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Indian Foreign Policy Establishment’s China Policy Conundrum
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Dr Subhash Kapila | Date:15 Mar , 2018 0 Comments
Dr Subhash Kapila
is a graduate of Royal British Army Staff College Camberley and combines a rich & varied professional experience in Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat and diplomatic/official assignments in USA, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan.

India and its foreign policy establishment’s most confusing conundrum once again is to clearly define whether in the larger and long-range perspective China is India’s ‘Friend or Foe’? India’s lack of discerning this distinction makes it ecstatically jump at every crumb of feigned friendship that China spasmodically keeps throwing at India.

India’s confused China Policy Conundrum has once again surfaced recently when media reports indicate that Indian Foreign Secretary Gokhale sent an advisory note to the Cabinet Secretary that Indian leaders and officials should not attend HH The Dalai Lama’s ‘Thank Yu India’ event in Delhi out of sensitivity for China’s stances on Tibet.

Taking the hint the Central Tibetan Administration relocated this event to Dharamsala. Is it not a pity that India under the dynamic leadership of PM Modi is once again be perceptionaly viewed in Asian capitals as kow-towing to Chinese pressures or political coercion? Is that the image that India wishes to project at a time when the global community is acknowledging India as an Emerged Power?

Ironic is the fact that PM Modi who won laurels for standing up to China in the Dkalam Standoff last year and where China blinked should now become a party to be seen as kow-towing to China. Further ironic is the fact that even a confirmed China-apologist like former PM Nehru defied China by giving political asylum to HH Dalai Lama and Tibetans in 1959 and now we have in 2018 PM Modi’s Foreign Secretary issuing an order which amounts to HH Dalai Lama and Tibetans being made sacrificial goats to appease China.

In March 2018, there are no cogent mitigating factors that have arisen to prompt this sudden change of India’s attitudes and generate positive readings on China other than the personal assessment of India’s new Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale. His postings in Hong Kong, Taipei and in Beijing and being a fluent Mandarin speaker may have made him a China-specialist but not necessarily an accurate diviner of China’s policy attitudes towards India.

Divining China’s hostile attitudes cannot be the sole preserve of India’s top-most foreign policy official. India’s net assessments on China since 1962 have consistently confirmed that the China Threat to India is a ‘Live Threat’ and which in 2018 stands multiplied manifold.

China has not visibly reset its South Asia policies to incorporate India’s strategic sensitivities. On the contrary, China has vigorously pursued “Anti-India” policies eve since Chinese President Xi Jinping has assumed his office with monarchical contours.

Since 2014, China’s Comprehensive Military Threat now stands out with the ‘Military Threat’ component becoming more prominent, potent and with sharper edges. At such a juncture, India cannot afford the luxury of political outreaches to China which carries the aroma of submitting and capitulating to the China Threat.

Since the military component of the China Threat to India predominates the political and economic threat, incumbent therefore is the imperative that China-intentions reading in India emerge as a joint assessment by India’s Feign Office and the Indian Armed Forces hierarchy charged with defending India’s sovereignty. This obviously has not taken place as the Indian military hierarchy going by Dokalam and post- Dokalam developments would not have agreed to a sudden deference to China’s sensitivities and certainly not on Tibet-related issues.

The points that seem to be overlooked in Indian official discourses on China revolve around the following salient factors that stood highlighted in my Book “China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives” (2015)  as follows:

  • China-India Military Confrontation ongoing in the21st Century is no longer limited to China’s disputing India’s borders with China Occupied Tibet. It now stands transformed into a fierce ‘geopolitical power-play and tussle’ in which China has exhibited no-holds barred postures against India.
  • China’s hegemonistic designs on Asia are a precursor to its ultimate Grand Strategy of attaining “Strategic Equivalence with the United States”. What stands in between are the two contending Asian major powers of India and Japan with whom China has a history of conflictual record.
  • China is unwilling to concede any strategic space in Asia to either India or Japan.
  • Both in the geopolitical power tussle and the decades-old border confrontation, the Core Issue is Tibet. In fact my very first Chapter in the Book refers to “Tibet is India’s Core Issue in China-India Military Confrontation”
  • India today is in the unique position of playing both the “India Card” and so also the “Tibet Card” against China, if only the Indian political leaders and its foreign policy establishment do not lapse into Nehruvian timidity and lack of ‘political will’ use power and balance of power strategies to ward of the China Threat.

In the instant discussion, what is at stake due to faulty perceptions of the Indian foreign policy establishment is India throwing away its most potent and strong “Tibet Card” with which China is ill at ease for decades. In fact, India’s ‘Tibet Card’ is the strongest leverage that India has over China.

China’s hold on China Occupied Tibet cannot be eternal and China fears that like in 2008 Tibet could erupt into serious and violent protests and disturbances linked with any future demise of HH The Dalai Lama. China has made it abundantly clear that it is China which will appoint the next Dalai Lama fearing that the large Tibetans population in India and in the West would not accept the Chinese-foisted choice of Dalai Lama.

The other pertinent question that arises contextually is that does it devolve on India only to display regard for China’s sensitivities on the Tibet issue or other contentious issues that divide China-India relationship? Has China ever displayed such matching sensitivities to India’s concerns?

India and its foreign policy establishment should be in no doubt about China’s intentions about down-sizing India in the perceptions in Asian capitals which are currently looking up to India to emerge as the nett provider of regional security against an uncontrollable China.

In 2018, therefore, the geopolitical power-play basically boils down to managing perceptions in Asia capitals of whether India can outgrow its Non Alignment shibboleths or the attitudinal policy inclinations of its decision-making establishment to seek the easy way out of complex challenges like the ongoing China-India military Confrontation being brought to a head once again in mid-2017 over the Dokalam Standoff;

While China is engaged in an uninterrupted ‘Containment of India “post-1962, the Indian foreign policy establishment’s remnants of the erstwhile Non Alignment Gladiators are succumbing to China’s spurious overtures for peace and friendship with India. Have we not seen this sort of Chinese strategic moves earlier in the middle of the last decade?

Once again recently, the Chinese Foreign Minister asserted that China and India have no choice but that “to tango together “and that even the tall Himalayas cannot prevent China-India friendship.

If China had genuine feelings for India’s friendship then what was the need for China to indulge in ‘Containment of India’ in the last decade politically, strategically and militarily? Why the forging of the China-Pakistan Military Axis? Why the China Pakistan Economic Corridor as explained in my Book of outflanking India’s Northern and Western defensive military deployments? Why the repeated Vetoes by China in the United Nation to stop Pakistan’s top Islamic Jihadi terrorist leaders as ‘global terrorists’. Why the Dokalam Military Standoff in an erstwhile peaceful sector? Why China’s reinforcing its Dokalam military presence into strong permanent military fortifications?

The list is endless and India’s foreign policy establishment advocating peaceful relations with China have no logical and convincing answers to provide.

Perceptionaly, I strongly feel and would advise that India’s foreign policy establishment should not be headed by Chinese Mandarin speaking China-hands who seem to suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome. Since India’s political leaders over-rely on them in the mistaken belief that with their Mandarin knowledge they can decipher Chinese leaders’ intentions, India’s China-policy becomes a captive to erroneous divinations.

India has no reason to kow-tow to China in 2018 when it is globally being perceived as an Emerged Power, something distasteful and unacceptable to the Chinese leadership. Does India under misperceived advisories of its foreign policy establishment wish to go into a downslide and be seen lapsing into the Nehruvian mould of a timid and powerless Asian behemoth.

The Indian political leadership cannot also be oblivious to Indian public opinion which perceives China as an ‘Enemy State” continuously engaged in down-sizing India and cavorting with India’s other confirmed enemy-state that is Pakistan.

The Indian Government and nor its policy apparatus has advanced convincing reasons for India suddenly resetting its relations with China and this leads to suspicions.. One hopes not that the Modi Government has not chickened –out fearing that a repeat of the Dokalam Standoff in 2018 0r2019 by China may find India militarily disadvantaged and that too in the run-up to 2019 General Elections.

India must have a running continuity in its China policy formulations viewing the larger picture and taking long-range geopolitical perspectives as the lodestars. In such perspectives China continues to figure as India’s most potent and dangerous Threat Number One.

While peace and dialogues with China are eminently desirable and should be pursued with vigour it is equally incumbent on India’s political leadership that India pursues with vigour India’s ‘War Preparedness’ to fight a Two Front War likely to be foisted on India by the combined strength of China and Pakistan.

The cardinal principle that India must adhere to is that India’s China Policy does not acquire Chamberlainisque contours of peace at any cost with China. The instant directive by Foreign Secretary smacks of the same. That danger lurks when Indian foreign policy is divorced from military assessments of its military planners.

Indian foreign policy establishment’s confused conundrum would   fade away the very moment that India’s foreign policy planners do not succumb to impulsively pick up spurious crumbs of friendship thrown by China sparingly confident in the belief that India would grovel and kow-tow to China. The Indian Foreign Office must be clear that China is perceptively viewed largely in India as Enemy Number One by its demonstrated actions against India.

How can the Foreign Office afford to have different perceptions on China other than what figures in Official Ministry of Defence documents and the accurate readings of China of the Indian military hierarchy?

Concluding, the following observations need to be re-asserted:

  • India’s foreign policy establishment’s confused policy conundrum arises from its inability to recognise that the China Threat to India is a ‘Live Threat’ increasing in size and magnitude each passing day.
  • India’s ‘China Threat’ should never be under-played or de-emphasised by any organ of the Indian Government.
  • China has not made any sustained efforts to reset its South Asia policy to respect India’s strategic sensitivities. Why the sudden urge of India’s foreign policy establishment to respect China’s strategic sensitivities on Tibet?
  • India cannot afford to throw away its ‘Tibet Card’ to humour China’s strategic sensitivities
  • India cannot afford to display divided perceptions on China between its Foreign Office and its Armed Forces hierarchy as far as the China Threat to India is concerned In the ultimate test when China repeatedly will indulge in Military Stand-Offs with India,  it is Indian Armed Forces who have to neutralise China’s propensity for armed conflict with India and not India’s diplomats

Ironic would be the day if India under PM Modi’s dynamism lapses into the Pre-1962 Syndrome of China Appeasement and COMPLACENCY in Defence Budget allocations leading to India’s LACK OF WAR PRPAREDNESS against the dual China=Pakistan Axis as visible in 2018.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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