January 03, 2011

Dancing with the Dragon

A Adityanjee


In the immediate aftermath of the three-day visit of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to India in early December, the Indian strategic community purred approvingly at the host country’s changed assertive self in the face of continued Chinese diplomatic obfuscation and intransigence in bilateral geopolitical issues. Indian analysts, policy-wonks and think-tankers announced from the roof-tops at how self-confident we have become in the face of the dragon! Not just that, the venerable international magazine from London, The Economistpublished a special article suggesting that India is pushing back. In hindsight, though, more sobering analyses have appeared. However, looking at the broader perspective, the important question is whether our delayed and subdued response to continued Chinese belligerence since 1949 is enough or we need to do something more, both strategically and tactically, to deal with the perpetual, habitual and often covert Chinese aggression that we choose to ignore all the time.

Time to balance protocol

Tactically speaking, we committed several mistakes while negotiating on bilateral issues with China during the recent visit by Wen. First and foremost is the issue of protocol. We really need tochange the protocol while dealing with China owing to differential power structures and forms of governance in both the countries. The Prime Minister of China is not at par with the Prime Minister of India hierarchically. Let us be honest about it. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao comes third in hierarchy in the Chinese government. The top dog is President Hu Jintao and next to him comes Wu Bangguo, the speaker of the National Parliament of China (NPC). In the recent situation, the executive head of the Government of India, Dr Manmohan Singh held a bilateral meeting with number three person in the Chinese hierarchy! This anomalous situation must be corrected by amending the bilateral protocol whereby the executive heads of the two countries can deal directly with each other. Some in India gloated over the activation of the hotline between Dr Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao. The relevant question, taking the same analogy, would be why not establish a hotline between the Prime Minister of India and the President of China?

The stapled visa

India should not have agreed to a visit by Wen Jiabao till the stapled visa issue was solved satisfactorily to India’s viewpoint. China has brandished this new irritant in the bilateral relationship as it has become economically and militarily stronger. By not dealing with the issue forcefully, India lost another opportunity to assert its sovereignty. China only promised to have the stapled visa be discussed with and looked into by minor level Chinese visa officers. China will do everything to keep this issue alive for next few decades as it has changed its strategy in the Indian sub-continent and seeks to force parity and hyphenation of India with Pakistan. More emboldened with India’s naivete, China will manufacture more such issues implying geographical shrinkage of India’s official boundaries.

Preserve our boundaries

On the eve of the Wen Jiabao visit, Xinhua stated that the Indo-China border is
2000 km. This was a deliberate attempt to imply that the borders of of Jammu & Kashmir with Xinjiang (Eastern Turkistan) and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) are not part of the official Indo-China border. China has already disputed the boundaries in India’s east, calling Arunachal Pradesh as Southern Tibet. There is a fitting answer to China’s newly nuanced Chinese ploy in Jammu & Kashmir, as also the policy they follow vis-à-vis Arunachal. India should not accept the TAR as part of China, but clearly enunciate that Tibet is a colonised Asian country that has had civilisational relations with India for centuries. The border with TAR should be termed as the Indo-Tibetan border and not part the Indo-China border. Indeed, the Chinese used force to grab the nation of Tibet as war booty in 1949. Continued Chinese imperialism and usurpation of the territory of independent Tibet for natural and fresh water resources should no longer be acceptable to future Governments of India. Similarly Eastern Turkistan (Xinjiang) was an independent country in the 20th century till the Chinese forces overran it and was annexed as new frontiers.

Skewed bilateral trade

India has agreed to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015 without any chance of balanced and fair trade. Currently bilateral trade is heavily in favour of China. The Chinese have always been very business-minded. The international trade policies and long-term commercial strategy of the Government of China has always been predicated on mercantilism, intellectual property theft and deception. China continues to have both bilateral and multi-lateral problems with other trading nations of the world on currency issues, trade surpluses and stolen intellectual properties. This was a good opportunity for India to ensure fair trade practices with China prior to engaging deeper on bilateral trade issues. Currently China has trade imbalance with India of $19 billions and this situation could have been rectified in the recent visit but was not done. Promises never make a difference with China. Denial of markets is the only solution to force the Chinese towards fairer trade practices. Going slow on bilateral trade would take the steam out of China as Western markets have been drying up owing to the economic meltdown. Trade barriers and shipping costs (which increase with energy costs) will eventually neutralise the China price of manufactured goods and take away the Chinese trade advantages and surpluses.

Will China endorse India’s quest at the UNSC?

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru gave up the opportunity for permanent membership of UN Security Council in the 1950s, which was then encouraged by the US administration because he was too scared of the Chinese dragon. In 1971 when Communist China was seated for the first time in the UN General Assembly after manoeuvring to get Taiwan unseated, India’s permanent representative in the UNGA welcomed China by thumping the table. During the recent visit of the Chinese premier, there were high hopes that China would be persuaded to endorse India’s quest for permanent membership of the UNSC. China, of course, only promises to understand India's aspiration to serve in the UNSC as a permanent member! No concessions there! In context, we need to remember that China was pretty much forced to support the US-India civil nuclear energy deal in the NSG by the US administration.

The Sino-Pak all weather relationship

After many promises of positive Chinese intentions in New Delhi, Wen Jiabao travelled to Islamabad and promptly announced $20 billion bilateral deals including a Pak-China civil nuclear deal that has now, not only been approved but also ‘blessed" by the US! Why did we (India) not insist on de-hyphenation and demand a stand-alone India visit? May be next time an Indian Prime Minister visits China, on the way back home he or she needs to take a refuelling stop in Taipei and discuss some trade and business deals with the Republic of Taiwan.

The dragon’s necklace

It was good that in the joint statement there was no mention of India endorsing a ‘One China’ policy. However, there was no mention about China’s ‘String of Perals’policy which will lead to a strategic encirclement of India. In future, in bilateral communiques with China, a statement renouncing this strategy should be mentioned. If China refuses to do so, India needs to enunciate a ‘One China, One Taiwan, One Tibet’ doctrine openly. India needs to explore naval bases in North-eastern Asia to reciprocate this policy of encirclement.

Bully thy neighbour

Chinese national character is mired in feudalism despite professing equality and liberty. While decrying serfdom in pre-1949 Tibet, China has always considered itself as a divine power with all its neighbours as vassals or tributary states. This national trait manifests periodically in saber-rattling and pressure-tactics towards neighbours. China did the same during the 2008 Olympics and on the issue of participation in the Noble peace prize award ceremony to Chinese dissident political activist, Liu Xiaobo. During his recent visit, Wen Jiabao blamed the free Indian press for souring bilateral relations. Similarly, the Chinese Ambassador to India described bilateral relations as fragile because Indian print and electronic media have rightly taken a more stringent view of the dangers coming from China as compared to the one by the central Government of India.

Dr Adityanjee is President, Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi

(The views expressed in the article are that of the author and do not represent the views of the editorial committee or the Centre for Land Warfare Studies).

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