Saturday, October 3, 2009

India: Learning To Live With China

The 60th anniversary of Communism in China, has coincided with a lot of items in Indian and other international media, looking at various flash points in the relationship between the two of the largest countries in the world. Here is the latest by an Indian journalist.

Indrani Bagchi, the diplomatic editor at the Times of India, has written a detailed analysis in the Crest, the weekend paper, titled "CHINESE CHECKERS: Learning To Live With China". She quotes some of the strategic experts as follows:
  • "With neighbours, China has been trying to prevent clashes, but that seems to have changed with India recently.” (Susan Shirk, China specialist).
  • “The steady emergence of India as a powerful player is not looked upon favorably by China. China’s strategic culture is to distrust strong, powerful neighbors and prefer small, weak, subordinate or client buffer states. A theme dominant in all Chinese commentaries over the last few years is that India’s growing power — backed by the US — would bring about a shift in the Asian balance of power detrimental to China.” (Mohan Malik, professor Asian security at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu).
  • "China has generally been muted with the countries on its periphery. Except India. China’s response has been atypical." (Ashley Tellis, Influential American strategic analyst).
  • "India’s 1962 burden stems from the fact that the defeat of Sela-Bomdilla was papered over and the nation never had the chance of a catharsis." (K Subrahmanyam, Strategic affairs expert, former National Security Advisor, India).
Following is an excerpt from the article.

There was a surprise in store this week for those who chose to brave Arunachal Pradesh’s damp cold and the three-hour rough ride from Tawang up to Bum La Pass, on the border with Tibet. They were greeted by “happy” arches erected by Chinese soldiers on the other side, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in power. The Chinese were preparing to receive Indian soldiers for a celebratory lunch — and some unfinished business on border management.

Most of this bonhomie is likely to evaporate in just over a month’s time when the Dalai Lama reaches the 400-year-old Tawang gompa (monastery) to offer prayers. Historically, this region has had a close relationship with the Tibetan people. The sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, for example, was born in Tawang. So, it’s not unnatural for the current Dalai Lama (the 14th) to want to pay obeisance at the Tawang gompa. Still, anything that’s seen to accommodate the breakaway Tibetans gets Beijing’s hackles up, especially when it’s on land claimed by the Chinese.

And so it alternates — blow hot, blow cold — in the uncertain relations between India and China: one day, it’s jaw-jaw, another day it’s claw-claw. The inscrutable Chinese and the argumentative Indian find each other equally indecipherable. It’s not surprising, therefore, that India’s China policy rides a trough-peak roller coaster.

New Delhi has been playing down media reports of Chinese “incursions” in an apparent bid not to ruffle feathers in Beijing. Almost simultaneously, the ministry of external affairs was lashing out at China for stapling not stamping visas to the passports of Kashmiri Indians, a signal that J&K was disputed.

The rise and rise of China represents one of contemporary history’s tectonic shifts. For an India that fancies itself as an emerging superpower, learning to live with an assertive China is one of its greatest foreign policy challenges, especially as its ambitions are sometimes aligned with the Chinese and sometimes at odds. A People’s Daily commentary (Sept 15) points out, “India is still a lesser power than China in terms of its economic and military might, both conventional and non-conventional.”

How can New Delhi and Beijing achieve a steady state of equilibrium that gives both sides the comfort of predictability, and a resultant confidence in each other? That’s a question nagging not just India’s foreign policy mandarins, but students and practitioners of diplomacy worldwide. As one of the architects of India’s China policy (who will be unnamed as will be many interviewed for this story) says: “For India, coping with the rise of China is not a luxury; they’re right next door.”

Indian policy makers find China’s approach to India quite mystifying. On the border, China has vastly superior military machinery. Its economic muscle is much bigger. And yet it appears keen to avoid any confrontation along the 4,056-km undemarcated border. But on many issues of bilateral import, China takes a far more belligerent stand — like seeking to nix India’s bid for a place at the UN Security Council; mounting a last-minute scramble to stop the nuclear deal in Vienna; trying to keep India out of an Asian economic community; blocking ADB from giving Arunachal money for a water project; and denying Arunachal residents Chinese visas.

Please read the full article here.

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