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How China Wrested the Leadership of Asia From British India and Its Successor State

Updated on September 17, 2021
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MG is an air warrior and a global traveler who loves to visit and explore new places and trends


The world is a dynamic place and nothing is static. Nations produce leaders who make their countries great and some do not have the vision and let their countries down. A classic example is China and India in Asia. The 19th and 20th century saw a see-saw battle for supremacy between the two for a prominent position in Asia and as things stand the Chinese dragon is breathing fire all around while the Indian elephant scurries to find a place for itself.

claiming the Pacific
claiming the Pacific

The British and China

At the turn of the century, the omnipotent power in Asia was the British. They were astute and had de-fanged the dragon. By virtue of ruling India, the country was much ahead of China. It was a safe period with Tibet a classic buffer state between India and China. Industry began to thrive in India and the British set up a network of rail and roads that was unrivaled in the world. Jamshedji was allowed to set up the first steel plant outside of Japan and an aircraft factory was operational in Bangalore. China at that time was involved in internal strife as warlords with massive private armies ruled and battled each other. There were near anarchy and no industry worth the name existed. There was also another two players in China namely the Kuomintang and Communist party who battled it out with each other. In contrast, India was peaceful and making progress.

Shifting Balance

Towards the middle of the last century, the fulcrum began to shift towards China. The communists under Mao Tse Tung won a decisive victory and General Chiang Kai Shek fled to Formosa. At that time in 1948, even a bicycle was not manufactured in China and agriculture management was primitive. In India, a steel plant was functional and cars and airplanes were being made. There was no comparison with China as the rupee had near parity with the British pound. The Chinese currency was worthless.

India also inherited all the rights of the Imperial British power. Tibet was a buffer state and the Indian army was allowed to station troops at strategic places in Tibet. Logically India under Nehru should have built on this platform, but within a decade China stole a march over India. Chinese communists under Mao had one track vision to undo the wrongs of history and make China a great power. In contrast, this strategic vision was lacking in the Indian leadership led by Nehru and his successors. Almost all the rights the British had so meticulously built up in Tibet were given up. The right to maintain troops in Tibet was squandered and Nehru fearing a military coup decided to give the military the lowest priority.

China attacked Tibet and occupied it and Nehru just sat and watched. This was the turning point in Asia and established China as the major power. A short border war in 1962 followed with a decisive Chinese victory and all at once India was reduced to a fifth rate power. All the gains of the British built up over 100 years were squandered as the Chinese began a massive military buildup. China also started a massive military -industrial base while Nehru wasted time in trying to be a "great non-aligned leader".

China always an expansionist nation
China always an expansionist nation

Encircling India

Within another 5 decades, the Chinese following Mao's Red Book encircled India, occupied vast tracts of Indian land and claimed the entire north East state of NEFA( now Arunachal Pradesh) as part of China. China concentrated hard and followed a system of reverse engineering that saw it catch up with the west. They took a head start as a nuclear power and in contrast the Indian president Dr. Rajendra Prasad talked of disbanding the army and getting all duties to be done by a police force. One cannot think of anything more ludicrous than this. Successive Indian prime ministers like Morarji Desai failed to understand the nuances of geopolitical power and let India slide down.

Last Word

Now China is supporting a hostile Pakistan and has weaned away Nepal and Lanka from Indian influence. The Chinese are surrounding India and their military-industrial base is 2 decades ahead of India. Considering that in 1948 China's industry was primitive, this is a tremendous achievement. They are now the dominant power in Asia while India looks for ways and means to assert itself. Things won't be easy and the Chinese may well have the last laugh in this scenario.


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