The China Factor

How does one view the tips (“gift”) of Rs. 50000 that General Liang Guanglie, the outgoing Defence Minister of China, who has just concluded his five-day India visit, gave each of the two Indian Air Force pilots who flew him in a special aircraft from Mumbai to Delhi on September 5? The Hindu, the number one pro-Chinese daily in India, took the incident lightly by saying, “it is a normal custom for visiting dignitaries to present mementos as a token of their appreciation for the services rendered to them”, though “money is never offered” and perhaps the General was not briefed on protocol. Well, it might have been the case. But then given the globally acknowledged meticulousness of the Chinese officials in their speech and actions, it is difficult to comprehend that the General did not know that India’s fighter pilots are not just the helping staff who are given cash as tips; they are not chauffeurs. Was it then a deliberate act on his part to belittle the Indians? I will not answer this question and leave the readers to draw their conclusion after reading this column.

The General’s visit has been marked by the announcement that India and China will resume their joint military exercises, though no time-table for it has been provided. The two countries have also decided to hold high-level official exchanges, conduct joint maritime search-and-rescue exercises and strengthen anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, where pirate attacks pose a threat to shipping.

It may be noted that India-China joint-exercises were stopped two years ago when Beijing denied a visa to an Indian General who worked in Kashmir under the spurious plea that the state was disputed and claimed by Pakistan. However, the same disputed nature has not prevented China from taking a significant portion of the Pak-occupied Kashmir territory on a lease. Nor for that matter has it stopped the Chinese developing the infrastructure of Gilgit and Baltistan, parts of the undivided Kashmir, which have been illegally annexed by Pakistan.

Predictably, Gen. Guanglie, at the start of his India visit, gave an interview to The Hindu newspaper, saying that not a single Chinese soldier is in Gilgit or PoK. If one goes by that interview, China is not inimical to India and its interests in the Indian Ocean. The General said it was “regrettable” that a section of the Indian media misreported bilateral relations, “even [distorting] China’s normal activities of developing [its] economy and improving people’s livelihood … into ‘China’s preparation for war against India’.” While some “untruthful remarks” were due to “lack of understanding and knowledge,” others, he said, “were intentionally fabricated rumours by some interest groups”.

It may be noted that the Chinese Defence Minister’s visit to India was not planned in advance. The Chinese request for his visit came only a month ago, despite the fact that General Guanglie is due to retire next month. Instead, India was expecting a visit by Vice President Xi Jinping who is to succeed President Hu shortly. In that sense, Jinping’s visit would have been more meaningful. And that means that the visit of the Chinese Defence Minister was a last minute gap-filler.

Be that as it may, does China take India seriously? As former foreign secretary Shyam Sharan has argued elsewhere, Chinese behaviour towards India varies from time to time depending on the changing international environment and India’s defence-preparedness. At the moment, Chinese are talking nice things about India because over the last two years the Chinese aggressive behaviour in South China Sea, East China Sea and Tibet has drawn adverse international reactions and apprehensions over Beijing’s “peaceful rise to power”. In a year that will mark the change of its leadership, China now is on a course of image-building exercise. And that explains the Defence Minister’s sweet words, although much remains to be desired on the front of concrete Chinese actions that will comfort India.

On its part, India invariably goes two steps backward to assuage the Chinese feelings. One cannot explain this point in a brief column like this. But suffice will it be to mention the report that appeared in The Pioneer newspaper on September 4. According to this report, fearing the Chinese sensitivities the Indian Army’s proposed plan to raise a Mountain Strike Corps has run into rough weather, with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) saying that such a move may send wrong signals to Beijing and escalate tension in the region. The report said, “ The PMO felt that China in the last few years has not increased its troop strength along the 4500-km long Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control and any accretions by India will prove counter-productive as both countries are holding regular dialogue to resolve the vexed boundary dispute.”

One finds it really surprising how the PMO has overlooked the fact of massive militarisation of Tibet as a whole, which, given the huge upgradation of military infrastructure there enables the PLA to rapidly mobilise its troops in the Indo-Tibet border for a military offensive against India anytime. But then, the present government has invariably joined forces with all those who sympathise with the Chinese behaviour. These pro-China elements in India may not be exactly fifth columnists, but one thing is clear. All of them literally hate the United States. They are sure that China is the only country that can challenge the United States and end the so-called unipolar world or American hegemony. They, in the process, underplay the fact that in the name of multipolar world, China is striving for a unipolar Asia, where, true to its theory of middle kingdom, China will not allow another pole, whether it be India or Japan, to make the world truly multipolar. Historically speaking, that has been the Chinese tradition. China throughout ages has done everything possible to stunt the growth of Indian influence and dent India’s eminence.

A 1974 poem by Mao Zedong displays the scorn with which China viewed India. The poem is like this:

     

      The tiger avers its head,

      The tattered lion grieves,

      The bear flaunts its claws,

      Riding the back of the cow,

      The moon torments the sun,

      The pagoda gives forth light,

      Disaster comes to birth,

      The olive is seen waving.

As John W Garver explains, what Mao meant by this poem was that the tiger was the United states, the lion the Great Britain, the bear the Soviet Union, the moon the Islamic countries of West Asia, the sun the rich countries of the West, the pagoda the Vietnamese revolutionary struggle, and its light the prospect of imminent victory. A pagoda giving forth light is a common Chinese literary simile indicating good fortune. The phrase disaster comes to birth referred to Mao’s dictum that either revolution would prevent war or war would lead to revolution, while the olive branch referred to the people’s desire for peace. The cow was India, which, according to Mao, has no talents and is only food or for people to ride and for pulling carts. The cow could starve to death if its master did not give it grass to eat. And even though this cow may have great ambitions, they are futile.

If anything, these illustrative, not exhaustive, examples expose the limitations of the “Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai” syndrome. As Teresita and Howard Schaffer, two former US ambassadors, with long years of service in South Asia, have written elsewhere, the dominant view within China is that although India’s ambitions for a greater global role were “understandable,” in light of its improved economic performance, but in the end these are unrealistic. The argument here is that India is not yet ready for a major global role, that China’s Comprehensive National Power (CNP) exceeded India’s by a factor of three or four, and that the gap was widening. Many in Beijing also view that India’s missile programme is 10 years behind China’s.

On the vexed border issue, the Schaffer couple found during their visit to China that no one there “expected this issue to be resolved within his professional lifetime; the best that could be hoped for was to manage it”. They were given a succession of presentations on 1960s-era opportunities for solving the border that had been squandered by India’s “excessive” ambitions. Solutions that might have worked in the 1960s, they heard repeatedly, were “no longer possible in the light of the two nations’ power gap.”

How justified our PMO then is to thwart the Army’s plans?

 By Prakash Nanda

prakashnanda@udayindia.in

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