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Time to Put China in Its Place

China’s is an ancient civilization. It can legitimately pride itself on the quintessential wisdom of thinkers and philosophers who have left their impact on every aspect of life. Indeed, the Chinese polity has its moorings in the comprehensive value system handed by them that is meant to govern the daily conduct of the people as also those in positions of authority and power. But the needling of neighbours on the slightest pretext by the present-day Chinese rulers makes one wonder whether the compulsive itch to play realpolitik is throwing overboard the heritage of noble tenets and traditions honed over 5000 years or more.

For instance, Confucius is China’s patron saint by whom even the Communist ideologues swear at least outwardly. It is from his famous aphorisms that Mao borrowed “Let hundred flowers bloom, let hundred thoughts contend” only to be subsequently trampled under foot. One of the imperative dicta of Confucius is that China’s relations with other peoples and countries should be founded on the sacred principle of harmony and the golden law of reciprocity defined as putting oneself in the other’s place whatever one does.

One need not go as far back as Confucius. Speaking to the US Army War College some time ago, General Li Jijun, then Vice President of the Academy of Military Science of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), referred to an ancient Chinese motto that admonished people, “Never do to others what you do not like others to do to you” (ji suo bu yu, wu shi yu ren), and added: “China’s history and the way the Chinese people understand their own civilisation militate against any desire for aggression. Over thousands of years the pursuit of peace has been thoroughly absorbed into the Chinese national psyche…” He also paid glowing tribute to the ancient Chinese military thinker, Mo Zi, who lived five centuries before Christ, and was the father of the concept of “non-offence” (fei gong) advocating accommodating rather than provocative actions.

Sardonic Smile

The people of India, with the memory of 1962 still fresh, should be pardoned if they react to all this recital with a sardonic smile. The behaviour of the market socialist Chinese regime towards India in recent years has not only been at odds with the teachings of Confucius and claims of the PLA General but can fairly be described as immature and even childish.

It is always possible for two national Governments, particularly of adjacent countries, not to see eye to eye on some issues. In such a situation, it is expected of mature Governments to seek to deal with them at the policy level and set up mechanisms that will take such issues towards resolution in the spirit of the ancient Chinese motto mentioned by the PLA General, and not to unilaterally go about indulging in irritating displays of carping pettifoggery.

The pinpricks that China had been giving to India in the past in the form of border incursions, questioning the status of Arunachal Pradesh, raising frivolous objections to the visits of the Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh, and the Dalai Lama to that State, refusing visas to the IAS trainees belonging to that State, and resorting to issue of stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir are certainly not befitting the dignity and sobriety normally associated with ancient cultural values.

Now comes the refusal of China to ‘host’ General B.S.Jaswal, the General Officer commanding in chief of India’s Northern Command, who was to lead the team for the fourth defence dialogue to be held in Beijing. The reason mentioned (that he came from the “sensitive location of Jammu and Kashmir”and “people from this part of the world come with a different kind of visa”) is of a piece with China’s past record of insensitivity and arrogance.

Hegemonistic ambitions

What is the justification for China viewing Jammu and Kashmir as a ‘sensitive location’? Does it want to insinuate that it does not regard the State as an integral part of India? Or is it that the location has become ‘sensitive’ because China is preparing the ground to lay claim to some part of the territory? Worse still, has China decided to gang up with Pakistan to ‘bleed’ India in whatever manner possible? Whatever it is, it takes the cake for impudence beyond belief, raising the question how and why China, with all the advantage of ancient wisdom, has failed to realise that this is no way to “clarify concerns, deepen mutual trust and coordinate stances” which was the stated purpose of the defence dialogue?

What is most baffling is China being oblivious to the greatest harm that it is doing to itself as a result of the cumulative effect of these annoying incidents. It is providing vindication to those who have been venting their suspicion of its hegemonistic ambitions and is fast alienating a constituency in India which , however small, had been braving public opprobrium and advocating an early settlement of the border dispute in a spirit of give-and-take and usher in an era of peace and friendship with China. Apparently, winning friends and influencing people is not China’s forte.

Illusory luxury

Given China’s deliberate policy of keeping India on tenterhooks by manufacturing a series of untenable pretexts, reminiscent of the famous fable of the wolf and the lamb, it should not be surprising if the significance of India’s mild but pained response to the blackballing of General Jaswal is totally lost on the powers-that-be in Beijing.

New Delhi must understand that mere half measures will not do. The defence dialogue has never been much to speak of from its initiation in 2008. At best, it was exploratory at the periphery of India-China relations and never went in depth into any substantive issues relating to defence and security collaboration, the implications of China’s maritime pretensions or the China-Pakistan axis spiting India an every count. China has handed on a platter an opportunity for Indian policy makers to scrap altogether the whole fruitless and wasteful make-believe of a dialogue and deal with emerging issues as they arise. In any case, the strategic imperatives and the composition and configuration of forces of both countries are so far apart that a common defence dialogue is an illusory luxury.

(The writer, Mr B.S.Raghavan, IAS-Retired, formerly Chief Secretary of the Governments of West Bengal and Tripura and Adviser to the UN, is Patron of the Chennai Centre for China Studies.

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