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The China-India Relationship

A Possible New Paradigm

The China-India Relationship

India has got itself trapped into an anti-Chinese matrix set in place by the United States. This has led to a situation where the military is increasing its say in foreign and domestic policy and pushing aggressive postures on to the civilian government. Unless India abandons its aspirations to great power status and pursues a foreign policy which builds on Asian cooperation and strengths, it will continue to become cannon fodder for western strategic aims.

The second decade of the 21st century offers an opportune moment to reassert Asian independence. The declining dollar has restricted the American promethean spirit and praetorian urges. There is space available to recast Asian relations away from the usual balance of power concept. However, an Asia, free of western hegemony remains a pipedream. 

China is “the country driving the United States’ military and diplomatic pivot to Asia.”1 The two major economies, India and Japan feel threatened by Chinese growth and are convinced that America as an “offshore balancer” is a must for security in the region. The Indians and Japanese have entered into a tri-lateral dialogue to assist Washington’s encirclement strategy of China. The third round of dialogue was held in New Delhi in November 2012.2 Commenting on the Chinese white paper titled The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces, director general of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), Arvind Gupta, reiterates India’s tilt by stating, “Tensions between China and the US and between China and Japan can be expected to increase. Both Japan and the US are India’s strategic partners.”3 
 
The western strategy gurus advise both India and Japan to jettison their military-lethargy and become “great” and “normal” powers respectively.4 The result is that both the countries are now doing extensive studies on the “use of force” in international relations. Both New Delhi and Tokyo have active territorial disputes with China and the two are building their military capabilities with the Chinese threat in mind. 
 
The Sour Spring 
 
Incidentally, this year in the third week of April, when India and China were embroiled in a near-military confrontation on their unsettled border in Ladakh, Japan too was engaged in sea-skirmishes in the Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. 
 
On the night of 15 April, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) platoon consisting of 50 soldiers came about 19 km inside the Indian claimed territory at Burthe in Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector. This intrusion is considered to be different because for the first time, instead of doing an “about-turn” after walking up to a point, the PLA patrol halted and pitched tents. India set up its own camp just 500 metres away. Putting the entire blame on China for the escalation, Defence Minister A K Antony said that the situation in eastern Ladakh is “not one of our creation”.5 
 
On 23 April the Chinese sent about eight naval ships around Diaoyu islands to monitor the Japanese activity in the area. Their aggressive intent was played up by the media, while the Japanese act of provocation was hardly highlighted. On 21 April Japan’s deputy prime minister and finance minister visited the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. The shrine is believed to house the spirits of most dreaded Japanese war criminals. The Chinese and the South Koreans see it as a symbol of Japanese wartime atrocities. According to a bi-lateral norm between Beijing and Tokyo, Japanese high ranking government ministers are expected to refrain from visiting the shrine, in order to keep the relationship between the two countries on an even keel. However, by digressing from the norm, the Japanese announced their intent to upset the applecart.6 
 
On 24 April, around the same time when the China-India and China-Japanese tensions were building up, 21 Muslims were reported killed in Xinjiang province in China’s far west. Xinjiang is considered to be a troubled spot where a few extremist Islamic groups are opposed to the Chinese Hans population.7 
 
It may be difficult to prove that these turn of events were a coordinated effort; part of a containment strategy. It is equally difficult to state that it was synchronised action by China to prove its military might and fresh military posturing under the leadership of President Xi. However, the international media as well as the Indian media was unanimous in its condemnation of China’s aggressive behaviour. 
 
The Retreat 
 
The 20-day-long face-off between the Indian and Chinese armies ended on 5 May. The two governments agreed to restore status quo in the western sector as it existed prior to April 2013. The armies retreated, calming the tempers on Indian television channels and social media. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s upcoming visit to China is now likely to go ahead, creating the much needed conviviality for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India later this month. 
 
However, the anti-China pressure groups in India are far from satisfied with the Indian government’s handling of the situation. According to a recently set up Delhi-based private think tank, 
 
the feeble Indian response, militarily and diplomatically, has apparently emboldened China to press on and bring India to its knees without really fighting a war. Psychologically, they have won the first round in this game of brinkmanship and are now awaiting the foreign minister to pay respects to the Middle Kingdom as its vassal states used to do.8 
 
A former general of the Indian army has gone to the extent of labelling the government’s “pussy footing” on the issue as an act of treason.9 The hawks in India have been trying to sell the “threat from China” since the past five years. However, they did not succeed because their examples of Chinese aggression were located either in the South China Sea or in the logic of the “string of pearls”. With the tell-tale signs of Chinese reach now visible in our backyard, it is easy for the anti-China lobby to sell their theories of perceived Chinese misdemeanours. 
 
In this entire game of brinkmanship, the media has been used as a “force multiplier”. Throughout the 20-day crisis, the Chinese media did not beat war drums. However, on the Indian side, the media became the main weapon to build the anti-China sentiment. Almost a similar media pressure had been created on the way to the 1962 war, but it failed to deter Mao from “teaching India a lesson”. In 1962, corporate media was ideologically driven to launch a tirade against China. The negative projection of China was also a political tool against domestic communists. 
 
However, the Indian media’s motives in the current scenario are unclear. China is India’s biggest trading partner; it is no longer associated with exporting anti-capitalist revolutions. Then why is a small piece of remote land being used to trigger rabid nationalism? Why is China seen only from the perspective of balance of power and not in terms of its other utility to national interests? Is India going to waste the next half a century in this futile game of pin-pricks with China? For India to view China objectively and bridge the trust gap, it will have to disassociate itself from the American narrative on China. 
 
The Rhetoric of Chinese Aggression 
 
The dominant discourse in India weaves a web of paranoia by arguing that rich China is more prone to war. For, in order to manage the growing income inequalities, it needs to ratchet up nationalism for which war is a necessity. The same set of people who see Chinese wealth as a problem also argue that in 1962 poor China went to war to divert attention from the famine and failure that followed Mao’s great leap forward. Irrespective of its prosperity, China is perceived to be arrogant and that makes the China-India conflict almost inevitable. As the former army chief, general Deepak Kapoor says, “the seeds of confrontation are inherent between the two nations engaged in competition, at both the regional and global level.”10 
 
The fear generated by China is not new. Ever since Mao’s government took over in 1949, the pattern of western rhetoric with regard to China has remained static. Writing in 1970, Maxwell posits, 
 
The assumption, or axiom, that underlies western political and strategic thinking about the problems of Asia is that the designs of Communist China are basically militant and aggressive. Sometimes this is summed up in the unexamined and unthinking phrase ‘the threat from China’.11 
 
For the Anglo-American formations, Chinese imperial ambitions and its “innate and continuing irredentist hankering for physical expansion”,12 were strategic tools to keep up constant pressure and to camouflage their own occupation of Chinese territory in Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) sinister designs in Tibet. After independence, India joined the chorus to demonise China. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s home minister who was himself not averse to using maximum force in order to consolidate India by having Hyderabad, Junagadh and Kashmir sign up for the Indian Union, was the first to take on China on the issue of Tibet in 1950. The reasons for Patel echoing American sentiments had more to do with his ideological predilections than any genuine assessment of national interest. 
 
Patel, writing to Girija Shankar Bajpai, India’s secretary-general, external affairs ministry in 1950 said, 
 
Treat them (China) with a certain amount of hostility, let alone a great deal of circumspection. In these circumstances, one thing, to my mind, is quite clear; and, that is, that we cannot be friendly with China and must think in terms of defense against a determined, calculating, unscrupulous, ruthless, and unprincipled and prejudiced combination of powers, of which the Chinese will be the spearhead.13 
 
Contrary to popular perception, the foundation of the post-Independence India-China relations was laid on class interests of the Indian bourgeois rather than on any sound territorial claims. In 1949 Nehru, while speaking to Indian army officers in Srinagar had said, “Chinese revolution has upset the balance of power and the center of gravity has shifted from Europe to Asia thereby directly affecting India”.14 The boundary issue was easy to solve, however, by entangling the China-India future into a “territorial trap” and India tied itself down to play the American game in the region. 
 
In the 1960s, barring the Communist Party of India, all political dispensations in India favoured tough action against China. Incursions were used to beat up the war drums. The confidence to adopt a “forward policy” in border areas came from the fact that China was isolated and both the US and the Soviet Union were backing India. 
 
To America as well as the Indian ruling elite, it was important that left-forces within the Congress represented by Krishna Menon and also the Indian communists were pushed back into political oblivion. More importantly, for the US, the 1962 war was to be used to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and China. That the Soviets failed to take a clear “class position” in the conflict convinced the Chinese that they could not trust their communist friends.15 
 
Perhaps, Mao was aware of America’s strategic aim to keep the communist giants apart. He was probably also aware of the vested interests of the Indian elite and Washington’s strategic calculations that wanted India to lose the war. Hence Mao sent his forces to move deep into Indian territory. At the end of the war, Krishna Menon’s political career took a nosedive. In the wake of war, the communists’ patriotism came under scrutiny, while the RSS contingent was permitted to participate in the 1963 Republic Day parade. Both the Indian elite as well as America achieved its purpose. As Y B Chavan, who saw victory in defeat said at the end of the war, “The first casualties of the unashamed aggression of the Chinese on India are Marxism and Leninism.”16 
 
In the end, war brought no tangible alterations on the border, it cost India the loss of 3,000 soldiers and a further slide into the debt trap laid out by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. “During Eisenhower’s second term, US assistance grew substantially surging from $400 million in 1957 to a record $822 million in 1960.”17 
 
According to the Reserve Bank of India history, foreign securities held in the Issue Department dropped to about Rs 126 crore in January 1962. Thereafter they fell once more to about Rs 92 crore in June 1962.18 And four years later India had to face a balance of payment (BoP) crisis in 1966. 
 
It was also a personal defeat for Nehru. He was not betrayed by the Chinese but by the Americans. When he wrote to John F Kennedy on 19 November 1962 asking for F-104 fighters and B-57 bombers19 during the war, America refused to come to his aid. 
 
Mortgaged Militaries 
 
War had once again reiterated that the “use of force” in relations between two medium powers with coterminous borders was not a judicious option. Despite these lessons from 1962, India continues to explore the option to acquire great power status through the use of force. As India’s national security advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, says, “(W)hile domestic societies have evolved or are evolving towards rule of law, international society is still much closer to primeval anarchy.” Menon’s postulation is an inadvertent admission that international order is constructed by empires where small and medium powers are helpless actors with no leverages to mitigate anarchy in their vicinity. Perhaps it is to erase this feeling of emasculation among the local ruling elite that the empire encourages them to grab limited opportunities to indulge in limited wars. It is for this reason that military leaders and the conservative strategic community continue to insist on the efficacy of limited wars to solve issues with neighbouring countries. 
 
That Pakistan fought four futile limited wars with India, draining its resources and militarising its polity and society, is a lesson that the strategic community refuses to look at. Limited wars between neighbours are tailor-made to help the global arms industry make its bottom-line healthy and to serve the vested interests of some sections of the national bourgeois. Limited wars, like the 1962 war, only help big powers to use the small and medium powers as pawns in the larger international political economy. 
 
Using the military as a springboard to jump to the global high table is fraught with dangers for medium powers like India. It entails sharing military resources and manpower with the empire. In the beginning such sharing appears benign as it happens through joint exercises and training. However, as the imperial appetite for militaries increases, it begins to lure the armed forces away from the client or vassal state. The process of mortgaging the military to the empire also involves giving an increased role to the military leadership in domestic decision making structures. 
 
The worst fears related to allowing the US to court the Indian armed forces are beginning to manifest. Close interactions with the US armed forces has influenced and emboldened the Indian armed forces to seek greater say in foreign policy matters. In the recent case, involving the Chinese incursions, a clear divide between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the armed forces is discernible. While the MEA asked for a measured response to the Chinese incursions, the armed forces pushed for a more aggressive stance. The question is: Can the armed forces be given the prerogative to guide public opinion on the size and intensity of the threat posed to the country? For example, if the government says that a particular incursion is localised, can the local army commander raise the level of the problem to make it appear war-like? 
 
The Indian strategic thought vis-à-vis China remains embedded in cold war history. Despite China’s switchover to a capitalist economy, Indians continue to view it as a communist monster that intends to devour India. They fear that communism may travel from Beijing. Another specious argument to keep India-China relations on the boil is that China is aiding Pakistan. India is having a special relationship with America that has partnered Pakistan in the growth of Taliban and other Muslim terror outfits. More recently, the US hinted at having a civil-nuclear deal with Pakistan.20 
 
War with China is not an option because we cannot afford it and jeopardise our developmental goals. We need uninterrupted peace for at least half a century to reach close to where China stands today. When India was buying an old British aircraft carrier in 1957, the Soviets offered Mao a joint nuclear submarines flotilla that would use Chinese naval bases, Mao refused. For China, retaining independence was more important than borrowed nuclear weapons.21 India must learn the need to wait and grow. Talk of peace does not necessarily mean giving up on preparedness. 
 
China-India relations need to “cast off the transient and reveal the truth.” These words of a 13th century Japanese Buddhist priest, if applied to the India-China context would mean awakening to the true Asian values of compassion, cooperation and belief in the innate dignity of life and discarding the lesser “self” that seeks destruction and war. Such a constructivist approach in the evolution of China-India relations needs to be pursued. The realist approach is very restrictive; it only gives the options of a limited or a proxy war – both kinds of war boomerang on the initiator itself. Pakistan is the prime example where the boomerang effect of waging limited wars has given them a monster military and proxy warriors gnawing at their own roots. 
 
Notes 
 
1 John Garnaut (2013), “Xi’s War Drums”, Foreign Policy, May/June, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2,013/04/29/xis_war_drums, accessed on 1 May 2013. 
 
2 Ananth Krishnan (2012), “India-US-Japan Meet Rankles China”, The Hindu, 30 October, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/indiausjapan-meet-rankles-china/article4048212.ece (accessed on 1 May 2013). 
 
3 Arvind Gupta (2013), “China’s Defence White Paper 2013: Lessons for India”, IDSA, 25 April, http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/ChinasDefenceWhitePaper2013LessonsforIndia agupta_25 0413 (accessed on 30 April 2013). 
 
4 “Can India Become a Great Power?” (2013), Economist, 30 March , http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21574511-indias-lack-strategic-culture-hobbles-its-ambition-be-force-world-can-india 
 
5 Sujan Dutta (2013), “Delhi Spies Airstrip Design in China Tents”, The Telegraph, 30 April. 
 
6 “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, Economist, 27 April 2013, http://www.economist. com/news/asia/ 21576724-visit-controversial-yasukuni-shrine-upsets-neighbours-whom-bell-tolls (accessed on 1 April 2013). 
 
7 Kathrin Hille (2013), “China Says 21 Killed in Xingjian Clashes”, Financial Times, 24 April, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/8487a202-acaf- 11e2-9454-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2S7TOjhOY (accessed on 1 April 2013). 
 
8 Saisa (2013), “Ladakh and the War Zone Campaign Doctrine of China”, http://southasianidea.com/foreign-policy/ladakh-and-the-war-zone-campaign-doctrine-of-china/ (accessed on 05 May 2013) 
 
9 P C Katoch (2013), “Chinese Intrusion – Psychological Challenge?”, The United Services Institution of India, http://www.usiofindia.org/Article/ ?pub=Strategic%20Perspective&pubno=36& ano=1667 (accessed on 5 May 2013) 
 
10 Deepak Kapoor (2013), “Chinese Provocation: Is India Prepared?”, The New Indian Express, 2 May, http://newindianexpress.com/nation/Chinese-provocation-Is-India-prepared/2013/ 05/ 02/article1571736.ece (accessed on 2 May 2013). 
 
11 Neville Maxwell (1971), “The Threat from China”, International Affairs , Vol 47, No 1, January, pp 31-44. 
 
12 Ibid: 32. 
 
13 Letter from Sardar Patel to Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, New Delhi, 4 November 1950, http://www.claudearpi.net/maintenance/uploaded_pics/19501104PatelonTibet.pdf (accessed on 1 May 2013). 
 
14 British Foreign Office document 371-84457. 
 
15 M Y Prozumenschikov (1962), “The Sino-Indian Conflict, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Sino-Soviet Split, October 1962: New Evidence from the Russian Archives”, Cold War International History Project Bulletin, p 251. 
 
16 India: Never Again the Same, Time, 30 November 1962, http://www.time.com/time/printout /0,8816,829540,00.html (accessed on 30 April 2013). 
 
17 Dennis Kux (1993), Estranged Democracies: India and United States – 1941-1991, Sage Publications India, p 150. 
 
18 “Dealing with Scarcity-1957-63”, RBI History, Volume II (1951-1967), http://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/content/PDFs/90038.pdf 
 
19 M Y Prozumenschikov, “The Sino-Indian Conflict, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Sino-Soviet Split, October 1962: New Evidence from the Russian Archives – Record of Conversation (from East German archives) between Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Mongolian leader J Zedenbal, Beijing, 26 December 1962”, http://www.claudearpi.net/maintenance/uploaded_pics/Cuba_and_SinoIndian_conflict.pdf 
 
20 “US Expert Urges Civilian Nuclear Deal for Pakistan”, The Nation, 3 May 2013, http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/national/02-May-2013/us-expert-urges-civilian-nuclear-deal-for-pakistan (accessed on 3 May). 
 
21 Michael M Sheng (2008), “Mao and China’s Relations with the Superpowers in the 1950s: A New Look at the Taiwan Strait Crises and the Sino-Soviet Split”, Modern China, Vol 34, No 4, October, pp 477-507. 
 
 

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