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Sunday, December 05, 2021

Making sense of China

The editorial in the People’s Daily of October 14 attacking India’s alleged hegemonism took the memories of senior citizens...

Written by K. Subrahmanyam |
October 20, 2009 2:30:54 am

The editorial in the People’s Daily of October 14 attacking India’s alleged hegemonism took the memories of senior citizens and Sinologists back to 1959-60,when polemical articles attacking Jawaharlal Nehru appeared in the Chinese media. In those articles Nehru was accused of taking an aggressive line on Tibet in the expectation of aid from the US. Nations tend to see other nations as extensions of their own self-image. There are serious cultural problems in the Chinese interpretation of India and Indian foreign policy.

Whenever a major power emerges the rest of the international system voices concerns about the aggressive nature of that power. The rise of Britain,France,Germany,US,Japan,Russia and Communist China itself have been viewed with apprehension by other powers,and in most of those instances there were wars. Though today all those nations,other than China,are democracies,they were not so at the time of their emergence as powers,except for the US. Even the US,with slavery,was only a partial democracy. The foreign policy of a country is mostly an extension of its domestic values. Since most of the nations listed emerged as powers before they became full-fledged liberal democracies their non-democratic internal values got projected in their external policies,often resulting in aggression. Once nations get fully democratised,their mutual animosities tend to fade as witnessed in Europe with the formation of the European Union.

China expects to overtake the US as the nation with the highest GDP in the next two to three decades. China today has the world’s highest foreign exchange reserves and the highest economic growth rate. They already talk about a G-2 arrangement,sharing world financial dominance with the US. Proposals are afloat in the Chinese strategic community about dividing the Pacific Ocean into spheres of influence between China and the US. Their military modernisation programme is being pushed ahead rapidly,and is not transparent. Consequently there is concern all over the world that a non-democratic China wants to become the untethered hegemon first of Asia,and then of the world.

There are no such fears about India. At an April 2008 conference in Delhi held by the International Institute of Strategic Studies the emergence of India was greeted as a uniquely non-threatening phenomenon,unprecedented in history. It is no surprise,since India’s emergence as a global player has come about decades after India adopted a democratic and pluralistic constitution. It is a widely-recognised fact that democracies do not fight each other. Today all major powers except China are democracies. Once upon a time it used to be said that socialist countries did not initiate wars. But China’s own experience with India,the Soviet Union and Vietnam disproves it.

China is far ahead of India economically,militarily and — in some sectors — technologically. Still,why are they picking on India,creating terrorism- and nuclear-related problems through their surrogate,Pakistan? Why are they applying pressure on India and trying to keep it off-balance on the border?

In the editorial India has been accused of having followed a “befriend the far and attack the near” foreign policy. This perhaps is a reference to India’s wars with Pakistan and China. History has recorded that in all these cases India did not initiate the attack but was subjected to attacks by Pakistan and China. Pakistani attacks have been meticulously described by Shuja Nawaz in his book Crossed Swords and a detailed account of Chinese planning of the 1962 attack using Chinese documentation has been made available by the American Sinologist,John Garver. At the same time it cannot be overlooked that China also attacked the USSR at Ussuri in 1969 and Vietnam in 1979. After conducting annual “hate America” campaigns,pontificating on the antagonistic contradictions between capitalism and socialism,and promoting the strategy of “countryside surrounding the cities”,China made a complete U-turn and befriended the far-off US in 1971,gave it bases to monitor Soviet missile tests in 1979 and allowed free access to US multinationals. Its trade surpluses were not utilised for the benefit of the Chinese population but invested in US bonds to enable further credit expansion in the US and higher spending by US consumers. Which country in recent history has done so much for a far-off friend? Deng Xiaoping,who talked of seeking truth from facts,should be spinning in his grave.

The Indian government discouraged jingoist views in the media. The Chinese ambassador in India wrote an article advocating further cooperation between the two countries pointing out that it would be in mutual interest of both countries. That cannot be faulted. In those circumstances why should the Chinese Communist Party embark on these provocations,with such wholesale misrepresentation of facts? Dr Manmohan Singh was not the first prime minister to visit Arunachal Pradesh. Previous prime ministers had been there without evoking such protests. We are only left to speculate on possible reasons for this provocative behaviour.

Since the protest and the editorial came at the time of the Pakistani prime minister’s visit to Beijing,could it be an attempt to show solidarity with the Pakistanis at a time when they are having serious problems? Or is this a follow-up to the successful forestalling of the Dalai Lama’s meeting with President Obama? If it is an attempt to bully India away from developing a closer relationship with either Russia (which the prime minister is due to visit in December) or the US (which is hosting a state visit for him in November) nothing could have been more foolhardy. Russia has reasonable worries about Siberia and Central Asia. The Indian defence minister just had a very fruitful visit to that country. The US is keen on sustaining its pre-eminence in a world where China has reduced the gap between itself and the US in the aftermath of the recession.

Having recorded all this to clarify the misrepresentations by the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party,it must be recognised that India and China together constitute 40 per cent of mankind,yet face common international challenges such as climate change,trade,energy,food security,etc.,on which they have a significant mutuality of interests. They have a fast-growing trade and technology relationship and their leaders have had a number of cordial interactions. There are certain problems involving nearly a century-old status quo which need to be handled with delicacy and care. Slanging exercises of the type witnessed in recent weeks do not help,when indeed more steps to promote confidence-building are called for.

The writer is a senior defence analyst

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