New Delhi: Without commenting on the politics of the decision and its probable impact on the general election, this much must be conceded. The Congress party has displayed wisdom to seek expert advice on two subjects. The first is the Nyay scheme for poverty elimination for which, among other economists, the eminent former Reserve Bank governor, Raghuram Rajan, has supplied inputs. The second issue concerns a national security strategy for which the Congress leadership consulted the former head of the Northern Command, Lieutenant-General (Retired) D. S. Hooda, who is known for realism and sobriety.

There is a third matter that requires urgent expert intervention. This concerns China’s growing economic hold on India. The trade deficit has grown still more to China’s advantage under Narendra Modi’s watch. Modi, unfortunately, has shown little to no understanding of geopolitics or geo-economics. Superficial and theatrical, he has hogged the limelight for the ASAT test and sought to sell it to voters as an anti-China game-changer. Abuse of office apart, it is not even true.

China’s vulnerable underbelly is the economy. It is the exact region where the US president, Donald Trump, has applied pressure. Its effect has been dramatic. If it comes to that, China will probably outdo India in all military departments except soldierly courage. ASAT too. The only reasonably failsafe way to hurt China is to target its economy. That is the tail that will wag the dog. The Narendra Modi government won’t understand this. Besides, it has a visceral loathing for experts.

Which is the reason for the following unusual suggestion: Since the Congress party is engaging experts on vital aspects of the Indian economy and on national security, it should also consider requesting some others to provide understanding of the Chinese economy and, as a consequence, levers for India. This is a task ideally for government but the Modi regime has proved negligent.

China’s manufacturing activity has witnessed an unforeseen spurt in March. The Caixin/ Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index has logged at 50.8 for the last month while analysts expected a below-50 number to indicate economic contraction. This is an eight-month high but it is doubtful if the pace could be maintained without the stimulus which made the spike possible. It is in China’s interest to whitewash the impact of the US trade war because both the fact of contraction and the negative sentiments they generate could be ruinous for one-party rule and the personality cult created around Xi Jinping.

In the early years of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, exports grew ten times while GDP and per capital incomes tripled and quadrupled. It was the windfall of reforms and prospects of a still brighter future that permitted Deng to escape the consequences of ordering the Tiananmen Square massacre. Chinese totalitarianism survived in the same year -- 1989 -- that Marxism-Leninism collapsed in Eastern Europe.

Deng was convinced that interminable growth and prosperity would dissuade the Chinese from demanding political reforms and multiparty democracy. An export-led economy was the only way to enrich China and keep dark and dangerous democratic forces at bay at the same time. For reasons of the Cold War and subsequently for fears of provoking the Chinese giant into uncontrollable wrath, the stark vulnerabilities of the Chinese economy were left unexploited. When Donald Trump broke the trend and challenged the Chinese on trade, the fire-breathing dragon suddenly became a myth. Trump took care not to call China’s military bluff: Memories of the Korean War, obviously, still endure.

Unlike the United States, however, India’s problem with China is not primarily economic although it does worsen the asymmetry between the two states and exacerbates the geopolitical differences. Profiting from India’s open market economy, it invests a percentage in Pakistan to preserve it in a state of permanent hostility with India. Once a lever, the Dalai Lama has been steadily degraded over the years, and indeed rather precipitately over the past months by the Modi regime in a misguided attempt to get close to the Chinese leadership. Tibetan refugees have no expectations from the Indian government anymore and are either returning to Tibet or slowly moving to the West. With the impending loss of the Tibet lever, India will have almost nothing left to contain Chinese expansionism with the exception of India’s vast market, and the country vitally needs a roadmap to progress on that front.

To be sure, sanctioning China for providing sustenance to Pakistani hostility against India is a major foreign-policy and geo-economic move, and it requires expert planning and guidance. In the West, opposition parties routinely commission such studies. It is worthwhile for the Congress party to do so as well. One cannot presume to know the outcome and conclusion of the study which would have to balance the two contradictions of preserving an open economy and shutting China out of it with all the consequences it would bring to Indian business and the regional supply-chains.

But such a study could no longer be deferred. Every day brings new headlines about fresh Chinese conquests in the Indian market. Before the time arrives when India would be powerless against the Chinese, New Delhi must act. Having spearheaded the 1991 reforms which supplied India a growth roadmap, it devolves on the Congress party again to ensure that China does not draw unfair advantages from the Indian economy and imperils India further in relation to Pakistan.