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

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.

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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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