 2020) had found a perfect match in the geniality between Modi and Xi. Before billions of seemingly impressed eyes, the two Asians swayed together on a jhoola and strolled together in Wuhan (yes, Wuhan) and in the South Indian seaside town of Mahabalipuram.
Now, after the rough killing at Chinese hands of 20 Indian soldiers in a high-altitude border clash on the night of June 15-16, Indian analysts are unanimous that there’ll be no more joint swings.
There are growing calls for the government to align unambiguously with the US, and a growing expectation that it will. According to seasoned journalist Jyoti Malhotra, “This also means that Modi will now gravitate towards nations that will help safeguard India against China – and there is only one nation with that kind of power today, the US.” (The Print, June 23).
Adds Malhotra: “That’s why the Galwan clash is a turning point. It is the night India finally realised it needs new friends.”
The opposition Congress party’s criticism of what it sees as the Modi government’s failure to protect India’s long border with China has been buttressed by a call by one of its leaders, Manish Tewari. He proposes an active Indian role in a strategy of containing China by means of an arc extending from the Gulf to India to Australia to Japan. Though Tewari does not say so explicitly, this would have to be a US-led arc.
Thus Tewari asks for “a pan-Asian security architecture underpinned by the Quad,” i.e. by the US, Japan, India and Australia. (The Print, June 23).
Since in politics all things are possible, we could see both Trump and Modi attempt to rewrite or banish history. The two might pretend (and also persuade the devout) that they were always deeply cautious about China, the country that gave birth to Covid and failed to alert the world about the virus in good enough time.
But economics is as much a reality as politics, and the Chinese products used daily by billions proclaim the difficulty of uniting the world against China.
Moreover, just as Islam was not in fact the world’s sole or chief problem yesterday, China, with all its flaws, may not be the world’s chief problem today, or even the chief problem of either the US or India.
It was not China that caused America’s racial injustice or India’s internal tensions. The US’s difficulties with neighbours or allies in Europe and Latin America were not manufactured in China. India’s difficulties with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal were not exported by China.
In any case, America is not in much of a mood to “help safeguard” a distant country.
And if the Chinese people live under an ultranationalist, undemocratic regime, is the picture totally opposite in India? If Tibet cannot have its own freely elected government within China, how free is Kashmir to have one within India?
Countries like US and India will help the people of China not so much by underpinning a global military alliance, but by taking solid internal steps towards assisting their own vulnerable millions. And by demonstrating that their governments can protect people of all creeds, races and castes and enable them to breathe freely.
Rajmohan Gandhi is a biographer and a research professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US. He is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari.
Cover photograph; Prime Minister Narendra Modi sipping tea and taking a walk with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan two years ago.
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