Admire the Chinese spin masters. In a series of three article on June 26, 27 and 28, the hard-line official daily, the Global Times, a subsidiary of the Communist party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, briefly revisited India-China relations especially in the context of the unresolved border issue, the 1962 border and how India should conduct its foreign policy with regard to western powers and China.
The first two articles were written by two Indians known for their expertise in international and strategic affairs. The third (and final?) article was by Hong Yuan, Deputy Secretary General and researcher with the Centre of World Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS), Beijing. The CASS is the topmost Chinese think tank, intimately connected with the party and the government. The head of CASS holds a rank equivalent to that of a member of Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party. The importance of the CASS, therefore, needs no emphasis.
Something peculiar about the three articles catches the eye. They appear to be triplets, only the third one being a little stronger than the first two. A coincidence?
Hong Yuan tried to give a new dressing to the cause of the 1962 border conflict and India’s first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. Hong writes that 50 years ago when China was besieged with internal and external problems Nehru, at the instigation of the USA and the Soviet Union created trouble on the border between 1959 and 1962.
Hong speaks half the truth only. Nehru was acutely aware that the two super powers would like to put up India against China. In the 1950s India was offered membership of UNSC Perm-5. He declined the offer and supported China’s case. China is in UNSC thanks to Nehru. Yet China is obstinately opposing a reform of the UN where India can rightly become a veto holding member of an expanded security council.
Hong further writes that Mao Zedong believed that the battle with India was also a political one, and the real target was not Nehru (India) but the US and the Soviet Union that were plotting against China. Then he says Mao gave Nehru a “heavy punch” to wake him up from the influence of the super powers and bring him to his senses. This is a very significant observation from the author in the current Chinese perspective of India’s growing relations with the US and Japan.
Therefore, Hong Yuan reverts to the usual Chinese style of patronising an “inferior” India saying the Chinese victory brought peace, Chinese troops withdrew in the eastern sector to 20 kms behind the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on November 7, 1959, return of Indian POWs and arms – all as a gesture of friendship for the Indian people.
A few of the interesting common points made in the three articles are as follows: (i) Put aside the border problem (ii) Foreign instigations to Nehru to persecute the 1962 war with China (iii) It was necessary for China to cooperate with the US at one time in the interest of economic development, but now Asian countries (India) should cooperate with China for the same. (iv) China voluntarily withdrew its troops after 1962 was and since then the border has been peaceful.
Certainly, India and China must work together in Asia and beyond. There are many common issues on global front like climate change, WTO and now the Bretton Woods institutions. Bilateral trade went up from a little over $200 million in 2001-2 to $60 billion last year and poised to reach $100 billion by 2015. The trade, however, is not so simple. It was a political decision by China borne out of hardnosed economic reality – procurement of raw materials from India especially iron ore. It may also be mentioned that Indian consumers are getting tired of substandard cheap Chinese goods flooding the Indian markets.
If China wants to put the border issue in the cold storage, it will be fine with India. Perhaps the next generation or after that in both countries can see this dispute in a different perspective. Or after another 50 years, China can overwhelm India, as Chinese hawks hope. India is not going to sleep for the next 50 years. Practically for China, at the moment it does not want to pursue another contentious border/territorial issue.
There needs to be greater clarity about the India-China border, especially its length and what is legitimate Indian territory. Chinese claim the border is approximately 2000 kms, excluding Jammu & Kashmir Ladak and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. From India’s position, the length of India-China border is approximately 4000 kms. China has been playing the Pakistan card with impunity.
If Beijing wants the border issue to be shelved for the time being, will it stop playing games with visas for Indians from Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh?
Frankly, the India-China border has not been peaceful for the last 50 years after 1962. There have been frictions, confrontations and threats from China especially in 1987 when Beijing threatened to teach India another lesson! The border has been relatively peaceful following the signing of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in 1993 and 1996. China’s top strategists have realised that India of 21st century is not the India of 1962.
Due to its assertive and aggressive behaviour with its pacific neighbours from the Sea of Japan to the South China Sea bordering countries over the past four year, China has lost trust with these countries. This forced Japan and even Australia to revamp their security perceptions vis-a-vis China. Finally the USA came with its Asia ‘pivot’ or rebalance.
With the new India-US relations and India-Japan partnership, China perceives India’s Look East policy as promoted by the US. This has been recorded in the Chinese official media including the Global Times over and over.
While projecting China’s benign and friendly overtures to India, the writers of these three article obliterated serious challenges to India posed by China. It is surprising that China’s opposition to the India-US civilian deal, opposition to India’s clearance the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and setting up a nuclear weapons Pakistan state against India are among a long list of issues that were ignored by the writers. Freezing the border issue hardly makes for trust and friendship.
China has lost trust with most of its peripheral countries except Pakistan. Full trust between China and Russia never existed and will not be born in the near future.
The US remains as important for China as it was in the very early years of the People’s Republic and the cold war years. Despite acrimonies, Beijing has decided not to adopt a real confrontational position against Washington. But they want India to dissociate with Washington. The warning was made by Hong Yang reminding the 1962 attack was to wake up Pt. Nehru not to work with the super powers but to cooperate with China.
Unfortunately the Chinese leaders, suspicious by the dint of tradition and history, have not yet comprehended that India still follows an independent foreign policy. But such a position of non-alignment is a dynamic concept today. While India will refrain from creating trouble for others, its political, economic, security and diplomatic interest are supreme. Cooperation with others is a vital and vibrant ingredient. There is no hiding of the fact.
To conclude, any effort to improve India-China relations is welcome. To do so however, the entire gamut of truth must be put forth objectively and in detail. Just to put up the border issue which China wants to put on the back burner for the time being because of a variety of other imperatives is unfortunate.
What is worse India has been blamed for everything on this specific issue is a matter of concern. History cannot be sabotaged in this manner. China is well known for manufacturing history whether on the India-China border, South China Sea, the Sea of Japan and the other issues.
(The writer, Mr.Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)