Skip to comments.US smarts over India-China ties
Posted on 04/02/2004 9:55:08 AM PST by VinayFromBangalore
NEW DELHI - The successful conclusion of a meeting of Indian and Chinese defense ministers this week reveals a subtle but sure shift in the Sino-Indian relationship. Despite the requirements of electioneering, the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has refrained from grandstanding: it has allowed a policy of quiet pragmatism to take hold. The opposition, too, is not seeking to derive political benefit by making Vajpayee uncomfortable, something that could easily be done by simply quoting from his earlier stand on China. A Hindu nationalist leader, he used to be most vociferous in demanding every inch of the thousands of square kilometers of Indian territory that China captured in a 1962 war to be taken back before any negotiations could start.
Indian observers believe that the new-found enthusiasm on the part of both the hitherto estranged neighbors to implicitly acknowledge the status quo on the border is partly due to changing geopolitical equations. The willingness to overlook each other's territorial claims, at least for the present, is being ascribed to India and China's wish for a multi-polar world as the looming shadow of the US neo-imperialism grows larger and its impact begins to manifest itself in South Asia too.
India is also hoping that its rapprochement with China will serve as an example for Pakistan. India believes China is occupying thousands of miles of its territory; but is focusing on sorting out trade and other issues to create a congenial atmosphere in which border questions can be discussed fruitfully. This is primarily because India knows it cannot defeat China and take back its territory in a war. Similarly. Pakistan knows or should know it cannot defeat India militarily and take Kashmir, regardless of the merits of its case. So it should follow the policies India is pursuing vis-a-vis China.
Leading by example; but it isn't working so far. Bolstered by his country's new status as a United States major non-NATO ally (MNNA), Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has started flexing his muscles again. He has virtually given an ultimatum to India. If there is no real progress in talks on Kashmir by July or August, he will withdraw from the nascent peace process. India is furious, but not so much with Pakistan, more so with the US, which is being roundly abused for double-crossing.
Official Indian response is muted. At first it was dumb-struck with the announcement of the MNNA status for Pakistan; now it has mustered the courage to say that Musharraf's comments are "not very helpful".
But independent analysts are presenting all sorts of conspiracy theories, one of which, proffered by a respected former diplomat, is that the US may have offered Kashmir to Pakistan in lieu of Osama bin Laden, whose capture is perceived as vital for the re-election prospects of US President George W Bush.
India and China have agreed to increase contacts and interactions between the defense establishments and armed forces of both the countries. The first Chinese defense minister to visit India in a decade, General Cao Gangchuan, and his Indian counterpart George Fernandes led the two delegations that decided to increase friendly interaction between the border personnel at the "Line of Actual Control" of the disputed territory and granting of observer status to the military officers at each other's military exercises.
The meeting took place in the backdrop of already improved defense ties. Fernandes visited China last year and signed a number of agreements. The first-ever Sino-Indian joint naval exercises, too, were held late last year. Officials described Cao's five-day tour to various Indian military establishments as part of the confidence building measures. Cao is also the vice chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission headed by the former Chinese president, Jiang Zemin.
While Fernandes mooted the proposal for joint military exercises when he was in China, the offer for hosting the Indian armed forces officers to observe future Chinese military exercises was made by the visiting side. Fernandes reciprocated the offer. It was also agreed to initiate Chinese language training in defense institutions in India and further sports and cultural exchanges. "This would be in the interest of building familiarity, trust and confidence so as to develop bilateral relations as a whole. The tone and tenor of the talks were open and constructive ... During the talks, defense exchanges were reviewed and assessed positively," an official statement said.
On the boundary question, both sides expressed themselves in favor of an early resolution and examined new proposals to strengthen and develop defense exchanges and confidence building. Cao presented a brief overview of the international situation and the recent major domestic developments, notably the recently-concluded National People's Congress. Fernandes expressed the hope that the momentum of high-level visits would be sustained. While he was happy over Cao's visit within a year of his own visit to China, Cao recalled Fernandes' visit to China at the height of the SARS epidemic and thanked him for the medicines sent by India.
A new and propitious mood in India-China relations has been seen since Vajpayee's six-day visit to China last year. This has now been strengthened by the visiting Chinese defense minister talking about China and India becoming "eternal good neighbors, good partners and good friends". And, above all, establishing defense ties. Observers believe closer defense relations between the two are the key to rapprochement as they would reduce suspicions on both sides.
There are great expectations in India from the burgeoning ties. The Indian Express summed them up in an editorial: "Closer Indo-China defense ties would help to complement the burgeoning of political and economic/trade relations by reducing residual mistrust on both sides, which have not gone away in spite of the upturn experienced after Rajiv Gandhi's landmark visit to China in 1988. The boundary dispute would take time and patience to resolve. But the demarcation of the Line of Actual Control at an early date would help to formalize peace and tranquility along the frontier and contribute towards the process of building greater mutual trust. Above all, closer defense contacts would help to forestall the risk of any reversal in the positive tenor of the Indo-Sino relationship that exists today, while ensuring a more balanced assessment of the potential risks that could bedevil it."
India's China policy of growing rapprochement is, however, not without its critics. Much of the criticism comes from a determined pro-US lobby which wants India to remain firmly in the American camp, regardless of how it is treated by the sole superpower. This lobby would want India to be a part of US policy of containing China.
One of those strategic thinkers who is most comfortable with a US-dominated unipolar world and see the emerging scene in Asia as that of unremitting India-China rivalry is Mohan Malik, professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. In a two-part article in Force, a defense affairs magazine published from New Delhi, he writes: "Notwithstanding India's desire to remain an independent power, which sometimes results in India's taking policy decisions contrary to the US (eg on Iraq), India prefers a US-led unipolar world to a China-dominated Asia - but ultimately seeks a multipolar world with itself as a constituent pole."
Mohan goes on: "India - much like Japan, Vietnam and Australia - is unlikely to accept Chinese hegemony for historical, cultural, civilizational and more importantly, geopolitical and geo-economic reasons. These countries were never part of the Sinic world order and would prefer a US-led Asia-Pacific for the simple geopolitical reality that the United States is a distant superpower while China is right on their doorstep. Security concerns regarding a rising China have already prompted New Delhi to cultivate Washington, seeing the US military presence as a factor of stability in Asia ... in addition to establishing strategic ties with the US, India's evolving Asia policy reflects a desire to build an arc of strategic partnerships with 'China-wary' Asian countries that would neutralize continuing Chinese military assistance and activity around India."
Another argument made by the same author goes like this: "Since there is no direct conflict of interests between India and Japan or between the US and India, both are likely to rely on India more than China in protecting the sea lanes of communication and their broader security interests in the Indian Ocean region. The growing entente cordiale between India and Japan is based on the understanding that united they contain China and divided they are contained by China and its allies."
Japan, however, proved this theory wrong by proposing on Thursday to form a trilateral axis with India and China to enhance cooperation among the three Asian countries, even as it announced a soft loan package of US$57 million to India under its development assistance scheme. Japan's envoy to India, Yasukoni Enoki, said: "The proposal has been discussed informally with the Indian side and will help India correct its positioning in Japan's diplomacy. It [the trilateral axis] is also important for stability and prosperity of Asia. The proposal was also taken up with senior Indian officials during consultations held earlier this year between the two foreign offices." Though, Mohan claims at the end of the article that the views expressed do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Department of Defense, it is clear that growing India-China proximity has rattled the US, or at least the pro-US and anti-China lobby. It is resorting to making wild claims about India's intentions and policies.
A blistering attack on India's China policy comes from Pravin Sawhney, the editor of Force. He has a long list of grievances against both the government of India and China: "Unable to humble the nuclearized Pakistan, the government is content maintaining the facade of cordial relations with China. It does not want to do anything to displease Beijing's blatant proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles technology to Pakistan, its refusal to support India's case for a permanent membership in the UN, and its vociferous demand that India roll back its nuclear weapons program. All this is not worrying as it is manageable, the serious issue is China's strident improvement of its border management on the 4,056 kilometer long Line of Actual Control, and its infrastructural development with military implications in Tibet. India's political and military leadership have dissimilar views about China's military threat. With an undelineated and undemarcated disputed border, the military believes that China's better border management poses a military threat. There is a need for us to improve our border management, something the political leadership thinks may send wrong signals to Beijing. Therefore, for the time being, matters have been pushed under the carpet."
The fact of the matter, however, is that India's China policy reflects a consensus of informed political opinion in the country. Not a single political party or major newspaper has attacked it. Indeed, there is very little disagreement with the Vajpayee government's attempts to seek a rapprochement with Pakistan either, though few can still bring themselves to trusting Musharraf.
The foreign policy debate in India is largely centered on the government's claim of having developed a "strategic partnership" with the US. It is this claim that is inviting all the ire and ridicule of critics, particularly after Pakistan was conferred the MNNA status without India being even informed. When India was developing close relations with Iran, it had kept the US informed and explained in detail the whys and wherefores of its actions in view of American sensitivities about Iran. But the US has violated the first principle of a strategic relationship - no surprises - by giving India not just a surprise but a shock while conferring MNNA on Pakistan. A former diplomat and now leader of the main opposition Congress party, Mani Shankar Aiyar, concludes a column on the subject with the following remark: "South Block [foreign office] is, therefore, left red with embarrassment, green with envy, and white with surrender. Substitute orange for red, and you have the colors of the Indian flag. This is what the NDA [coalition government] has done to India's honor, independence and sovereignty."
India had offered the US all its resources in its so-called "war on terror" following the atrocities of September 11. New Delhi, however, never agreed to play the US game vis-a-vis China in Asia. It doesn't want to be used by the US in its China-containment games. Nor does it look on itself as rivaling Beijing for influence in the Asia-Pacific region. This is not to deny that India has a number of problems with China, but it knows that it has to sort them out bilaterally. India may have blundered in the case of Pakistan, though, by allowing hostilities to develop to a point where it had to allow the US to play facilitator. It is apparently realizing now that here, too, it will have to sort out its problems by itself. The US has its own agenda in which obviously there is not much room for India's concerns. However, now that some operatives of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, known for their militancy in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, have been discovered in US-occupied Iraq, there is a possibility that Washington may start taking a different view of the situation.
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"Notwithstanding India's desire to remain an independent power, which sometimes results in India's taking policy decisions contrary to the US (eg on Iraq), India prefers a US-led unipolar world to a China-dominated Asia - but ultimately seeks a multipolar world with itself as a constituent pole."
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