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China has a “Big Problem with India?

The government of China appears to extremely upset by a news report in the Indian media that two Mountain Divisions of the Indian army will be deployed in Arunachal Pradesh, and become fully operational by next year.

In response, China Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu cautioned India to address Beijing’s “serious concerns” and not trigger a disturbance in the region “so as to facilitate the healthy development of China-India relations.”

China’s official English language daily, The Global Times (Nov 23) almost questioned the intention of the Indian media report since China Premier Wen Jiabao was to visit India in three weeks time to celebrate the 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Global Times, a subsidiary of the communist party mouth piece, the Peoples daily, the most authentic official view carrier, reported the views of several Chinese experts to decipher India’s intention.  Wang Dehua, an expert on India at the Shaughai International Studies Centre  (SICC) was of the opinion that the Indian move was strengthen its hands ahead of the India-China talks on the border scheduled for December 29-30, in Beijing.  Sun Shihai, an expert on Asia-Pacific studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) opined that military strength of Arunachal Pradesh showed India’s unwillingness to make any concession during border demarcation talks.

More interestingly, the Global Times, decided to recall that the Chinese Foreign Ministry had “condemned” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in October 2009. The newspaper, known for its hard-line nationalist views did not, however, proceed to recall what happened next.  Prime Minister Singh visited Arunachal Pradesh, made it clear that there was no dispute over the state, and was invited for a meeting by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao soon after at a conclave in Thailand when the Chinese side sought to cool down matters. It is surprising that even after six decades of bilateral relations the Chinese establishment has failed to understand how India works.  Or is it a ploy to pick up items from India’s independent media to berate India?  The Chinese must understand that the Indian government is answerable to Parliament and the people and, hence, decisions like major deployments by even the armed forces have to be transparently conveyed to the people.  In China, the people do not matter and the media is controlled by the state and the party as per the respective constitutions.

While the Indian and Chinese leaders have agreed on more than one  occasion to avoid confrontation and provocation, work to further improve bilateral relations, and cooperate on a wide range of issues bilaterally, regionally and globally, it is obvious that a section of the powerful Chinese leadership seem determined to queer the pitch.  Why else would the Chinese foreign ministry chose to warn India on a non-consequential issue on the eve of the border talks   and   ahead of Chinese   Premier’s visit to India.    Why else would the The Global times repeatedly refer to Arunachal Pradesh as ‘Southern Tibet’ over which “China claims sovereignty”.

Historically, there is nothing called Southern Tibet.  It is a new concoction being tried over the last two years or so to claim Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory.  The fact that the 4th Dalai Lama was born in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh does not mean anything.  The Dalai Lamas or any other Tibetan Living Buddhas can be born anywhere in the world.

Reading recent Chinese official media reports and studies in reputed official journals, there is every reason to believe there is a split in China’s top most hierarchy on foreign policy.  Following global reactions to its assertive behaviour with neighbours, the party central committee appears to have laid down a policy of restraint but adhering to the country’s already stated position.  Yet, there are strong indications that a section aligned with the army is determined to demonstrate and project power outside the country.

President and Party General Secretary Hu Jintao does not seem to be in a position to fully restrain the  People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which holds a major say in the affairs of security, neighbours and the USA.  A conservative in many ways, Hu Jiantao had to rely on the PLA to buttress his position and give way to them even if he does not want to do so.  Deng Xiaoping was the last Chinese leader to control the PLA.

A brief review of statements from the Chinese foreign ministry on India in the last two years suggest an unfriendly hard-line.  This is something different from the decade of the 1990s when, in the aftermath of the Tienanmen Square incident, India was one on the few countries of substance which protected China from the Western onslaught on the human rights issue and outside intervence in the internal affairs of a sovereign country.  The Chinese foreign ministry then was more friendly.

In contrast, as Chinese grew stronger economically and militarily in the last decade it formulated a new strategy with Pakistan to chip away at India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The latest in these examples are issuing stapled visas to anyone who resided in Kashmir, projecting Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) as Pakistan’s sovereign  territory and Indian Kashmir as disputed territory, and trying to raise a new debate that the Kashmir issue is a trilateral question between India, Pakistan and China.

China is trying to convince India that these are small issues not to be bothered about, but cooperate on larger issues including climate change and currency values against the west.  While the two largest countries of Asia must cooperate and work together for common cause, the region’s development and making  the 21st Century  for Asia.  China’s behaviour does not inspire confidence.  India experimented on joint bidding for oil and gas resources with China, but woke up one morning to see China had sabotaged India literally at midnight.

Geography forces the two countries to work together and raise mutual trust.  Till now, however, China has given no evidence to India that it can be trusted.  If it thinks India will conspire with the US to counter China, it must see India’s policy on Iran and Myanmar post-Obama visit.  People outside the government in India, save for the ardent sinophiles, are beginning to think there is a too much double-speak from China.  Beijing must also realise that despite their huge nuclear and asymmetric warfare superiority over India, it is no longer 1962.  China will be welcome if it truly demonstrates it is a development cooperative partner.  This has not happened yet.

When Premier Wen Jiabao makes his official visit to India in mid-December, he will come as a lame duck premier.  He lost a lot of political when he called for greater democracy to consolidate China economic gains.  But the party plenum in October smothered his voice.  He was subsumed by the hardliners, and he will spend his next two years in position as only echoing laid down policies.

Much cannot be expected from Wen Jiabo’s visit.  He will read from the Beijing script in both India and Pakistan.  But the Indian government must use this opportunity to deliver India’s concerns and position without pulling the punches.  It is time India tells China what are the ‘big issues” and “small issues” for India.

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New

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