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India-China: The Frozen Vision of 1962

While speaking at a meeting organised by the Indo-Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry at Chennai on August 17,2009, I had called for an India-China-Japan trialogue on maritime security—-initially at the non-Governmental level to be upgraded subsequently to the Governmental level. The text of my talk may be seen at

2. On September 8,2009, worried by the likely consequences of the mounting anti-China demonisation campaign indulged in by some members of our community of strategic analysts, I wrote an article titled ” India-China: Dangerous Hysteria”, which is available at

3. I was amazed and disturbed by the kind of vituperative mail I got from many Indian readers of my article. All sorts of abuses were hurled at me—-” senile”, “confused”, ” a dunce”, ” bought over by the Chinese” etc etc. The comments of the strategic analysts, which triggered off my article, and the vituperative mail, which I received in response to my article, only confirmed my fears that large sections of our civil society and strategic analysts’ community continue to be caught in the mental quagmire of 1962 and are unable to rid themselves of the frozen vision of 1962. They are not prepared to look at China through glasses of 2009.

4. After I wrote my controversial article, I happened to attend an interesting interaction with a distinguished Taiwanese, who was educated in a prestigious US university and who is a good friend of India. One of the members of the audience asked him for his assessment of Sino-Indian relations. He almost expressed identical thoughts when he said that he was worried to note that Indian thinking and reflexes on China continue to be governed by the memories of the 1962 experience and that Indian analysts, when writing on China, continued to look behind rather than forward. He pointed out how millions of Taiwanese had died at the hands of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and how millions of Chinese had died at the hands of the Japanese . Despite this, instead of continuing to nurse suspicions and fears arising from the past, Taiwan had considerably improved its relations with China and Beijing and Tokyo are in the process of improving their bilateral relations despite their continuing dispute over the East China Sea islands. He felt it was time for India to rid itself of the bitter memories of the past and start looking to the future in its relations with China.

5. When he asked me for my views on Sino-Indian relations, I replied that there are three components in India—-the political leadership and the serving bureaucracy, the business class and the civil society, including the community of strategic analysts and retired bureaucrats. While the political leadership, the serving bureaucracy and the business class want to be forward-looking, large sections of the civil society and strategic analysts continue to be chained to the past and tend to discourage any forward movement. As a result, the relations are moving at variable speeds—- a little faster in the case of the political leadership,the serving bureaucracy and the business class and much slower in the case of the civil society and the non-governmental strategic analysts’ community.

6. In the context of this, I was pleasantly surprised to read in “The Hindu” of September 13, the views on China of two recently retired Foreign Secretaries of the Government of India—- Shyam Saran and Shiv Shankar Menon. Their views as reported by “The Hindu” were restricted to the sphere of maritime security, but indicate a desire to look for ways of working with China instead of treating China all the time with suspicion.

7. To cite from the remarks of Saran while addressing a seminar on Security and Development at Port Blair in the Andamans on September 5: India should actively participate in shaping an emerging economic and security architecture in the region in close collaboration with all stakeholders, including China. This arrangement should be open, inclusive and loosely structured…. India needs a nuanced policy (towards China) that builds upon possible areas of congruence and deals firmly, though prudently, with situations where interests are threatened. There is no inevitability of conflict with China. There is enough space in the region and beyond for both China and India to be ascendant.

8. To cite from the remarks of Menon during a lecture at the National Maritime Foundation of New Delhi on September 11: China and other States can choose to be part of the solution rather than that of the problem. “My question is, therefore, if energy and trade flows and security are the issues, why not begin discussing collective security arrangements among the major powers concerned? ”

9. The refreshing views expressed by the two recently-retired Foreign Secretaries, which are unlikely to be shared by the brigade of compulsive demonisers of China in the strategic analysts’ community and in our media, have come in the wake of changing perceptions of China in countries such as Australia, the US and Japan, which were as paranoiac about China till recently as we are even now. There is a growing realisation in recent months that the cause of international and regional peace and security might be served better by treating China as a possible security partner than as a security threat.

10. One noticed this change of attitude first in Australia after Kevin Rudd became the Prime Minister after defeating John Howard and his party. He has made Australia distance itself from multilateral security mechanisms such as the five-power naval exercise of 2007 by the navies of the US, Australia, India, Japan and Singapore on the ground that such mechanisms cause unnecessary concerns to China. One could also see a change — from compulsive suspicion to looking for areas of better understanding— in the attitude of the administration of President Barack Obama towards China. This change was recently reflected in a proposal for a joint naval exercise involving the navies of the US, Australia and China. Some reputed Australian non-Governmental analysts have also been saying in the margins of international seminars on maritime security that though China might not be an Indian Ocean power, it has legitimate interests and concerns relating to the Indian Ocean and hence it should be associated in any dialogue mechanism pertaining to the Indian Ocean. In a seminar attended by me, I even heard an Australian non-governmental analyst arguing that, as a confidence-building measure, India should take the initiative in proposing the inclusion of China in dialogues regarding security in the Indian Ocean.

11. Yukio Hatoyama, the new Prime Minister of Japan, also thinks differently from his predecessors in respect of China and is likely to initiate moves to improve Japan’s relations with China. He believes that China should be made part of the solution to the security problems of the region instead of being suspected as an important cause of the problems.

12. At a time when attitudes are thus changing, India should not remain like an old Japanese soldier of the Second World War, who was discovered some years ago living in an uninhabited and isolated island, thinking that the war was still on and without realising that the war ended years ago and that the world had changed beyond recognition.

13. It has to be admitted that no other country in the world has the kind of problems that India has with China—– arising from its adamant attitude in claiming Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh, its nuclear and missile supply relationship with Pakistan, its opposition to India being associated with the UN Security Council as a permanent member and with all the dialogue and security mechanisms in the ASEAN and East Asian regions etc. Its attitudes naturally create a suspicion in the minds of large sections of our civil society that there continues to be a certain malevolence in China’s attitude to India.

14. A positive change in the attitude of the Indian civil society to China can come about only if this Indian perception of Chinese malevolence is lessened. How to bring about positive perceptional changes on both sides is a question which should engage the attention of analysts in both countries. Any campaign of hysteria and mutual demonisation in India as well as in China will come in the way of efforts to bring about changes in attitude on both sides.( 13-9-09)

( The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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