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Discussion on Ms Gaurie Dwivedi’s Book : Blinkers Off: How Will the World Counter China

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  • December 15, 2021

    The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi organised a discussion on the book Blinkers Off: How Will the World Counter China, authored by Ms Gaurie Dwivedi, on 15 December 2021. Conducted in an online format, the book discussion was chaired by Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA, and was attended by Maj Gen (Dr) Bipin Bakshi, Retd, Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA and members of the Institute’s East Asia Centre, who participated as discussants.

    Summary: China’s constant aggressive foreign policy behaviour has taken the blinkers off its so-called peaceful rise, which is anything but peaceful. In this context, Gaurie Dwivedi’s book raises a pressing question: How will the world counter China? The author argues that just as contemporary engagement with China is multifaceted, likewise containment techniques too will have to be multi-pronged. In an engaging discussion, the author and the MP-IDSA scholars and members deliberated on different aspects of Chinese politics, foreign policy and ways to manage China’s rise.

    Detailed Report

    In his opening remarks, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy stated that the fractiousness of the geopolitical and geostrategic characteristics of the international situation suggests that it is a glove off moment. Further, the aggression demonstrated by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on multiple occasions has shattered the notion that China can do no wrong and has taken off the blinkers from the world’s eyes.

    Referring to China’s White Paper titled “China: Democracy That Works”, Ambassador Chinoy contended that China is actively trying to demonstrate that the authoritarian system of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a manifestation of the highest form of democracy, which the West has not really experienced. Moreover, the brazenness with which China is upholding its perception of democracy (a select group of people deciding the fate of the rest) exhibits their confidence in their narrative. He observed that the international community is descending into a situation where the trouble is not only with regard to trade, technology and territorial disputes but also with regard to tenets. The discourse now is about who practices a better model of economic and political governance.

    Commending the book, Ambassador Chinoy observed that it is an intensely readable book and will be highly useful to even a layperson interested in China. In a few crisp chapters, the book has highlighted all the key issues and gives an extensive overview of where the international community stands today vis-à-vis China.

    Speaking about the book, the author, Ms Gaurie Dwivedi, stated that the book fills an important gap in the literature on how China is viewed, and more importantly how policymakers view China. She contended that there are a lot of detailed scholarly works on China and on the history of India–China relations, however, there is a need to view China differently in the 21st century. As the book is future-driven and forward-looking, it does not mention much about the history of India–China engagement. Explaining the rationale behind the title of the book, the author stated that the book urges the policymakers to understand that countering China with a commensurate amount of military power is a uni-dimensional view and that it will not be enough. Blinkers Off suggests that the readers understand the significance of having a multi-pronged containment strategy as China can weaponise the different avenues of engagement like trade, technology and information, in an event of a conflict.

    Referring to Beijing’s use of social media to demonise democratically elected governments and to manipulate institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the author stated that the book attempts to initiate a discussion on these issues and also ways to respond to Chinese onslaughts. Also, the need to have a holistic and 360 degrees perspective about dealing with China.

    Ms Dwivedi underscored some of the important questions addressed in the book, for instance, how China quickly rose to power and the popular narrative surrounding China’s rise and why it matters to the world. Elaborating on these questions, she contended that remnants of the Cold War played an important role in the United States’ (US) decision to choose the Chinese market for investment, which in turn played a major role in China’s initial economic growth. Further, since China is now economically powerful enough to infiltrate into the political fabric of any country, dictate terms of trade and influence global governance, China’s rise, therefore, matters to every country. The author further opined that in a few years, as China will become a bigger economy than the US, no single country will be capable enough to take on China. It is therefore important, to look at the set of countries that could play an important role in containing China.

    Concluding her talk, Ms Dwivedi stated that China’s rise is concerning because it is not peaceful. Some of the aspects like Beijing’s willingness to weaponise non-military engagements between nations and President Xi Jinping’s ambitions of establishing himself as a permanent fixture in Chinese history through largely revisionist means demonstrate why China’s rise will not be peaceful. She contended that one of the possible strategies of managing China’s rise is through diversification of economic options. That is, instead of trading solely with China, countries need to adopt a ‘China plus one’ strategy that ensures enough economic exposure to other countries. Second, India can exploit the opportunity provided by China’s existing backwardness in the semiconductor industry and ramp up its domestic production. Control over semiconductor technology will force China to be more accommodative and limit its aggressive foreign policy conduct.

    Following Ms Dwivedi’s presentation, Ambassador Chinoy commented that the Chinese culture is an important factor in understanding the party’s policies. Much of what the party is doing today is the legacy of Chinese civilisational attributes of conformity to group dynamics that supersedes the individual requirement. Similarly, various other policies like complete control and the system of meritocracy are part of the old mandarin system. He noted that although there are external influences like the Marxist-Leninist ideology, state capitalism and contemporary pop culture, Chinese civilisational attributes need to be understood while alluding to misconceptions regarding China.

    Referring to the Sino-US competitive naval build-up, Ambassador Chinoy observed that the US might have fleets in lesser numbers but they are twice the size of Chinese ships in terms of tonnage. Further, the fact that the Chinese economy will overtake the US economy in size is unlikely to turn tables as the US economy has a tremendous capacity for innovation and R&D. He concluded by stating that when looking at the future of China, there is a three-factor frame—first is the leadership which comes and goes, second is the party which is a political structure, and third is China as a civilisational entity which will outlive everything else. Therefore, a deeper understanding of China as a civilisational entity constituted of its culture, language, agriculture, family planning and financing is necessary.

    As the floor opened for discussion, the members of the East Asia Centre at MP-IDSA proffered their views on the book and about how the world will counter China. Dr Jagannath P. Panda, Research Fellow and Centre Coordinator, remarked that the work is highly relevant in the present scenario as India is debating hard on China and also a consensus is gradually emerging between India and other powers regarding the need to counter China. He agreed with the author that while discussing ways to counter China, countries will have to look beyond the conventional military method and develop a multi-pronged strategy instead. He also mentioned that the international community needs to make a distinction between China and the Communist Party of China (CPC) and talk about the latter as it has a global outreach and has been provocative in nature. At the end of his remarks, he posed two questions to the author—first, why China needs to be countered? And second, if China becomes aggressive and assertive in its own style, then how will the world deal with it?

    Following Dr Panda’s observations, Dr Prashant Kumar Singh, Associate Fellow with East Asia Centre, offered his remarks. He complimented the author for enriching the Indian debate on China and stated that China has been more of a puzzle. He mentioned that the problem is how to define the CPC,  which has tried to move away from the transactional promise of delivering growth as a source of its legitimacy to cultural roots of China and has tried to make the CPC a part of China’s cultural common sense. The biggest challenge CPC poses to the world is ideological, as China is exporting its capacity-centric philosophy to many parts of the world. However, the brighter aspect is that China is playing by the terms of the democratic world and this is where the democratic countries can have an upper hand over China.

    Offering her comments, Dr M.S. Prathibha, Associate Fellow with East Asia Centre, drew attention to the debates about China going on around the world and the need for an interdisciplinary discussion to introduce fresh perspectives in the debate. She noted that the issues of trade and technology that the book highlights are the two most important aspects with regard to China as Beijing is putting in a lot of effort to capture that spectrum. Also, the issues of trade and technology are dividing the world about ways to counter China. She asked the author about the advantages India could have if it follows the ‘China plus one’ strategy and also the possible stumbling blocks in achieving it. She also asked how the international community will counter the Chinese narrative of equating good governance with democracy.

    Referring to the issue of raising the costs for China, Dr Titli Basu, Associate Fellow with East Asia Centre, asked about what realistic and practical potential multipolar solidarity holds in shaping Chinese behaviour. Also, with regard to domestic dynamics, she asked about the author’s assessment of the pressing challenges in front of China as it advances towards the 20th Party Congress.

    Ms Mayuri Banerjee, Research Analyst with East Asia Centre, raised two questions—first, why China wants to change the international order from which it has benefitted hugely in the past; and second, how the world can manage the Chinese threat in ungoverned spaces like cyberspace and outer space where there are no defined norms of behaviour.

    Maj Gen (Dr) Bipin Bakshi, Retd, Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA, commented that the notion of China’s peaceful rise is a myth. For a long time, various countries have sidelined their political and military unease with China and kept doing business as usual. However, post-pandemic, the world has finally woken up to the threat China poses. He highlighted China’s disregard for international rules, their tendency to doublespeak and expressed the need to develop new negotiating techniques to deal with China.

    During the Q&A session, Dr Anand Kumar, Associate Fellow, MP-IDSA asked about the author’s view on the rising trade numbers with China, despite the blinkers being off after the Ladakh incident. Capt Anurag Bisen (IN), Research Fellow, also asked about the disconnect between the business and the strategic community in India with regard to how they see or view China.

    Responding to the comments and remarks, Ms Dwivedi highlighted the various drawbacks and the exploitative nature of the Chinese infrastructural projects, which can be countered by initiatives like Build Back Better World (B3W) or the Blue Dot Network. She also emphasised the role of international agencies in managing Chinese behaviour in cyber and outer space. Furthermore, she contended that trade deficits can be strategically used as leverage against China to ensure favourable trading terms or for strategic gains.

    Report prepared by Ms Mayuri Banerjee, Research Analyst, East Asia Centre, MP-IDSA.