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Not the border,nor the ocean

For India-China ties,China’s nuclear assistance to Pakistan is the real problem

Written by Raja Menon | Published: April 12, 2013 2:19:34 am

For India-China ties,China’s nuclear assistance to Pakistan is the real problem

Some high-level exchanges between China and India at the BRICS summit have been in the news. The Chinese president has sounded off on five ideas to maintain peace between the Asian giants. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has put across the plea that China’s ties with others must not hurt India. Both leaders have been sagacious in their demands. Because,if there is space,as the Chinese say,for two tigers on the same mountain,and India has to be convinced that China’s rise is peaceful,Beijing is going to have to change its foreign policy in a major way.

It is not the boundary dispute that is worrying. Despite its length and the vagueness of the line in some areas,the boundary has been a line of peace and tranquillity for two decades. Neither side has any intention to disturb the peaceful status quo despite disputed claims. Nor is there a real worry that either side has plans to break the peace with a blitzkrieg. All the manoeuvring around with movements of troops,airfields and rocket batteries on either side of the line doesn’t quite convince the other side that an attack is imminent or being seriously planned. If a permanent settlement is decades away,it doesn’t really matter — as the Chinese say,leave the dispute to the next generation.

China’s presence in the Indian Ocean could have been another worry,but it has already taken place amidst some huge yawns. The Chinese task group off Somalia now has a refuelling base in the Seychelles instead of the Omani coast,but neither its size nor its activities are of concern to maritime strategists. True,one day when China has built its navy sufficiently to meet its needs in the west Pacific and has another aircraft carrier and,more importantly,a working carrier air group,it will come to the Indian Ocean and disturb the balance.

If the reason why China wants to operate in the Indian Ocean is to protect its huge inflow of resources,it could discuss the issue with India or India’s navy,but it is perfectly alright if it chooses not to do so. China’s southward expansion to connect its hinterland to the Indian Ocean is understandable to Indian maritime strategists. So misunderstandings can be avoided even without talks. Tibet could have been a possible source of trouble,but India has confirmed Chinese sovereignty in that region and if Beijing apprehends trouble there,it is purely an internal matter for the Chinese government. Tibetan separatism is an issue between the Tibetans and Beijing,with no role for India,which has done more than enough to restrict the freedom of the Dalai Lama in India.

So what could come in the way of these two countries maintaining a historical Asian relationship without wandering into realpolitik and Western theories of international relations? The answer is Beijing’s long,tenacious,unremitting and viciously anti-Indian stance of helping Pakistan with nuclear weapons and nuclear technology. The history of this assistance began in 1983,when India was inoffensive and weak,bumbling along at a Hindu rate of growth. Since then,the Chinese have been at the heart of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability. From the M9 (Shaheen1) missile factory at Fatehjung to the nuclear bomb design,to the use of the Chinese explosive test facility,to technical assistance in both missile and weapon technology,the Chinese have armed Pakistan over three decades. Part of the Chinese deceit is that,during every goodwill visit of the Chinese or Indian premier to the other country,there has been a simultaneous and clandestine transfer of weapon or missile technology to Pakistan. Any number of Indian experts have confronted the Chinese with their aggressive and duplicitous help to Pakistan,but except for one Chinese scholar there has always been stony silence.

Today,China’s continued assistance threatens to take Pakistan’s arsenal well beyond minimum credible deterrence,and induce an arms race in the subcontinent. Pakistan’s unusual uranium arsenal is currently in the process of a massive makeover to a plutonium and a plutonium-uranium weapon bomb line,with Chinese assistance. The first indication came with the test-firing of the Babur cruise missile in 2004. The Babur is common to Pakistan and China since it shares an ancestor — the AS-15 Ukrainian missile left behind by the departing Russians. The Babur has a smaller diameter than ballistic missiles and needs a miniaturised weapon,which can only be plutonium-based. Now we have the Nasr,an admittedly tactical nuclear weapon with an even smaller diameter than the Babur. Its nose cone will have a volume similar to the US nuclear artillery,and there is little chance of the Pakistanis producing such a small nuclear warhead without explosive testing. So it is not difficult to guess where that will come from.

This matter is a huge Sino-Indian foreign policy problem and it will not go away with Manmohan Singh’s sage and kindly advice. The Indian system needs to first acknowledge that there is a Chinese-induced problem with Pakistani nuclear weapons instead of cowering under the Indian nuclear doctrine of a second strike. The power differential between India and China is alarming,but enough strategic options exist to confront the Chinese.

The writer retired as a rear admiral from the Indian navy

express@expressindia.com

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