China’s discomfort with India’s rise does not need amplification.
We have seen this repeatedly in its aggressive military build-up along the border, its unilateral publication of controversial maps claiming large slices of Indian territory, and its regular opposition to India’s entry into institutions like the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) or the United Nations Security Council.
During the just-concluded G-20 summit, it went one step further and . Its objections included a refusal to endorse the idea of green hydrogen, or the need to secure critical raw materials or building a global biofuels alliance.
The objections seem trivial, including an objection to calling hydrogen “green”.
As for biofuels, which brings together , the Chinese objections seem petulant rather than driven by real reason.
Talk about China+1 could only have exacerbated its insecurities. For China, there is only China, no Plus Anybody.
The pettiest stand relates to (the world is a family) in G-20 documents.
The last relatively minor issue offers us a deeper clue on what the real problem is with China.
Despite becoming the second largest country by GDP (gross domestic product) and military power, it is still insecure in its perch.
Its fears about India’s rise may be natural — even the US cannot be keen to see another superpower rising in Asia, except as a counterweight to China — but its real insecurity (one suspects) stems from the realisation that only India can offer the world the kind of civilisational alternative to western values and ideas.
When the West seeks change, it will look to India, not China, for inspiration. This is not to arrogantly suggest that India is offering those options right now, but its core ideas on spirituality and plurality are difficult to beat.
China and India are the two oldest surviving civilisations, the others have been destroyed by the rise of “universalist” faiths like Christianity and Islam. But China has been no different, except that its universalism is Confucian, driven by giving itself an exalted status in the comity of nations.
China’s worry about India may stem from the fact that for much of the period before the rise of the West, the flow of wisdom was from India to China. Our civilisational exports include Buddhist and other ideas, but it is difficult to find one single Chinese idea that has taken root in India.
The exception may be Chinese cuisine in the recent past, but this has been Indianised to such an extent that the Chinese would be horrified to recognise the resulting concoction as Chinese.
The takeover of Tibet in the 1950s did not obliterate Indian influence on China’s periphery, for the Dalai Lama is still here, seeking refuge in our country against Chinese attempts to Sinify Tibetan culture.
India’s biggest soft power has been the export, and gradual acceptance, of some of its core philosophical and life concepts, which include yoga, meditation, ayurveda, and the idea of pluralism itself.
India may or may not be the world’s oldest democracy as defined by the West, but it is the only surviving pluralist tradition in the world.
What China subliminally fears is not just India’s politico-economic rise, but its civilisational rebirth. This is the only thing that can explain its opposition to simple phrases like Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
In many ways, this is what the West fears about India, too, despite our comprehensive inability to get our act together on many internal and external fronts.
Maybe, just maybe, a total belief in plurality makes unifying ideals tougher for Indians to adopt. It is our strength, and our weakness. But the West knows that its universalism has a sell-by date.
Our challenge is to ensure that we do not reduce Sanatana Dharma to just another “ism”. It is much bigger than that, never mind what Stalin Jr thinks about it.
Contrary to general assumption, and despite the overlay of caste-based rigidities, Sanatan means eternal, and eternal does not mean unchanging.
Only that can be eternal which can respond to the challenges of change and reinvent itself to remain relevant for eternity.
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