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A Few Questions to China on Hand of Friendship

Paper No. 5375                                                   Dated 22-Jan-2013

By Bhaskar Roy

It was very  welcome to read in China’s official news agency Xinhua (Jan. 11) some parts of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping’s letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. 

The letter was carried by state Councillor Dai Bingguo who was in New Delhi to attend a BRICS meeting of Senior Representatives of National Security.  One should not miss the fact that Mr. Dai till now was head of China’s Senior Advisor at India-China talks on the resolution of the boundary issue.

Although the resolution of the boundary issue is still some distance away, Mr. Dai’s meetings with India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon have had a positive effect in conducting bilateral relations between India and China.  He was, therefore the most suitable carrier of Mr. Xi’s letter.

According to Xinhua, in the absence of the letter being shared with the media by the PMO, Mr. Xi conveyed that the world has enough space for China and India to achieve common development, and the world also needs common development.  He assured China  will “as it has been doing” pay great importance to developing relations with India.  Mr. Dai conveyed to Dr. Manmohan Singh that China and India will see strategically important opportunities in the next five to ten years.  It is well known that the Chinese authorities weigh every word very carefully in official written and verbal communications.  According to Xinhua Mr. Dai Bingguo conveyed to the Indian Prime Minister “cordial” greetings from Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Having  said that, relations between India and China have improved gradually, the borders had been more stable, trade volume has reached $ 80 billion and cooperation has been consistent on some international issues.  These are positives that need to be appreciated.

Does General Secretary Xi Jinping’s letter give an insight into readjustment in China’s India policy?  Xi will become China’s President in March.  The new premier will be Li Keqing at the same National Peoples’ Congress (NPC), known as China’s Parliament.  The two will formulate foreign policy from the CCP’s determination, to be executed by them as government leaders.  The official China Daily (January 16) remarked that “since the New year interactions between China and India at the bilateral level have been “eye-catching”.  Was it conveying a time line? The article referred to the  Indian Defence Secretary Sashikant Sharma’s recent visit to China, emphasised various co-operations including in the BRICS, growing trade between the two countries,  but admitted realistically that there were problems on the border issue and disagreements in trade relations.   So far so good.

Yet the CCP mouthpiece, the People’s Daily (Jan. 17) discussing India-China relations, rightly said that there remain many practical difficulties and challenges in the development of bilateral relations.  But it put the onus on India.  It wrote that “some media, political parties and military sources of India often made discordant voices (sic) on issues of borders and cross-border sources, interfering in normal development of bilateral relations”.  It also implied that Indians were being influenced by the West (read USA) to seize the “China Threat”  theory, India-China competition theory, comparisons between “the dragon and the elephant”, to provoke contradictions impacting the development of India-China relations.

The China Daily, however, reiterated the old Chinese position, saying that India’s potential alliance with the US to contain China was one of the areas of divergence between Beijing and New Delhi.  It also charged that India was seeking to align itself with the US to contain China.

At the same time, the China Daily advised the Chinese people that relations between China and the US were not confrontational and would develop into an interdependence model in the future.  A recent commentary warned against a China-US bipolar world theory as the imbalance between the two will debilitate China severely.

Again, a commentary in the Cankao Xiaoxi (Reference News, Jan. 11) came out with the bizarre observation that the US was provoking India-Pakistan tensions to serve its own interest, but has not succeeded.  Much importance should not be adduced to Cankao Xiaoxi, though strangely it carries “neibu” or “restricted” classification.

Yet, cognizance must be taken of all China’s media outlets.  According to the constitution of the CCP and the government, the media remains in their control.  This was reiterated by the CCP propaganda department and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, a powerful arm of the CCP and a crucible of future Chinese leaders.  It said, “In socialist China, the newspaper is a propaganda tool of the Party.  The Party controls the media. 

This is an iron principle.  One can confidently tell the world about that.  A newspaper’s role is to convey the Party’s eyes, ears and mouth”.

The message is clear to the Chinese people and foreign readers of the Chinese media that the reports that they carry are not the take of individual journalists, but the considered opinion of the CCP.

It is, therefore, pertinent to ask the Chinese leadership to clarify why they view the development of India-US relations as anti-China, and yet they pursue relations with the US for significant benefits in terms of acquiring advanced science and technology, trade, and regional stability in China’s interest.

Most of China’s high technology, especially in the military sector, has come from the USA.  Mostly they were stolen and some came officially.  India cannot steal technology from the USA for various reasons, but it can procure some through bilateral relations.

It is well known that China has for long practised an ‘encirclement of India’ strategy using the misgivings of some South Asian countries about India.  Given the changes in South Asian geopolitics, this strategy is no longer pronounced.  But Beijing has failed to convince India and Indians that the policy is a thing of the past.

Pakistan has been China’s pivot against India historically. Beijing taught and armed Pakistan’s nuclear capability specifically and pointedly to counter India.  Certainly China does not want Pakistan to open a war front against India at this stage because of reasons other than friendship with India.  Its companies continue to upgrade Pakistan’s nuclear capability in many ways including through illegal procurement from the USA through front companies.  There is no public position from Beijing about taking action against those responsible. Instead Beijing denies them blatantly. 

On terrorism, China declined to condemn Pakistani terrorist groups against India in the United Nations.

China tried to scuttle the India-US nuclear deal and has not reconciled with it till to-day.

China continues to push its foot prints in India’s neighbourhood especially through military and security support.  Its role in Sri Lanka and the Maldives are recent instances to consider.

For decades Chinese propaganda in India’s neighbourhood projected India as a military and economic hegemon.  India did not object to China’s expansion in India’s neighbourhood on the principle that all are sovereign countries, free to prosecute their foreign policies. On the other hand, China remains inimical to India’s Look East Policy, and  India’s relationship with Central Asian countries.

The list of questions could be much longer.  The effort to inject anti-Americanism is not appreciated, while China tries to strengthen its own relationship with the US.

International relations are complicated.  But good relations demand honesty and not spinning Chinese webs.

China’s offer of friendship with India is certainly welcome.  These are the two largest countries in Asia, and share a 4000 kms border yet to be officially demarcated.  But denial and deception as a platform of China’s India policy are not welcome. It is hoped that President Xi Jinping will make a historical change and forget about creating an unipolar Asia with China as the pole.  The latter scenario would be not only a bad dream, but a nightmare.

(The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached  at e-mail grouchohart@yahoo.com)

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