New Delhi: China is India’s number one enemy. Entities independent of the government like this magazine can say this. Governments can’t. When the late George Fernandes called out China, it deeply embarrassed the Atal Behari Vajpayee government even while it recognized the truth of his Lohiaite assertion. Vajpayee tried mending fences but Beijing was unmoved. A PLA patrol intruded into Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh in a calculated snub to the visiting prime minister. China had invaded Vietnam when Vajpayee was on a visit to Beijing as foreign minister.

China’s India enmity for the Dalai Lama asylum and keeping the Tibetan independence movement alive makes it an all-weather friend of Pakistan to the extent of tolerating Pakistani involvement in anti-China Uighur terrorism. With the United States in the final stages of withdrawing from Afghanistan, China needs Pakistan to keep future Taliban rulers in line, good humour, and complaisant to Chinese resource extraction in lieu of generous financial compensation.

Through Pakistan’s Baluchistan and roads linking Gwadar port in the Arabian Sea to western China, China gets a land route for Middle East oil and other imports as reserve in case parts of the Indian Ocean and even contentious littoral seas are denied to it by adversarial powers. Pakistan also becomes a market for China via the CPEC project with the final aim to leave Pakistan so heavily indebted as to become a Chinese vassal. In the interim, China props Pakistan to bleed India so that it never meets its Great Power ambitions and becomes a political, economic and military threat to China’s pre-eminence in the “Indo-Pacific”.

As long as Pakistan is a nuclear power, there are limits to Indian punitive measures against Pakistani terrorism. The reason China adamantly rejects India’s entry into the NSG is that a left out Pakistan would come under pressure to denuclearize and tilt the strategic balance in favour of India. China could never be a friend of India. It uses Pakistan as a battering ram against India. Although China faces a long-term threat from terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed, it simply cannot agree to Jaish’s Masood Azhar’s UN proscription because it weakens Pakistan.

The only way to weaken China to weaken Pakistan is to attack the Chinese economy. For his own reasons, Donald Trump is doing the same thing. The results have been dramatic and extraordinarily damaging to China. For the first time in decades, the Chinese economy shows a steady decline. Domestic consumption cannot compensate for falling exports. Unless China gives in to the United States, its exports will attract a crippling twenty-five per cent tariff. Taking the cue from the US, Western Europe is tightening controls on China. Its companies like Huawei face bans on both sides of the Atlantic and the heat is crossing the Pacific as well. Once bans extend to other Chinese giants, China’s economic miracle will cease to be so.

India has to feed on this narrative by slowly and surely shutting off China from the Indian economy. India has nothing to do with the Belt and Road Initiative because its Pakistan leg passes through Kashmir territories claimed by India. China has acutely felt the absence of India’s two-and-a-half trillion-dollar economy from BRI. If Chinese exports and investments face a further shutdown in the country, it would add to China’s trade agony from the US. A section of the press has advocated sanctioning the Chinese economy for supporting the Pakistan terrorist state against India. Perhaps the time has come to seriously contemplate this. Naturally, China will fight back claiming Indian protectionism and industry and exports benefiting from cheap Chinese imports will resist sanctions. Nor could the government precipitately take the giant step of shutting out China without seeking expert advice or industry consensus.

On the other hand, there is irrefutable evidence that Pakistani terrorism is sustained if not encouraged by unwavering Chinese support. Unless China is punished for backing a terrorist state, Pakistan will continue to bleed India. Tackling China is by no means all. It must be joined with political, diplomatic, covert and military measures to root out Pakistani terrorism. This national objective must transcend divisive competitive politics and be regime-neutral with three-to-five-year timelines and stretching longer if necessary. India has to fight its battles alone. The sooner this is realized, the better.