Join our Mailing List

"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?"

Opinion: China and India: growing together, or set to collide?

June 16, 2010

This is the third in a four-part series examining
how the world will manage a shift in power and influence from west to east.
By Ramesh Thakur,
The Ottawa Citizen Special
June 15, 2010

For Pakistan's ruling elite, the arch-rival is
India. But India's arch-rival is China. The
simple distinction is critical for engagement with India.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited China in
December in part because, wanting to exploit the
economic opportunities of both rising Asian
giants and not offend either, he couldn't not go
to China after spending three days in India in
November. But he did not visit Pakistan. This is
a welcome development from India's point of view.
Analysts too need to switch their analytical
frame from India-Pakistan-U.S. to the new and
more consequential India-China-U.S. strategic triangle.

Part of the reason for outsiders confusing the
two observations is that, while Pakistan makes no
secret of its attitude, the broad train of
interests guiding India's foreign policy requires
it to co-operate with China on many international
issues and mute public expressions of the
bilateral rivalry. The identification of China as
the main object of the nuclear tests in 1998 was a rare slip.

Like others, Indians are divided on whether
China's recent muscular assertiveness is rooted
in insecurity or hubris. A clash between
overgoverned China and undergoverned India is
less unimaginable than one between China and the
U.S. Both have tried to keep the unresolved
border dispute frozen while attempting to build
and improve relations on other fronts.

The merits of the conflict aside, the 1962 border
war was caused by a flawed sequence of statements
and actions by India. For many years founding
prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his ego
frequently massaged by the Chinese who were
bemused at his efforts to tutor the consummate
Zhou Enlai in the art of diplomacy, ignored the
strategic legacies inherited from the British on
how best to defend the Raj against actual and
potential enemies. When Nehru did awaken to the
threat to India's territorial security by the
positioning of Chinese troops on the Himalayas,
his ill-advised public sabre rattling provoked
Beijing into calling India's military bluff and
inflicting a humiliating defeat. A broken Nehru died within two years.

The risk now is China may overplay its hand by
under-estimating how much India has changed.

The 3,500-kilometre border is volatile on both
sides, running from India's insurgency-plagued
northeast along Nepal and Tibet and on the edges
of Xinjiang, home of the Uighurs. Curiously
insensitive to the fact that Pakistan was created
by splitting India, China is hyper-sensitive to
"splittism" in relation to Taiwan, Tibet and
Xinjiang. It is exasperated with the safe haven
given by India to the Dalai Lama and the
increasingly militant thousands of Tibetan exiles.

China was the willing source of Pakistan's
nuclearization. Thomas Reed, a former nuclear
weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory and a senior official in the Ford,
Carter and Reagan administrations, has claimed
that Pakistan's first nuclear weapon test was
carried out for it by China. "We believe that
during (Benazir) Bhutto's term in office, China
tested Pakistan's first bomb for her in 1990.
That's why the Pakistanis were so quick to
respond to the Indian nuclear tests in 1998. It
only took them two weeks and three days."

A report in the Washington Post last November
concluded that the "deliberate act of
proliferation" by China began in earnest in 1982
with the transfer of weapons-grade uranium and a
blueprint for making a bomb that China had
already tested. Thus began the chain of
proliferation that extended later to Iran and Libya.

China's (and Pakistan's) unease at India's rising
global clout intensified with the India-U.S.
civil nuclear co-operation deal and India's
growing military ties with the U.S. and Israel.
China tried to block a $2.9-billion loan from the
Asian Development Bank to India because some of
the money was for a flood control project in the
state of Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which China
claims. Beijing has protested also about the
Indian prime minister and president and the Dalai Lama visiting those regions.

India worries that China is trying to choke it
strategically by a string of pearls strategy,
including access to and development of ports in
Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the construction
of a highway from China into central Nepal and
the extension of China's controversial rail link
to Tibet to the border with Nepal. The two
countries are also manoeuvring for position in
Afghanistan for the inevitable time when
westerners pull up and out. There have also been
tit-for-tat protestations about actions in
relation to Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmir.

The latest U.S. Quadrennial Defence Review states
that lack of transparency in military development
and decision-making processes raises questions
about China's future conduct and intentions. It
notes India's rapidly improving military
capabilities through increased defence
acquisitions, including long-range maritime
surveillance, maritime interdiction and
patrolling, air interdiction and strategic airlift.

It acknowledges shared democratic values, an open
political system, and commitment to global
stability as demonstrated through peacekeeping,
counter-piracy, humanitarian assistance and
disaster relief efforts. It welcomes India's
rising profile "as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond."

The Indian Navy keeps a watchful eye to the east
of India's coastline from the Andaman and Nicobar
Islands. It is preparing to open a base at the
southern tip of the Maldives chain to the west.
The surveillance aircraft, helicopters and,
possibly, ships based there will be supplemented
by radar installed across the Maldives and linked to India's coastal command.

Meanwhile, bilateral trade has climbed from $3
billion in 2000 to $51 billion. Astonishingly,
the annual growth in trade with China is more
than India's total trade with Japan. The two
teamed up effectively in the Doha trade talks and
in the Copenhagen climate change conference. They
share a major interest in eradicating extremist
Islamism in Central Asia, Afghanistan and
Pakistan. There are low-intensity combined
military exercises, a pale shadow of the land,
air and sea exercises that Indian forces engage
with U.S., Australian, Singaporean and Japanese
militaries. (Why not with Canadian?)

China has greatly outpaced India in economic
growth for three decades. But China's ageing
demographic profile tracks the West's, while
India's is much younger. Over the next two
decades, the centre of growth in the working and
consuming millions will be India. They have much
to gain by co-operating and lots to lose by
falling prey to tactics of divide and rule by
other great powers. The recently agreed decision
to set up a Beijing-New Delhi hotline is a promising development.

Ramesh Thakur is a professor of political science
at the University of Waterloo.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank