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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

India must stand up to China
Published on:-1 May 2008,

(This is a first part of a two-part series on India's China policy)

We must stop looking at China through American glasses and formulate policies on bilateral issues exclusively on the basis of what suits our long-term goals in the region rather than an empty emotionalism suiting local page concerns. We have to remember that in the world of diplomacy, the strong speak less and just act when required. India's China policy must be based on strengthening our position internally and waiting patiently on the external front for our time to arrive. A rhetorical approach often turns into own goals and mars strategic prospects.

As a democratic and pluralist nation as well as an ancient civilisation, India's place as an Asian leader has to be recognised and asserted. This has to be done first by us Indians and an all-encompassing effort has to be made to realise this position which alone will be a guarantee for mutual respect and peace among regional nations and will also keep it free of superpower rivalry.

Ironically, India awakened to her role too late and has given vital strategic space to China. With the docility of a colonial darwan and a self-defeatist attitude enveloped in left-ism, we have not been able to focus on the larger picture. Our leaders, in politics as well as in academics and media, often behave like a Latin American banana republic always in need of alien certification and appreciation.

Almost all the information that comes to us about China is through western news agencies. Barring one or two Indian newspapers none in the Indian media, which is otherwise quite moneyed in these days of marketing managers replacing editors, has cared to depute correspondents in Beijing or Shanghai. Most use American, British and French newswire agencies to report China to Indian readers. This has created a situation where the Tibet issue is seen as a US diplomatic victory aimed at downsizing Chinese “incursions” in the region and India ends up playing a less decisive and more ambiguous role.

The Tibet issue and the Olympic torch have only added to the existing unease in Delhi and Beijing which has shown up in some plain talk by both sides. Indians are being reminded that China has never accepted Kashmir as a part of India till now and that Beijing has been helping Pakistan's nuclear ambitions and strategic goals which are essentially targeted against us. We are also being reminded that China never supports us in international fora, it has tried to sabotage India’s candidature for UN Security Council membership, it uses Pakistan as a lever to balance the shift of power in our region and every now and then makes claims on Indian territory through statements and illegal incursions into Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.

The ascendancy of the Maoists and Prachanda's “equidistance from Delhi and Beijing” statement, coupled with the demand to review the India-Nepal1950 treaty has strengthened the notion that China has now reached till the Uttar Pradesh-Bihar border and will use the Maoist regime to further encircle India through Nepal which was considered till now as a safe buffer state between India and China. Hence, almost everyone in government and political circles continues to regard China as the biggest threat to Indian security. The only exceptions are Indian Communists and their sympathisers in the media.

China too has allowed some of its academicians and analysts to accuse India of supporting a “terrorist” like Dalai Lama, of nursing “expansionist ambitions” over Tibet and of having failed to solve Kashmir's problem to the satisfaction of the Kashmiri people (read pro-Pakistani Muslims). Though to be fair, it has also thanked India for the safe and incident-free passage of the Olympics torch.

As economic and military concerns drive foreign policy, it's important for us to weigh the pros and cons while dealing with Chinese positions. China feels uneasy about our successful and vibrant democracy and the growing power of our knowledge economy. Our growing presence and acceptability in East Asia coupled with what is widely perceived as a strategic closeness with US has made Beijing step up its diplomatic offensive to check India and also warn against going too far with any plan that curtails China’s role in this region. They suspect every Indian move – joint collaboration with Japan, forming an “axis of democracy” with the US, Australia. Japan and New Zealand, joint naval exercises in the Pacific and Bay of Bengal and a resurrection of anti-China feelings among Indians after the Lhasa killings of Buddhist monks and the Olympic torch security overkill.

China needs time to consolidate its economic long jump gains and diversify priorities to the rural sector as it enters a transitional phase in the Year of the Rat which signifies the beginning of a 12-year zodiac cycle. Hence, for the next 20 years it would like to avoid major conflict with any neighbour but will continue to assert its dominance in the east and southeast, competing aggressively with the US economic regime in every possible part of the world. With its almost stabilized 10 per cent growth rate and a fairly strong military might, the Beijing Olympics' theme – “One world, one dream” – also reflects the ambition hidden at the core of Chinese foreign policy – the dream of becoming an unchallenged world superpower.

India will have to wait till a credible leadership with a spine emerges on South Block. We have all the potential to emerge a victor in this game of leadership, but the players are too weak at the moment. The UPA government is dependent on the left, whose leaders were arrested by Pandit Nehru in the wake of the 1962 war for sedition and supporting the enemy. This ultimately led to the split in the Communist Party of India; the other part became known as the CPI-M or the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Unless we have a strong nationalist government at the Centre which can deal with China on an equal footing, the daily pinpricks will lead to a cold war that doesn't serve Indian interests. With the Chinese economy almost stabilised and its performance in almost every walk of life being admiringly high, it is time we concentrate more on setting our house in order and catching up in areas where a lot is yet to be done like manufacturing, infrastructure, education and of course, military might.

Chinese reforms are now being followed by government reform and a strong focus on developing the rural sector. Its political economy is in the midst of a significant transition. Worldwide protests on Tibet have shaken up the political leadership which is still hoping to overcome the phase – remember the post Tiananmen Square scenario, what happened after a few cosmetic protests? Everyone fell in line and accepted Chinese positions for a piece of business and trade. But the present leadership is more afraid of a rural backlash and the rebellious new generation's demand for more freedom and democracy. This has to be tackled through slow and steady political reforms, keeping the unity intact with an iron fist and complete elimination of insurgents in Xinjiang and Tibet.

In this situation, India's position is not as strong as desired. India should have had the courage to tell China that supporting the Tibetan demand for autonomy shouldn't make China suspicious of our motives. This is not the era when China was considered weak and felt India could use the Tibet card to destabilise it. A confident and strong India speaking to another strong country like China should generate greater mutual trust than what has been on display so far.

But a weak and meek governance can't be expected to stand up strong and mighty!!

The latest report of the Ministry of Home Affairs says violence in the Northeast has exceeded the killings in Kashmir. More than 200 extremist organisations are active from the Northeast to Jammu and Kashmir and down south. Maoists active on Indian soil from Telangana to Uttar Pradesh and the Bihar border have a brotherly government in Kathmandu now. This is a spine-chilling scenario but only for those who have a spine and can think about the nation beyond IPL tamashas and cheerleader debates.

The government has admitted in Parliament that China has made repeated incursions into Indian territory. Last year, there were over 140 Chinese incursions according to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). MPs from Arunachal and Ladakh too have raised the issue many times. The army has gone on record saying there may be a Chinese hand in the flash floods that occurred in Arunachal. In the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed is on record saying: “India has outstanding boundary issues to be resolved with Pakistan and China. Pakistan has been in illegal and forcible occupation of approximately 78,000 sq km of Indian territory. China continues to be in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 sq km in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. In addition, under the so-called ‘Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963’, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to China. China also illegally claims approximately 90,000 sq km. of Indian territory in the eastern sector of India-China boundary in Arunachal Pradesh.”

India will have to rise to the occasion, showing a democratic solidarity across party lines on its China policy. According to defence analysts, China has now reached the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar border thanks to an obliging Maoist regime in Kathmandu. This situation demands a serious reappraisal of India's China policy, which requires intense meeting of patriotic minds.

The author is the Director, Dr Syamaprasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.

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