New Delhi: Whilst celebrating Independence Day with pomp, moment and some superfluous nationalism, a word of warning. Trouble is building up within China against the dictator, Xi Jinping, who Narendra Modi genuflected to at a recent uncalled-for meeting in Wuhan. Dictatorships are a bit like dinosaurs. They are sensitive to climate change. Xi is in trouble since Donald Trump consummately commenced prosecuting the trade war with China. It is the best means to contain China’s aggressive rise and Trump has had a degree of success measured by the agony caused to Xi. And when the Chinese dictator faces an existential crisis, he does as dictators are wont to do all over the world: Attack a vulnerable foreign country to divert people’s attention and regain internal control. To deflect focus from the spectacular failure of the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong ordered the 1962 aggression. Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Forward Policy” and the Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959 and subsequent grant of asylum were contributory factors. India should be prepared on the India-China frontier and the high seas to forestall a repetition of history with greater tragic force.

Since Richard Nixon’s presidency, China has been accustomed to the White House pandering to China’s geopolitical and geo-economic ambitions and whims. Ronald Reagan was less impressed with the state of ties with China which seemed to him one-sided in Chinese favour but his successors compensated for his reservations with appeasement. By the time the United States woke up to the Chinese threat, it was almost late. The Chinese became such parvenus that they heaped insults on Barack Obama to the extent of compelling him to deplane from the rear door on a state visit. The Chinese thought Donald Trump was as likely to be putty in their hands as his predecessors and played up to the Trump daughter and son-in-law in underhand fashion. All to no avail, as it transpires. Being a hardnosed businessman who knows how to protect and enlarge his assets, Trump turned the heat on America’s growing trade imbalance with China and China’s coercive acquisition of America’s cutting edge industrial technologies. Trump has initiated a tariff war and is determined to break the backbone of the Chinese export economy. China has retaliated with tariffs of its own and has particularly targeted Trump’s rural base in soybean country but the US president has not backed off.

If Xi Jinping had continued with the arrangement of collective leadership established by Deng Xiaoping, announced his successor, and retired at the end of his term, the risks of the trade war would have spread evenly through the Chinese Communist Party. By instituting himself dictator-for-life, Xi has invited attack on his person for the sudden, calamitous decline of the Chinese economy consequent to the trade war. Where Xi kept a high profile previously, the wire services say he has ducked out of sight. The stock market is hit and he is being questioned about the wisdom of the Belt and Road Initiative where Chinese money is splurged on foreign infrastructure projects with doubtful returns while poverty has resurfaced in China. Xi is also faulted for abandoning Deng Xiaoping’s policy of rise with stealth and sobriety and opening the Pandora’s Box of the South and East China Seas disputes which have rallied East Asia against China with an emerging alliance leadership provided by the United States, Japan and Australia. Equally worrying for Xi are calls that have come for reassessing the Tiananmen Square movement which was crushed by the military in 1989. Xi is seen as an administrative cipher with zero charisma and zilch vision and one incapable of leading China out of the crisis generated by Trump. China’s only option is to sue for peace with Washington but can Xi capitulate without falling? Xi’s foremost priority would be to deflect attention from his politico-economic failures and he would be looking for vulnerable foreign targets. The peril to India in the form of a short and bloody war cannot be overstated.

Since China is trying to diffuse tensions with its East Asia neighbours on the South China Sea dispute, it would keep off one of its natural targets, Vietnam, with which it skirmished in 1979. Taiwan is under the US security umbrella and attacking the breakaway nation is too challenging in the circumstances. With Bhutan in the southwest, China is frenetically engaged to prise away Doklam in exchange for territories to its south of military insignificance. Besides, Bhutan is too tiny to overwhelm. China has friendly relations with all the other South Asian states except India, with which it fought a war in 1962. The Doklam crisis with India remains unresolved and there is the latest news of Chinese intrusions in Ladakh. The Chinese cannot be trusted not to precipitate a repeat of 1962, and it is insane to flatter the Chinese in the hope of NSG concessions. It is time the Narendra Modi regime entered the real world.

Editor’s Note: Independence Day greetings to our readers.