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China: Projecting India Threat and Limiting India-The Game goes on

In a short article in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP)’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily (April 26), Ms. Li Hongmei tried to encapsulate India’s nuclear policy and sought to damn it as a possible rising threat.

The article objected to the US policy of opposing Iran and North Korea for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but supporting India, which has not signed the NPT, as an emerging nuclear power trying to break into the 5-power nuclear club. The article was notable for its chagrin saying that after its 1998 nuclear tests India’s motivation to overtake China and becoming a leading regional and global power was accentuated, and projected itself as the world’s No.3 military power.

The conclusion of the article was even more striking. It said the deteriorating Middle East situation was playing to India’s advantage, and as the problem exacerbates, the US focus will shift  there and help India to become a (de jure) nuclear weapons state. Considering this, it said India is likely to resume its nuclear tests. The article called on China and all other neighbours (of India) to “sharpen their vigilance on India’s every maneuver”.

The People’s Daily said the article was Ms. Li Hongmei’s personal opinion and did not represent the views of the newspaper. The Chinese propaganda machinery must realize that the international community and especially China watchers in India, cannot be deceived. Li Hongmei is the editor of the People’s Daily on-line edition, a very high position in the CCP’s propaganda apparatus. The People’s Daily or any of the top official media publications like the Guangming Daily and The China Daily do not carry personal opinions. Opinions in such publications are for a particular purpose– either ordered or cleared at the politburo level mostly.

From her earlier articles, it appears that Li Hongmei represents a hard line faction, and has been highly critical of even Russia in the past on oil trade issues. India has been her regular target.

This article raises two pertinent questions. How does China expect the Indian media not to react negatively in the face of such Chinese semi-officials’ denigration of India? Secondly, how does the Chinese leadership substantiate their propaganda department’s continuing efforts to portray India as a threat to the region including China?  Does President Hu Jintao has an answer or an explanation? Pakistan’s recent testing of the Hatf-9 tactical nuclear missile (60 kms. range) for battle field use has drawn little but positive response from China. This one weapon can drastically drive the India-Pakistan military equation to a new critical point. It appears China is promoting exactly that.

Making all efforts to limit India’s peaceful rise and gaining international influence is nothing new for China. It set up Pakistan as a stand alone nuclear weapons country to counter India, and now Pakistan is becoming a nuclear threat to the international community in more ways than one. It continued to sell arms to North-East Indian insurgents though its avowed position since the early 1980s was, that all such links had ceased. The list goes on.

It is a fact that India did not respond to China adequately in the 1950s to resolve the boundary issue. But would it have worked if Pandit Nehru responded to Premier Zhou Enlai’s proposal in 1960? Because by 1959, China had already encroached into Indian territory of Aksai Chin in the western sector. Then 1962 happened and relations plummeted ever since. Five decades later things could have been ironed out.

Unfortunately, China’s strategic appreciation of India changed sharply from the 1960s. It saw India as a future competitor for Asia’s leadership, and an Indo-Soviet axis to counter China.

The first major breakthrough in bilateral relations came in December, 1998 when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China. This came after some unfriendly Chinese military moves in the Eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh) borders. Credit for this break through must also go to China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who believed in setting aside disputes even to the next generation or after and building on common points of agreement. Deng wanted a stable environment for the country’s development.

It is in the post-Deng era that a new China has emerged – overbearing, aggressive and even threatening to its neighbours. The year 2010 was particularly remarkable in that sense. From the early 1990s, Beijing adopted a two-track policy vis-à-vis India. On the one hand, attention was paid to bilateral trade which really took off from 2002, and has reached around $60 billion, becoming India’s second biggest trade partner. Yet the balance remains highly in China’s favour. A qualitative analysis of the trade suggests China’s import is concentrated on raw materials especially iron ore, and exports comprise mainly of cheap, low grade consumer products. On the other hand, Indian exporters find it difficult to break into the Chinese market in pharmaceuticals and other areas. The Chinese leaders continue to assure that they will do something about it, but nothing has happened and not likely to in the near future.

China and India are also working together on common areas like climate change and BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) for example, but China has its own priorities for using this group. Beijing needs support for its highly damaging environmental pollution on the argument of being a developing country. It sees BRICS as a group to be used to counter the west on variety of economic and related issues.

Where does the India-China relationship go from here? While signaling to keep the boundary stable, as reflected during the recent BRICS summit in Hainan (China), Beijing remains steadfast in blocking India in vital international issues. There are periodic hopes in India that China is softening its opposition against India’s entry into an expanded United Nations Security Council (UNSC), but they get dashed soon enough. Sometimes, the Chinese unofficially send a message that because of Japan’s candidacy for an expanded UNSC seat China is unable to support India’s candidacy.

Such excuses are patently rubbish. China has directed all its missions across the world to counter India’s efforts. It has worked from the time the UN expansion question arose to try and convince the African countries against UNSC expansion and India’s candidacy. It’s ally, Pakistan, is working in the Italy led “Coffee club” to do the same. Nepal and Sri Lanka have been persuaded to act similarly. The fact is China will do its utmost to keep India out of the international high table. The Chinese are beginning to argue that the other four Perm-5 members have been silent on the issue of  giving veto powers to India. That is immaterial. The crux is China opposes India’s elevation.

Given this, India must remain alert that China’s strategic objective– to keep India down as a second rate power– is a top foreign policy priority. New Delhi must take countervailing steps, but engagement with China must continue. This has its  own advantages as engagement is a door to interface. Realism is the watchword for India.  New Delhi must build its own constituency across the globe.

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

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