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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

The China Imperative?

March 26, 2009

By Subramanian Swamy
Organiser (India)
March 29, 2009 Edition

Any two large nations have competitive
aspirations and needs, and if these cannot be
resolved satisfactorily then it weakens bilateral
relations even if it can be cemented in the other dimensions.

It is constantly said that in many ways, India
and China are natural partners, being neighbours
with a long boundary. More importantly, for more
than 5000 years of history, the two nations were
culturally and religiously interacting with each
other, peacefully and normally, except for a
relatively brief period of 20 years [1958-78].
This peace reigned even when India’s Hindu
influence spread all the way to Vietnam to
countries on the periphery of China. In fact even
China came under the heavy influence of Hinduised Mahayana Buddhism

India, being a democracy, is more expressive
about China than China is about India, since the
press there is controlled. For example, Indians
and Chinese view themselves citizens of a rising
global power, and that therefore each nation
should be treated as a central player in a
“polycentric” multi-polar international
community. Yet while many Indians openly regard
China as such, the Chinese in internal Chinese
language media have not articulated the same
sentiment about India, leaving the impression
that China does not take India seriously.

The core inference from the facts narrated
therein is simply this: Neither China, nor indeed
India, had been honest to the other about the
facts about the border throughout the decade of
the 1950s, nor either had a case of any
undisputed merit in the border cartographic
claims. That is why Sardar Patel wrote a letter
to Nehru after the Communists came to power in
Beijing that India should not settle the Tibet
question until the border demarcation already in
the existing maps had been explicitly agreed to.
Nehru in reply to Patel had rambled out a lecture
on how foreign policy was different from maintaining law and order.

The first requirement of an effective Indian
policy towards China is to build a national
consensus on how in a globalised world we define
our complex of interests vis-à-vis China, to deal
with the situation on the border that has
dramatically changed since 1962, and also how
best to communicate this consensus candidly to
Chinese leaders. It is significant that while
China denounces the McMahon line on the
Sino-Indian border as ‘imperialist’ it has
accepted the same imperialist line in toto with
Burma (Myanmar). This contradiction is explainable by the issue of Tibet.

The most crucial determination in the 21st
century for India is the content of the nation’s
relation with China in the context of the US
strategic over reach and volatility of the globalised economy.

It is constantly said that in many ways, India
and China are natural partners, being neighbours
with a long boundary. More importantly, for more
than 5,000 years of history, the two nations were
culturally and religiously interacting with each
other, peacefully and normally, except for a
relatively brief period of 20 years (1958-78).

This peace reigned even when India’s Hindu
influence spread all the way to Vietnam to
countries on the periphery of China. In fact,
even China came under the heavy influence of
Hinduised Mahayana Buddhism so much so that the
famous poet and President of Beijing University
delivered an address to Harvard University in
1936, published in the Tricentennial Celebration
volumes, titled The Indianisation of China
detailing disapprovingly how deep Hindu
influences had penetrated in Chinese minds.

No two neighbours of any size, in any continent
for any period of history thus can claim such a
long period of peaceful co-existence and cultural
contact. This is an encouraging fact of history,
that except for the bitter memory of 1962
conflict, there is no deep seated sentiment
mitigating against a future strategic partnership
between the world’s two large continental size,
fastest growing, and most populous Asian
neighbouring and ancient civilizations. But are the relations chilling again?

India, being a democracy is more expressive about
China than China is about India, since the press
there is controlled. For example, Indians and
Chinese view themselves as citizens of as a
rising global power, and that therefore each
nation should be treated as a central player in a
“polycentric” multi-polar international
community. Yet, while many Indians openly regard
China as such, the Chinese in internal Chinese
language media have not articulated the same
sentiment about India, leaving the impression
that China does not take India seriously.
Although for China, India could, at a future
date, become a strategic partner or formidable
adversary, or an economic collaborator or fierce
competitor, and yet China’s perception of India
has not yet been explicitly articulated.

Will then, in the long term, a strategic
India-China relation be forged for mutual benefit
be forged , and if forged today, be abandoned by
China at a future date? Indians cannot be sure
because of Chinese opaqueness in discourse with
India. There is large trust deficit between India
and China today that stands in the way of such partnership.

Once China attains the economic status it wants,
its leaders may want to assert its political and
military clout in South Asia against Indian
interests by calling in its IOUs. At present
China assists Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal,
and Sri Lanka with military supplies, but has not
openly exercised its clout in these countries, so
far, against India. But the option to do so, has
been kept open by China. There is also the
pending festering Sino-Indian Border Dispute that first requires resolution.

The Question of Sino-Indian Border Settlement

It would be thus appropriate to first consider
the centrality of the Border Dispute in the
future prospect of a durable Sino-Indian
strategic partnership, as this dispute can be a
triggering factor for adverse Sino-Indian relations.

Between 1949 and 1957, the media in India mostly
had gone by Nehru’s glowing pronouncements on
Sino-Indian relations. Because of his
perspective, the broad masses of India had
regarded the relations between the two countries
as extremely cordial. But this was only
apparently so, since the seeds of discord had
been sown early. How these seeds had germinated
since is described in my earlier study of the
subject [see Chapter 3 of: India’s China Perspective (Konark, 2001)].

The core inference from the facts narrated
therein is simply this: Neither China, nor indeed
India, had been honest to the other about the
facts about the border throughout the decade of
the 1950s, nor either had a case of any
undisputed merit in the Border cartographic
claims. That is why Sardar Patel wrote a letter
to Nehru after the Communists came to power in
Beijing that India should not settle the Tibet
question until the border demarcation already in
the existing maps had been explicitly agreed to.
Nehru in reply to Patel had rambled out a lecture
on how foreign policy was different from maintaining law and order.

China did not reveal its territorial claims, even
when the two countries had negotiated and signed
the 1954 Agreement on Tibet. Though it was an
agreement on trade and intercourse, it was
concluded in order to settle all outstanding
issues and to consolidate the friendly relations
between the two countries. One of the Five
Principles of Peaceful Co-existence (Panchsheel)
was “mutual respect for each other’s territorial
integrity and sovereignty," which clearly implied
that the borders of each party to the treaty were
already known to the other. Had China believed
that there was a substantial territorial dispute
about the Sino-Indian boundary, then that was the
time to have raised the question, before solemnly
pledging to respect mutually the “territorial
integrity” of the other. Equally wrong was Nehru
for not having explicitly raised and then
clinched the border issue especially when we were
clearing out of Tibet and recognising it as a province of China.

In October 1954, Prime Minister Nehru while in
Beijing mentioned to the Chinese leaders that he
had seen some maps published in China which
showed a wrong boundary between the two
countries, but added that he was not worried
about it, because the boundaries of India were
quite clear and not a matter of argument! Such
ostrich like policy is what led to the disillusionment of 1962.

It was on January 23, 1959, that Mr Chou Enlai
first wrote to Mr Nehru admitting that it was
"true that the border question was not raised in
1954 when negotiations were being held between
Chinese and Indian sides for the Agreement on
Trade and Intercourse between Tibet region of
China and India. This was because conditions were
not yet ripe for its settlement.” This was an
amazing admission. Why did time become ‘ripe’ in
1959 for the dispute to be raised? That Premier
Chou did not make that clear in the letter.

After administering a blistering defeat in 1962,
the Chinese forces withdrew 20 kms behind the
McMahon Line, which they called “the 1959 line of
actual control” in the Eastern Sector, and also
20 kms behind the line of their latest position
in Ladakh, which they further identified with the
“1959 line of actual control” in the Western
Sector. This left the Chinese in possession of
23,200 square kms of territory in Ladakh. India
asked for restoration to the status quo ex-ante
as of September 8, 1962 in all sectors which the
Chinese rejected. A stalemate thus resulted in
stated positions on the boundary dispute, that in effect remains so even today.

Towards the end of December 1964, Prime Minister
Chou Enlai, speaking to the National People’s
Congress in Beijing, called the suggestion of
restoration of status quo as of September 8, 1962
“an unreasonable Indian pre-condition” and
declared that China would never dismantle its
posts from this area. Chou also reminded India
that China had not relinquished its claim to an
additional 90,000 sq. kilometres of India
territory south of the McMahon Line. This
territorial demand was in addition to the 23,200
sq. kms of territory in Ladakh already with China
by then. Thus, the border issue, if made central
to further development of Sino-Indian relations,
will effectively freeze any progress toward a Sino-Indian entente.

The first requirement therefore of an effective
Indian policy towards China is to build a
national consensus on how in a globalised world
we define our complex of interests vis-à-vis
China, to deal with the situation on the border
that has dramatically changed since 1962, and
also how best to communicate this consensus
candidly to Chinese leaders. It is significant
that while China denounces the McMahon line on
the Sino-Indian border as ‘imperialist’ it has
accepted the same imperialist line in toto with
Burma (Myanmar). This contradiction is explainable by the issue of Tibet.

Second, Tibet will thus continue to play the
defining role in Sino-Indian relations. The
Indian government has reiterated its policy of
regarding Tibet as an autonomous region of China,
and that anti-China political activities by
Tibetan elements would not be permitted on Indian
soil. This statement of policy has been repeated
during the exchange of visits by the Prime
Ministers of China and India. In 2003, Prime
Minister Vajpayee specifically and categorically
confirmed this position while on a visit to
Beijing. Yet the Chinese view the émigré
government of the Dalai Lama nominees in
Dharamshala, H.P., with deep suspicion. The Tibet
issue enables the US to roast the Chinese
dragon’s belly off and on. We have to resolve
this contradiction. Another contradiction is the
Chinese support to Pakistan in strategic,
tactical, military, civilian, nuclear and
conventional dimensions. But Pakistan is
increasingly looking like a failed state and
primed for a Taliban-Al Qaeda take-over.
Thereafter anything is possible including nuclear
war. This is a contradiction that China must resolve.

The third is in the resolution of competitive
interests between China and India both in the
economy and spheres of influence. Any two large
nations have competitive aspirations and needs,
and if these cannot be resolved satisfactorily
then it weakens bilateral relations even if it
can be cemented in the other dimensions.

And finally, the fourth dimension is in matching
of expectations that will exist between the
peoples of the two nations. If one nation assumes
that friendship means totality of convergence or
submergence of all national interests, while the
other nation expects it to be on purely give and
take principle, then the relation between such
two nations is bound to sour sooner or later
because the expectations are not matched. That
unfortunately is what happened in Sino-Indian bilateral affairs.

The scenario of Strategic partnership between India and China

A fundamental problem in Indian policy-making
towards China is that there is no apparent
consensus in India even today, on the “end”
objectives of engagement with China. The domestic
strategic discourse in IDSA and other think tanks
so far has also failed to come up with a clear
criterion for evaluating the “means” to be
adopted in this regard. There is also as yet no
clear China perspective inside the Indian
Government. It is in this context that a review
of contemporary Sino-Indian relations is urgently
necessary before developing a stable strategic
‘Sino-Indian Partnership’, that everyone blandly talks about nowadays.

In particular, a crucial choice will have to be
made soon by us: Whether India should form a
compact with China (Choice I) or become a part of
the US efforts to keep China ‘contained’ (Choice
II). How and why that choice is to be made must
of course be subject to in depth of the analysis
and wide national debate. I am of the view that
either India befriends China in a fundamental and
strategic sense, or Indian confronts China. There is no third way.

The upshot of the entire analysis given above can
thus be summarised in three parts: [a] A
strategic partnership between India and China has
to be viewed in dimensions of economic, global
influence, and national security. Hence, to opt
for such a partnership there has to be a holistic approach.

[b] For historical, cultural and geographical
reasons, it is natural for India and China to be
partners in global affairs. It is, however, too
early for India to clinch a strategic partnership
with China because of some unresolved
contradictions, the upheaval in the international
economy triggered by globalisation and more
importantly the imminence of a financial crisis
in China and India about which I have written
elsewhere [see my Financial Architecture and
Comparative Economic Development of China and
India (2007) Konark Publishers]. Thus, bilateral
discussions for this partnership at all important
levels should take place only after all scenarios
are visualised and issues are thrashed out to avoid future misunderstanding.

[c] For the time being, the US is important as a
market and as a pioneer in innovative technology.
Hence, it is not a feasible for either India or
China to come to any understanding that is
inconsistent with US global interest. This is
more true for China than India because the former
is more vitally interlinked with the US economy
and foreign trade with the West and pro-US East
Asia. Thus, mature and nuanced sequencing of our
relations with China to a level of a stable and
sustained strategic partnership is the urgent
imperative of India’s new age or 21st century diplomacy.

(The writer is former Union Cabinet Minister for
Commerce, and is currently Janata Party President.)
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