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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Dealing with the Chinese menace

August 21, 2010

By Madhuri Santanam Sondhi
Organiser (India)
August 22, 2010

China understandably has ambitions to be the leading power in Asia:
no country in the region can match her economic and military clout,
not to mention her territorial spread, although it is said that India
despite her weak governance is a possible economic, military and
ideological rival. From China's point of view, India is an aggressor
illegally occupying or dominating territories in the cis-Himalaya
which are rightfully Tibetan, ergo rightfully Chinese.

IN today's globalised world, one is no longer just strategising
against enemies but indulging in 'competitive strategic engagement'.
Thus with China, after a 15 year standoff following the 1962 war,
India resumed diplomacy and dialogue supposedly in a framework of
cooperation and competition. Quite often however, her policies have
suggested only accommodation.

It must be stated in parentheses that China became India's neighbour
for the first time in recorded history after her occupation of
sovereign Tibet in 1949. Tibet till then had a chequered history of
independence, expansion, conversion to Buddhism, and from the 13th
century onwards an on and off subservience to or dependence on Mongol
patronage (even when they ruled China) with reciprocal spiritual
guidance (the Choe-Yon or priest-patron relationship which the
British mistranslated as 'suzerainty'.) Nevertheless she remained for
the most part politically and administratively independent. China and
India, separated by the large Tibetan landmass remained magnificently
unaware of each other, and had neither outstanding conflicts nor
alliances. To be sure Indian Buddhism reached China and flourished
with acquired Chinese characteristics, but since Indic religions are
not centrally organised, there was no enduring incentive for the two
countries to take much interest in each other. To speak of millennia
of friendship between the two countries is therefore to speak of a
chimera: we had millennia of mutual ignorance - hence the fond
remembrances of bliss.

Today's India is the result of a modernisation originating in the
west: i.e., of modern politics (the nation-state plus ideology) and
modern economics (industrialisation). China's forcible integration of
Tibet, Outer Mongolia and Sinkiang into her territories marked the
beginning of her attempted mutation into a modern territorially
cohesive nation-state, of which she now claims, according to one
Beijing professor's classic circular reasoning: 'Minorities in China
are Chinese citizens and they are Chinese', followed by the bizarre
comparison: 'This to say, China is not governing non-Chinese, unlike
the US is governing Afghanistan or Iraq.'!

China understandably has ambitions to be the leading power in Asia:
no country in the region can match her economic and military clout,
not to mention her territorial spread, although it is said that India
despite her weak governance is a possible economic, military and
ideological rival. From China's point of view, India is an aggressor
illegally occupying or dominating territories in the cis-Himalaya
which are rightfully Tibetan, ergo rightfully Chinese. Since this
claim arose only after her occupation of Tibet, China is anxious,
despite India's abject disclaimer on Tibetan sovereignty, to wrest
from her at every top-level meeting (including from President
Pratibha Patil on her recent visit to China) a reiteration of India's
recognition of Tibet as part of China, of her having been so
throughout history (the latter stipulation is not acceptable to
India). India having thrown away her own hand by her recognition of
China's suzerainty and now sovereignty over Tibet has no legal claims
in the northeast - the MacMahon Line was signed between the Raj and
sovereign Tibet, but the successor Chinese government has repudiated
the 'imperial Line'.

So India depends on the Indo-Chinese agreement of 2005 by which the
countries agreed to re-negotiate their border with regard to history,
geographic rationality, strategic and security interests, and
safeguard the due interests of their "settled populations".
Essentially India argues for the existing LAC to become the
international border but China has staked a claim to Tawang: to back
their positions both sides employ different clauses of the same
agreement which are fairly imprecise. As matters stand India is
vulnerable in all areas connected by Tibetan Buddhism to Lhasa: long
ago China had declared Tibet the palm of her hand with five fingers
reaching over the Himalayas into Arunachal, Ladakh, Bhutan, Sikkim,
Nepal, a Hindu country with a significant Buddhist minority and she
may dampen but never withdraw a claim. Thus she has never officially
recognised Sikkim as part of India.

India is sometimes projected as catching up with if not outstripping
China because of her inclusive democratic system and domestic market.
Whatever the value of these projections, Beijing not surprisingly has
initiated an insurance policy against any threats to her primacy by
keeping India hemmed in within South Asia. Hence her 'all-weather'
strategic relationship with Pakistan; her cultivation of neighbouring
countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh; her 'string
of pearls' or dual use naval bases across the Indian Ocean (to
protect her strategic oil shipping lanes and contain India); her
attempts to curtail India's nuclear programmes and strengthen
Pakistan's (as by her recent decision to sell her more reactors
despite her international obligations and despite Pakistan's flagrant
nuclear irresponsibility) if not initiate Myanmar's nuclearisation et
al. This is accompanied by a diplomacy of smiles, academic and
cultural delegations, student exchanges, trade agreements (which
flood Indian markets with cheap Chinese goods), but does not prevent
the frequent snub or provocation, the latest being the issuance of
stapled visas to Indian Kashmiri citizens wishing to travel to China.
Arunachelese are not issued visas at all.

China also has extra-regional ambitions - to America's chagrin she
would set new terms for an emerging world order. With Tibet, Sinkiang
and the Uighurs apparently firmly under her heel and Taiwan virtually
so and with Japan and the Koreas neutralised, she has boldly asserted
claims to the Spratleys, Senkaku Islands and the Paracels in the
South and East China sea to which the US and neighboring countries
are beginning to raise objections. Her economic diplomacy increases
her clout in other Asian countries, in Australia Africa, South
America and the Middle East and she is now knocking at the gates of
Europe through devastated Greece where she has recently sewn up a
deal for developing the Athenian port of Piraeus, into 'another
Rotterdam' to flood Europe with her products. No wonder she feels
strong enough to challenge the post-war system.

China's 'takeover' of Piraeus (which forms the backdrop to Socrates'
dialogue on Justice in the Republic) is symbolic of her desire to
replace western democracy and human rights with her own political
standards. Her think-tanks float the idea of democracy with Chinese
characteristics (i.e., a paternalistic Confucian state, sans
elections and sans civil society) or the false dichotomy between
autocracy and democracy; they play with Confucian ideas
de-emphasising individual freedoms in favour of social harmony
compatible with hierarchies and elitism, all very attractive to
struggling regimes in the developing world uncomfortable with the
exacting norms of organisations like Human Rights Watch. China's
military-industrial cum food compulsions entail investments and
resources from overland and overseas, even demographic exports to
other countries. In a worst case scenario this might be building up
to a Pax Sinica, a hierarchical world order with oppressions and
injustices 'necessary' for maintaining Confucian harmony.

Thus the challenges from China are multiple-from a constant nibbling
at Indian territory to threats to India's economy, military clout and
to her regional and international standing. By decrying liberal
democracy China challenges India's pluralist and egalitarian goals
which have served her fairly well so far in giving most of her
heterogeneous citizens a stake in the country's system, while
cushioning conflict and competition. Regrettably some
'tunnel-visioned' political, business or professional elites,
disappointed by India's slipshod governance not only applaud China's
achievements (as many had admired the Raj), but envy her
communistic-capitalistic modus operandi- i.e., private enterprise
with statutory Party control of big business companies and curbs on
freedom of expression and association.

If we have anything to learn from China it is how to conduct a
foreign policy fundamentally geared to national interest, tactically
flexible, never weak, yet avoiding outright conflict. China's bark is
very fierce, but rarely has she actually bitten - so far.

To avoid being squeezed into a corner India needs to continue
improving relations with neighbours: civilisational connections are
powerful drivers but have not been leveraged in the case of Nepal and
Sri Lanka, and further afield with Cambodia and Indonesia though
there is more diplomatic activism with Myanmar, Bangladesh and
Vietnam. There is no reason why India cannot host regular conclaves
with Australia, Japan, Israel the US and other Asian democratic
powers. She could also articulate her own preferred future-a
multipolar order of nations in tune with the overall objectives of the UN.

(The writer is an expert on international diplomacy.)
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