China's Destructive Policies
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Issue Book Excerpt: Rising India | Date : 11 Apr , 2011

Three great powers –the USA, the USSR and PRC – have interfered on an extended basis in Indian foreign and military affairs since India gained independence. Combined with the harm done to Indian interests by the economic, diplomatic and military policies of Nehru and his followers (with an overemphasis on socialist economy as the basis of internal development, inept military preparations against enemies, and a diplomacy that limited India’s options and overplayed the value of nonalignment and peace diplomacy with China), great powers’ interventions distorted the development of Indian diplomatic and military policies in particular and harmed its security and its prestige. ‘Security’ means an ability to function in relative safety, free of external pressures which do not create continuous friction and unmanageable tensions. It has a physical as well as a psychological manifestation. ‘Prestige’ refers to reputation, recognition of status or standing in a world of powers, an acknowledgement by the principals in the world of a country’s contribution to international well-being.

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Distorted policies are the opposite of sound policies and the latter are judged by the criteria of success in relation to dealing with the machinations of foreign powers, as well as the moral integrity of the policies; they should be defensible in moral and legal terms. In his ‘tryst with destiny’ speech on August 14, 1947 Nehru made a pledge to serve humanity and the Indian people. This was his contract with the Indian nation. But Nehru’s diplomatic and military record does not show that he fulfilled the terms of his contract. He provided important service to the Chinese government by constantly pleading its case in international meetings, and by doing so he antagonized the US government without gaining Chinese goodwill. It became a ‘lose-lose’ situation with America and China.

In his “˜tryst with destiny speech on August 14, 1947 Nehru made a pledge to serve humanity and the Indian people. This was his contract with the Indian nation. But Nehrus diplomatic and military record does not show that he fulfilled the terms of his contract.

In hindsight it appears that his pleading reflected his ill-thought out views of the Chinese revolution and a dream of building an Asiatic (with China and India as pillars) federation; the views did not rest on a realistic assessment of the character of Chinese attitudes and policy towards India, its ambition to form a strategic triangle with Soviet Russia and America where India had no place, and its mission to form a Sino-Pakistan alignment against India. Nehru’s preoccupation with making China’s case without being asked to do, and his failure to create leverage between his China policy and China’s India policy highlighted the role of Nehruvian utopianism that was reinforced by the machinations of his advisers, particularly K. M. Pannikar (pro-Chinese and not a faithful follower of instructions from the Ministry of External Affairs), Krishna Menon (anti-American and pro-Chinese) and S. Radhakrishnan (anti-American, pro-Soviet) and the attachment of Indian communists to world communism as an anti-colonial and an anti-capitalist movement. The 1962 war proved that China had a hostile agenda towards India in the Himalayan region, and as the Sino-Pakistani relationship evolved China’s shadowy presence in the subcontinent increased in time. In hindsight Nehru and his advisers served Chinese interests rather than Indian diplomatic and military interests, and service to the Indian people was not evident.

This paper argues that the character of Nehru’s policies (which were followed by his successors up to 1998 and thereafter with some change) had destructive consequences for India. The diplomatic record shows that the Indian government was aware of China’s danger to the Himalayan area but the Indian policy makers feared China’s threat. They thought of appeasing Beijing rather than strengthening India’s presence in the border areas. One-sided appeasement and accommodation of China has been the hallmark of India’s China policy since the Chinese revolution. It contrasts with the anti-Americanism in Nehru’s policies and a refusal to accommodate American interests. Indian public and academic opinion too had an anti-American slant generally speaking, combined with support of a policy of defensiveness and appeasement of China’s interests in the subcontinent. Even after 1962 the diplomacy of appeasement and accommodation did not change but Indian military planning obviously did.

Beijing had nothing to offer to India of a positive nature other than a diplomacy of smiles and in retrospect, of deception.

In the 1950s Nehru and his inner circle of advisers sought to develop a strategic triangle of their own that tied India, China and Russia together. This was based on the belief that Russian and Chinese mistrust of each other would lead to a willingness to come to India’s side to ensure that India did not swing to the other side. Nehru was playing both sides against the middle so that the two communist powers were expected to bid for India’s support. But once Moscow had taken India’s side in Kashmir (1949- onwards) and Washington had taken Pakistan’s side in Kashmir (1949- onwards) and became the main source of military equipment that gave Pakistan an incentive to further militarise the Kashmir area and to undermine the ceasefire arrangements, and that brought the international Cold War into the subcontinent, Nehru’s policy of appeasement and accommodation of Chinese interests made no sense in terms of Indian military security and diplomatic prestige.

Beijing had nothing to offer to India of a positive nature other than a diplomacy of smiles and in retrospect, of deception. Moreover the great powers were lacking in incentive to bid for Indian support because they had started their bilateral dialogues with each other and India’s utility as an interlocutor was reduced if not eliminated after the mid 1950s. The Nehru record was the context in which great power interventions in Indian affairs occurred. We turn now first to a general discussion of the character of great powers’ motives to intervene in Indian affairs, the nature of each powers’ policies, the consequences of their interventions, and then turn to the case of China. The China focus is core to the argument that Beijing’s interventions have had destructive consequences for India and Pakistan compared to American and Russian interventions.

Why should we study great power interventions and their character in relation to India? There are two answers to this question: 1. The obvious change in 1947 was that India became independent and Nehru proclaimed that he would follow an independent policy of peace and reform of a world of powers; he wanted to address the dangers of the Cold War, of war itself (because he thought of it as a pathological force rather than an instrument of state policy), and move the world towards peaceful change and understanding of the problems of the third world and its need for development. But behind this obvious change lay a significant reality that India remained an object of great powers intervention as in the past. There were no doubt differences between the pre-1947 pattern of external interventions and the post-1947 ones. The Greeks, Persians, Afghans and Mongols paved the way for the establishment of the Mughal and the British empires which recognized the appeal of India as an economic prize. Akbar’s India was wealthier than England at the time, and during the 14th century the Indian, Chinese and Arab worlds controlled almost two thirds of the global economy.1

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In 1947 India was a depleted country because the British rulers of India had organized a massive transfer of Indian resources into their hands since 1600. In events leading up to Indian independence India was not a prized economic asset but it was a troublesome nationalistic society and an example that made foreign rule unsustainable in India and the third world. So the first major intervention, while the British rulers were still present in India, was to breakup Indian nationalism into two nations and to create a clear public identification about the two nations theory and to give the issue a constitutional form through the 1935 Government of India Act. Lord Curzon started this process by the partition of Bengal in 1905. Here Indian nationalism was the problem for the British rulers.

The first reason to study great power interventions in the subcontinent is that divide and rule is the basis of development of actions of a great power, and Western practitioners involved in sub-continental interventions followed, when they could, the Roman principle of divide and rule.

The solution which they created through a policy of partition (first of Bengal and then of the entire subcontinent) on the basis that the two nations could not co-exist together was accepted enthusiastically by Jinnah and company, and reluctantly by the anglicized, UK trained Indian Congress leadership (Gandhi and Nehru). Nehru and the Indian Congress party leaders were appropriate candidates to receive and accept subtle forms of British intervention after 1947 as well. Ambassador Dasgupta’s study of the role of Mountbatten and the British commander-in-chief of the ‘Indian Army’ in the Kashmir issue during 1947-48 shows the pernicious effect of British policy conducted by the Indian Governor General (Mountbatten) with Nehru’s concurrence; here Mountbatten stimulated Indian action, and Nehru followed in a way that suited the British but injured Indian interests in Kashmir.2

The first reason to study great power interventions in the subcontinent is that divide and rule is the basis of development of actions of a great power, and Western practitioners involved in sub-continental interventions followed, when they could, the Roman principle of divide and rule. This rule is used with countries and peoples who are not likely to work well as clients of the great powers i.e. who are not likely to accept subordinate status and who are likely to become independent minded and out of control from the point of view of a great power.

Book_Rising_IndiaIntervention emerged as the preferred method of great power action in India. It was deemed to be an efficient method in Indian conditions because Indians were driven by internal religious, caste, class and regional as well as personality led rivalries; there were opportunities to play one force against another and to create a situation where each cancelled the other out. Intervention – meaning destructive action short of war and physical conquest is knowledge- based activity because it depends on knowledge of social contradictions or fault lines among the target audiences; and secondly, it requires political skills to manipulate the others, to develop a situation of psychological and military warfare among the targets but at the same time to develop an external system of action. In the Indian case this meant the involvement of the great powers and the United Nations, to prevent uncontrolled warfare or social chaos. This is why interveners prefer a world of manageable instability, and this preference was satisfied by Indian conditions.The second reason for studying great power interventions in the subcontinent is that these powers were each engaged in a Cold War – the Americans with the Russians and the Chinese in the 1950s, the Chinese with the Russians and the Americans, and the Russians with the Americans and the Chinese; they used the subcontinent as an arena where their respective rivalries were played out against each other and against India.

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The two communist powers did not trust each other because Maoist China did not follow Stalin’s advice about the method of revolution, their national interests clashed, both were first nationalistic and then communists. Chinese felt used by Stalin in the Korean War (1950-53) which happened quickly after the Chinese revolution in 1949, and Stalin thought that the Chinese leaders were out of their control. India was not a direct participant in the three way international Cold Wars but it became a part of the rivalries because the US decision in the early 1950s to form a military pact with Pakistan brought the Soviet-American Cold War into the subcontinent, with America’s military and political presence moving into Russia’s southern underbelly in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan and Kashmir. Secondly, India’s decision to seek Soviet diplomatic (and later military) aid on the Kashmir question and in relation to American military supplies to Pakistan, and Moscow’s decision to oblige India, polarized the great powers’ relations with each other; these actions regionalized the Soviet-American Cold War, extending it from Europe and the Korean peninsula to South Asia and the Middle East.

We will argue that the character of Chinese policies has been destructive.

In an atmosphere of high mutual mistrust among the two communist states, and between each and America, Nehru’s diplomatic activism stimulated opposition to Indian policies, a consequence at odds with Nehru’s proclaimed desire to build bridges and settle differences by peaceful diplomatic means. In other words, Nehru’s diplomatic activism made India an object of opposition and a point of friction in the policies of America and China in particular because both saw India in terms of their rivalries with Russia, and Nehru’s pro-Beijing tilt annoyed Washington without any compensating gain for Indian interests from China. Moreover, Nehru’s worldview saw India among four major powers (USA, Russia, China and India) and this clashed with the American theory opposing the rise of regional hegmons – Russia, China, Japan and India in the US government’s view in an official document in 1949.3

The paper argues that the history of great power interventions in Indian policies started with British and American policies in the context of Indo-Pakistani rivalry that was the standard condition of the subcontinent since 1947, but over time the character of Western interventions vis-à-vis India changed and evolved from animosity to indifference to a positive engagement and bridge building with India. The process of interventions by the Western powers in the 1950s led them thereafter to learn lessons from their policy failures with India. But precisely when the Western world was adapting and re-learning their approach, methods and responsibilities in relation to India, the Chinese government changed the character of its India policy and it evolved from a pose of peaceful coexistence (disguise according to Kautliya’s and Sun Tzu’s expectations) to active hostility towards India. We will argue that the character of Chinese policies has been destructive.

It was and still is meant to harm Indian interests. Its approach reflects the power of Chinese combined with Pakistani irredentism and revisionism that is based on a view of India as a sub-regional force in the subcontinent, of Pakistan as an important Chinese client, and of China as the premier Asian superpower (and not Japan or India). China is against American hegemony in areas of interest to China but it favours Chinese hegemony vis-à-vis its neighbours. US government documents will be used to make the case that China has actively promoted the balkanization of India.

Before 1962 Nehrus India was a self-appointed guardian of Chinese interests in Indian representations to the Western powers.

A side issue is that Indian diplomatic practitioners have maintained an accommodative stance with China despite the provocations. This contrasts with public and vocal opposition by Indian officials, academics and the press about various aspects of American, Pakistan and Soviet policies, and the lack of a critical and an objective appraisal of the destructive policies of China. The policy of the pro-Chinese Indian communist party in part explains biases – anti-US and pro-China, and the development of strong Indian defence and deterrent capacities. Today, some important elements in the Manmohan Singh cabinet also project such a bias.4

Since 1949 India’s China policy has expressed an accommodative tone. Before 1962 Nehru’s India was a self-appointed guardian of Chinese interests in Indian representations to the Western powers. The many issues on which a serious rivalry existed between the two were carefully hidden from public discourse as if Indian practitioners were avoiding a public identification about the harmful nature of Chinese policies in relation to India’s northeast and Himalayan areas, its position in Kashmir and Indo-Pakistan relations, its strategic interests in the Indian Ocean and nuclearisation as well as its prestige and influence in the third world and broadly in world affairs.

The contrast was between India’s quiet and accommodative diplomacy in relation to China and its public opposition to several important aspects of American and Pakistani policies. The issue concerns the lack of consistency in the Indian diplomatic method i.e. of the selective use of quiet diplomacy in relation to a power that posed the most serious long term threats to Indian interests (and still does) and the selective application of not so quiet diplomacy in relation to America and Pakistan.

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America was attacked politically because it was a symbol of Western capitalism, and the second was attacked politically because it was a symbol of militarized communalism in the subcontinent. Given the circumstances both needed to be discussed and challenged as the basis of modern international relations. But it was a significant omission to ignore the role of China as the state supporter of Pakistan’s policy of militarized communalism and a force that sought India’s balkanization. Moreover, the Indian diplomatic method or tactic did not appreciate the fact that American policy was capable of adapting and re-learning when its policies failed in relation to India as they did on all major issues, but China and Pakistan on the other hand were both driven by irredentist impulses, and politics of hate and revenge stimulated their attitudes and their actions.

In contrast irredentism was not the basis of American or Soviet/Russian policy in India. The presence of a pro-Chinese Indian communist party in India which maintains a close affinity with the Nehru family-dominated Congress party in part explains the biases – anti-US and pro-China, and anti-Indian military development; this is also China’s agenda in relation to India. By comparing the character of American, Soviet and Chinese ‘threats’ to India the destructive aspects of Chinese policies will be clarified. The theme is that Chinese policies (along with Nehru’s) have been destructive for India, and by its support of an anti-democratic and theocratic regime in Islamabad, China may also facilitate the self-destruction of Pakistan.

We now turn to a discussion of these aspects .

Psychological Warfare was the first step in Great Powers Interventions in Indian affairs

In modern and historical international relations and strategy the most important step is not military or economic warfare; it is psychological warfare or a method of action that is meant to convince the audience that ‘black’ is ‘white’ and ‘white’ is ‘black’. Sun Tzu’s advice to his strategists was to organize warfare into a number of important categories. The most important was to disorient the enemy’s mind and use confusion to one’s advantage. Confused minds lack capacity to organize political will and an effective strategy; here psychological warfare could secure the strategic aim without fighting. The second strategy was to disrupt the enemy’s alliances and thereby to weaken its capacity to form external alignments for its security. The third strategy was an admission of failure of the first and the second methods and to fight the enemy’s army; the fourth was to attack the enemy’s cities. Mao followed Sun Tzu and despite the Marxist veneer in Maoism, the method of action was vintage Chinese.

The most important was to disorient the enemys mind and use confusion to ones advantage.

Successful psychological warfare requires a detailed knowledge of the enemy’s capabilities, its motives and compulsions and its enmities so that fault lines or ‘social contradictions’ could be exploited. The theory that ‘black’ is ‘white’ and visa versa was propagated by British as well as German communists who advised Lenin. William Stevenson’s study of the head of British Intelligence in New York during the Second World War shows how the black art was used by Churchill’s Britain to manipulate President Roosevelt to enter the war against Hitler and to shift American policy from neutrality to alignment with Britain against Hitler.5

Lenin and Mao emerged as proponents of psychological and revolutionary violence in the context of the rise of world communism, but the first major practitioners of ‘revolutionary violence’ were the British imperialists (pre-Bolshevik revolution) who used effectively, as a basis of their empire building, the art of exploiting social contradictions.6

Book_Rising_IndiaBut they did not publicise a theory along these lines as the Marxists did and they did not leave behind records of their intelligence work and apparatus. The diplomatic record shows that the British authorities destroyed their intelligence archives when they left India. (In contrast the Americans made it a point of capturing the intelligence archives of Germany and Japan – the latter included files relating to Taiwan and the Korean peninsula. The US government and turned around members of the fallen regimes in Germany and Japan and recruited them in their cause against the communists). In other words, the systematic use of the black arts (psychological warfare) and development of knowledge of the social contradictions of the targeted country represent the preparation for great power’s intervention.When India became independent what was the nature of the preparations by the great powers to intervene in Indian affairs, and how alert were Indian leaders in recognizing the preparations and in taking measures to counter their effects on Indian interests and values? How did ‘black’ become ‘white’ and vice versa? I have discussed the relationships between ideological debates, strategic alignments and military fights in my book ‘India- From Regional to World Power’ (2006) and I will not repeat the points made there.

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For the purpose of this paper it will suffice to summarize the lines of thinking expressed by the practitioners in Karachi/Islamabad, Washington and Beijing that became the basis of their interventions in Indian affairs, that created a polarity between deception and truth and that created a friction as well as a disorientation in the Indian (Nehruvian) diplomatic and strategic (anti-power politics and pro-peace, non-violence oriented) mind. India in 1947 had the advantage of being bigger in geographical size, it had a bigger population than its smaller neighbours, its economy was larger than that of all its immediate neighbours, and it had political and international legitimacy because of its democratic system. But still India’s strategic enemies had the comparative advantage as a result of their ambition and ability to show ‘black’ as ‘white’ and vice versa in a campaign to check India’s ambition and power development.

The actors are Britain, America, Russia, China and Pakistan from outside Indias borders and they intervened in Indian affairs.

If international politics is like a theater with actors, acts (sequence of actions), lines (and convincing lies) and stories to tell to an audience, the subcontinent has all the characteristics of political theatre. The actors are Britain, America, Russia, China and Pakistan from outside India’s borders and they intervened in Indian affairs. Within India the main actor was Nehru and his cohorts who emphasized the values of the socialist economy, state planning and a Nehru-centric state and party system, global pacifism and service to humanity especially to communist China, and bridge building between the Eastern and Western powers during the Cold War. In Act I of the play, British India and Indian Muslims shaped the Pakistan movement.

They set the line that Indian Muslims were in danger from the brute Hindu majority, they needed British protection, Hindus and Muslims formed two nations and there was a case for a separate Muslim homeland and Western protection of the Muslim minority and its homeland. This legend was created and it gained widespread public recognition before 1947 within British India, in British political circles and in Western political and strategic thought; Truman’s America and his successors (1949- present) accepted these lines in Act I of the political drama.

Act II starts in 1947 with India’s independence and the prelude to this Act was a conversation between Pakistan’s Jinnah and the American embassy in May 1947 when Jinnah indicated a need to build a strategic relationship between the two countries. His line was that both countries faced a danger from Russian and Hindu imperialism and that Pakistan was available to serve American interests in the Middle Eastern Muslim world. Several mental transformations took shape in the Pakistani-American conversations starting with the Jinnah-US embassy meetings.

The black point of Pakistani invasion of Kashmir was ignored, and the white element of Indian diplomatic defensiveness and Nehrus no-war against Pakistan policy were ignored and replaced by the notion of Indian expansionism and intransigence.

The first was to convert one black element – the fact that Pakistan was both irredentist (as was evident by Jinnah’s support of the invasion by ‘stateless’ tribals and Pakistani army officers on mass leave into Kashmir in October 1947) and communal – into a white element. The Act III was the Pakistani claim, which America accepted on the basis of British pleading, that Pakistan was a moderate Muslim state that was in a position to help Western strategic aims in the Muslim Middle East but if the Western powers did not help Pakistan against India the Muslim world would be alienated from support of Western interests in the region.

In the history of post-1947 Middle East the Pakistani contribution towards Western security interests was at best marginal and short term (as in Afghanistan in the 1980s) compared to Israeli contributions and those of pro-Western Muslim Middle Eastern governments (e.g. Sadaam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the Shah of Iran,1951-78) but the myth of Pakistan as a moderate Muslim state that is ready for service for the West has had a robust history.

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The second transformation was to convert a white element about Indian political culture into a black one. The white part of Indian history is that Hinduism had no pattern of territorial expansion beyond India or even successfully within India in recorded Indian history; the history indicates a pattern of passivity and defensiveness in reacting to the pressure of Islamic and British rule over Indians. But this white element became black in the hands of Pakistani, British and American practitioners. While Jinnah and company projected the theme of Hindu expansionism, American propaganda after 1947 referred to the Congress party as a Hindu party and the State Department after 1949 highlighted ‘Indian intransigence’ as the reason for the Kashmir dispute.

The black point of Pakistani invasion of Kashmir was ignored, and the white element of Indian diplomatic defensiveness and Nehru’s no-war against Pakistan policy were ignored and replaced by the notion of Indian expansionism and intransigence. The Nehruvians had neither the motivation nor the political skill to expose the psychological warfare that was inflicted on India by Pakistan, UK and USA (and later China). Consequently they became, as is known in the intelligence craft, ‘useful idiots’ in the great game of great power interventions in the subcontinent.

China’s Activism Against Indian Interests was the second, and most dangerous step of Intervention

What was the role of the communist powers in the great game of psychological warfare as the first step in the intervention process? The role of communist China is important compared to Soviet Russia’s. After a spell of abuse which Stalinist Russia heaped on Indians as the running dogs of imperialism following India’s independence in 1947 and Soviet affinity for the views of Moscow- oriented Indian communists on whose inputs Stalin depended, the Stalinist political class adapted quickly to the view that India could be useful to Soviet diplomatic interests in East-West and third world relations if Moscow could hitch its diplomacy to the support of Indian interests. For the duration of the Cold War, Indian and Soviet diplomatic interests were convergent in many important areas such as Kashmir policy, arms and economic aid to India, disarmament and peace zone diplomacy, opposition to American imperialism and opposition to Chinese expansionism.

Its motive and capacity to intervene in Indian political life was limited to checking the growth of American and Chinese influence at the expense of Russian influence.

Of the three great powers Moscow held the lowest threat to Indian interests. Its motive and capacity to intervene in Indian political life was limited to checking the growth of American and Chinese influence at the expense of Russian influence. There is no record of Soviet attempts to spread the theme of revolutionary violence in India despite the background of peasant uprisings in Telangana and the existence of a large Indian communist party whose leaders had been trained in the ideas of Marxism and socialism in England and who had close links with communist organizations in Eastern Europe (e.g. Prague) and the World Peace Council. Moscow functioned by the traditional rules of a great power.

It intervened no doubt in Indo-Pakistani wars (1965, 1971) by acting its role in the Security Council with a counsel of restraint (and the line ‘ war is bad, we know from our experience in the Second World War’) and in the Indian nuclear debate where Moscow’s pressure on India to sign the NPT was intense, but apart from some significant policy differences it did not have a policy to harm the Indian Union, to balkanize India, to promote revolutionary violence and instability in India and generally to support the cause of Pakistani and Chinese irredentism in the subcontinent.

China’s role has been of a different and a destructive character. It showed that Beijing had different lines in Act III of the political drama which starts with the Chinese decision to go to war with India and to take Pakistan’s side. Act III took place in the early 1960s and continues to this day despite the Chinese diplomacy of smiles, small concessions (Sikkim is no more shown as a separate entity, different from India) and the theory of the peaceful rise (or ruse) of China.

They set the line that Indian Muslims were in danger from the brute Hindu majority, they needed British protection, Hindus and Muslims formed two nations and there was a case for a separate Muslim homeland and Western protection of the Muslim minority and its homeland.

There is a significant contrast between the actual Chinese conduct in relation to India (directly and through Pakistan) and the approach it took when Mao made overtures to the US government in 1944-46. Before the Maoist Chinese communists defeated the US- aided KMT forces in the drive for political and military supremacy within China, the Chinese communists asserted the importance of Maoist ideology that stressed the critical role of human dynamics and class struggle based on a mobilization of the peasantry (in contrast to Stalinist emphasis on urban mobilization), Maoist China sought relations with the US based on the reality of Sino-Soviet differences but it was rebuffed.7

Mao was making a distinction between Chinese nationalism and Chinese communism, he was pointing to the differences in values of Chinese communists that stressed revolutionary violence and its spread, and American values, but he also emphasized the importance of building relations based on common and negotiable interests. This was the language of interest-driven negotiated political settlement between the new China and America. It is not relevant to this paper that the State Department did not respond to the Maoist messages because Washington then was consumed by McCarthyism and the witch-hunt of communists in America.

What Mao proposed in 1945 came to pass in the late 1960s and 1972 when the famous Shanghai communiqué was signed to acknowledge that China had arrived on the world scene and it was a fit negotiating partner as a great power. China, the middle kingdom in the thought process of its elite (Confucian and communist) had managed to get into the middle of the US-Soviet strategic game and it was now seen as the third pole in the global strategic triangle.

Book_Rising_IndiaThis diversion is meant to show the contrast between China’s approach to India which unlike its approach to America was based on a consideration and an attitude that India was inferior to China, it belonged to the barbarian world and thus was a candidate to be civilized by contact with the superior Chinese civilization. India was seen as a sub-regional force along with Pakistan and the Chinese view of Gandhi and Nehru was negative with strong stereotyping. In conversations with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger Mao and Chou-en-Lai expressed derogatory views about ‘Indians’ (which Nixon and Kissinger shared by joining in with Chinese laughter).8Nehru’s and Gandhi’s pacifist philosophy was looked down upon and in their conversations with Nixon and Kissinger the Chinese leaders showed their ignorance of Indian (Hindu) philosophy lumping it together with their reading of Nehru’s writings. In other words, the Chinese frame of reference about India was totally different from its frame of reference about America. In the former India was weak and lacking in self-confidence; in the latter it was strong and dangerous.

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In the former the Chinese could not discern the barrel of an Indian gun, in the latter case the American barrel was obvious in the Korean war where Chinese soldiers saw first hand the nature of American fire power and its ability to cause harm to China in case of uncontrolled warfare. The point being proposed is that China’s India policy was based on a myth about Indian weakness and inferiority that came from an assessment of Nehru and his policies.

The point being proposed is that Chinas India policy was based on a myth about Indian weakness and inferiority that came from an assessment of Nehru and his policies.

A myth is not theory (a generalization from a particular set of facts which provides a causal explanation). Rather it brings together values and interests of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ into play and these values and interests may be derogatory, false, obsolete, muddled and faithful to some facts, but they are damaging to the ‘them’ group.9

As long as the values and interests support the myth it provides the ‘theoretical’ guidance; – this term is not used in its precise scientific sense which means that theory provides a causal explanation of reality. Rather the myth is considered real and it becomes a part of the received wisdom in a policy community until it is changed by circumstances when they create a dissonance between myth and reality.

There was no reason and no opportunity for the Beijing practitioners to revise their myths about Nehruvian India. Between 1947 and 1998 the vital signs from India justified the view of Indian politics and Indian history as a story of continuous power struggles among the Indian rulers and Congress party elite, the importance of personal interests and career interests over national interests except at the rhetorical level, and vulnerability of Indian practitioners to external pressures and advice.

Maoist China claimed that it wanted a modern China and economic reforms but without an essential element of modernization i.e. democracy.

But there is an important caveat in Chinese thinking about India which explains why Beijing decided to act forcefully against Indian interests and to build lines of military and diplomatic pressures against India rather than to adopt a policy of benign neglect. If India was inferior and weak, why not leave it alone? Three reasons justified a Chinese policy of forceful action vis-à-vis India:

  1. Nehru’s India was active in international diplomacy in promoting China’s international position in the Western world and in the UN system and it was active in Korean war diplomacy which was China’s backyard; this justified a policy of ‘use and discard’ which is what happened following the successful appearance of Chou-en-Lai at the Bandung conference (1955) and the important message which Beijing sent to Pakistan in 1955 that it saw a conflict of interest with India but not with Pakistan.10
  2. Nehru’s India was ambitious in world affairs and as a model of peaceful change which was in contrast with the violent methods the Chinese government employed in dealing with its landlords and in Tibet. Maoist China claimed that it wanted a modern China and economic reforms but without an essential element of modernization i.e. democracy. The India/China contrast played in the discourse among the third world and nonaligned countries, as did the Indian policy of nonalignment. Moreover, India had a presence in the diplomatic and cultural worlds of the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia while China was labouring under the American policy of isolation and containment. Nehru’s India showed that it could gain international influence by being a bridge builder between the two superpowers whereas China’s rhetoric was to promote polarities within the international system based on the Maoist view of the importance of export of revolutionary violence and intensification of the class struggle. These differences and challenges meant that Beijing had to compete with India and to defeat it in the eyes of its international constituents, the third world, the superpowers, and the middle sized countries like Canada who favoured Nehru’s bridge building diplomacy that sought to moderate the harsh features of the Cold War. The contrast was between intentions, methods and responsibilities which the powers were willing to accept. India was willing to project peaceful intentions and generally use peaceful methods in its Pakistan policy (in Kashmir, 1947-1950s) and to seek peaceful engagement of China (despite its pressures in Tibet, and the Himalayan region). India was willing to work as an international citizen as in the case of UN peacekeeping. These differences justified a Chinese policy of engagement and humiliation of India in the military and diplomatic fronts and of building a line of pressure by shaping Pakistan’s alignment with China that would compete with a Pakistani policy of alignment with America and a possible rapprochement with India. By joining together the irredentist impulses of Pakistan and China in their territorial disputes with India, by forming a joint front against ‘Indian hegemony and expansionism’, China formed a strategic and an ideological triangle between itself, Pakistan and India. The theme of bilateralism lost its meaning in Indian diplomacy because now the three regional powers were tied together in diplomatic and strategic discourse; also Beijing secured a convergence of values and interests with Pakistan against India and institutionalized it within Pakistani and Chinese diplomacy so that it could survive changes in leadership in Pakistan.
  3. The final reason for Chinese activism against Indian interests was stimulated by the interest of Soviet Russia and America in Indian affairs. Moscow since 1949 had an interest in building ties with India. It saw India as an interlocutor with the Western world because Stalin and his successors were not looking for a military fight with America; they respected American military strength and the quality of their equipment. Moreover, Stalinist Russia was exhausted by the Second World War. Indian diplomacy saw a fault line between Stalin’s aggressive Cold War stance in Europe and his desire to explore negotiating opportunities with the West. Moscow also had an interest in building ties with India because of their strategic and ideological competition with Beijing. There was deep mistrust between Stalin and Mao going back to 1927 when Mao realised that Stalin’s advice for the revolution in China was not suitable for Chinese conditions and interests. This mistrust was enhanced in the Korean War when Stalin egged on Chinese leaders to do the fighting while Moscow kept its forces mostly out of the war but gave North Korea and China diplomatic aid. China’s involvement in Indian affairs therefore, was stimulated by Chinese opposition to Soviet and American policies in India that supported Indian economic development and political diplomacy, and that showed the rise of Delhi as a point of contact with the superpowers.
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China’s activism however, had a destructive character. It was facilitated by its negative myth about India, by the character of Nehru’s policies, by the rise of India-Pakistan as a strong secondary zone of strategic interaction that involved a cross section of Western, Eastern and third world forces, and by Beijing’s desire to develop a channel of Chinese influences in the two strategic flanks of the Indian subcontinent, i.e. Southeast Asia and particularly Burma (Myanmar) and the Gulf/Middle Eastern area, particularly Pakistan. These emerged as the geographical and political channels for the projection of Chinese influences south of the Middle Kingdom.

This policy was meant in part to guard its frontiers (Tibet and Sinkiang) from foreign influences and to guard its international position and reputation as a strong and expansive state whose influence flowed from a strong political-military centre. It was meant to create a geopolitical niche for China in the modern international system. Precisely when the two superpowers engaged each other on an east-west basis, Beijing’s leaders formulated a two-tiered framework of action: to get China into the middle of the great Soviet-American strategic game and secondly, to change the pattern of strategic alignments in the Indian subcontinent. China’s challenge to India was to curb India’s diplomatic and military space within the subcontinent by the growth of China’s presence and pressures on India and by development of Chinese links with India’s immediate neighbours.

China has developed a complex strategy towards India that combines deception and caution in its conduct with India, but it also shows an ability to use regional (Pakistani) and Indian (pro-Chinese communists) assets to function as Chinese proxies. While there is a gap between Chinese talk (threatening) and its actions (cautious) China uses its time well along the lines advocated by Deng Xioping: ‘Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership’.

These lines continue to guide China’s India policy. Chinese leaders observed the vanity of the Nehru leadership, Chou-en-Lai played on it and used Nehru and his advisers who were keen to promote Chinese causes with the West, and used India as a platform to secure China’s international position. Beijing secured its military position in its border areas by taking Tibet, by building its military presence in the Himalayan area. It secured its diplomatic position in the subcontinent by building ties with Pakistan and it built its military position in the Kashmir region by building the Karakoram highway, by accepting the Pakistani gift of parts of Kashmir and by defeating India in the 1962 War. It built its diplomatic and its military position in Burma.

Book_Rising_IndiaThe Pakistan link gives it access to the Arabian Sea; the Burma link gives it access to the Bay of Bengal. It builds its infrastructure (road and rail links) in Tibet and hides them as a part of economic development and international trade along the historical silk route. China is biding its time waiting for the Dalai Lama to dies, waiting for Indian communists and the Indian Congress party to maintain a soft diplomatic position towards China and to weaken Indian military preparations against China by delaying Agni (missile) testing, by declarations by India’s communist leaders(particularly from those in the CPI-M who agree with China that Arunachal Pradesh is a disputed territory!) and some important elements in Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government that China is not a threat to India, and by creating a public identification in favour of a positive view of a peaceful China. Never mind that China armed Pakistan in both conventional and nuclear and missile areas, that it supported it in the 1965 and 1971 wars and argued against Indian hegemony and expansionism, that it supported self-determination in Kashmir (but not in Tibet, and does not support free elections in Pakistan because that is not a Chinese value and it does not believe in intervention!).China maintains a low profile in Indian politics by working through Indian communist and Congress party circles as well as the Indian foreign office that has served the Nehrus well (Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi). China is active behind the scenes in international diplomacy. It opposed India’s nuclear tests in 1998, and it does not accept the Indian view that these tests were a response to Pakistani and Chinese nuclear provocations.

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For many observers China’s nuclear and conventional threat is the cause of Indian action in 1998 (the Indian position) but in the Chinese thought process the Indian tests were the cause of regional instability to which China must respond; here is an example of ‘black’(Chinese interventions against India) becoming ‘white’ and vice versa. Similarly China has aggressively, directly and through its Indian and international proxies opposed the US-Indian nuclear deal arguing that it would cause a breakdown in international nuclear supply rules and non -proliferation policies.

China maintains a low profile in Indian politics by working through Indian communist and Congress party circles as well as the Indian foreign office that has served the Nehrus well”¦

That China was the source of nuclear and missile supplies to Pakistan and to Iran and it was in significant part (along with European companies in Pakistan’s case) the source of Pakistani and Iranian nuclear weapons plans is ignored by Beijing’s leaders and apologists.

Beijing leaders know from their observations that the Indian ‘white’ (the defensive, non-expansionist Indians who cannot even keep their own house in order, let alone dominate Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) are slavish and defensive in their approach with stronger powers and lack self-confidence. So the difference is that whereas Nehruvian India kept a high profile and claimed international leadership but did not secure its diplomatic and military positions before 1962, the Beijing leaders did the exact opposite of India and secured its position without claiming leadership while acting aggressively with a low profile.

India’s China problems stem from Indian policy weakness and vulnerability to Chinese advice and blandishments. This is an old story which has current relevance. Nehru’s advisers on China, Krishna Menon, K. M. Pannikar, S. Radhakrishnan had strong anti-US attitudes and were soft on China and adamant about the development of a socialist economy and promotion of China in opposition to USA.

Nehru also favoured the buildup of China thinking it would bring out the national controversies between Moscow and Beijing, encourage the Sino-Soviet split, and bring China and Soviet Russia to India’s side; this was the politics of playing the two communist powers against the Indian middle and then seeking the same with the capitalist and democratic West.

The silent audience includes Indian scholars and press people who rarely intervene in a debate about Indias China policy because of a lack of knowledge and confidence about China affairs and Chinese methods of action.

Nehru and his followers have never explained the method and the process by which this outcome was likely to happen and to explain why the international powers would be foolish enough to play the Nehruvian game rather than ‘secure their own positions’, cope with problems calmly and bide their time for mutually satisfactory diplomatic or military solutions (i.e. the détentes between Moscow and Washington and Washington and Beijing) which left India out in the cold. Recall that the China lobby was strong in the inner corridors of the Indian government, and the agreement on peaceful co-existence was signed first by India and China in 1954 (and later by India and the USSR) along with the Indian acceptance of the Chinese takeover of Tibet without negotiating satisfactory terms and conditions.

The current relevance of this old story is that India’s China policy is now in the hands of similar elements – the CPM is an important ally of the Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government and there are many leading Congress leaders and ministers who go around saying that China is not a threat to India.

So in the critical Indian northeastern and Himalayan areas – Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, and the northeast provinces – the Indian policy orientation has a ‘made in Beijing’ stamp, its aim is to accommodate Chinese sensitivities, and its projection within India comes from the CPI-M and its admirers in the ruling Congress party. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems preoccupied with the US-India file including the nuclear issue and internal economic issues. Being unelected he lacks the political base to act independently.

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In this Act the stage manager is Beijing (the director behind the scene), the main actors are the Indian communists, and the supporting cast consists of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and officials of the ministries of external affairs and defence. The silent audience includes Indian scholars and press people who rarely intervene in a debate about India’s China policy because of a lack of knowledge and confidence about China affairs and Chinese methods of action. Because China hides its capacities and its actions and works behind the scene, it requires great expertise to understand the pattern of its conduct and the structure of its capacities.

Such an Indian weakness in relation to China is surprising because the diplomatic record of Chinese actions and declarations, and of American assessments of Chinese policies point to a pattern of destructive interventions which harms Indian interests and in the long run promote Pakistan’s self-destruction as well. The American diplomatic record of the 1960s reveals international concerns about the dangerous aspects of Chinese policies in relation to India and Pakistan, and by implication it reveals Indian culpability in promoting Chinese interests over Indian interests. Chinese policy towards India had a long term character that was formed during the Cold War period, its character was maintained following the end of the Cold War and, with the loosening of special Indo-Soviet ties after 1990, Chinese pressures on India intensified by an increase in the quality of Chinese military, nuclear, missile and naval aid to Pakistan.

Should the Chinese attack through Burma simultaneously, the Assam valley would be lost.

The comparison is with India’s relations with the USA. Once the Cold War ended and the nature of Indo-Soviet ties changed along with US government perceptions, a convergence emerged between India and America in terms of democratic values and economic and strategic interests. Two things happened: differences were bridged and new points of convergence emerged such as the formation of the US-India civilian nuclear deal. China’s policy on the other hand made marginal adjustments in its stance:

Beijing stopped talking about Kashmiri self-determination and Sikkim was recognized as a part of the Indian Union. But China did not abandon its policy of supporting Indo-Pakistani polarity and parity as Washington and other European powers did. Beijing went out of its way to insist on Indian nuclear disarmament while many international specialists and the major powers recognized the link between Indian threat perceptions of China and the nuclear question. So the character of American policy was to build India’s regional and international position; the character of Chinese (and Pakistani) policy was to degrade Indian power and the evolving pattern of its strategic and commercial relations with Southeast and East Asian states.

To a discussion of this aspect we now turn. The following references show that Washington and Moscow recognized in the 1960s that Chinese interventions had a destructive character but Indian practitioners have been slow in acknowledging it and Beijing’s practitioners remain committed to Sun Tzu’s mantra that ‘all warfare is based on deception’. Its diplomatic offensive within India and in international circles about its peaceful intent is deceptive given its massive military modernization program and internal organizational changes to fight in Asian theatres beyond Taiwan.11

A White House document (2 December 1965) reveals US advice to Pakistan that ‘bringing in China only destroys the sub-continent’. Instead it emphasized the value of Indo-Pakistani initiatives to resolve issues peacefully and to rely on initiatives from within the subcontinent. In contrast China had no such inclination. Similarly the memo noted Premier Kosygin’s view urging Indo-Pakistani reconciliation because ‘we want [a] stable sub-continent, to stand up against China’. A State Department telegram 10 May 1965 noted a Chinese plot to ‘wreck both India and Pakistan’. Robert Komer (White House) in a note to General M. Taylor noted on 21 April 1964 that ‘China is chief threat to sub-continent’.

The lack of transparency in Indian foreign affairs impedes the development of a reasoned public debate about issues that concern public interest and the general good.

Assistant Secretary of State P. Talbot’s cable noted that ‘Pakistan realizes that they have been suckered by Chicoms’. The Defence Intelligence Agency and Central Intelligence Agency report notes that ‘Chicom were real enemy’. A State Department’s telegram (1 January 1966) notes that Prime Minister L. B. Shastri was subject to attacks from nationalist right and ‘extreme pro-Chicom Left’ within India. Shastri recognized the interest of Washington and Moscow in détente and their ‘opposing Chicom interest in conflict’. Shastri recognized China as ‘India’s main enemy’ and a source of military aid to Pakistan. In this context the Tashkant agreement was a defeat for China according to the diplomatic record.12

A State Department telegram (8 March 1965) from American ambassador Chester Bowles notes Indian army headquarters assumed that Pakistani- organized, Chinese trained Bengali and tribal guerrillas would move into Assam from East Pakistan and from Burma but there was no consensus within the Indian political leadership on this point. The telegram recognizes the eastern part of the subcontinent as the area of risk of Chinese involvement given the menacing threats from Beijing and the threatening note by Beijing on Sikkim border. A Defence Department telegram gives the following assessment of the possible results of Chinese military involvement in the Eastern front. To quote:

“The Indian forces would have to withdraw from Ladakh and the Jammu and Kashmir area with the possibility of defending on the general line Pathankot-Shimla-Dehra Dun. In the Himachal and Uttar Pradesh the Chinese could be held in the foothills. In the Chumbi Pass area the Chinese could be held after initial advances. In NEFA the Indians could only delay to the Assam valley where it is felt the Chinese could be held. Should the Chinese attack through Burma simultaneously, the Assam valley would be lost.”13

A CIA document (13 September 1965) refers to an Indian note to China accusing Beijing of ‘mischievous attempt to connect India’s fight with Pakistan and the India-China border troubles’ and Moscow’s ‘indirect criticism of Beijing’s ‘inciting statements’.14

The linkup between China and Pakistan vis-à-vis India was indicated (7 September 1965) by China’s statement on ‘Indian aggression’ and Chen Yi’s demand for Indian troop withdrawal from Kashmir. To quote.

“Communist China has issued another statement in support of the Pakistani position and strongly condemning Indian ‘aggression’. The Chinese statement claims that India continues to occupy Chinese territory and that India cannot evade responsibility for having taken the first step in committing aggression against Pakistan. This statement is undoubtedly designed to cause India concern without committing China to any course of action.”

Furthermore, the CIA observed:

“Communist China continues to apply pressure on New Delhi. Following the nasty note to India yesterday, Foreign Minister Chen Yi reportedly has now called for the withdrawal of all Indian troops from Kashmir. He made this demand during an interview in Algiers.”15

A White House memo from R.W. Komer to McGeorge Bundy (President John F. Kennedy’s special assistant) dated 15 May 1965 notes that the aim is to ‘contain Chicom in Asia’; and ‘we’re buying time for democratic India to come of age’. Komer further notes in a message to McGeorge Bundy dated 3 June 1964 that India-China is ‘really big game’, and ‘India is big business more so than all of Southeast Asia’. Elsewhere a US document (2 October 1965) notes that ‘China exploits India-Pakistan problems’.

Book_Rising_IndiaA Defence Intelligence Agency summary dated 20 October 1965 notes that Prime Minister Shastri recognizes that India ‘is the principal obstacle to an expansion of Chinese influence on the subcontinent….’.

It is a matter of speculation if India’s diplomatic record contains insights about the nature of China’s threat to India. Given an attitude of appeasement towards Beijing by the Nehru government and the lack of Indian military preparation in 1962, Indian secrecy about its diplomatic archives and its unwillingness to declassify the files after 30 years suggests a desire to withhold scholarly and press scrutiny of it assessments and its actions. The lack of transparency in Indian foreign affairs impedes the development of a reasoned public debate about issues that concern public interest and the general good.


  1. In 1600 Akbar’s India (which was two thirds the size of British India) had a revenue exceeding England’s in 1790. See P. Spear, A History of India, vol. 2, London, Penguin, 1987 edition, p.109. 200 years ago India and China had two thirds of the world’s economic input. See R. B. Marks, The Origins of the Modern World, New York, Rowman and Littlefield, 2002, p. 2.
  2. C. Dasgupta, War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48, New Delhi, Sage, 2002.
  3. See ‘Position of the United States with Respect to Asia,’ NSC 48/1 23 December 1949, in T. H. Eetzold and J. L. Gaddis, Containment, New York, Columbia University Press, 1978, pp. 252-53.
  4. See ‘The Chinese Checkmate’, Cynical Nerd’s the Indian National Interest, http://cynical-nerd.national, p. 52, June 7, 2006.
  5. See William Stevenson, Intrepid’s Last Case, New York, Willard Books, 1983, preface.
  6. G. Fairbairn, Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare, Middlesex, UK, Penguin, 1974, pages 34 and 47; also Introduction and Chapter 1 in general.
  7. Donald Zagoria, ‘Choices in the Postwar World: Containment and China’, in C. Gati, ed., Caging the Bear, New York, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1974, pp. 119-122.
  8. See US government memorandum in F. S. Aijazuddin, ed., White House and Pakistan, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 526-539.
  9. This distinction borrows heavily from Andrew L. March, The Idea of China, New York, Praeger, 1974, pp. 7-8. For the anti-Indian stereotypes in Chinese and American thinking that surfaced in their deliberations to check India’s policy in the 1971 war, see F.S. Aijazuddin, ed., White House and Pakistan.
  10. L. F. Rushbrook Williams, The State of Pakistan, London, Faber and Faber, 1962, p. 120.
  11. See Martin Andrew, ‘The PLA’s New Calculus for Force Posture,’ The Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, vol. 6, issue 12, June 7, 2006.
  12. US Embassy, New Delhi to Jack Valenti, Special Assistant to President Kennedy, 2 December 1965. State Department telegram, 10 May 1965. State Department telegram, 8 March 1965. State Department telegram, 11 January 1966. White House Situation Room telegram, 7 September 1965. R . W. Komer memorandum to General Taylor, 21 April 1964. Assistant Secretary of State Talbot to Secretary of State, Washington, 25 March 1964. Secretary of State Dean Rusk memorandum for President, 25 April 1964. State Department telegram, 1 January 1966. State Department telegram, 23 December 1965. State Department telegram 1 December 1965. Central Intelligence Agency to the White House, 13 September 1965. State Department telegram, 6 September 1965.
  13. Department of Defence, National Military Command Centre, D320/JCS211/R2/20, section two, date not known.
  14. CIA to White House, ‘India-Pakistan Situation’. No. CIA/OCI 10759.
  15. CIA Intelligence Memorandum, From White House Situation Room to the President, 7 September, 1965, CITE CAP 65565.
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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.

About the Author

Ashok Kapur

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

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