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India and China: A clash of ideologies

September 17, 2009

By Susenjit Guha
UPI - September 16, 2009

Kolkata, India - Frequent incursions into India by Chinese troops are not
only about territory that China considers disputed, but also about ideology
the Chinese are not comfortable with. While India is aiming for a top slot
in Asia economically, China - way ahead in the race - also has expansionism
embedded in its ambitions.

China was never at ease with the largest democracy in the world. India has
maintained its democratic institutions, amid other South Asian nations that
have frequently undermined their own democracies in the six decades since
they attained nationhood.

There may be acute economic problems among the majority of Indians, with
intermittent clashes based on caste and religion in some pockets, but the
edifice built "of the people, by the people and for the people" was never
shaken to its foundations.

Despite the free world's amazement at the rapidity of China's economic
growth and strength of its foreign currency reserves, its record on human
rights and freedom of speech cannot be talked about in glowing terms.

But does that bother China? Not at all, as communist China is a closed
regime, totalitarian in nature, and cares not a fig for world opinion.

Paradigm shifts in China's foreign policy are driven by two power centers.
While the militarists hark back to the glory of the Middle Kingdom and want
a remaking of the world on Chinese terms, reformers want the traditional
world order and rules respected to avoid conflict.

Instead of hard power as displayed by U.S. military actions - taken to the
limit during the George W. Bush era - reformers are for soft-power
projection, with more cultural exports to realize the Chinese dream. But
they are silenced under the din of the former.

That explains why China has denied incursions along the Indo-China border by
Chinese troops and incidents of airspace violations. Sun Weidong, a Foreign
Ministry official, seemed to be applying balm when he told Indian reporters
in Beijing, "China does not pose any threat to India ... the biggest task is
to develop ourselves so that 1.3 billion people can lead a good life. I
don't think it's logical to say that when a country grows strong it will
bully others."

Despite such denials, sensitive borders have been breached up north in
India's Ladakh, places like Bara Hoti in Uttarakhand state, Sikkim and the
northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Shepherds are repeatedly shooed off
and their tents destroyed. The terrain in some of these areas is
inhospitable. Also, India has deployed most of its armed patrols along the
border with Pakistan rather than the one with China.

Chinese troops have left evidence of their visits by painting in Chinese on
the rocky mountainous terrain and leaving empty cigarette packets. Such acts
may seem innocuous, but they have triggered the need for more Indian patrols
along what is known as the Line of Actual Control that separates India and
China.

That brings us back to the opening lines of this piece. Is there a clash of
ideologies?

Chinese incursions are an attempt to assert their power in regions they
consider theirs, which they believe were wrongly demarcated by the British
when India was a colony. India inherited these regions upon gaining
independence. No government or political party - except shards of the Hindu
nationalist parties - has harbored ambitions of annexing territory from
Pakistan, cut out of India during the partition of 1947, or Bangladesh,
wrested from what was then West Pakistan in 1971.

If China feels the urge to wrest back certain regions through troop
incursions, banking on superior military might - such as the attempt made in
the 1962 Sino-Indian war - then it would be a straightforward act of
bullying.

So is China's constant harassment of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Buddhist
leader plans to visit the state of Arunachal Pradesh in mid-November -
around the same time U.S. President Barack Obama will be on a visit to
China. If this is seen as provocative, it is also what Indian democracy is
all about.

Nowhere in the world has the Dalai Lama been referred to as a terrorist, as
the Chinese administration painted him during riots in Tibet in March last
year. If ideology is not at loggerheads between India and China, then what
is?

Earlier this month, an aircraft from the United Arab Emirates bound for
China was detained at Kolkata Airport for not declaring the cache of arms it
was carrying. After formalities were completed and it was released, China
accused India of espionage over the inspection of its weapons.

Again, the Chinese military is unhappy with the Indian media, as it
supposedly portrays China in a bad light. But democracies do not control the
media. This again is a clash of ideologies; it would never resonate with a
closed and totalitarian regime's method of handling the media.

Lurking behind China's economic surge is a foreign policy of expansionism,
fuelled by embedded militarists, who unfortunately may carry more weight
than their soft-power counterparts.

Having the United States in a bind economically, China wants to reassert the
historical, political and economic dominance it enjoyed for many centuries
over Southeast Asia, Russia, Japan and the Korean peninsula. But political
and military expansion is antithetical to democracy in a resurgent India,
which has a civilization as old as China's.

And that is why, with regard to its largest neighbor, renascent Chinese
nationalism is best expressed by troop incursions rather than dialogue and
diplomacy.
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