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India should strengthen economic muscle, IT prowess to fight China


Chinese hackers have zeroed in on key Indian government websites, besides telecom organizations, pharma companies and media, weeks after the PLA attacked Indian soldiers. These are not just young boys making juvenile attempts to get into Indian systems. Experts say that the assault by the PLA on Indian soldiers and the cyber-attacks are not unrelated.

Talking about the developments in the virtual domain, Kazim Rizvi, founding director, The Dialogue, a Delhi-based think tank, says: "I think it would be naive for us to believe that we are not already in a cyber-warfare with China. China is notoriously famous for trying to hack into government systems globally, so that's not news. But what must be bothering them is India’s growing ability to counterattack them and stall their attempts.

One of the reasons behind China’s Ladakh misadventures is their consistent defeat to Indian cyber-warriors as they are losing in the cyber game to India." Rizvi proposes counter measures: "One way of hitting back at China is that we should start by taking away their IT manufacturing supply chains and bringing them here. Of course, it's easier said than done. But The Dialogue’s research and Indian government’s thinking proves that this is a real possibility, we just need to put the right mechanisms in place, strengthen Indian startups, reduce red-tape, enhance faster clearances and prioritize on research and development to build state of the art capabilities in emerging tech such as artificial intelligence, 5G, etc."

He adds that on AI India is not far behind, and the country can overtake them with a little more government support, which will in fact help us win global contracts. Despite his optimism, Rizvi has a word of caution: "The world wants India to win in the battle against China, but India is not prepared fully, that's the problem. That, in my mind, is the gap we, the new generation, are fighting to close."

He says that if India focuses on building internal capabilities, then we are the natural successor to China in every sphere possible. Rizvi stresses that India has a natural competitor in China and we should develop our capabilities seriously, not just because of what is happening today but also to sustain our future generations.

“With China, we have to move to a counter-offensive mode in every sphere possible. I think for this generation, people in their thirties, early forties, people running successful ventures, people running potentially great start-ups in tech, the new generation of thinkers and philosophers—all the young and vibrant energy in the tech space and otherwise must coherently be supported by the government to compete with China at a global level,” says Rizvi.

Voicing hope for a young, technology- and business-driven generation, he says that this time the government should rely on the rising stars and thinkers of India, and to give them the ammunition needed in terms of progressive policies, to take on China at the global level. “This is the only game that matters, that is the Olympics of our civilizational warfare. And we need to win this, there is no other option,” Rizvi says.

There is a consensus among thinking Indians for taking on China—a message shorn of jingoism and rooted in practicality. Many feel that this is the time for the government to strengthen the nation economically and prepare the people for future. Aditi Bhaduri, editor of International Affairs Review, strikes a note of caution on how to deal with China. She says, "One reason that prompts China to attack India is that President Xi Jinping feels that India can be bullied as it is weaker than China economically and may choose not to retaliate.

China knows if war happens, the Indian economy will suffer because it is a much smaller economy. We know that a country needs a strong economy to sustain a military intervention otherwise you implode like the Soviet Union." At the same time, Bhaduri adds that violence was unleashed on Indian soldiers because they took a stand and rallied against the PLA. "Through this attack, it is possible China is trying to see how far India can go.

This is nothing but power projection. I think China has been surprised by the Indian response.” She adds that internally China is facing a lot of crisis. “It is not transparent about what happens domestically but coronavirus has caused much discontent inside China and in the ruling party. Xi is under strain—tensions in Hong Kong, global isolation due to Covid-19—hence the brave talk by China,” Bhaduri adds.

Also, the tariffs that the US and the EU have slapped on China are going to hurt as these two are big markets. “Now with India also making some economic moves, which might not be big, but it is nevertheless a beginning, I feel that Indians are clear that it is no longer going to be business as usual. The economic impact may not happen immediately but I think something has changed. India has global support.

Taiwan wants to do business with India and has identified India as a technological hub, even as a manufacturing hub." For India the lesson is that it has to work towards making itself self-sufficient. It has to rise to the occasion—has to deal with red-tapism, make business easy for Indian manufacturers as well as foreign investors.

The government has to take its own projects seriously—smart cities, digital India, Make in India— and convert these into success stories. Only then can we take on China on the border, in economy and in the virtual space.