The Economic Times

Are China and India engaged in a cold economic and information war?

Note: This is resubmitted after making edits to better fit the quality requirements of this sub.
While most media attention on China focuses on China’s relationship with the US, one player that rarely gets mentioned--at least in mainstream Western media--is India.
In an October 2019 analysis by Deborah Brautigam that explored the origin of the term "debt trap diplomacy" for Chinese investments, she revealed the following:
On 23 January 2017, a Chinese debt-trap diplomacy meme was born in a think tank in northern India and was furthered by a paperwritten by two Harvard University graduate students who called it Chinese ‘debt book diplo-macy’.
A recent thread on china revealed some surprising data (non-academic, I know, but it's a good barometer for general sentiment on China as many of the more critical stories regarding China has first emerged on that sub, and then slowly propagated out towards more mainstream subs/media). Namely--by analyzing 449 tweets with the hashtag of #TweetforTaiwan, it found that 49% of the tweets originated from India.
Most recently, Times of India has also advocated for Taiwan's participation in the WHO by interviewing the foreign minister of Taiwan--which has since drawn an official statement from the Chinese embassy in India.
But most importantly, India has recently announced that it is setting aside nearly half a million hectares of land to entice foreign firms into leaving China.
PM Modi has also emphasized that he had little desire for India to play second fiddle to China. While some can argue that this is due to him pandering to the Hindu nationalist base that makes up his supporters, it's not a statement to be taken lightly because the BJP--by taking a supermajority in the Indian Congress--is in a position to enact its policies at will without regard for the opposition.

The Trade Reality of India vis-a-vis the United States

You can read the US trade department's 2019 analysis of India here. It's a fairly dense read, but the basic summary is this:
The United States has actively sought bilateral and multilateral opportunities to increase access to India’s market, and the government of India has pursued ongoing economic reform efforts. Nevertheless, U.S. exporters continue to encounter significant tariff and nontariff barriers that impede imports of U.S. products into India.
Other points raised in the document:
The document goes on to list additional trade barriers that India has put up against the United States, and they are far too many to list here. But taken as a whole, the overall summary seems to be this: India--from a trade policy perspective--is not that much different or even that advantageous compared to China.
Yet in the face of greater US-China economic rivalry, India has emerged as a seemingly viable alternative to China despite data suggesting the contrary.
This is due to the major advantage India has over China, which I will discuss in the next section.

The Advantages India Holds Over China

ADVANTAGE 1: ONLINE PRESENCE
The biggest advantage that India holds over China in an economic cold war has little to do with any underlying economic strength, nor does it have anything to do with how easy it is for foreign companies to enter India.
Instead, the biggest advantage India has over China is its online presence in the Western internet. With 560 million internet users, India is the second largest online market after China. But unlike China, India’s internet is not locked behind a government imposed barrier.
The lack of such a barrier has given rise to a sophisticated disinformation/propaganda arm for Indian political parties—most notably the BJP—on Western internet channels such as Twitter and Facebook.
The Centre for International Governance Innovation think tank has done the following analysis of how the BJP’s propaganda arm makes use of Western social media to set the narrative: - The grassroots workers share hyperlocal information about development activities — for instance, a beneficiary getting access to services offered under a government scheme — and work done by their party with voters in their area. They click images and videos as proof and circulate to demonstrate that the party cares about local issues. - The party foot soldiers broadcast their mobilization efforts to their superiors in the party, earning praise and encouragement from the leadership. - The networked system allows the party command to centrally share information through the chain of WhatsApp groups being operated — bypassing the editorial filter of news media. - On Twitter, an army of online warriors takes part in the narrative-setting game. Even though Twitter usage is largely restricted to the country’s elites, journalists and influencers hang out on the micro-blogging platform, meaning the sentiment smoothly seeps into the wider information ecosystem.
Basically, India has coopted the Western internet and used it to their advantage, while China has taken the approach of shutting out the Western internet altogether in favor of cultivating its own walled garden.
This means that China's closed off internet ecosystem is incapable of effectively competing with India's online presence. Moreover, Chinese netizens who do manage to overcome the barriers can find themselves facing state suppression and persecution. This limits Chinese disinformation methods to either state media, or state-sanctioned individuals who often must be vetted for political loyalty before they are set loose. This level of political control and loyalty that China demands has severely limited its ability to project its message outside of the Chinese internet.
The ability for India's different political parties to set the narrative gives India a crucial advantage when it comes to either spreading pro-Indian messages or smearing potential adversaries.
ADVANTAGE 2: MAINTAINING A SUPPORTIVE DIASPORA
Indian Americans maintain a high degree of connection to their motherland (for lack of a better term), and this data is supported by India being the top remittance-receiving country in 2018.
While Chinese immigrants maintain a similar level of connection to their motherland (China ranks second after India in the top remittance-receiving countries in 2018 from the same Times of India report), a prevailing attitude of Chinese diaspora has been one of pride for their homeland but suspicion for the government:
Many overseas Chinese have shown pride in the considerable economic achievements China has made over the past four decades, allowing it to become the world’s second largest economy. On the other hand, they also harbour deep-rooted suspicion and disapproval of the party’s authoritarian approach and its intolerance towards dissent or media freedom.
Hence, when talking politics, those overseas Chinese like to highlight that their love of country is in no way related to a love of the Communist Party.
As the CCP increasingly demand that supporting China be intertwined with supporting the CCP—a message that the party can control and foster only within its walled garden—it is more likely to drive overseas Chinese further away from supporting the party’s policies.
In 2019, the "Howdy Modi" convention in Houston, Texas drew a crowd of 50,000. It's difficult to imagine a similar number of supporters if a CCP politician were to announce a similar trip.
The popularity Indian politicians like Modi can expect in the West, coupled with an effective propaganda wing from within India that has a massive presence on social media to set the narrative gives India a tremendous advantage in maintaining a high degree of loyalty in its diaspora population. This diaspora can later prove to be a useful tool in advancing Indian foreign policy by amplifying the messages from within India.
Disclaimer: this by no means implies that Hindu Indian Americans are acting as a fifth column to advance India's goals, but merely suggests that Hindu Indian Americans are likely to share and disseminate Indian propaganda--with or without realizing that they are doing so.

Can China Counter this?

In the current information war, China is losing. Badly. By building a caged garden, China's information warriors are largely clueless as to how to effectively spread their propaganda. Two examples come to mind.
The first example was during the recent Hong Kong protests. China's attempt at controlling the narrative fell apart almost as quickly as it began, as many of its messages included support for party control, casting the protesters as Hong Kong independence provocateurs, or suggesting CIA influence rather than focusing on specific instances of targeted violence and xenophobic attacks on Mandarin speaking individuals (including attacks on Taiwanese media).
Another example is how China has been incapable of finding a way to reduce the influence of Falun Gong media such as the Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty TV in the West. These channels can operate unimpeded from Chinese state repression on the Western internet, and when China does try and respond to them, the results often come across as clumsy and ham-fisted because attempts at control tend to follow Chinese internet control strategies. However, from experience, China can ill afford to relax its internet controls: both the 2008 Tibetan protests and the 2009 Urumqi attacks were organized through Facebook. Relaxing internet controls would also see the internet, both within and without China, be flooded with Chinese nationalists--a faction that Beijing has simultaneously encouraged and suppressed depending on the needs of the state.
If China were to go on the information war offensive against India to retain its economic advantage, it must take a two-pronged approach:
On highlighting the unfair trade practices of India: The advantage that China holds in this regard is that the world has already formed a negative opinion on Chinese trade practices, therefore creating a situation in which China only has something to lose if other countries can offer a more attractive alternative.
By depriving the world of seeing India as a viable alternative, China can join in international pressure to force the Indian economy to open up further without giving India the opportunity to develop an industrial base capable of protecting its fledgling industries.
In such a scenario, China would be able to leverage its massive industrial capability into India and gobble up local Indian partners, or otherwise choose to support companies that would adopt pro-China practices. In essence, by attacking India before it can build an effective industrial base, China can enact a a softer version of the colonialist methods that the British used to subjugate India in the 19th century. This may possibly explain why the term "debt trap diplomacy" first emerged from an Indian think tank.
On Using Local Indian Partners to Sow Ideas: By partnering with local voices in India and sowing the idea that once India becomes developed enough, it would also face the same trade scrutiny that China has faced, China can attempt to pivot India away from developing friendlier ties to the West and return it towards its Non-Aligned status it adopted during the Cold War. However, these efforts can largely be stymied by government policy--and in fact, the Modi government has required that Chinese investment into India be approved first.
There is still a lot of room for the rivalry and/or partnership between China and India to continue developing in this coming decade. But it's clear that at the current moment, India seems to have a distinctive advantage.
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These are very difficult things to track. What we continue to do and we think we do a reasonable job of is to actually understand the businesses we are in, identify the leadership and get the growth right. It is extremely important to give the Lever example. We may not want to own some of these large consumer franchises. The article has good suggestions esp on coordination & focusing more on the medical side of the issue, not just economic. But there is an extremely difficult balance between economy, religion This lack of leadership is very worrying at these troubled times. The hope is that we are at the darkest hour, which is just before dawn: that when the different leaders are pressed to the wall, they will find leadership skills and act. The leaders of the Group of 20 (G-20) will convene between June 18 th and June 20 th in Mexico. This is Supply of senior leadership in good quality and quantity is always short, more so in difficult times. In a turbulent phase, traditional banking leadership may not be able to navigate their institutions as the ecosystem of competition, regulation and ethical expectations become highly complex. Breaking news and analysis from the U.S. and around the world at WSJ.com. Politics, Economics, Markets, Life & Arts, and in-depth reporting.

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