By Atul Aneja
India could play a crucial role in reversing the alarming strategic dependence of the world’s democracies on China, which has made no secret of its ambition to emerge as an unrivalled global power by the middle of the century, says Sir Iain Duncan Smith..
Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Conservative party, pointed out that authoritarian China, under its leader Xi Jinping, has made no secret about its ambition to dominate the globe.
“The Chinese government has become even more dictatorial and intolerant in the last few years under President Xi and as far as I can make out by what he has said and by their behaviour, that his government’s plan is that by 2040 or thereabouts, China wishes to be the world’s biggest economy possessing the world’s largest and most powerful military. Those things are what they said they wish to be, and everything else feeds into that,” he said.
During his keynote speech at the 19th party congress in October 2017, Xi had declared what is called the “twin centenary” goals. By 2020, he announced, China would eliminate poverty and become a “moderately prosperous society”.
By the middle of the century, in tune with the centenary celebrations of the formation of People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, China would emerge as the most advanced nation in the world, exercising leadership in all spheres.
Duncan Smith highlighted that China has been quite open about airing its lofty global aspirations as its historic mission.
“China’s ambition is to restore itself, as I believe, to its natural place, which is the most dominant nation in the world. This a consistent idea about China’s rightful place and all these countries around it end up offering China suzerainty. They are formally independent nations that are dependent on China. And I think this whole exercise in the South China Sea, where they have occupied territory to which they have no right to, and where they are now building military stations on these man-made islands are part of this grand project.”
On several occasions, Xi has flagged the “great rejuvenation” of his country as his strategic goal, which has been widely attributed as an aspiration to establish a 21st century the Middle Kingdom.
“The fact that the Chinese regard themselves as superior to the rest of the human race, and that this belief has a racial component, will confront the rest of the world with a serious problem,” predicted Martin Jacques, the author of the 2009 bestseller, When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World.
China has established linkages in “strategic areas” which have made the “free world” structurally dependent on Beijing, Duncan Smith observed.
“Let us take the case of telecommunications. Telecommunications has to be secured from the top to bottom. You can’t be half-secure. You can’t tolerate what is deemed as an untrusted vendor in your system. For example, the government has now agreed that they will remove Huawei, but they are going to take their time to do that. We need to speed that up.”
The British politician also cited nuclear energy as an area where the dependence of China was likely to be harmful.
“China is already heavily involved in one nuclear plant (in the United Kingdom), about to be involved in another and they are bidding for a third. My answer is -we should review this because this is nuclear technology and it is possible that during a moment of dispute, China is able to shut down these plants and we are unable to start it.”
Duncan Smith also pointed to “new growth areas” such as electric cars where dependence on China was likely to limit freedom of choice of the “free world”.
“Then you got the other area where the new growth area as in electric vehicles, and these are battery-powered vehicles. But who is the biggest producer of batteries in the world–it is China.”
“The other area is rare earth materials that have to be mined. China controls 95 per cent of these mines, many of them in Congo, with several of them employing young children, which is a disgrace. But anyway they own it. So if you see strategically, the Chinese government controls all the key areas that the free world would need anyway.”
In a recent article that he wrote in the Telegraph, Duncan Smith explained that rare earth metals are critical to a range of devices including smartphones, computers, LEDs, catalytic converters, electricity generation and storage, and the batteries required by electric vehicles.
They are also essential in several defence applications, including radar, the guidance systems of missiles and laser rangefinders. Apart from controlling the world supply of rare-earth metals, China also controls the majority of the global processing capacity.
“So all this gives you an indication of how they are playing the game, and we are blind; we are simply not prepared or haven’t been prepared to look upon this in strategic terms, and now we have to change, strategically review this if necessary.”
India can play a major role in mounting a riposte to eliminate critical dependence on China, Duncan Smith observed. For instance, New Delhi can join the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC)–co-chaired by Duncan Smith with partner democracies, including the US, Japan, Australia and Canada.
“We now I think have 17 countries on board. We are hoping that in the next few days, we will have India join, which is very important. IPAC is made up of people on the Left and the Right. All of them are parliamentarians like myself. And we agree that we need to look at China in a strategic way. So we as a unit all agree to call upon our governments to have a strategic review of our dependency on China.”
Besides, focusing on human rights, IPAC has been compiling documents “that prove that Chinese officials have been involved directly in the sterilisation of Uyghur women in Xinjiang, and the full incarceration of these people, literally to obliterate the concept of Uyghurs within China”.
Duncan Smith stressed that China under Xi “breaks every rule in the book..whether it is the terrible treatment of Christians, of Falun Gong or whether it is the takeover of the South China Sea, even though the UN has told him, that he has no right to that, engages in border disputes with India, threatens Taiwan, and then through the Belt and the Road Initiative (BRI) brings much of the developing world to his orbit and under his control.”.
The British lawmaker highlighted that the solution to countering Chinese aggressive behaviour and dependency partly lies with India.
“One of my observations to British universities, for example, is, look, you have become addicted to Chinese students. But there is another country that would love to have the same kind of linkage when it comes to opening your doors, and that is India. Let us open our doors, and then you would not need this kind of money that comes from China.”
On the geopolitical plain, India offers a “wonderful counterbalance” to China in the region, Duncan Smith observed.
“India can show some leadership in the area, and in the south china sea as well as part of that process, having a good relationship with democracies such as Australia, the US and the UK. All this could be the way that you could counter this aggressive behaviour of China. We need to urgently establish a comprehensive strategic dialogue with India to think this through.”
Asked if Britain would like to join the security-oriented Indo-Pacific quad–the four-nation group of India, US, Japan and Australia, Duncan Smith said: “I would love us to join that. That would be the perfect outcome.”
Atul Aneja is senior journalist based out of India. He was Editor of The Hindu. He reported conflicts from Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Benghazi, Kabul, Tehran, Dushanbe. Reporting on the rise of China and changing geopolitics of Eurasia.