How China might reshape the world—Undo the Indian Union edition
A realist theorist in Beijing goes into the forest to do tapasya. After 9 years of meditation and a hard ascetic life, there is a flash of light and Lord Shiva himself appears in a flash of light. He grants the Chinese realist theorist a boon. “Ask, O mortal, what ist thy dearest wish?”
The realist then asks for something similar to what appeared (via C3S India) on several websites in the People’s Republic of China, including on that of the China Institute of International Strategic Studies (CIISS) (here’s a Google translation of the article). “O Ni-La-Kan-Ta” he says, “then let China break India up into 30 small nation-states.”
But then, in the real world, realist theorists in Beijing don’t do tapasya for 9 years. So such wishes remain wishes. But let’s grant one thing—if you are a growing global power north of the Himalayas, you would rather not have another one next door. Not only is the absence of a peer-competitor better from a strategic perspective, it is also more comforting to a Middle Kingdom mindset—one that sees tributaries in neighbours, not sovereign equals. So calling for China to bring about the break-up of India into 20-30 small states is perfectly understandable.
Now it is all very well if Beijing’s think tanks allow their theorists to fantasise in this manner, but an article appearing in government- and party-linked publications must be interpreted as a subtle threat that China might revive its long-running programme of supporting separatist insurgencies in India’s North-east and elsewhere.
The cocksure Chinese realist didn’t account for two things: that China’s political fragility is all the worse because of the rigidity of the Chinese state, and might yet implode even if India doesn’t attempt to return the favour. And second, an event that leads to the break-up of the region south of the Himalayas into ethnic nation-states is unlikely to spare the region to their north. It makes sense, therefore, for Chinese realist theorists to be careful in what they are wishing for.