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China’s Unimaginative India Policy

Indians should not be surprised at China canceling the meeting of the Special Representatives (SRs) of the two countries in New Delhi on November 28-29. According to Indian reports the Chinese side demanded that a Buddhist conference in New Delhi (where the SR level meeting was to take place) must be cancelled because it was going to be addressed by the Dalai Lama.

Where the Indian government is concerned it is openly and democratically elected by the people of India and represents their views. And to the Indian people the Dalai Lama is an institution representing the highest moral and religious values. The Chinese leaders are aware that the Dalai Lama cannot be expelled from India. The Indian government has made this clear to Beijing. But in every other way New Delhi has acceded to China’s requests on the Tibet issue including prohibiting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan diaspora from anti-China political activities. This was acceptable to the Chinese leaders till now. But things have obviously changed in Beijing.

India has indulged China for years in the interest of promoting bilateral relations. Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan youth have been rounded up in the past for high level Chinese visits according to their demands. The Indian authorities have kept away from the public instances of illegal incursions and violation of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) along the India-China border on the grounds that the LAC is not clear and that mistakes can take place. The Indian media is free unlike the Chinese media which is the mouth piece of the Chinese Communist Party and the government as per their laws. Yet the Chinese official media has been more critical of India lately than the Indian media of the Chinese. In many ways India has bent backwards to accommodate China, often risking negative public opinion.

It is understandable that China is concerned by a new upsurge of protests by Tibetan monks and nuns in China, including twelve self-immolation bids, six of which resulted in deaths. The Chinese leaders must do some deep introspection why they have failed to win over the Tibetans, over almost 60 years. They are frustrated that despite denigrating and denouncing the Dalai Lama they have failed to make the smallest dent on his popularity. If they are losing the fight against the minimum aspirations of Tibetans the responsibility lies entirely with the Chinese Communist Party and its government arm. India is in no way connected with any of these developments.

It is possible that the Chinese took the position which, at first, was against the Dalai Lama’s address to the Buddhist Conference and then extended the demand to cancel the entire conference, to hit at the Dalai Lama. They succeeded in forcing French President Nicholas Sarkozy to apologize for meeting the Dalai Lama and, more recently, compelled the South African government to cancel a visa to the Dalai Lama who had been invited by Rev. Desmond Tutu to visit the country.

Increasingly, international China watchers are questioning if the Chinese communist mandarins have lost their ability to assess international situations, blindly riding on China’s neo-economic and military power. Recently, Chinese strategic experts admitted Beijing failed to understand that its aggressive behavior was turning friends in South East Asia and East Asia into enemies. They also could not anticipate the US politico-economic-military surge in Asia Pacific Region (APR) led by US President Barack Obama.

China is making a similar mistake with India, misreading India’s patience and goodwill for weakness. If China has made rapid progress in enlarging its comprehensive national power, other countries, including India, have not remained static. It is no secret, however, that after the defeat in the1962 war with China,  Indians especially the army and the government were demoralized. But that is a thing of the past.

By cancelling the SR level meeting on grounds of an international conference on Buddhism, China could be sending a larger message to India. This has to do with the rejuvenation of India’s ‘look east’ policy which is more forthright than in the past. In strategic terms, India has adopted an “active” foreign policy, moving away from the earlier “passive” and “reactive” mode. This has disturbed China, since India’s influence, or at least presence is moving to areas which they call their “backyard”. Till now, China was pleased to set political and military mine fields around India in South Asia, unhindered. There is a worry, if not alarm, among China’s top leadership. In the run up to the East Asia and ASEAN Summits (Nov.18-20) in Bali, four of China’s most powerful media establishment carried articles that clearly warned India not to meddle in China’s backyard, conveying India would be the loser otherwise. The newspapers were the Global Times (Nov. 08), the People’s Daily (Nov. 10), China Military Online (Nov. 15) and theChina Youth Daily (Nov.15).

Briefly, the articles conveyed the following (i) India’s “look east” policy included strategic relations with Japan and ASEAN countries especially Vietnam to counter China (ii) took note of India’s strategic and co-operative agreement with Afghanistan, defense pacts with Myanmar and Vietnam (iii) create an inclusive regional architecture in Asia to convince China’s small neighbours to look up to India to balance China’s assertiveness (iv) US-India co-operation to restrict China, which would elevate India’s international status (v) India has started to consider China as an enemy (vi) warned India that plans to deploy 100,000 troops and Brahmos missiles in Arunachal Pradesh could be wiped out by modern precision guided weapons. India has thus been warned to back off from the APR and from befriending China’s small neighbours over which China wants to exercise neo-colonialism, and to avoid any partnership with the US and Japan to encircle or counter China.

The comment (People’s Daily, Nov.15) that modern precision guided weapons can easily eliminate concentration of troops may not be taken lightly by Indian strategic planners. China is rapidly improving its precision guided weapons including in the medium range missile series (1800-2200 kms) along with electronic and informatic based warfare which can kill the communication lines of the enemy. This comment, even in passing, must be read along with the evolving but grey Chinese nuclear doctrine and preventive attack doctrine (active defence).

China’s apprehension of a possible India-US partnership along with Japan and Australia to encircle it stems from two historical facts (i) China had actively colluded with the USA during the cold war to counter the Soviet Union and (ii) its age old strategy to encircle India through South Asian countries, and enduring strategy is still in place.

Indian foreign policy and strategic planning is not what the drivers of China’s policy are trying to construe to prosecute a regionally destabilizing agenda. Nationalistic but realistic Chinese foreign policy experts including those within the state apparatus understand that India has been proud to follow an independent foreign policy since 1947. That is how the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was formed.

At the same time India has to look after its national interests which can extend to any part of the world. A survey of Indian voting pattern in the United Nations will show New Delhi voted more against the US than otherwise.

Therefore, China must understand that India has every right to promote relations with China’s small neighbours as China has done with India’s neighbours. The only difference is that India has no intention to transfer nuclear weapons technology and delivery system to China’s neighbours as China has done with Pakistan including promoting a vicious anti-India policy among India’s neighbours.

With the end of the cold war there was a natural expectation in India that relations with China would fall into place as friendly neighbours and the border issue would be resolved. Trade, economic relations, and common platform through consultation on important international issues like climate change proceeded at a remarkable pace.

From China’s point of view, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s answer to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s query in Bali that India will continue to explore for oil and gas with Vietnam in Hanoi’s territorial waters in South China Sea and that it was a commercial activity and not political, and that the South China Sea dispute should be resolved according to international laws, was an assault on China’s sovereignty.

There is no question that China has for long misconstrued history, interpretations of international laws, and used force to falsely claim territory that does not belong to it. Increasingly, Chinese experts have begun to question these claims especially on the South China Sea, to Beijing’s embarrassment.

India’s rising profile in South East Asia, especially with Vietnam including a defence agreement is perceived as a challenge by China.

What needs immediate and close attention is that China’s foreign policy especially on territorial and strategic issues is shifting to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This has been visible at least from 2008. The Central Military Commission (CMC), China’s top military body which also controls the nuclear button, announced (Nov. 22) the formation of a new Strategic Planning Department (SPD) under the General Staff Department (GSD) of the PLA. From all accounts, the SPD was formed in a hurry as they are yet to announce who will head this body. The significance of this body is that it will create a wide range of inputs for the PLA including political, diplomatic, cultural, energy security among others. The area of “culture” with the PLA should ring alarm bells around the world because it is part of the Communist Party’s propaganda and soft power operations. The PLA has already taken over the “Three warfares”-media warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare.

Officially, the PLA is under the Communist Party. In China, the party and the PLA inter-operate. China’s strategic policy making is beginning to shift to the PLA’s domain. This is a dangerous transformation for the entire world. For India, this is a development of high concern. There lies the cancellation of SRs meeting on November 28-29, 2011.

For benefit for all and a win-win situation, China must be imaginative and think out of the old box of “China gets what China wants”. The world has moved beyond cold war, and India has moved way ahead from 1962. The politeness of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a figure respected internationally as a man of peace and development, should not be taken as weakness. Chinese official propaganda by senior hard line party journalists like Ms. Li Hongmei that India suffers from an inferiority complex does not help. This only reinforces the suspicion that the Chinese Communist Party sadly remains unsophisticated, woefully lacking in culture. There is a lot that China and India can do together in mutual benefit for a win-win relationship. Unfortunately, the Beijing leaders still think military power as the ace in their hands.

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email:

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