The Epoch Times recently sat down with Indian author, scholar, and researcher Professor Harsh V. Pant, who is head of the Strategic Studies Program at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He also holds a joint appointment with the Department of Defense Studies and King’s India Institute as professor of international relations at King’s College, London. He has also been fellow, visiting scholar, and visiting professor at several major institutions in Asia, Australia, and North America. Professor Pant’s current research is focused on Asian security issues. Among his most recent books is New Directions in India’s Foreign Policy: Theory and Praxis.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bharath Valecha (for The Epoch Times): The Epoch Times chose to call the virus “CCP Virus” because we understand the CCP unleashed the virus, creating a global pandemic. The CCP virus pandemic actually hit us when the economy around the world was going down; there was also the U.S.-China trade war. Do you think the CCP is responsible for the damage caused both financially and in terms of lives lost around the world due to the pandemic?
Prof. Harsh Pant: See, I agree with this logic of examining the goal of the CCP in a very focused manner; not only in terms of what it is doing to China but also how it is exporting its worldview, its operational apparatus around the world. And I think that most senior observers of world affairs will concur with the fact that there is no personal animosity on a large part of the international community with the ordinary Chinese people. It’s the way the Communist Party of China has operated, the way it manipulates information, and its whole modus operandi that creates a number of problems for the world and the people of China. For example, when you talk of this pandemic, certainly I think there needs to be a proper and thorough investigation into the origins of the virus.
And what we have seen, interestingly, especially in the context of what is happening at the Indo-China border, India has taken a very very explicit side on having an independent investigation on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a necessity because only when we understand this can we prevent another such pandemic from happening. And the role of the CCP is clearly under a scanner, as most countries today, most of the people around the world today would agree with the contention that CCP is in some way responsible, whether through censorship of information, or for the way the problem has become what it is today. Clearly, better handling this in the initial stages, more transparency in the initial stages, would have led the international community to handle this in a much better way and the situation would not have deteriorated to this extent. So, I agree with this formulation that the CCP has to be held responsible for the spread of the pandemic.
ET: You mentioned about India wanting to investigate the origins of the virus. In fact, a lot of countries are coming together to hold the CCP responsible and get answers through independent investigations. It was during this time that the CCP actually took the conflict with India at the line of actual control (LAC) and with other countries also. Why do you think the CCP picked this point in time to have a conflict with India at the LAC?
HP: Well, for the CCP, this is an inflection point; this is a very important point for them in terms of how the party is being viewed within China. I mean, they don’t care about the world. To a limited extent, they care about how they are going to be perceived within the domestic political contestation, whatever limited there is, in China. And there are questions brewing about the CCP about their ability to administer. “Look at the West, it’s imploding, look at America, it’s imploding, and here we are cleaning up the mess, here we are leading the world on a global stage, we will redirect the Chinese ambitions to be at the center of the world soon.” That was their whole vision, what they had projected, which is now crumbling in front of their own eyes. It is crumbling because the economy is not doing well, it is crumbling because there are domestic crises, it is crumbling because there are questions being raised about his economic sense in the way he has invested in BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and the lack of response it is getting, the negative externalities it is generating, and now with this pandemic, with the sense that it was not managed well; while outsiders are criticizing the CCP’s handling of it, one can clearly imagine the anger that must be there among the ordinary Chinese; the number of lives that have been lost, we don’t know about; clearly the loss of lives has not gone down well with the ordinary Chinese. So clearly there is pressure building on the CCP. There’s pressure building on it throughout the world. Even before this crisis hit, you can see people rallying around the world against China, from America to Australia to Japan to Vietnam, and to a great extent in India. We were already seeing a sense of “China has to be dealt with.” And how you deal with China more robustly is going to be a marker for the foreseeable world order.
What the crisis has done, what the coronavirus has done is to basically underscore that the challenge for these countries to stand up to China even more robustly. So I think for the CCP, it is imperative that they externalize this internal crisis, that they create a sense of this nationalism, a false sense of nationalism, and the military becomes an instrumentality. So they are targeting external threats and making a crisis perhaps where none existed. Even if you think of the Sino-Indian crisis, it’s not that the border problems had not existed before, but if you look at the claims, the extent of the claims that the Chinese are making, they know that India will have no option but to stand up to. The Galwan Valley had never been in contention. But today it is in contention, and the Chinese are bringing this up into contention. So they know that India will stand up to it and there will be a possibility of a conflict, but they want conflict in some way, they want this sense of crisis to be there from the South China Sea to the Himalayan borders because that’s how they can showcase their abilities as the supreme guarantors of Chinese national interest. And I think that is the challenge for the rest of the world in terms of how do they take this entity on without giving it greater legitimacy because if the perception gathers in China that the ordinary Chinese need to rally around the flag, then the CCP, at least in the short term becomes stronger, and I think that’s the objective of the CCP: let’s indulge in these multiple territorial crises, give a sense of rallying cry to the ordinary Chinese around nationalism and let’s strengthen the increasingly weakening position within the power hierarchy.
ET: While this is happening, there’re so many countries coming together to get answers from the CCP, and there is a clear stance various countries are taking. The free world is standing against communism. The United States is leading the free world against the CCP, forming alliances against CCP, with Australia, European countries, countries in Asia like Taiwan, Philippines, etc. The U.S. wants India to be an ally against the CCP. The EU is talking about they’re being forced to choose between the U.S. or China. But the U.S. has said that it’s not about country vs country, it’s choice between freedom and the communist tyranny. Do you think India is clear in its choice? India’s decision will have a significant impact in the Asia region, do you think India will sit on the fence, or make a clear stand?
HP: My own sense is that the time for sitting on the fence for India is over. I say this because, in a sort of earlier environment, it would have been possible for India to say, “Look…” To a lot of European countries and even for America, the Communist Party is a problem, but it’s a quite distant problem. For India, China is sitting right on top. China is a neighbor, China is a country which India has to live with. It can’t change its geography. So, clearly, India’s response has generally been cautious. But I think that phase is coming to an end with the kind of policies that the Communist Party have charted out for India. I think perhaps they themselves don’t realize the extent of damage that they have done, with the kind of border issues they have taken up, especially the Galwan Valley incident. I don’t think there’s today any space in India for those who might want to argue for a more cozy relationship with China. Because that is something that the Chinese Communist Party itself is responsible for. There is always in India a very vibrant debate about China, there were always those who have pushed for stable ties with China, that India should not rock the boat, India should be cautious, India should not align itself completely with the West, because India has to after all deal with China, etc., etc. But that constituency has disappeared in fact, has become very marginal if not completely disappeared, because of the policies that one after another the Communist Party decided to target India. So this is the story that has reached its final climax with this Galwan Valley episode, with the killing of Indian soldiers, and the kind of impact it has had on the Indian side. Let us also be clear that it is not over, the crisis continues. So, in that sense, even if India was not clear before, this episode has given India more clarity on which direction it wants to go, and there’s only one direction, which is anti-CCP.
ET: What is at stake if India doesn’t take a stand now?
HP: Oh, I think what’s at stake is not only India’s territorial integrity, but India’s credibility as a responsible member of the international community, because it is simply not about India wants to become a major power, therefore it has to go against China; it is about India wanting to shape a global order in which certain norms and values are respected, but China wants to shape a global order, the CCP wants to shape a global order in which Chinese power is the only value is to be respected. So there’s no contest there. I don’t think India and Indians can agree to live in an environment that is shaped by the aggression of Chinese power, and therefore it is very important for India to stand up. See, India will bear a lot of costs for it, it’s not that it is going to be cost-free. After all, even if you decide to sectorally ward off China from certain sectors with India in trade, that is going to cost India, that is going to impact the Indian consumers, the Indian producers, the Indian manufacturing, there’s going to be a cost. So I think going into this with a clear idea of the cost, I think it is important India recognizes that with all these challenges the costs are going to be equally high. While the costs are going to be high, there is no alternative but to stand up, otherwise, you have to become subservient to a country that has no respect for any kind of rules and values.
ET: The U.S. and other western countries are moving their supply chains out of China. India also banned 59 Chinese apps including TikTok recently. How would this affect the India-U.S. and the India-China relationship, amidst the current conflict?
HP: You know, even before this border episode started and flared up, the Indian prime minister made a statement which is quite interesting, wherein he said that one of the most important lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is the need to be self-reliant (“atma nirbhar Bharat”). So clearly, the recognition has been growing in India irrespective of the recent border crisis that over-dependence on China has to be curtailed. The dependence on China is not good, it creates vulnerabilities for India. And when you saw the whole logic of India being the pharmacy of the world and yet the Indian pharmaceutical industry has to rely on imports from China. So this is something unsustainable. You need critical sectors which are not dependent on China, and that debate had reached a particular point where certainly the need of us to develop our own manufacturing base and shift the supply line and become a part of the global supply chain. Now as the supply chain gets transformed, one can potentially look at what kind of opportunities it creates for India and one can also look at how the next phase of globalization would be fragmented, where you will have different supply…a group of countries that are more comfortable with each other would be together and shape the supply chain along that belt. And China would be walled off. But I think India will have to become part of that supply chain network.
ET: Do you think India is taking enough efforts to become a part of that supply chain management because just talking about self-reliant India is not enough. There are also a lot of policies that have to come into place that can help India grab the opportunity. There are a lot of individuals, businessmen, and entrepreneurs who may want to be there or grow from domestic markets to international markets, too, and be a part of the global supply chain. India should also be quick at policy-making and helping these people. Do you think India is gearing up for that or is it rather slow, as there are other countries who are also fighting to be there?
HP: You know, there is already some evidence suggesting that India is not a big beneficiary of the shifting of manufacturing from China. I think Vietnam is also very much benefited. So clearly I think India has a lot of work to do in terms of projecting itself as a favorable investment destination. My only point here is that while in the past this was something only discussed in India, today it is accepted as a matter of fact, it is a reality. Perhaps that may spur better decision making… at the moment we are still dealing with the COVID-19. I think once things settle down, hopefully, there will be a new momentum in making sure that the domestic manufacturing capability can match up to the ambition India has in becoming a part of the supply chain. And, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.
ET: For years, The Epoch Times has been exposing communism, socialism, and especially the CCP for its tyranny. Now, after the pandemic, The Epoch Times launched a global signature campaign to condemn and reject the CCP. Do you think Indians should also start signing this global petition? Should Indians also start rejecting the CCP?
HP: Of course! I think they should be doing much more. They should be much more aggressive in targeting the CCP because clearly, the entire framework of Sino-Indian ties today can dismantle under the present leadership of CCP, and they have been working. I don’t think there is any hope for normalization in this relationship. So unless we as Indians take a greater interest in the kind of government that should emerge in China, I am afraid this will lead us from one crisis to another and we will have these moments of instability. By and large, the relationship between China and India has been very, very complicated and so it is important for the ordinary Indians, for the Indian elites to look at and target the CCP much more closely and to examine its behavior and to focus on challenging some of the narratives that have emerged about how efficient the CCP is or how good they have been, etc. I mean, there’s a simple thing like Chinese propaganda in Indian media is so pervasive. At times it’s very difficult to figure out, here in a country that’s a democracy. Here the Indian media houses take their shots, rightfully so, at their democratically elected governments, but they produce and are keen to produce their propaganda from China, which they mark as their reports. No, its propaganda. And ordinary Indians have to read it, digest it, and understand what China and the CCP are all about. So I think at every level we have to take responsibility.