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India, surrounded

August 13, 2010

The world's largest democracy finds its influence
eroded by Chinese gains. It must stand firm
David Van Praagh
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
August 12, 2010

 From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published on
Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 5:00AM EDT Last updated
on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 11:15AM EDT

As it approaches the 63rd anniversary of its
independence this weekend, India is under siege.

The world’s largest democracy -- a necessary
cliché here -- is finally making impressive
economic gains, and establishing itself as a
tough-minded great power, in contrast to the
tender-minded Nehru-Gandhi decades. But, largely
for these very reasons, India finds itself
confronted by dictatorial China or its proxies –
most notably, Pakistan – on every side of the subcontinent.

To the north, complementing Tibet-based Chinese
missiles aimed at Indian cities, Communists tied
to Beijing have taken over Nepal, long considered
part of India’s sphere of influence. Forty-eight
years after the Sino-Indian War in the Himalayas,
and with the recent fall of the discredited
Nepalese monarchy, it matters not that some
Communists play a democratic game and others are
rural insurgents. What matters is that India’s
main Himalayan buffer against Chinese expansion is gone.

To the south, neither Sri Lanka nor the delighted
Chinese are trying to hide Beijing’s effective
capture of the civil-war-weary island.
Traditional ties with India have been overwhelmed
by a deluge of Chinese products, aid, investment
and infrastructure projects. China’s aim is a
major base on the Indian Ocean to counter the
Indian and U.S. navies. A strong presence in the
Indian Ocean used to be a Russian threat. Now it is a Chinese near-reality.

To the east, China is firmly allied with the
brutal military regime in Burma, also known as
Myanmar, supplying arms to keep the Burmese
people subjugated. India unwisely seeks to
compete for the junta’s favour. Indian interests
in all of Southeast Asia are imperilled as China
spreads its economic influence, including free
trade with the 10 members of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations. Again, Beijing’s strategic goal is naval control.

To the west, the military-dominated Pakistani
government has not only reignited its compulsive
drive to seize the Indian-held Kashmir Valley, as
shown by anti-India protests by Kashmiris even as
floods devastated much of Pakistan. It is pushing
hard for control of Afghanistan when U.S. and
North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops pull
out, and in the process seeking to end India’s
diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. Beijing would
be euphoric if the international mission to save
Afghanistan failed. And, never forget, China made
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons possible.

China’s direct or indirect pressures on India are
a vital part of its campaign, now openly
proclaimed, to establish itself -- and be
recognized -- as a global power, not just a
regional one. But, despite its spreading economic
clout, and its intimidation tactics and
arm-twisting of smaller countries, it is still
far from its goal. The U.S. Pacific Fleet, whose
theatre of operations includes the Indian Ocean,
is still the dominant military force in Asia and
the Pacific, as demonstrated by its recent
exercise off the Korean Peninsula and China
itself -- protested mightily by Beijing. India
remains the dominant regional power in South
Asia, by virtue of having won four wars against
Pakistan. Its navy is comparable to China’s and
boasts two aircraft carriers, while Beijing still has none.

But there is no doubt that China has made
substantial gains all around India -- in Tibet
and Nepal, in Sri Lanka, in Burma and Southeast
Asia, in supporting Pakistan in Afghanistan.

In order to prevent further gains, Indian foreign
and defence policy needs to remain firm but not
provocative, and to reinforce India’s strategic
alliance with the United States.

This is not guaranteed. A strong anti-U.S. lobby
still exists in India. If Rahul Gandhi should
become the fourth-generation Nehru to become
prime minister, it would not only mock Indian
democracy -- it would greatly increase the risk
that India would return to the policies of
non-alignment, appeasement of China and state control of the economy.

At that fateful August midnight in 1947,
Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of keeping India’s "tryst
with destiny.” But only now can that tryst be
fulfilled by India’s taking its place as an
indispensable member of an alliance for democracy.

* David Van Praagh is the author of The Greater
Game: India’s Race with Destiny and China. He is
a professor of journalism at Carleton University.
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