One must appreciate the ‘form’ of a very senior Chinese leader’s recent visit to India. Zhou Yongkang, member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), the most powerful political body in China, paid a four-day (Nov.1-4) visit trying to blow warm a relationship that was being recently buffeted by some of Beijing’s acerbic and assertive policies with India as a target.
The visit was free flowing with Zhou Yongkang making the right noises and picking from statements on bilateral relations made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His visit was covered widely by the top line Chinese official media, especially the Communist Party mouth piece, The People’s Daily. Zhou’s meeting with Congress President Ms. Sonia Gandhi and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi were highlighted in the People’s Daily. As the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Party-to-Party relations, he met with the leaders of the other leading parties.
Zhou observed that both believed that the world was big enough to accommodate the common development of both countries, a view from Prime Minister Singh, but the importance lay in the accommodation of this sentiment. He also said “It is an inevitable trend of history to consolidate and develop friendship between China and India”. Zhou also made a five-point proposal for further development of bilateral relations including promoting ‘political mutual trust’ (a new formulation), expanding co-operation in economics and trade, boosting friendly exchanges, strengthening international co-operation, and promoting friendly consultations. Most of these are platitudes heard before.
Zhou, expectedly, skirted all contentious issues and spoke only on co-operation and mutual support in certain international platforms like climate change, WTO, globalization and protection against western economic domination among others. He actually said nothing new and nothing that has not been heard before. At the same time, Zhou did not give any assurance to Indian business to enter China’s state sector. Yet, India’s private and state sector have opened to Chinese investment and involvement, especially power equipment business.
On strategic issues, China sought to assuage India very recently that it does not want to disturb India. One, their main Nepali pawn, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ Prachanda, was sent back from Beijing to seek friendship with India. The other, the first ever Chinese military live fire exercise in the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau, using advanced fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft ground-to-air missiles, found very little mention in the Chinese media.
The foregoing needs to be contrasted against an opinion commentary in People’s Daily of October 27. The commentary by Ms.Li Hongmei cautioned India against New Delhi’s “Look East Policy” to join Japan to encircle China as that will certainly fail, and India’s best bet would be to work with China rather than against it. Li Hongmei (or Li Redrose) is not an ordinary correspondent. She appears to have high connections, and a few months ago charged Russia with continuing to subvert China as it always did historically. This article was published in the People’s Daily when a top Russian leader was in China.
Li Hongmei gives an opinion which reflects views of a very important section of the Chinese leadership, if not the whole. Putting all these things in a frame work, China’s message to India appears to be do not fall into the “China-encirclement” trap and we will be “nice” to you. At the same time, China wants India not to bother with, what they call “small things” bilaterally, like their visa policy on Kashmiri domicile residents, their new view that India’s Jammu & Kashmir is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir is Pakistan’s sovereign territory, Aksai Chin is China’s sovereign territory, among other things.
The Chinese are masters in making sharp statements without really articulating. It is left to the interlocutor to see and understand. In the meanwhile, they adopt different and sometimes fluctuating postures, all around. The aim is to create psychological suffocation and confusion.
Zhou Yongkang’s visit was to do this exactly. There is no secret his just ahead of the US President Barack Obama’s visit was to convey this very message to India – the US and the West must be prevented from dominating Asia’s economy, and India will get a small wedge of the pie if India co-operated with China.
Zhou’s mandate was also to lay the advance parameters of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in mid-December. Signs of re-opening of India-China dialogue on the border and other issues this month, a process that had been frozen for long, is visible. Very recent Chinese official maps on the internet show Arunachal Pradesh as China’s sovereign territory, although India fully administers the state as its sovereign territory as any other of its states and does not accept Arunachal Pradesh as a legitimate dispute. For sometime in the past the Chinese negotiating position was adjustments on the borders of Arunachal Pradesh with Tibet, but they appear to be reverting more assertively on their claim on the entire Arunachal Pradesh, as the Chinese Ambassador in India had stated just before President Hu Jintao’s visit in November, 2006.
When Wen Jiabao arrives in India, China will not only be riding the high tide of the second biggest economy in the world pushing Japan to the third place, but also having cowed down President Nicholas Sarkozy of France, making new relations with the European Union, and President Hu Jintao replacing American president Barack Obama as the most powerful man in the world for the first time even according to Forbes’s list.
To the Chinese, this recognition has come a lot sooner than expected. There are credible indications that Chinese leaders especially the powerful People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are going to emphasize again that China shall not want and bide its time, but powerfully project its strength.
Indian policy maker may note that while Zhou Yongkang visited India, Vice President Xi Jinping, who is to take over China’s leadership in 2012 and 2013 from Hu Jintao visited Bangladesh. It would be interesting to see which other countries in South Asia Premier Wen will visit along his India tour. Whenever a Chinese Premier or President visits India, they also visit two other countries of South Asia, telling India is not more important than the others to China.
India, however, is not as weak as some Indian analysts and policy makers think it is. India must remain firm on its independent policy and must not join any alliance. From all accounts, India’s leaders are firm on it. But that does not mean India has to remain alone and disarmed. There are a huge number of Indian interests stretching from the Indian Ocean to East China Sea. To keep these interests intact, India naturally must come together with other similar interests, if need be. This, in no way, is alliance. This is securing national interests and sovereignty which is paramount. And there are India’s “core interests” which brook absolutely no external interference. These core interests are not based on some effusive historical claims. On such claims India could demand sovereignty from Kandahar to places in South East Asia, something preposterous. The Chinese, however, continue keeping up such claims like rabbits out of a bag, threatening regional stability.
But Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh are non-negotiable. When Wen Jiabao visits India he must understand that India is no pushover, and India is no longer as naïve as when India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave up the offer of USNSC permanent seat to China. Beijing leaders, who shout at the top of their voice that whatever they do is right, must like to ponder over their strategy of deception against India. Once that is clear and China honestly decides to work with India, it will be an Asian century. Otherwise, it will be unfortunate for Asia and the world.
P.S. When Premier Wen Jiabao comes to India in December, he must come with the fore knowledge that India cannot be deceived any more. New Delhi is fully aware that to stamp its imprint as the second most powerful country in the world Beijing has brought on itself a potential save-from-China wall in the Asia Pacific region, and this required some stability along its South West borders. India does not wish to fish in troubled waters, but if India’s sovereign strategic interests are sought to be contained by China, India will not be mute.
Next, Wen Jiabao may also carry some answers on the following (i) its position on India civilian nuclear status including membership of the NSG, (ii) China’s position on terrorism especially state sponsored terrorism and organization like LET, HUJI, Jaish-e-Mohamad etc. (iii) its clear position on Kashmir i.e. both J&K and Pak occupied Kashmir (iv) recent confession of Naga separatist leader Anthony Shimray that they were procuring one million dollars worth of arms from China to fight the Indian state (v) that in April 2004, the ULFA terrorists of North-East India procured ten – truck loads of arms from China to fight the Indian state but the consignment got accidentally indicted in Bangladesh.
If these and some other question are addressed responsibly by China there is no reason why the two countries cannot enjoy mutually beneficial relations.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email:email@example.com)