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Dealing With China

Updated: November 24, 2012 12:44 pm

Committed as it is to be a platform for promoting India’s national interests, Uday India organised a symposium on “Dealing with China” at India International Centre on October 30. Exactly 50 years ago around this time, India was fighting a war triggered by China. The war had started on October 20 and ended on November 19. The symposium, in a way, was an attempt to remember lessons from that multipronged Chinese offensive. We think that it is always important to remember past wars if a nation wants to avoid wars in future.

The war in 1962 resulted in China wresting control in Aksai Chin in Kashmir and significant territories in Arunachal Pradesh. We also lost about seven thousand soldiers. Though there was a complex set of factors behind the outbreak of that war, the most ostensible one was the vexed boundary issue. Unfortunately, even after 50 years, this boundary issue still remains unresolved. The more than 4000-km-long border continues to be one of the most militarised stretches of territory in the world. Though officially both the countries say that the border is quiet and they are committed to resolving the issue diplomatically, the fact remains that we do come across frequent reports of border incursions. And what is worse, increasingly over the last few years, China has toughened its posture and been claiming over more and more Indian territories, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. It has raised its fighting capacity significantly. According to a 2010 Pentagon report, China has deployed nuclear capable intermediate-range ballistic missiles and there are approximately 300,000 troops in the Tibetan plateau, not to speak of the massive improvements in the infrastructures and facilities there for the Chinese military.

Is India prepared for another Chinese surprise? While our distinguished panelists and keynote speaker General VK Singh, until recently the Chief of Indian Army, have dealt with the question, the fact remains that China is a difficult customer when it comes to territorial disputes. It hardly compromises on border issues despite its dubious claims. It is because of this that China today has territorial problems with most of its neighbours—with Japan in East China Sea, with ASEAN countries in the South China Sea, and of course with India.

We held this symposium because of yet another reason. China is not an ordinary country. The world’s most populous country is tipped to be a superpower in near future. It is already the world’s second largest economy. The very fact that China is one of our immediate neighbours, thanks, of course, to its controversial possession of Tibet, we must have a proper understanding of China, particularly its emerging leadership. In fact, by the time this issue comes out, China would have selected (question of election in true sense of the term simply does not arise in a Communist country that China is) a new leader in Xi Jinping. The world does not know much about him. How will he view India and what will be his regime’s posture towards India? Here, I would like to point out something uncomfortable and that is the fact that majority of the Chinese do not like India.

On October 16, Pew Global Attitudes Project report came out with the finding that that 62 per cent of Chinese that it surveyed viewed India unfavorably. In comparison, only 48 per cent of the Chinese viewed the United States unfavourably, while only 38 per cent did likewise to Russia. Of course, it is also a fact that not many Indians view China favourably. The same study has shown that less than a quarter of Indians polled characterised the relationship with China as cooperative, and only 24 per cent of Indians said that Chinese economic growth was a good thing for India.

What is thus clear is that there is a big trust-deficit between India and China, the two rising powers of this century whom the rest of the world is watching carefully. Chinese activities in our neighbourhood have not helped the matter. In fact, there is a discernible pattern in how China deals with the small neighbours of its principal neighbours such as India, Russia, Japan and Vietnam. For instance, see the so-called string of pearls theory by which China is encircling India by investing heavily in the political and business classes in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. China’s trade with these neighbours of India is almost four times the value of India’s trade with them. China is conspicuous by its presence in the infrastructural developments in all these countries, and some of these infrastructures have strong military implications. In other words, while China talks of the need of a multipolar world, it does not want a multipolar Asia. It wants to be the only preeminent power in Asia to begin with and then of the whole world.

But at the same time, the fact remains that China is India’s largest trade partner. At the moment, India and China share over $70 billion in annual bilateral trade, a figure that is projected to reach as much as $100 billion in the next three years. More and more Indian businessmen seem to be fascinated by the promises China holds and they want more and engagement with it. For throwing light on this phenomenon, we were, indeed, lucky, to have Professor Subramanian Swamy amidst us, who is a world-renowned expert on Chinese economy. We are grateful to him for his excellent presentation. In fact, all our distinguished speakers, including the key-note speaker General Singh, were simply superb on the occasion. I am sure that our readers will enjoy the texts of their presentations in the following pages.

Finally, I must express my sincere thanks to Mr Lalit Mansingh, one of India’s distinguished civil servants, for playing the role of the moderator of this symposium. In his illustrious diplomatic career he had occupied many sensitive and important positions. He was India’s Ambassador to the United States and High Commissioner at London. Most of all, as the Foreign Secretary, he was India’s top most diplomat and in that capacity he dealt with China in a big way, something that was clearly evident from the manner he intervened and conducted the proceedings of the symposium.

By Prakash Nanda

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