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China & India – Challenging Relationship

The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) will celebrate its 46th Anniversary in December 2009. It has already made its mark in fulfilling its mandate of guarding to sensitive Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan border. This is the time to look back into the past a little bit and recall that the organization came into being in 1963 in the aftermath of great national trauma following India’s humiliating defeat by the Chinese forces in 1962. The complex and challenging Sino-India relations with its ups and downs still haunt us and continue to impact on India’s security. Hence, a brief overview of some of the recent developments seems to be in order in a commemorative issue of SSB samachar. China & India are two growing powers of Asia with a combined population of more than 2 billion. Although it is difficult to predict how powerful the two countries will become in another ten years, both are poised to play significant roles in Asia and the Indian Ocean region in future. The economies of both countries are estimated to grow despite global slowdown. China off course has done better than India having begun its economic reformss much earlier. Its rate of growth is good enough for doubling its GNP every ten years. China’s military modernization has kept pace with spectacular economic progress. Growing economic strength and military might have significantly influenced the strategic thinking of China’s new fifth generation leadership which has assumed power in the 17th Congress of the communist party in October 2007. There has always been a basic difference in the way India and China look at each other. Both countries see themselves as rising powers deserving notice, respect and mutual understanding. Yet while India treats China as such and remains careful not to hurt Chinese sensibilities, China is reluctant to consider India as a worthy strategic or economic power. India’s distrust of China is based on China’s track record. China violated international treaties and norms in supplying Pakistan with Nuclear weapon designs, enrichment know how and missile capabilities. The nuclear nexus continues till this day. But while India fights shy of telling China about its concerns, the Chinese keep lecturing Indian diplomats about Dalai Lama, Arunachal Pradesh and nuclear nonproliferation. Indian leaders go out of their way in reassuring China that India is not going to be a part of any US-led attempt to contain China, while the latter continues to undermine Indian influence in Nepal, intrudes into Bhutan and threatens our access to the “chicken’s neck” in the North East. China has been making unconcealed efforts to gain foothold in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Srilanka and Nepal. It opposes India’s membership of the UN security council and seeks to exclude us from regional groupings in South East and East Asia. China has blocked all attempts in the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Maulana Masood Azhar, Chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed. Chinese officials have been openly critical about US-India Nuclear Agreement & did their level best to prevent the Nuclear Suppliers Group from supporting US sponsored moves in favour of India. Recent developments in Sino-Indian relations have been marked more by acrimony than by cooperation. The two Asian giants have competed for power and influence in the past too. But since last year (2008), the rivalry appears to have come out in the open. China opposed Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s ‘Country partnership strategy for India 2009-12’ to fund India’s infrastructure projects including some in Arunachal Pradesh on the ground that this region is Chinese territory and not India’s. There have been other disturbing indicators of growing tension in bilateral relations. For quite sometime now, the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi has been issuing visas to applicants from Jammu & Kashmir on a separate paper instead of stamping them on Indian passports implying thereby that the state is not a part of India. New Delhi is also concerned about various reports about China’s plans to build a dam across the upper reaches of Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra river) as part of Nagmu hydro-electric project which will have serious environmental and economic consequences for Assam. India, on its part, has asked China to stop assisting Pakistan’s project to upgrade the Karokaram highway & a proposed hydro-electric project in the POK because these areas have been illegally occupied by Pakistan. There is noticeably new assestiveness in Chinese attitude towards India which has been repeatedly articulated through articles in state-controlled media and various official pronouncements. On 8th April this year, an article on the website of China’s ‘International Institute of Strategic Studies’, detailed a roadmap for breaking up India. The author wrote that in order to split India, China can use countries like Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, support the ULFA in Assam, back the aspirations of the Nagas, encourage Bangladesh and recover the 90000 of lost territory in ‘Southern Tibet’ (read Arunachal Pradesh). Since the middle of this year, Chinese media have made derogatory and often quite threatening references to India. While commenting on Indian media reports about deployment of additional troops, upgradation of runways and induction of SU-37 fighter aircraft in the border areas, Chinese commentators have described India as a ‘paper tiger’ and warned that “India’s use of force against China will be trounced.” Following the visit of Dalai Lama to Tawang, an analyst wrote in “Global Times”, a subsidiary of party mouthpiece ‘Peoples Daily’ — that India had orchestrated Dalai’s Lama’s visit to ‘Southern Tibet”. The official peoples Daily later quoted the analyst as saying “India may have forgotten the ‘lessons of 1962’ when its repeated provocations resulted in military clashes. It noted that the Chinese government, facing repeated pressure from the people, will be forced to take measures for striking a blow to Indian interests. Earlier, an article (17th June 2009) in ‘China Centre for International & strategic studies’ observed that India was trying to alter the status quo in Sino-Indian border but it would regret if it acted rashly. The author noted that the Qinghai-Tibet Highway with Capacity to transport 63000 tonnes of material to Tibet within a week would enable China’s army to march upto the border and India will not be able to check them. China has significantly developed its military capability and infrastructure in Tibet whereas India has realised the need for strengthening road network and military capability on our side of the LAC only recently. India does not yet have the capability or the infrastructure to match China in a military conflict across the LAC. China’s military modernisation has clear implications for India’s defence planners. During most of the last two decades, its defence budget had double digit increases. The official military budget touched $60 billion in 2008 but sinologists know that actual military outlays in China far exceed the declared amount. China is already miles ahead of India in all configurations of military power. As far as nuclear and ballistic missiles are concerned, China is altogether in a different league. By the end of the last decade of the 20th century, the PLA’s national defence strategy had changed from “peoples war under modern conditions” to “regional limited war under high tech conditions”. In China’s strategic calculations, economically vibrant and militarily strong India diminishes its prospects of ‘peaceful rise’ as a global power destined to dominate Asia. There is noticeable concern amongst Chinese strategic planners regarding stability in China’s border regions — especially Xinjiang & Tibet. The main objective of China’s strategic doctrine is to prevent the emergence in Asia of a dominant power or alignment of powers which can challenge China. Most of the present generation of Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) leaders have convinced themselves that the USA & other western powers in collaboration with a rising India will try to weaken China by promoting dissent and separatism. Although the PLA leaders have almost disappeared from the front ranks of the party, it still remains an important, albeit somewhat invisible force in Chinese politics and international relations. The new fifth generation political leaders in the politburo and the well-educated, Military top brass some of whom have been inducted into the Central Military Commission during the last party congress are quite united on the issues of national defence and military posturing. There is a belief in some quarters that booming bilateral trade and economic relations will preclude any armed conflict between India and China inspite of recent aggressive Chinese attitude on the border question. The Sino-India trade volume hit $52 billion in 2008 and China is now India’s largest trading partner. There are several other positive elements in relations between the two countries. But empirical evidence teaches us that there is no necessary link between economic interdependence and diplomatic harmony when perceived national interests are involved. China has consistently displayed aggressive nationalism which is rooted in its historical experience. In the past, if has used military power on several occasions to “right the wrongs of history” and settle territorial disputes. It has used force to seize islands in the disputed South China Seas and threatened to use force in the Taiwan straits. The Chinese army has invaded India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979 to “teach lessons”. This xenophobic nationalism is rooted, to quote David Shaumbagh, an eminent sinologist, in centuries of shame and humiliation foisted upon the Chinese people by European Colonial Powers, American missionaries and Japanese invaders. Decades of indoctrination of ideas have reinforced and strengthened these societal beliefs. Consequently, China shows zero tolerance on the issues of Taiwan, Tibet and the British imposed ‘Line of Actual Control’ separating India and China. Chinese nationalism centres around so-called lost territories and China has never given up its claims on these territories. Mao had once described Tibet as China’s palm and Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA and Ladakh as its five fingers. As far as India is concerned, China will reiterate its claim on Arunachal Pradesh at regular intervals. Empirical evidence also teaches us that Chinese strategic thought is marked by long tradition of denial and deception. Therefore, one should “hope for the best but plan for the worst”as suggested by an eminent expert while commenting on Chinese military strategy.The repeated Chinese intrusions into Indian territory have to be seen as deliberate action to reiterate territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh. Let us hope that we would be able to manage the complex relationship between the two countries and deal with the challenges with mature leadership , wisdom and courage.

(Courtesy- Sashastra Seema Bal 46th Anniversary Commemorative Souvenir. The writer, Mr K.K.Mitra, is former Principal Director, DG Security,Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi).

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