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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Op-Ed: Trading on Sino-Indian Tensions

October 26, 2009

by: J. Sri Raman
October 23, 2009

As President Barack Obama prepares for a major
Asian diplomatic offensive away from the Middle
East, manufacturers and merchants of arms are
preparing to make the occasion profitable for themselves.

The eve of the twin offensive - Obama's scheduled
meeting with China's President Hu Jintao in
Beijing on November 16-17 and the White House
banquet for India's Prime Minister Manmohan on
November 24 - is witnessing a campaign to create
and exacerbate tensions between the two Asian
giants. The multi-pronged, media-fueled campaign
carries the clear fingerprints of the military-industrial complex.

The campaign, of course, is not entirely new. It
has served as an important part of the case for
the "US-India strategic partnership" ever since
George W. Bush made it a mantra for the mandarin
and militarists of both countries. The
"partnership," it has been repeated endlessly, is
premised on a role for India as a "counterweight"
to China in the most populous continent. Until
recently, however, New Delhi and Beijing had at
least kept up some good-neighborly appearances,
with rounds of talks on border issues and economic relations.

The Indian public was hardly prepared for the
concerted campaign, aimed at escalating tensions
with China, that took off earlier this month. It
began with stories of Chinese incursions into
Indian territory and about China building a dam
on the cross-border river called the Brahmaputra
in India. Equally unexpected was the
extraordinary and entirely uncharacteristic way
Beijing extended an added impetus to the campaign.

An editorial in China's People's Daily of October
19 supplied fresh ammunition to the campaigners
with its ferocious, studiously undiplomatic
attack on India. Putting the issue in a
geopolitical rather than a bilateral context, the
editorial came down on India's "hegemonic
designs." Speaking for India's other neighbors,
the state-owned daily scoffed at New Delhi's
foreign policy of "befriend the far and attack the near."

The editorial counseled: "India, which vows to be
a superpower, needs to have its eyes on relations
with neighbors and abandon the recklessness and
arrogance as the world is undergoing earthshaking
changes." For good measure, the daily added: "For
India, easing of tension with China and Pakistan
is the only way to become a superpower."

The tone and timing of the editorial could not
have suited tension-mongers in India better.
Their task was made even easier the next day when
China's foreign ministry issued a terse statement
saying Beijing was "strongly dissatisfied" with
the visit earlier this month by Singh to India's
Himalayan State of Arunachal Pradesh. The
denunciatory statement was widely perceived, and
presented by the campaigners, as an attack on
India's democracy itself, as the prime minister
had visited the state to address an election rally.

China, on the other hand, lays claims to about
90,000 square kilometers of the state's
territory. It described the Singh visit as an
attempt to "trigger disturbances in the disputed
region." India's External Affairs Ministry
retaliated by calling on China to stop its
development projects (including one on the
trans-Himalayan Karakoram Highway) in the
disputed, Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir.
When a security expert, Bharat Verma of the
Indian Defence Review, prophesied on July 12,
2009, that "China will launch an attack on India
before 2012" to divert the attention of its own
people from "unprecedented" internal problems, he
drew some attention, but did not really set alarm
bells ringing. Somewhat more successful, however,
was the shrill media chorus about Chinese
threats, skillfully connected to the brief Sino-Indian conflict of 1962.

The agitprop over the issue grew intense enough
to invite official intervention. The prime
minister and his colleagues themselves have been
constrained to caution against exaggerated
stories of border violations, while the claim on
the dam has been denied. The Arunachal Pradesh
affair, however, did make a difference to New Delhi's attitude.

The Singh government has chosen to displease
China on the issue again by officially allowing
the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama, exiled for decades
in India with his followers, to visit a Buddhist
shrine at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in the
second week of November. New Delhi has lifted
previous restrictions, in place for years, to
make this pilgrimage possible. Beijing has left
no doubt about its bitterness at this Indian move.

Former Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar links it
all to the larger interest of the US
military-industrial complex in India as a
100-billion-dollar market for arms. He relates it
also to the rewards Indian brokers and commission agents hope to reap.

Says he: "Powerful Indian lobbyists have been at
work in whipping up a war hysteria and xenophobia
over China.... it is ... certain that these
lobbyists can expect a windfall out of
Sino-Indian tensions." He adds: "... a gravy
train is getting ready for the Indian elites. The
People's Daily commentator may have unwittingly
waved off the train from the platform."

The past couple of days have witnessed some
promise of a Sino-Indian thaw. Conciliatory
statements have emanated from both the capitals.
There is talk of a compromise on the Dalai Lama
issue, which will let him visit Arunachal Pradesh
purely as a religious leader, without the
permission to make political statements there.

The change is attributed to the desire in both
Beijing and New Delhi to go ahead with the
scheduled meeting in India's Bangalore on October
27 of the foreign ministers of China, India and
Russia. The meeting is seen as a move towards a multi-polar world.

Will this geopolitical exercise involving the two
Asian giants prove a match for the mega-billion
enterprise of the military-industrial complex? Time will tell.

* A freelance journalist and a peace activist in
India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint"
(Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.
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