Sino-Indian relations are progressing steadily. Bilateral economic and trade ties are improving significantly and strategically, both the nations have come to view each other as not a threat. Despite no breakthrough yet on finding a solution to the thorny boundary issue, confidence-building measures in the border, more or less, continues to be effective. Trust between the two militaries is being established, especially through holding joint military exercises. China and India are also cooperating at international levels on matters like counter-terrorism, energy and maritime security. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has, for the first time, offered civilian nuclear cooperation to India. The Prime Minister of India is to visit China in this year.
Fresh contentious issues have however arisen as a result of China’s emerging perspectives on New Delhi’s latest key foreign policy formulations, which are being evolved under geo-political compulsions on India. A globally rising India justifiably feels the need to launch certain initiatives, like Look East Policy, for the purpose of consolidating its growing status in the world. On the other hand, the PRC seems to have started perceiving such initiatives as potential challenges to China. If not handled properly by both the sides, the developing divide may impact unfavourably on the future course of their bilateral relations.
The new irritants, as China sees them, appear to mainly concern the question, whether or not India is on its way to becoming a part of a Western alliance against China. It is true that Beijing, for diplomatic reasons, is showing marked restraint at official levels in expressing fears on this count, but the Party and State-controlled media in the country seem to be getting a free hand to comment on the subject.
A broad examination of the media criticisms, mostly in Chinese language, reveals that the PRC is identifying certain new external moves of India as contributors to its concerns –
Building strategic ties with the US, of which the agreements on nuclear and defence cooperation are a part,
Endorsing the concept of “ alliance of democracies”,
Holding military exercises with Western alliance partners (US, Japan, Australia and Singapore) and
Expanding political and military relations with countries, geographically falling in China’s sphere of influence.
Let us take Indo-US strategic relations first. This writer has, already covered the critical comments of the Chinese media on Indo-US 123 agreement, in an article entitled “Beijing Hardens Its Stand on the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement“. Important to note is that India has not been directly blamed in them, but its ambitious goal to become “a great power”, with the help of the agreement, finds a mention. Of late, the media have also been accusing the US with no ambiguity, of aiming to coordinate its activities with India for realising the goal to hedge against China.1 Not withstanding such differentiation of the objectives of India and the US, Beijing does not appear to have missed the basic point – India is a party to an anti-China agreement. An indirect disapproval of India by the PRC thus comes out clear. Beijing’s keeping a decision pending on giving support to India’s case in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), on the basis of the stated necessity for China to consult countries like Pakistan and Iran, further proves this point .2
‘Quadrilateral Initiative’ (QI), involving the democracies of the US, Japan, Australia and India, is emerging as another major issue, in which Beijing feels uncomfortable. The reported Chinese response through demarche (May 25,2007), sent to the foreign ministries of the four nations questioning the motives of the initiative, has been the only one so far at government levels. By leaving the job of publicly condemning the QI to its analysts, all well connected to the top Party and Government hierarchy, China is showing signs that official criticisms may not be far away, if situation warrants.
The Chinese analysts have come out with a firm rejection of the QI, alleging that it “resurrected a cold-war mentality” and “ is designed to deliberately divide Asia into two camps, based on social systems and ideology as well as to counter-balance the rising influence of China in the region”.3 They have added, “Any grouping without China, is ridiculous, irresponsible and impractical and marks formation of a small NATO to resist China”.4 Viewing the ‘Broader Asia’ proposal involving the same four nations, made by the visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India, as one aimed at drawing India into a four-nation common defence system, the Chinese experts have assessed that the US, Australia and India, all of which have high level cooperation with China, would be unwilling to join the system. India in particular would do so in view of its non-aligned policy5 and a security outlook, quite different from that of Japan.6
On the third issue, concerning India’s new directions in favour of holding joint-military exercises with Western partners, China is giving signals that it feels the exercises are meant to target the PRC. To elaborate, the media in the PRC had earlier doubted the intentions behind the first Japan-US-India Joint Naval drill, held in April 2007, while noting that India tried hard to remove China’s misconceptions.7 On the forthcoming US, Japan- Singapore- Australia-India maritime exercise, starting from September 4, 2007 in the Bay of Bengal, there has so far been no official comment. The media is however assessing that the exercise will be ‘troublesome’ to China.8 They are further questioning the character of the exercise, giving publicity to the observations in the “Defence News” of the US that the five-power drill may develop into a military alliance as an Asian NATO” .9
Lastly, India’s increasing political and military profile in China’s neighbourhood, seems to be emerging as another factor of concern for China. Again, there is yet no official criticism in this regard, but the media appear to be taking a tough stand on the issue. Indicating some uneasiness, analysts in China are now noting frequently that India through its “Look East” policy is trying to get closer to countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. The visits of the Prime Ministers of the three countries to India in July 2007 are being highlighted in this connection.
On the same subject, media criticisms against India from a military point of the view are becoming louder. India is being mentioned by name for hedging against China through developing military relations with the PRC’s surrounding countries. Particular mention is being made to New Delhi’s three-pronged strategy to monitor China’s missile Systems including in border areas – CARTOSAT 2A satellite programme, radar station in Mongolia (to monitor space activities in Gansu, South of Mongolia) and cooperation with the US, Japan, Australia and even Taiwan (in the field of Signal intelligence)”10. Reference to India-Taiwan collusion marks a new trend. Further evidences of India’s foray into areas traditionally under China’s influence, are being quoted by Chinese experts – the recent visits of Indian Naval vessels to ports in Vietnam and the Philippines after their calls in New Zealand, New Delhi’s supply to Myanmar of sea reconnaissance planes, setting up of military points in Afghanistan and Tajikistan and the expected visit of India’s aircraft carrier to Malacca Straits and the Pacific subsequent to the Bay of Bengal exercise.11
Beijing has received Indian Prime Minister’s assurances that New Delhi’s participation in the Quadrilateral Initiative of democracies, does not represent a ‘ganging up’ against China. The Indian Minister of State for Defence has made a similar promise to China in the case of his country’s joining the forthcoming five-power naval exercise. Also, the Indian Foreign Secretary has said that “there is no zero-sum game” in India’s relations with China. Australia, the US and Japan, on their part, have also tried to remove China’s misgivings. Then, why the high media pitch in the PRC on the issues is continuing? How they are to be interpreted? The roots for answering such questions undoubtedly lie in the basic Chinese perceptions of the US. For Beijing, ties with Washington are the single most important factor in its foreign policy, with every other relationship hinging on it. Looking from this angle, the Chinese media diatribes could only mean that there is no change in China’s strategic suspicions over the long-term motives of the US and its alliance partners. On this basis, the PRC is further building up its integration with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) process, as counter-weight to Western alliance. In the case of India, it may not be appropriate to rush to any conclusion that the fears of the Chinese media signify Beijing’s thinking towards an immediate change in its existing perceptions- New Delhi’s independent foreign policy will prevent the country from becoming a Western ally. What looks likely is that China’s close watch on the emerging contours of New Delhi’s ties with key powers like the US and Japan, may further intensify. Its final outcome, whenever reached, will determine China’s future directions towards India.
(The writer, Mr.D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies. He was formerly Director, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. The relevant Chinese language material was translated by the writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
1. China institute of International Strategic Studies, (Chinese), July 29,2007 2. Prof Guo Ning, Executive Director of South Asia Centre, Academy for World Watch; Times of India, August 26,2007 3. China Daily, August 23, 2007, Professor Ma Jiali of China Institute for Contemporary International Relations, Beijing: PTI August 22, 2007. 4. Xinhua (Chinese), August 24, 2007 5. Liberation Army Daily (LAD)(Chinese), August 26, 2007 and Xinhua (Chinese) August 24, 2007. 6. Guang Ming Daily (Chinese) August 24,2007 7. People’s Daily (Chinese), April 21,2007 8. China Institute of International Studies, (Chinese) March 9,2007 9. People’s Daily, (Chinese) August 24, 2007 10 International Herald Monitor (Chinese), Xinhua affiliated Journal, August 22,2007; China Defence Daily, (Chinese), August 20,2007 11. As in No.8