Geopolitics

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

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.

Editor’s Pick

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.

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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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