Wednesday, September 30, 2009

China marks 60 years of Communism, India needs to rethink

As China celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic this week, India must take a deep breath and begin a fundamental rethink its strategy towards the rising giant north of our borders, writes C Raja Mohan, the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, in the Indian Express, "The middle path" (30 Sept 2009).
If our China debate during last few weeks was mostly about attributing hostile intentions to our northern neighbour, it said little about India’s own policy failures.

Take for example the situation on the border. The single most important change there has been the dramatic modernisation of transport infrastructure across the frontiers in Tibet and Xinjiang. This change did not, of course, take place in secret. Beijing announced its ‘go-west’ strategy with great fanfare in the mid 1990s.

Some the major projects of this strategy — such as the South Xinjiang Railway line to Kashgar just north-west of Jammu and Kashmir and the construction of the Tibet rail to Lhasa just north-east of Sikkim got massive international attention.

Yet, Delhi slept through the 1990s and in the early years of this decade. When it finally woke up a couple of years ago, Delhi did announce major road construction all along the China border. But the UPA government seems to have no capacity to follow through even when the projects are of such paramount importance for national defence and security.

The same holds true for the question of Chinese advances in our neighbouring countries. We can call it Chinese ‘encirclement’ till we go blue in the face. The problem, however, is rooted in Delhi rather than Beijing. So long as India refuses to imagine and implement policies that make economic cooperation with India attractive to our neighbours, Chinese economic penetration of South Asia will continue unimpeded.

For all the talk about the China threat, there is little expertise in India about the world’s second largest economy that shares a 4000 km of land border with us and will soon be our maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean. As China rises, India needs deeper and broader engagement with China.

Neither our government nor our civil society has devoted the resources necessary to understand what makes modern China tick. The number of Chinese scholars studying the subcontinent and the reporters based in India is far higher than the pitiful Indian resources devoted to understanding China. When ignorance is combined with anger and incompetence, we have the makings of a perfect self-induced crisis.

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