August 18, 2009

China Displeased!

By Bhaskar Roy

Very little has come out from the Indian foreign ministry about the recently concluded 13th round of Special Representative (SR) level talks (August 7-8) between India and China in New Delhi. There is an agreement between the two sides that the real contents of the talks on the border issue be not made public. The Chinese, however, are a little more generous than the Indians in giving out hints as to what they thought of the talks which include issues other than the border.

Having assessed sharply criticising reports in the Chinese official media in recent months, the Indian government apparently decided not get pushed over. It was made clear that India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh was an established “truth” (as opposed “fact”), and there was no question of discussing it as a “disputed” territory.

Since the 13th round of SR level talks was being held in India, the Chinese played a softer line in the run up to the talks. There were, however, two comments not really noticed by the Indian media. One was the comment by China’s military newspaper, the PLA Daily on the launch of India first nuclear submarine, the “Arihant”. It repeated various Pakistani observations that Arihant will lead to a new arms race in the region, but made the comment that India was 30 years behind China. While in technological terms it is true, the fact that China’s nuclear submarine project started at least 40 years ago and the India propramme started in 1990s only, was not mentioned.

China has a real concern here. They are acutely aware that while their missiles and nuclear weapons programmes started in the late 1950s with some Soviet assistance and stolen technology from the West India, a late arrival in the game, has demonstrated its high level of technological sophistication and can draw parity with China soon enough. That is the reason why the Beijing authorities tried to block the India-US civil nuclear deal, and are openly disturbed with economic and high technology co-operation (military and duel use) with the USA and a rejuvenated military co-operation with Russia. Such developments are perceived by the Chinese strategists and hard liners as a threat to China’s quest for domination from the Gulf to the Asia Pacific region.

Given these considerations, it is not surprising the China-controlled Hong Kong newspaper, the Ta Kung Pao (TKP) of August 04, was used to convey to India and the region that India must not aspire to become more than what China thinks it should be. The TKP article said that in the current world situation when a “China-US-Russia triumvirate” had clearly emerged, India’s strategy to draw close to the US economically and to Russia militarily was futile and puts India against China. It was this strategy that would harm India’s rise in Asia and adversely impact even its regional power role in South Asia. It is like a teacher disciplining an errant school child, but Beijing holds the deniability of its inspiration to the article. This is an age old trick.

Following the 13th round of talks where the Indian delegation is reported to have conveyed to their Chinese counterparts India’s dismay over of certain Chinese actions, especially in the area of terrorism, which were unfriendly, the Chinese appear surprised that for more than a year now a certain amount of assertiveness has become evident in India’s China policy.

China appears to have reacted quickly at the Communist Party level after the SR talks. The party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, which is considered as authorised official view, made it clear (August 11) that Arunachal Pradesh was a part of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and is disputed territory, but occupied by India. The report emphatically said that the Chinese foreign ministry had made it quite clear that the Chinese government and the people never accepted the “illegal” McMahon line drawn by the British imperialists.

This was followed up by a more considered and serious article in the People’s Daily of August 13 (English website edition) not only on the border issue but also with respect to India’s strategic behaviour. Written by the newspaper’s eminent strategic expert Li Hongmei, the charges on the border revert after some years to attacking Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and his alleged imperialist and “expansionist” policy as the cause for the 1962 war. Pt. Nehru is accused of “provoking” the war with backing of imperialists i.e. the British and the USA. Repeating the illegality of the McMahon line and Pt. Nehru’s alleged expansionist policies takes the scenario of Chinese hard line propaganda following the May, 1998 Indian nuclear tests. Li, however, adds some new ingredients.

First, he says that the US strategy was to try and set the two Asian powers in military conflict, obviously trying to tell Indian observers that Washington has a covert strategic motive in promoting defence and high technology co-operation with India. Li particularly points out to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 China visit as a “historic” event in normalising relations between the two countries. This, of course, is true to a great extent. But Li Hongmei must remember that Chinese Premier Li Peng almost sabotaged Prime Minister Gandhi’s visit, had not senior leader Deng Xiaoping intervened. And much of that was at India’s initiative.

The 1988 Rajiv Gandhi visit was the result of a new realization in China’s top most hierarchy, controlled by the astute Deng Xiaoping. China was opening out to the world for its economic reconstruction, and a stable environment was a dominant pre-requisite. This was Deng’s official line. Deng had learnt a lesson when invading Vietnam in 1978 to teach the Hanoi leaders a lesson. Instead, the Chinese army got a bloody nose. The next blow was the 1989 Tien An Men (TAM) square bloody repression of students’ demanding a clean government, leading to international condemnation of China and imposition of sanctions on China.

It can be said that India has always been gullible to Chinese guiles and deceptions. India stood by China on the TAM issue. India spoke for China in international fora on human rights issues. India pushed China’s request to make it an observer in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). In return, China blocked lndia’s membership of the APEC, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and delayed India’s entry to the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum.

The rest of Li Hongmei’s article offers hot and cold treatment to India. He is aggrieved with a conceptual line of “China threat” theory in India as a cause of new problems between these two countries. It disapproves of upgradation of Indian defence structure including the decision to deploy of two army divisions and a squadron of advanced SU-30 MKI multi role aircraft in Arunachal Pradesh.

Yet, Li does not write a word about China’s military infrastructure construction along the Sino-Indian border, extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway with demonstrated capability of transporting military hardware, being extended to the Indian border. Or almost open Chinese support to anti-Indian factions in Nepal to take on India and expel all Indian interests in Nepal.

Li Hongmei finally warns about a “China threat” theory in the minds of Indians as a potentially destabilising perception in India-China relations. Li warns the Indian officials and people that “China threat” pronouncements were be worse than Indian deployment in Arunachal Pradesh, and could lead to malignant consequences. He hold out a threat that China is ready to take “defensive actions” i.e. forward offensive to defend much outside China’s borders.

Li Hongmei’s article reading India the riot act suggests that the Communist Party, which is the ultimate power in China, has taken up the issue of relation with India. It could not have been written without the directions of the CCP Central Committee if not the Political Bureau (PB) of the Central Committee.

Not to miss out finally, Li Hongmei chastises the alleged “cut-throat” competition of the Indian mind set. He does not clarify if this is in the realm of economic completion or strategic advantage. In the strategic area, much has been discussed already. In the economic area, Indian officials cannot forget how they were cheated out of an oil deal in Kazakhstan by the Chinese especially when India agreed to partner China in the energy sector. China is about ditch India in the global environmental talks. It’s trade in spurious goods export to India, and using Indian label to its spurious medical supplies to Nigeria and other countries, is legend.

So, what is China trying to say. A clear response from Li Hongmei will be appreciated by this writer.

(The author is a China Analyst with many years of experience. He can be reached at grouchohart@yahoo.com)

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