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The Chinese view India blinded by own dazzle

The Chinese view India blinded by own dazzle

Author: Kanwal Sibal
Publication: India Today
Date: November 3, 2009
URL: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/69022/India/The+Chinese+view+India+blinded+by+own+dazzle.html

The two recent meetings between the Indian and Chinese leaders - one between the two Prime Ministers in Thailand on the margins of the East Asia Summit and the other between the two Foreign Ministers at Bangalore on the margins of the trilateral India-Russia-China dialogue - may have attenuated the immediate tensions created by overbearing Chinese diplomatic conduct in protesting the Prime Minister's October visit to Arunachal Pradesh and the Dalai Lama's planned visit to Tawang in November, but the underlying issues remain unresolved.

The Prime Minister's explanation to his Chinese counterpart that the Dalai Lama is treated as "our honoured guest" and that the Tibetans are not allowed political activity on Indian soil has been given to the Chinese countless times in the past. India's commitment to curb Tibetan political activity has in fact figured repeatedly in joint India-China declarations, with the texts formally recording the Chinese side's appreciation of the Indian stance.

A verbal reiteration of this well established position at the Thailand meeting is not going to settle matters. China will continue to assert its claim on Arunachal, triggering verbal spats in the future. Besides, having deliberately raised the pitch of its protests so high, China cannot easily lower its tone without some loss of face, and, more importantly, without creating confusion about the tenacity of its claims. Its public posturing is intended to give itself more leverage in the secretive border negotiations between the Special Representatives. China's upbraiding on Arunachal will continue until it revises fundamentally its approach to the border negotiations.

We should not therefore expect an end to the war of nerves between the two countries over the border.


At one level, the Chinese belligerence is not easily comprehensible. Its bullying tactics are not going to frighten India either to cede Tawang or deter the Indian leaders from visiting Arunachal. The levels of acrimony will mount, deepening fears in India about Chinese intentions and, in the process, accelerating our military build-up in the border areas.

This, in turn, by redressing the current imbalance in military preparedness between the two sides, could reduce the leeway China currently has to intimidate India. So, in a sense, China is pushing India to position itself more strongly militarily on the border, contrary to China's own interests. A more conciliatory Chinese approach would have given less incentive to India to beef up its border defences.

The spiral of Indian steps such as stationing Sukhois in Assam, additional two divisions in Arunachal, opening old landing fields in Ladakh etc in the face of the mounting Chinese threat and China riposting by accusing India of being reckless and seeking confrontation, and pointedly recalling 1962, could have been contained.

Deeper Chinese incursions into the disputed pockets strain the bilateral agreements to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border, and this coupled with growing Indian anxiety about Chinese intentions, could conceivably result in an unwanted border skirmish.

Talk of a "war", however, is an over-dramatisation of the situation - even the 1962 "war" was a limited border conflict though its impact on the Indian psyche was profound.

But even a border skirmish would have a disastrous impact on Indian public opinion already agitated about China's posturings on the border. It could force the government to revise its current policy towards China, whereas the Chinese authorities, with a controlled media, have the advantage of being able to shape domestic public opinion to suit a larger political strategy.

International public opinion would also be disturbed by sharper India-China border bickerings. For the moment, outsiders may not take Chinese fulminations against India seriously as they would regard any incautious step by China against India as irrational measured by China's own best interests.

But were it to happen, others would see in China's conduct advance signals of what its explosive emergence as a power could mean for the security of more vulnerable Asian countries with which it has differences, and beyond.

Even if others maintain a neutral posture on the India-China border differences to avoid antagonising a China with increasing global heft, the bogus claims of its so-called peaceful rise, accepted in some measure because of wishful thinking on the part of many, would have been exposed, triggering a more earnest search for countervailing strategies.

Already China's overbearing conduct is taxing the Indian government's effort to temper domestic reaction and maintain a friendly posture towards its northern neighbour. There is a growing disconnect between the government's positive, and even exonerating, discourse on China and the general public sentiment towards that country.

The government is right at one level to pursue an accommodating approach as India cannot afford to have live borders with both China and Pakistan. If China needs peaceful borders for pursuing its development goals, India needs them even more. We have two inimical neighbours who are collaborating to contain India strategically.


Tensions with at least one of them have to be reduced to the extent possible so that the military, political and economic burden on India is lightened. With Pakistan's unremitting hostility towards India, even trade relations with that country cannot be expanded as part of a process of positive engagement.

With China this has been possible, and so the government has allowed economic contacts to develop to the point that the country has become our largest trading partner in goods. China, of course, has exploited this Indian compulsion by pursuing a policy of containing India under cover of engagement, of touting a strategic partnership while gravely undermining us strategically, of inducing us to accept politically that it does not pose a threat to us and yet threatening our territorial integrity as well as our vital interests in our neighbourhood. The questioning of our sovereignty in Kashmir by issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris constitutes a new assault on our territorial integrity.


At another level, China's clumsy handling of its differences with India makes sense. It has the upper hand on the border and its military infrastructure there is far superior. It already possesses large swathes of Indian territory.

The economic gap between the two countries, already huge, is growing.

China's economic integration with the world is far deeper than India's, giving others much greater stake in it as compared to us. It has successfully contained India by bolstering Pakistan against us with nuclear weapon and missile technology transfers. It has insidiously used other neighbours to prevent India from consolidating its leadership in South Asia.

If it settles the border issue with India, it will release India from a two-front bind, expose Pakistan to increased Indian pressure at a time when it has become more vulnerable, lose leverage with other neighbours of India who will move into the Indian orbit more decisively and free India to pursue its regional and global ambitions more confidently. This would inevitably be at the cost of China's pre-eminence in Asia and at the global level. China may think it has more to gain than lose by a policy of visibly thwarting India.

The dazzle of their own rising sun is blinding the Chinese leadership as it looks at India.

- The writer is a former Foreign Secretary

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