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Contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy and Prospects for India-China Relations

Proceedings of the Seminar on India-China relations, jointly organised by the Chennai Centre for China Studies (CCCS) and Centre for South and South-East Asian Studies (CSSEAS), University of Madras with Lt.Gen S Pattabhiraman (retd.), former Vice-Chief of Army Staff, presiding.

Text of Keynote address by Ambassador C.V.Ranganathan.

Changes in China since the year 1976, particularly after the events in US-China relations marked by the visits of Henry Kissinger and Nixon to Beijing, have been significant. Since then, China started adopting a non-ideological and pragmatic view of the world, without resorting to classification of the same into one between pre-determined hostile powers. Lessening the enmity, and making friends where possible, became the new thrust.

The mnemonic aphorism of the veteran leader Deng Xiaoping to “increase trust, reduce trouble, promote cooperation, avoid confrontation”, (Zengjia Xinren, Jianshao Mafan, Fazhan Hezuo and Bugao Duikang), though put forward in terms of Sino-US relations in mid-nineties, translated itself into external and domestic policies of China on the premise that without encouraging peace and prosperity between China and its neighbours around the country’s long borders, there will be no peace and prosperity at home. And without peaceful development at home, the Chinese Communist Party will be lost. China’s foreign policy thus became one geared to improving relations with the periphery and major powers.

The story of China’s economic growth through nineties is now old one and has become a contemporary reality accepted universally. The new story from the beginning of this century which is unfolding on a daily basis, is how China is going out into the world. But the main site of this multi-faceted outreach, which China’s growth facilitates, and of its physical power and influence, will, for decades to come, be in the Asian continent. Developments in Asia from the latter parts of nineties and the early years of this century – including the sequential rise of China and India – illustrates this gradually.

Asia has changed over these years and China is a principal cause. Its growing economic and military power, rising political influence, distinctive diplomatic voice, its increasing involvement in regional multi-lateral institutions and responsibility it is willing to assume over broader security issues which concern the international community as a whole cumulatively affect the structure of power which characterises international relations and interactions.

David M. Lampton, a well-known US academic, in his recent book “Power shift-China and Asia’s New Dynamics” (2005), analyses the changed mix of Chinese Power in recent years, which have propelled the PRC in the direction of becoming the major power that it is. Applying the concept of disaggregating power into three categories, remunerative, coercive and normative to China’s domestic growth and external politics, Lampton has observed that the remunerative power both manifest and latent has given China options and avenues for influence that it has not previously enjoyed in the modern era.

China is gaining power as a rapidly growing purchaser of what others throughout Asia have to sell. It has become a key-part of the global supply-chain, providing goods destined for North America, Japan, Europe, Asia and Africa. It is investing abroad more and more in order to diversify its sources of raw materials, principal energy and other strategic materials.

As for the use of coercive power, Beijing has used its domestic economic growth for investments in rapidly increasing its military capabilities including professionalisation of its armed forces, acquisition of force projection capabilities with particular emphasis on possible conflict over Taiwan and modernisation of its deterrent nuclear systems.

The new security approach of China being seen since 1996-97 has marked Beijing’s reassurance based on cooperative security dialogue and mutual economic benefit. Some of the manifestations of the new approach are – increasing joint military exercises with neighbours, employing CBMs, shelving land and sea border disputes, pursuing crisis management as seen over the North Korean nuclear issue and contributing to the build-up of regional multilateral organisations. (Example SCO). The overall success of this approach in the regions bordering China has been considerable though some anxieties remain.

On USA, Beijing has increasingly made clear, that it does not seek to drive the USA militarily from East Asia. Concerning normative power, China’s policy at high-levels to promote mutual respect between different civilisation and social systems could be important. China’s position of emphasising democracy in the world system and ‘between’ nations is in direct contrast with the US emphasis on democracy ‘within’ nations. Results in Africa and Latin America are there for all to see.

Taking a quick look at China’s relations with major powers, the emerging Sino-US relations is unique as it epitomises China’s economic-centred foreign policy which also gives the PRC strategic and military stability. No two countries other than China and the US, except during world war II, when dependence on the USA was total, have become more inter-dependent now. In fact one could argue that the USA has become more dependent on China than the other way around.

The Sino-US relationship goes beyond interdependence but not at the cost of loosening the independence and capacity of one to hurt the other. On economic issues, China is able to practice or conduct the trade and investment relations with the US, while Washington tries, not always successfully, to lay down norms and rules for the conduct of such relations. On military front, China does not challenge the US military in Asia while legally, it defies US dominance, for example, by launching anti-space satellite missiles. Korea and Taiwan constitute strategic nightmares for China and the US. Non-nuclear Korean peninsula is the preferred choice for China, but a North-Korea which will succumb to peaceful overtures by USA could only strengthen US presence in East Asia, While the US does not promote Taiwan’s independence, Taiwan is able to maintain sturdy separateness.

On whole, China faces many strategic predicaments in East Asia, which would keep her pre-occupied and USA is the cause of such predicaments. The Indo-US civil nuclear deal received wide focus, but US has more stakes in firming up its relations with China than strengthening ties with India. Also if peace between US and North Korea becomes a reality, China may lose its strategic depth in the region.

China-Russia friendship has an unwritten aspect – preventing the spread of the influence of the USA. Beijing-Moscow ties represent neither a full-fledged anti-Western alliance nor a fragile relationship liable to collapse. Bilaterally, both the nations want to avoid confrontation and build a relationship of trust and confidence, though bilateral problems look inevitable due to long borders. Environmental problems may predominate increasingly China-Russia relations. Reconciliation of China’s hunger and appetite for energy resources from Russia need to be matched with Russia’s nationalistic urges and perceived economic interest.

There has been a remarkable turnaround in China-Japan relations. Trade with China has been the principal contributor to Japan’s recent economic recovery. Will China acquiesce or obstruct Japan’s growing ambitions to evolve into a more-wholesome power with UN Security Council membership, a revised military outlook and greater political role, is a key question.

On Sino-Indian relations, it can be said that India is well equipped to face the challenges coming from the rise of China. A noteworthy feature of the early years of this century has been a move from the almost uni-linear focus on China to include India. It is now well recognised that India and China are drivers of the Asian and International economies. Other major powers and regional groups in Asia such as Japan and ASEAN have recognised this. The spread of intellectual influence and commerce of the two large civilisational states, India and China have spread over a wide swath of continental and maritime Asia. Indian and Chinese interests intersect over a very wide arc extending from West Asia through central Asia and South Asia, to Southeast and East Asia. Within this arc, is contained the source of raw materials, particularly energy, required by both. Problems caused by unstable governments, unresolved conflicts and extremism in this arc impact on regional peace and stability, which in turn could affect both China and India. The US-led coalition has exacerbated such problems.

“India-China Strategic Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity” (2005) needs to be translated into concrete practice. This partnership marks a mutual acknowledgement of the wider significance of India-China relations, going beyond the purely bilateral, to encompass regional and global issues of concern to both the sides. Since 1988, there has been a consensus across the political spectrum on India’s China policy, all the more remarkable considering that quite a few changes of governments led by different parties and coalitions took place. An elaborate inter-governmental dialogue architecture covering the subjects such as security, strategic issues, environment, counter-terrorism etc., has been put in place. China has emerged as India’s second largest trade partner by 2006.

India’s relationship with the US, EU, Japan, ASEAN and Russia are strong. Care must be taken to see that no single compartment of such relations with major powers and groupings impacts adversely on the other. Explaining this in the context of ties with China, India’s Prime Minister has said, “Having a good relationship with USA does not mean we are opposed to China”. The US, which enjoys a density of relations with China, is not going to jeopardise it by seeking to overtly contain China with India’s help. India and China through the 2005 Joint Statement, have formally acknowledged that a good neighbourly diplomacy followed by both the nations have been extended from their immediate neighbourhood to a policy of multilateral regimes in Asia.

Leaders in South-east Asia look upon the growth of India-china relations and its impact on South and Southeast Asia as the latest instance of major power relations in Asia becoming multi-dimensional not structured along any single axis, as was the case in the last century. This would entail the fashion of a regional architecture in Asia which is inclusive of the reasonable interests of all the major powers and groups – US, EU and Russia. Dr.Manmohan Singh, echoed such broad approach at successive East-Asia summits, visualising constitution of an ‘arc of advantage’ by the Asian community. For such a vision to be realised, it is necessary for India and China to cooperate along with other Southeast and East Asian nations.

India’s status as an observer in the SCO can serve to expand bilateral links with the prominent Central Asian states and to be part of border trans-regional projects, for example in the field of energy. Of all the countries in South Asia, India has the worst neighbourhood, under an ‘arc of instability’. It hurts India more than China. Also, as quoted by Singapore Statesman George Yeo, internal problems in Myanmar may warrant intervention of China and India in self-defence.

On the Sino-Indian boundary issue, the following could be summed up as the requisite approach – peaceful resolution, maintenance of peace and tranquillity, development of bilateral relations, acceptable solution to both the sides and safeguarding the interest of populations. There is a need for flexibility on the part of both the sides in Western and Eastern sectors. While strategic military interests are to be borne in mind by China and India, there should be flexibility on the part of both concerning other aspects like civilians, trade, religion etc. The denial of visa to an Indian civil servant from Arunachal Pradesh is a mistake committed by China. Beijing should be sensitive to India’s political system. Sino-Indian relations should not be held prisoner to border conflicts. China would not give up its claim on Arunachal Pradesh easily. The territorial claim of China over Arunachal Pradesh is an issue, which should be settled through negotiations without disturbing the substance of national sovereignty. China and India should think “out of the box” and adopt a completely flexible approach to address the issue. It is highly egoistic to think that China should drop all its relations with Pakistan to protect the Indo-Chinese friendship.

The fundamental pluralism in world society, re-emergence of extremist ideologies, opposition from sections which oppose globalisation and do not benefit from it, all cumulatively imply a search for organising that multi-polarity, which is more than just a calculus of military power, economic might or political influence. India is well placed to give a lead and India-China relations are vital in fashioning an alternate model, a paradigm of cooperation.

(Mr.C.V.Ranganathan was formerly India’s Amassador to China and France.)

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