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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?"

The India-China Rivalry

August 16, 2009

John Elliott
Asia Sentinel
August 14, 2009

 From John Elliott's blog, Riding the Elephant -, which
appears elsewhere on Asia Sentinel.

It's probably the tip of the iceberg of China's
ambitions to thwart India's emergence as a
significant economic and maybe diplomatic and
military power. I'm referring to what might
appear to some to be a crazy article on a Chinese
strategic issues website, which claims that China
could "dismember the so-called ‘Indian Union' with one little move".

The writer has argued that India's national unity
is weak and that China could exploit this by
supporting separatist forces, such as those
active in India's north-east state of Assam, and
split the country into 20 or 30 sovereign states.

"There cannot be two suns in the sky. China and
India cannot really deal with each other
harmoniously," said the article. That almost
certainly reflects Beijing thinking, even though
the founder of the website has claimed the
anonymous writer has no known government links.

The article was posted last Saturday and was
publicized in India yesterday, prompting the
Indian foreign ministry to say it appeared to be
"an expression of individual opinion and does not
accord with the officially stated position of
China on India-China relations conveyed to us on
several occasions". But what else could India say
-- especially since the article coincided with
apparently cordial talks between the two
countries on their border that has been disputed
since China defeated India in a brief 1962 Himalayan war.

It is not unusual for China to fly such extreme
kites. Philip Bowring of the Hong Kong-based Asia
Sentinel website pointed out that the arrest last
week of two Rio Tinto executives in Beijing for
alleged theft and corruption followed an internet
article written by an official of China's
National Administration for the Protection of
State Secrets, which accused Rio of commercial
"spying" that had cost the nation $100 billion in
higher iron ore prices ­ an accusation says
Bowring that "does not stand up to the most
casual scrutiny of trade data". Bowring then
points out that "although the article is no
longer on the website, its claims have not been
corrected and its imprint on Chinese minds will not disappear."

The imprint of the India internet article will
also not disappear because, whatever the two
countries may say officially, it sums up what has been happening for years.

As James Lamont and Amy Kazmin explained a month
ago in an excellent FT round-up of the two
countries' tortuous relations, China has been
encircling India by developing influence and
outposts in Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, and Sri
Lanka, and wants to usurp India's major role in
controlling the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.

Pakistan, which China has armed and helped become
a nuclear power, has been destabilizing India
first in Punjab (in the 1980s) and then in
Kashmir. China has also for years been
encouraging separatist forces in India's
north-eastern states, including Assam, and will
no doubt use its growing clout in Myanmar -- and
Bangladesh -- to increase those activities. In
the future it could perhaps use its growing
influence in Sri Lanka ­ where it is developing a
naval base and advised the government in the
recent defeat of the Tamil Tiger separatists --
to cause unrest among linked Tamil communities in southern India.

It has also strengthened its border claims -- for
example by opposing a US$3 billion Asian
Development Bank aid project in Arunachal
Pradesh, an Indian border state that China claims
as "south Tibet". And it tried to block
international approval of the recent India-US nuclear deal with the US.

This is of course a dangerous game and sometimes
India has to respond -- recently for example by
moving fighter jets to the China border.

I have heard a former senior Indian bureaucrat
argue privately that China's basic -- and
permanent -- aim is to force India to focus on
domestic issues and thus thwart it becoming a future international rival.

China, according to this view -- which is surely
correct -- is determined to be the world's sole
superpower after America, and does not want that
status to be upset by a strong and democratic
India backed by the US and Europe. Its tactics
have become more insistent in the past two years
as it has become irritated by India's growing
links with the US, culminating in the nuclear deal.

Everything that China does in relation to India
therefore has to be seen through that prism.
India will not fragment into 20 or 30 pieces --
it is far too unified for that ­ but there is no
prospect of permanent peace and co-operation
between the two countries because, as the
internet writer has said, "there cannot be two suns in the sky."
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