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Paper 749                                                       30.07.2003

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

Introductory Observations: The Indian Prime Minister’s visit to China in June 2003 was a genuine attempt on India’s part to de-freeze the underlying chill in China-India relations which has persisted for the last four decades. 

India was attempting to put China-India relations on a more sound footing and shape the process of engaging China in a more structured manner. India undertook this initiative fully conscious of China’s policies of strategic de-estabilisation of India through its proxy in South Asia, namely Pakistan. Furthermore, India undertook the June 2003 initiative against the assessment of India’s strategic analysts that China continued to be a long term threat to India. 

It needs to be added that a contemporaneous view of international event would indicate that it is China which today needs India’s friendship and goodwill than the other way around. 

It seems within a month of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit and the spirit of goodwill that he tried to generate, that his efforts stand negated by Chinese actions. 

Sadly, with the way things are turning out, PM Vajpayee’s efforts and extending the hand of friendship to China will growingly be seen in India as following the Nehruvian mould in terms of attitude towards China. 

China Lapses Into Old Mould: Incursions by Chinese military patrols into India and the detention of Indian surveillance teams by China while the Indian Prime Minister was visiting China, indicate a dubious return by China to the old mould of duplicity in its dealing with India. 

When confronted with the details of the incursions and unjustified detention of Indian teams in Indian territory, the Chinese brazenly asserted that “Arunachal Pradesh is not part of India”. 

The above assertions compound the original sin of military incursion by Chinese troops into Indian territory. If Arunachal Pradesh is not Indian territory, then how come in 1962 Chinese aggression. Chinese military forces which had  intruded up to Bomdila, withdraw all the way to North of Bum-la. 

India’s Friendship is Not a One Way Street: China must learn to accept the following realities which today govern China-India relations:

* India genuinely  desires to maintain good relations with China as two emerging neighbouring  powers.

* India today is not the India of Nehru’s days. The Indian people are in no mood to accept aggression or appease any power, however powerful.

* Indian Governments of any political dispensation cannot go against the above prevailing sentiment of the Indian people.

* India’s military capabilities are capable of withstanding political or military coercion from any quarter and even a two-front armed conflict in South Asia.

* India is capable of playing the ‘India Card’ against China today replicating what China did in the 1970s and 1980s. That it has not done so, so far, does not mean that it cannot do so in the future. 

China, therefore, should bring more clarity and realism in her perceptions and historical attitudinal fixations towards India. 

 India is not a vassal state of China and India’s efforts towards friendship with China are not a one-way street. China, too has to come half-way down the street. 

China Needs to Dispense with Rhetoric and Add Substance to Relations with China: China’s compulsive rhetoric on eternal friendship and ancient bonds of goodwill sound comical when viewed in  context of incidents like the June military incursions and actions. Its rhetoric sound more comical when it continues to claim that Arunachal Pradesh is  not a part of India. 

India, too in a similar vein could maintain that Tibet is not a part of China and that there are two Chinas today-both historical realities. 

If India respects China’s sensitivities then it is time that China does too to Indian sensitivities. Despite whatever Indian governments may have articulated on Tibet’s status, the fact remains that the majority of the Indian public does not consider Tibet as part of China. 

China needs to add more genuine substance to forward movement on contentious border questions as they can no longer be shelved to be sorted out by bypassing them to expand economic ties. 

It seems that China is not even sensitive to the adverse impact that contentious border-generated incidents by China and the ensuing Chinese rhetoric would have on the expansion of China –India trade which both sides desire. 

Concluding Observations: The twenty-first century is going be an Asian century, but China has to recognize that it is not going to be a ‘China’s century’. China perforce has to share the Asian century with countries like India and Japan. 

United States unilateralism will not permit China to dictate terms in Asia nor allow China to emerge as the undisputed hegemon in Asia. In the given situation China has very few options. As I have written many times before in this site, the tragedy of China is that it has no ‘natural allies’. 

With such a void, China’s policy formulations should at least attempt to earn goodwill and friendship  with emerging powers like India. But China-India friendship cannot be a one way street. China has to re-orient itself and learn to respect the sensitivities of emerging powers. 

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email <drsubhashkapila>)