Friday, September 18, 2009

Myth and reality in India-China relations

When I started this forum a couple of months ago, I had no idea that much of the popular discussion on China and India, at least in the Indian media, would get dominated by the differences over the border, and security and strategic concerns. While these political concerns have to be faced, it is also true that these concerns need to be put in a wider perspective. In an earlier post, I had indicated how the trade and economic relations between China and India had grown over the past five years.

Dr Subramanian Swamy, a Harvard-trained economist and China scholar and has made significant contributions to promoting India-China relations since 1978. He is a former Union Law Minister. He also knows Mandarin. In this article in The Hindu, 19 Sept 2009, Dr Swamy notes,
The most frightening myth in currency today is that China and Pakistan will co-ordinate an invasion of India, and balkanise the nation, or at least destroy our economy. This is expected no later than 2012, as precise as that! This we are hearing in some think tanks of Delhi populated by former officials of the government.

This mythical scenario is bogus because, first, China and the rest of the world learnt by the events of 1962, and by subsequent unconnected events, that if anything, the Indian people unite and India nationally consolidates when attacked from abroad. This Chanakya had noted as the concept of Chakravartin. Secondly, with Tibet and Sinkiang simmering, attacking India is not a one-way street or a picnic. On our borders and contiguous areas, moreover, the Indian Air Force is far superior while the terrain on our side of the border provides a much shorter and friendlier supply chain. China’s is very long and through more hostile terrain. Invasion therefore cannot be in the mind of the rational Chinese strategist. Most of these inflamed reports and the surrounding hysteria in India is because the propagators have been brought up on the British Imperialist version of our history, which is that India is a sitting duck for anyone who wants to invade the country.

The most potentially dangerous reality of the Sino-Indian relation today is India’s abdication of vital national interests for the domestic political survival of ruling coalitions. To counter China, some in India are advocating strategic bonding with the U.S. This is not in our national interest because the U.S. will then make us another Australia or Japan, a concubine, so to speak. The bottom line in U.S.-China relations at present is that China has a veto over U.S. actions in South Asia. Unless we can change that bottom line, the U.S. partnership is not going to mitigate our hysteria about China. In the meantime, China has us ringed in like a circus lion. It does not need to invade us when we are in such a state of impotence.

Shorn of the myths, the realistic and appropriate policy course for India is to match Chinese military capacity by concrete action (for example, spending 7 per cent of GDP on defence) and be conciliatory in policy, attitude, and words. Or to put it bluntly, take full care of national security but work for peace and good neighbourliness. At present we are doing precisely the opposite.
Increasing trade will play a big role in promoting economic development, building communication and improving understanding between the people. And Economic development is critical if military capacity is to built and sustained. Hopefully, with prosperity and political confidence to meet strategic challenges, there would be a growing recognition of the futility of military conflict. It is this process of marginalisation of military threat, which, I think, will determine the relationship between China and India. Would very much like to hear from others on this.


  1. But we should be as vigilant as a hawk.India should double its aids to the Afghans.India must play proxy war similar to what china is playing with India by providing aids and supplies to Pak.
    By increasing the aid the afghan gov will be pro-indian and it will make pak to hyperventilate.

    China is surrounding India like string of pearls- by constructing ports in lanka and mynamar, the maoist in nepal,nuclear supplies to pak.

  2. Of course, we must be vigilant. But we also need to understand that our vulnerabilities are mostly due to our own policies. One, we stifled our economic growth potential by misguided policies, and perpetuated poverty. Consequently, our ability to provide our military with the best and the latest equipments are very limited.

    Two, we added to our woes by following a completely absurd policies in our border states and regions. We did not let them develop for "strategic reasons" fearing that an enemy could make easy inroads. In the process, we also handicapped our own movement and communication capacities. In large parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese TV and mobile signals are stronger than Indian signals. More importantly, the relative economic isolation in these regions have not helped much in the way of national integration.

    Three, China's apparent allies like those in Burma or Pakistan are even more vulnerable to their own internal problems, and can easily collapse like a house of cards, sinking the Chinese pearls.

    Four, I think we should open all channels of communication and allow trade across the India China border. The current efforts are very restrictive and serves little purpose. Such an approach would not only help economic development, but also promote dialogue and understanding. These would be the best bet against any possible war.

  3. "In large parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese TV and mobile signals are stronger than Indian signals. "

    Even I have heard that china refuses to give arunachal citizens visas as they say they are their ppl always welcome.

    it may be a myth also.any idea abt this?

  4. In early 2007 China did refuse visa to an IAS officer from Aruanachal Pradesh, who was part of over 100 officers who were to go to China for some training. Apparently, the Chinese position was that Arunachal was part of China, so people from there needed no visa. The Government of India canceled the whole trip. Here is a report in Financial Express, May 26, 2009, (

    But later in 2007, there was another item in newspapers, which said that China had granted visa to a teacher from Arunachal Pradesh.

    It would be interesting to know if there is any clear policy regarding issuance of visa to people on either side of the border in Arunachal Pradesh. Or in case of disputed areas, what is the international norm? For instance, do people in J&K need visa to travel to Pakistan side of Kashmir?

  5. Thank you sir for enlightening me.

    I read one of your article in pragati abt decriminalizing was simply marvellous.
    where can i find some more of your work?