Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, attempted a diplomatic approach to the border dispute with China before the Sino-Indian War broke in 1962. While in retrospect, Nehru’s actions come across as too trusting, the truth is that a diplomatic approach was probably never going to work with China. For China, it has always been Chinese interests first.

Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with his goodwill towards the Chinese leadership, sits in a similar position to his predecessor. His bonhomie with Chinese President Xi Jinping, carefully built over the years, appears to have come to an awkward halt following the recent border incident—pointed out by keen observers who noticed that Modi failed to wish Jinping a happy birthday for the first time in five years. Since the deadly clash at the border, Modi has felt increasing pressure from the public to assert India’s sovereignty.

India should have read the signs and known better, as it shares in the Asian culture where the well-being of family and community is supreme. Unspoken values around communal self-interest drive decision-making at the highest levels. As long as the community interests are upheld, individual rights can be negated, ignored and devalued. This is why China doesn’t balk at trampling individual rights in Hong Kong, or disregarding the sovereignty of its neighbors and throughout the South China sea.

Western nations, deeply influenced by Judeo-Christian principles that place a high value on individual rights, have a hard time understanding China’s behavior. The entire legal framework of constitutional democracies—in this case, India included—revolves around protecting the rights of individuals. Religious liberty, free speech and freedom of assembly, among other rights, are the cornerstones of these nations. But for the Chinese, communist doctrine dictates that laws are made for the greater communal good—even when it means individual rights have to suffer. Thus, China can impose a full lockdown on a city such as Wuhan, virtually cutting it off from the rest of the world, and not face any consequences for it.

While the world may look askance at China’s behavior, writing it off would be a grave mistake. To start off, China’s complete disregard for freedom of speech and information allowed the government to clamp down on any efforts to raise the alarm about the coronavirus, effectively allowing it to spread undetected and become a global pandemic. Now the whole world is suffering because free nations didn’t take China’s human rights abuses seriously enough.

Additionally, China’s rise as a major economic, technological and military power also has allowed it to project its influence abroad, across Asia and as far as Africa and South America. The COVID-19 pandemic has made nations even more vulnerable to Chinese interference, especially in the developing world. Many nations, including developed countries such as the United States, have become dependent on China for their economic and even health care security.

For India, the biggest challenge is the economic foothold China has in India. From nuclear plants to electronics to textiles and food, Chinese presence is noticeable. As India faces grim prospects for its economic recovery, it will become even more difficult to untangle financial ties with China.

As COVID-19 reshapes our world’s order, nations such as the U.S. and India will need to face Chinese influence at home and abroad. Ironically, this may require taking a page out of China’s playbook and putting distinct American/Indian national interests ahead—a strategy President Donald Trump seems to have embraced with his “America First” policy. This doesn’t mean caring only for one’s national needs at the expense of others—which is China’s approach—but giving these needs the proper priority in order to protect the individual rights and freedoms of one’s own citizens. One place the U.S. and India could start is by returning manufacturing and production jobs and processes, especially in the health care industry, back to their home countries.

For too long, the world has been misreading China’s intentions. It’s time for nations to smarten up and begin confronting the threat Chinese aggression represents to our democracies and way of life. – Newsweek, 23 June 2020

Rev. Joseph D’Souza is a Christian theologian, author and human rights activist. He is an Anglican archbishop and serves as the president of the All India Christian Council.