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India-China Relations: Trust, But Verify

Paper No. 5785                                      Dated 15-Sept-2014

By Bhaskar Roy

There is a saying that those who do not learn form history are condemned to repeat it. Have the Indian political leaders forgotten those brief years of “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” (Indians and Chinese are brothers), and subsequent events which reverberate even today?

As a Chinese proverb goes (used by late Chinese visionary, ideologue and strategic leader Deng Xiaoping), “feel for the stones when you cross the river”, otherwise, you may slip and drown again. Speaking about an “orbital jump” in India-China relations during the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping from September 17 is premature if not downright dangerous. Unless, of course, it was a tongue in cheek comment by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, in Beijing.

It is not only China but other powers like the USA which kept India within the confines of South Asia by supporting or at least ignoring a viscerally anti-India Pakistan for decades. India was also kept out from international bodies like the APEC and the ASEAN. China made Pakistan a stand alone nuclear weapons power, and mainstay of Beijing sponsored encirclement of India, while Washington stood by and winked.

The USA does not believe in permanent friends or enemies. It has only permanent interests. China, an ancient civilization with equally polished and developed strategic mind, is very careful in selecting friends and enemies in a long term order. For the Chinese as for others, some things change. But some things do not change.

With a post-war Japan under a peaceful constitution, India was the only other Asian country which could challenge China for Asian leadership. China continuously outwitted India that carried the psychological baggage of the 1962 war.

Things however, changed rapidly after India went for the 1991 economic liberalization, 1998 nuclear tests, the 2008 India-US peaceful nuclear agreement and the successful test of Agni-I nuclear capable missile, which can strike Beijing. China lost its total nuclear advantage over India, but to counter that it embarked on a dangerous path which, if not this generation, the next generation will certainly regret. Pakistan was helped to sophisticate its nuclear weapons arsenal and delivery system, including miniaturizing nuclear warheads and manufacturing tactical nuclear weapons. With the Islamic radicals gaining strength in Pakistan and political instability Xi Jinping has been forced to cancel or postpone his scheduled Pakistan visit before coming to India. The alarm is perceptible and one may not lose sight of the ISIS which is priming itself for a surge in Pakistan and China’s Xinjiang. If these nuclear weapons, especially the miniature ones, fall in the hands of brutal terrorists what will happen? As the adage goes, “one who sows the wind must reap the whirlwind”.

China has been working towards a unipolar Asia headed by the “son of Heaven”, the Emperor of the Central Kingdom. From communist China’s scientific development of Marxism, the Central Kingdom does not clash with the communist Party ideologically. They are moulded into one. This is very important in the contemporary context. The “Rejuvenation of China” set forth by President Xi Jinping is aimed to avenge the insults China had suffered at the hands of imperialists and recover territory allegedly repeat allegedly taken away from China. Use of military power is not only not ruled out, but emphasized ever more strongly.

China does not accept the Macmahon Line of 1914 demarcating the boundary between Tibet and India under the British. Former Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi made it emphatically clear on the eve of President Hu Jintao’s India visit in November 2006 that, “the whole of Arunanchal Pradesh is Chinese territory and Tawang is only one place in it”. The statement obviously initiated from the highest political level in Beijing, that is, the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. China began referring to Arunanchal Pradesh as South Tibet.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent comment that “for India to agree to a one-China policy, China should reaffirm a one-India policy”, has riled the Chinese. Swaraj was referring to India’s sensitivity to China’s claim on Tibet, and asked for China’s reciprocity to India’s sensitivity on Arunanchal Pradesh. This and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment in Tokyo about prevalence of 18th century mindset of expansionism (widely read as reference to China) cannot be read on the same page.

Arunachal Pradesh is directly of India’s interest and must be raised at an appropriate place and time. The status of the entire Arunachal Pradesh as Indian Territory is non-negotiable and written in stone. But both sides should be ready for small adjustments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in resolving the border issue. The NDA government in India is in a position in Parliament to amend the constitution, should China show sincerity to resolve the boundary issue.

 

There is no indication from Beijing of any intention to resolve the border issue in the near future. There are too many issues and deep mistrust. China suspects India could create security problems in collaboration with the US, using the Dalai Lama’s set-up in Dharamshala and the Tibetan diaspora in India. Further, in China’s tactical calculations, it can keep India under pressure with an unresolved border issue.

Periodic euphoria about China from the early 1950s in New Delhi has seen India giving up legitimate rights in Tibet for nothing in exchange. The last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was in 2003 when NDA/BJP Prime minister A.B. Vajpayee signed on the “lines written by the Chinese”, giving up all Indian leverage in Tibet. Apparently Vajpayee hoped China would accord full recognition to Sikkim as an integral part of India. China has kept this issue dangling.  

The Chinese Consul General in Mumbai revealed that President Xi was coming with a $ 100 billion or more investment portfolio especially in the infrastructure area. Over $50 billion is reserved for the railway sector, and the rest for roads, ports and other sectors. Prime Minister Modi seems a little too excited about China’s bullet train technology.

Mr. Modi is trying to replicate the welcome he received in Japan for President Xi. And Xi is also pandering to Mr. Modi’s ego. India and China are the world’s largest demographic countries with a total population of 2.5 billion. They share a common unsolved border, but are also the two biggest countries of Asia. If they cooperate with trust the possibilities are great. If they do not, problems are limitless too.

China’s Assistant Foreign Minister for India Liu Jianchao remarked (Beijing, Sept.09) that China has never and will not use so-called military or other means to try to hem in India”. Leaders of the two countries had also pledged to work together to manage their difference, Liu added.

Normally, such a statement by a minister would be welcome. But China’s past record and recent comments during Mr. Modi’s Japan visit does not inspire confidence.

China, through its official media the Global Times dismissed a possible Japan-India alliance as a Japanese fantasy, ignored Prime Minister Modi’s comment of hegemonic nations-a message that China does not recognize any Indian role in South China Sea and East China Sea, that India should first try and establish itself in South Asia, and India should take more interest in relations with its immediate neighbour China than distant friend Japan. In each observation, an undertone of threat or warning can be read.

Over the last 60 years differences between India and China have accumulated to an extent that normal relations between two countries has become difficult. An audit has become imperative. And publicly in India, because a national debate is becoming necessary.

And instead of hedging and sweeping things under the carpet, with a carnation in the dinner jacket lapel to look prim for that evening for the state dinner, a spade has to be called by its name. It is no use trying to explain away next morning with a drooping carnation a deliberate blunder as a typographical error.

It is time to stop mouthing clichés like “2000 year old India-China or China-India friendship”, because 2000 years ago there was no Community Party of China or the government of the People’s Republic of China or the government of India. It is time to stop fooling the people of India, at least. In China, schools teach children who are the bad people and not to be trusted, and India figures prominently in this list.

When President Xi Jinping arrives on September 17 touching down in Ahmedabad, coincidentally Prime Minister Modi’s birthday, the symbolisms would have been done with.

The hard work will start in New Delhi the next day, and the official level meeting will commence. Here, India will have to lay down the Red Lines and “core interests”. And there are quite a few that China has transgressed. These would include opposition to India’s membership of the NSG and other such regimes, lobbying against India’s acquisition of uranium for power generation, preventing ADB load for development work in Arunanchal Pradesh on the ground that it is deputed territory.

While welcoming Chinese investment in infrastructure, New Delhi must be careful to safeguard areas of national security interest especially in this era of cyber warfare. India’s private sector companies have been pushing for Chinese technology in several areas including communication because they are cheap. These are issues that call for close scrutiny.

At the same time the Chinese must be asked to balance bilateral trade and open Chinese market to Indian goods. An imbalanced trade relation does not make for good economic and commercial relations and can lead to friction.

Let not the negatives overshadow the positives, however. The new silk roads could be looked at positively as offers to join groupings like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). India would have to accept Pakistan as a co-member wherever an invitation is initiated by China. But it is better to be inside than outside.

China has made it clear it will not give primacy to India in South Asia in diplomatic terms. Xi is visiting Sri Lanka and the Maldives before coming to India. India does not need to complain but can reciprocate with a similar policy.

Having said that, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit is a major diplomatic event. Be sure China’s rebalancing in the rest of Asia against the USA has started, and a well calculated cold war is well on the way. A point to ponder is that there are mounting political and ideological issues inside China, and Xi is moving to prime position of half Mao and half Deng. Foreign policy is fully his domain.

India must move ahead with the policy of “trust, but verify”.

(The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached at e-mail grouchohart@yahoo.com)     

 

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