The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Beijing’s recent declaration to solve the “Sikkim dispute” in return for better Indian understanding of China’s security concerns (Tibet' Taiwan' USA' India' Japan') is a meaningless ploy. The Sikkim question is now moot. Its recognition by the People’s Republic of China would change nothing on the ground. Moreover, the territorial issue concerns Arunachal Pradesh and Chinese possession of a part of Kashmir. Chinese nuclear and missile supplies to Pakistan, the demand for Indian nuclear disarmament, it naval activity in Loco Islands and in Gwador, and building of military airfield in Manually, the buildup of rail and road links in Tibet, raise questions about Chinese strategic intentions.

Beijing says that its relations with India and Pakistan are independent of each other. Not true. Pakistan is an extension of the China policy to maintain and develop a line of military and diplomatic pressure against India, and furthermore, Pakistan is the gateway to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia for China. China’s Pakistan policy is thus aimed at Indian as well as American interests, and Western political establishments quite understand this. So unless the Beijing establishment is willing to make a realistic assessment of its internal and its external situation, a reliance on peace mantra by China (or by India) will take India and China the way of the recent Russia-China summit, where little was achieved.

If the formula is to claim that “relative stability” exists between the two, then that too is a fiction because it requires continuous military development by the two, and peace diplomacy no longer suffices. To secure a breakthrough, Beijing must decide if it recognizes India’s strategic and diplomatic importance in the region or if it feels that it can continue to toy with Indian sensitivities on important issues. Judging by past history, the negotiating style of the Chinese mandarins will be to talk sweetly, be evasive about specific issues and try to get a sense of Indian political will and the direction of its military policy and its alignment with the United States of America and other friendly Asian powers. Right now, there is no sign that China takes India seriously.

Indian security concerns vis-à-vis China are well known. What are Beijing’s' They lie in two types of development. The first is the emergence of a new, engagement-oriented Indian political class that is represented by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the National Democratic Alliance coalition. Beijing is following the Aristotelian dictum that “action is the ruling law of drama”. The Indian drama is revealed by its nuclear and missile developments, by the prospect of more nuclear testing if circumstances merit this action. Indian missile defence, Indian engagement with Pakistani terrorism and strengthening of democracy in Kashmir, a positive attitude towards the use of coercive diplomacy as well as naval deployment in the Indian Ocean area. These are the actions which are meant to register on the China-Pakistan mind which is inseparable.

The Vajpayee-NDA coalition’s pragmatic attitude to economic reforms also increases Indian economic energies and confidence in the ability to treat China’s economic growth as a challenge to Indian talent and industry. So even as China has a fantastic economy (although figures are hard to furnish given the lack of financial transparency in China) and it is flooding the Indian market with its cheap goods, the Indian manufacturing base and export trade is growing, and it attracts Western attention. Now India has an upward trajectory in the strategic and the economic spheres, and this points to a long-term competition between the two civilizations.

China’s dream following the collapse of the Soviet Union was to become the sole Asian military and economic hegemony. But this is being challenged by its neighbours, from Japan to India. China’s new leaders should be studying the net assessments that come from American, European and Indian think-tanks and base their policies on such objective indicators of the future rather than the subjective reality of placating their old tired hardliners.

The second impetus for major change comes from the US’s recognition that China has global strategic ambitions which can affect American authority and influence. The threats affect the US’s vital interests in Asia and the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. The US — not only the president, but institutions like the Pentagon — think strategically, and the centre of their thought and action concerns the management and the flow of power from the Middle East (Mediterranean eastwards), Asia (central Asia, eastwards and southwards), and in the Indian as well as the Pacific Oceans. American military power is there to stay in Iraq, Afghanistan, bases in central Asia, and while the location of America’s military presence is moving from, say, Okinawa and South Korea to Australia and the Philippines, the range of American military thought and planning is broadening and deepening.

The US-India defence cooperation is a sign of the new, smart and strategic thinking and policy action on both sides. Time is not on China’s side, as Japan, India, Australia, the US, Singapore, Philippines and others in Asia and the Middle East see the value of fighting terrorism by military action, and the value of building traditional as well as non-traditional alliances. Southwest Asia, the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia, along with central Asia, are the new international centres of importance. Military buildups, alliances and economic development through privatization are the themes now.

A sign of the new times is that the US is allowing Israel to sell the Phaicon airborne warning and control system to India but not to China. George W. Bush, unlike Bill Clinton, is not receptive to the business community and open to Chinese economic blandishments. The Arrow-2 anti-missile system is also being considered for supply to India. The Phaicon and the Arrow change the military equation in Asia significantly.

So the issue for the Indian leadership is not Sikkim, it is much bigger. And China’s new and comparatively inexperienced leadership may need to reflect on the new realities and their implications for China’s dealings with India. China must now recognize the reality of a de facto Asian NATO. This is not merely a military grouping. It has a democratic base which brings together Israel, India, Japan, Australia, southeast Asian nations, Taiwan and the US together, and fuels the demand for Tibetan autonomy. An Asian NATO also has immense geo-political significance. It brings pressure on China to either go it alone, as it is accustomed to do historically, and to rely on the Middle Kingdom complex, and pay a high cost for its military buildup or to make major changes in its attitudes and actions, and to think beyond Sikkim in its policy towards India.

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