New Delhi: There comes a time in the life of a Great Power when its hubris must be checked. Such a time has come for China. The United States President-elect, Donald Trump, has made amply clear that he will challenge Chinese expansionism and economically undermine it with that aim if necessary. While India has no immediate compulsion to take sides in the looming hostilities between the United States and China, it does not require a great amount of intelligence to discern where this country’s sympathies and interests lie. Those who understand strategic signalling realize which side India opposes by some recently taken decisions. More signalling should emerge in the coming weeks to make certain to the world that India will not bow to strategic threats emanating in the neighbourhood.

India and China fought a war in 1962. Neither side has forgotten this. India lost the war but China has never ceased seeing India as a threat. It is because it sees India as a threat that China has propped up Pakistan both as India’s implacable enemy and as an aggressive nuclear power. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is part of that design but a small part nevertheless; the greater part is for the benefit of China and would likely be its sole saviour in case it is denied the waters of the East and South China Seas in a war situation. More than ever before, China fears sea-denial. Its rash action last week in seizing an undersea drone belonging to the United States navy in international waters of the South China Sea manifests its panic at what it perceives as heightened bellicosity when Trump is inaugurated next year.

China views two powers in the Indo-Pacific region as strategic threats. In the event that relations with the United States plummet, these are the two powers it will seek to target for its own consolation. The first is Japan whose imperialism in the early 20th century focussed considerably on China. The second power in the region that China loathes is India. It has never entirely been understood what provoked China to such enmity to aggress against India in 1962. This writer believes the reason to be the political asylum granted to the Dalai Lama in 1959 which ensured that the Tibetan question was never closed. If totalitarian China unravels on internal contradictions, the trigger points likely would be democratic Taiwan or liberal Buddhist Tibet. For the first time in more than thirty-five years, China sees a growing question-mark on the One-China Policy. Donald Trump has called it to dispute. In his mind, and in the minds of lots of others, including this writer, there are two Chinas. The second China is Taiwan. Taiwan, therefore, has emerged as a great threat to China by its mere existence. The second threat is the older one of Tibet. Since the Dalai Lama has made India his home, China cannot have enough of undermining India.

The difference from the past for India is that the incumbent Narendra Modi government is actually taking strategically decisive steps to counter the Chinese threat. There is a broad understanding that Donald Trump may be able to contain Chinese expansionism which directly counters India’s rise. Without publicly taking sides with America yet, India is making its own contributions in this direction. In the appointment of the new army chief who is both a mountain warfare and counterterrorism expert, India has made clear that it is prepared to counter the Chinese threat singly or as Chinese-Pakistani joint action in the form of a two-front war. The testing of the mobile long distance Agni V must also be included in this calculation. Where India needs some detached analysis is on understanding the CPEC. It must tweak the understanding to focus on the primary advantages CPEC confers to China and only secondary and collateral ones to Pakistan. Russia has backed CPEC publicly for perhaps the first time. The timing is significant. It comes after the US drone incident in the South China Sea. China may now be seeing CPEC as a lifeline in the worst case of sea denial, and it is probably leaning on Russia to express support for it possibly with an aim to mute India’s protests. Counter-intuitively, India should double its protests about CPEC and declare its passage through Pakistan-occupied Indian territories as grossly illegal. India should lodge a protest with Russia and politely accuse it of interfering in Indian affairs. It is wrongheaded to see a Pakistan hand in everything. China is increasingly being pushed to the wall as Donald Trump gains the US scene. India should do everything to squeeze China so that its strategic stranglehold on this country is shattered.

The Narendra Modi government is on the right track with China especially as it strengthens bonds with Japan. This writer has already proposed a formal India-Japan alliance. Often, strategic signalling is missed by a country’s own citizens and by its political establishment. Perhaps some education in this direction is in order. The government might wish to take the political opposition into confidence about the great new strategic challenges facing the country and how certain recent decisions assist to counter them.