New Delhi: If not the century, at least a good part of the next fifty years belongs to China. In real economic terms, it may or not surpass the United States. But it will be the “go-to” power, the “Godfather” Great Power, to use a colourful expression from the mafia world. In its unstoppable rise, China will assemble a great number of small nations all over the world who shall do its bidding against big nations both adversarial to them and to China. India will be one of those big nations. At the rate China is going, SAARC might escape from India’s grip, and so too BIMSTEC. In China’s scheme of things, the Doklam crisis will be addressed in a uniquely Chinese way. The Chinese have proved that they are the masters of strategy. India and the rest of the world cannot even summon half-decent tactics to counter the Chinese. The writing is on the wall.

This week, ASEAN more or less crumbled to Chinese pressure on the South China Sea question. After more than fifteen years of diplomacy, hard talk and military encroachments, China wore down ASEAN states to discuss Chinese claims to the sea on Chinese terms. China prefers bilateralism to multilateral negotiations where it will not be exposed to collective pressure. Vietnam was the last holdout state. China used Laos and Cambodia which had both suffered North Vietnam’s revolutionary highhandedness during the Vietnam War to batter Vietnam into submission. Long-time analysts of the South China Sea dispute are stunned by what is widely conceded as China’s “coup”.

What accounts for China’s extraordinary success? Its strategic mindset. Without fear of contradiction, this writer would say China is the foremost strategic nation today. Relatively speaking, it is far superior to competition and rival nations. Relative strength is a dodgy metric. Relativity in geopolitics has a great deal to do with mistakes and blunders committed by competition. China’s rivals have done plenty of that. But China is also ahead in absolute terms. This is to say China’s strategic moves are indubitably out-of-the-box, utterly unconventional, conform to no linear thought, and are planned with a bouquet of options and dozens of future steps. China is simply the most innovative power today.

Compared to China, what is the quality of leadership, say, that India possesses? Abysmal. Narendra Modi is not only an inferior tactician, he has greater concerns about personal television ratings and how the newspapers portray him. If he gets good ratings at the end of the day, his day is made. This is called here-and-now leadership which thrives on gimmicks, overblown publicity, marketing, tinkering, superficiality, and so forth. The Chinese leadership is the complete opposite. Xi Jinping represents a long line of Chinese leadership from the era of Deng Xiaoping who have planned and strategized for China for over three decades. What you see today are the fruits of that planning and strategizing.

India is not alone to be in a rut with an abject, anti-intellectual, nationalistic and hopelessly third-rate tactical leadership. Look at the United States burdened with its worst President (worse still than Richard Nixon despite Watergate) in more than a century. The American ship of state has run aground. Donald Trump has no strategic plans for the United States. He has recruited a whole bunch of generals to run everything from the White House to the Pentagon. Rex Tillerson, his Secretary of State, not only does not have the President’s confidence, he is running the most static and muddled Department of State in years. (It is rather like the Ministry of External Affairs under Sushma Swaraj.) On top of that, the United States faces the dreary and benumbing prospect of presidential impeachment in the midst of the Russian and North Korean perils.

Russia is no better than America leadership-wise, and in some respects, the United States is better off. The United States has systems and institutions to cast out a terrible President. No such luck for Russia. Mesmerized by nationalism, a majority of Russians are not looking to the future and realize even less the cul-de-sac Vladimir Putin has put them in. Without reforms, the Russian economy has no hope, and Putin knows nothing about reforms and cares for them even less. Weapons and oil and gas exports are simply not enough to support a declining superpower. In consequence, Russia has been forced into an unequal relationship with China, slipping into its debt. China will eventually own much of Russia. Don’t blame the Chinese. Russia and Putin have called this fate to themselves. For a man past sixty, Putin is grotesquely self-obsessed, almost like Narendra Modi. The latest of Putin is being photographed bare-chested fishing somewhere or the other. Is he a Playboy or Penthouse male model or the Russian President? You can make out a mediocre tactician from one thousand miles away. He is dressy, changing clothes every three hours, when he is wearing anything. If a uniform has to be prescribed for office peons, he will spend half a day pondering about the buttons. He has no capacity for strategy. He simply cannot plan ahead. He will plump for quackery like demonetization. He has no capacity for diplomacy: Putin and Russia failed to bring peaceful order to Syria. Japan too suffers from having a militaristic and tactical Prime Minister. In the face of China’s huge strategic strides, the free nations particularly are condemned with narrow, nationalistic, divisive, poorly-tactical and hollow leaders. If Otto von Bismarck were to meet Deng Xiaoping in afterlife, he would concede to the Chinese as his true legatees.