New Delhi: In supporting Pakistan on terrorists like Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, keeping frictions alive with South China Sea neighbours, and making all the attempts to strategically suppress India, China is repeating the blunders of its post-1949 foundational decades under Mao Tse-tung. India has to grapple with Pakistani terrorism in a hardnosed way which will briefly be explained towards the end of this piece. The bigger danger is for China which faces the threat of straying from the path of development and progress so assiduously planned by Deng Xiaoping.

From the commencement of the revolutionary state of China in 1949 and for several succeeding decades, the country was beset by crises. The crises fell in three broad categories. They were self-inflicted, externally imposed, or China was collaterally impacted by troubles in a volatile neighbourhood. The Korean War reignited fears in the West and particularly in America about the “Yellow Peril”. Its unintended effect was to spur Japanese economy recovery with manufacturing assistance for the US war effort. The Vietnam War had a similar impact. The loser was China.

The Sino-Soviet split which gathered pace from the mid-1950s and was only barely overshadowed by the Vietnam War at its apogee also turned China away from the path of growth and development. The competition between the Soviet Union and China to appear more socialistic to the world than the other further ruined China economically. It was made still worse by Mao’s maniacal Great Leap Forward programme and the Cultural Revolution. The burden of rescuing China fell on Deng Xiaoping who unswervingly focussed on the Four Modernizations. Deng said almost echoing Theodore Roosevelt some generations earlier, “Don’t stick your head out” and “bide one’s time”.

Deng Xiaoping had good reasons to be cautious. In his lifetime, he had seen Great Powers peak and fall; Russia had crumbled. He had witnessed the ruin of China under Mao. He understood like a much reviled former US president (Richard Nixon) that “economic power will be the key to other kinds of power”. This conviction about the singularity of economic power made Deng pragmatic. From this flowed his famous statement that the colour of the cat was of no account as long as it caught mice. This was socialism with Chinese characteristics.

What the post-Deng generation of Chinese leaders forget is that peace and stability alone bring economic prosperity. You cannot be in a state of constant hostility with your neighbours and still expect steady growth. China is in decline. Like all declining Great Powers, it hopes that higher defence spending and bellicose external policies will reverse the trend; it will only hasten it. Western Great Powers have learnt this the hard way. The limits to US military power, for example, are illustrated by the campaign against the Islamic State, where President Barack Obama is leaning on Arab states to fight the menace on the frontlines. Beyond a point, military power becomes subject to the law of diminishing returns. This is especially the case in the Nuclear Age. The otherwise astute Chinese leadership has forgotten the harsh lessons of its own national history.

Part of the reason China was viewed with suspicion in the 1960s was its attack on India. Democracies may not always provide timely assistance to one another and this was true in 1962 when India suffered the Chinese aggression alone. Nevertheless, it left a mark on history as a guide to Chinese behaviour. It was a muddled coalition of democracies that fought the axis nations in two world wars and prevailed. The axis of evil that China is building against democracies to its east and south in which Pakistan tags along as an updated Jihadi-Serbian powder-keg desperate to explode will suffer the same fate.

It is unlikely that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will bear fruit with his efforts with China to see reason against Pakistani terrorism. All the same, those efforts cannot be abandoned. On the other hand, India must reserve the right to neutralize Pakistani terrorists in any manner it thinks fit. All such measures must be quietly enforced, without the attendance of publicity and jingoism, and carry the scope of plausible deniability. If India has to become a Great Power, it must resolve its own problems. That is the only way forward.