The strong economic relations between India and China and their co-operation in multilateral fora such as the recent Copenhagen summit on climate change should not blind one to the fact that the trust and comfort level between the two Governments and their people remains unsatisfactory. Unless this improves, any talk of a strategic co-operation or partnership between the two countries would remain wishful-thinking.
2. There are many security-related issues which call for co-operation between India and China bilaterally and for a joint leadership role by them multilaterally. Maritime counter-terrorism and anti-piracy measures are two examples of such issues crying out for India and China to join hands in countering these evils. But we will not be able to do so unless the trust and comfort level improves.
3. Five issues or perceptions are standing in the way of a better trust and comfort level. The first is the pending border dispute. Chinese leaders and analysts often quote Deng Xiao-Ping's advice to keep this issue aside till a favourable moment arrives for finding a mutually acceptable solution. Delay suits China because the trans-border status quo presently favours it and it has developed its military capability in such a manner as to be able to use it should China decide that the time has come to impose its will in the eastern sector. Indians suspect----with valid reason---- that the Chinese preference for keeping the issue prolonged is motivated by the desire to give itself time for the further strengthening of its military capability in Tibet. India's interest will be served by a quick resolution of the dispute, which has not been forthcoming.
4. The second is the failure of the Chinese to reach an agreement with the Dalai Lama on the demands of the Tibetan people. India has recognised Tibet as an integral part of China in the expectation that the international acceptance of the One China principle will pave the way for the return of the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers to Tibet with honour and dignity so that they can take their due to place in the local society. India is the cradle of Buddhism, which spread to Tibet and the rest of China from India. It is natural that as admirers of this great religion and its Tibetan leader, Indians feel disappointed by the failure of the Chinese Government and Communist Party to follow up the integration of Tibet with the rest of China by restoring the honour and dignity of the Dalai Lama and his followers.
5. The third is what many Indians see as the double standards followed by China with regard to Jammu & Kashmir. China expected India to recognise Tibet as an integral part of China and accept the One China principle. India did so without reservation. Indians are greatly disappointed that China has not reciprocated by recognising Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India and by accepting the One India principle, which is as precious to India as the One China principle is to China.
6. The fourth is what many Indians see as China's attempts to build up Pakistan not only as a time-tested friend, but also as a welcome strategic surrogate against India. China's nuclear and military supply relationship with Pakistan and its support to Pakistan in its disputes with India are seen by many in India as a malign exploitation of Pakistan's differences with India to serve China's own interests.
7. The fifth is China's reluctance to support India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council. India under Jawaharlal Nehru played an active role in canvassing for the People's Republic of China to be given its due place as a permanent member of the Security Council. In an historic act of ingratitude, China has failed to reciprocate India's gesture and has done everything possible to keep India out.
8. Unless there is a change in the policies of the Chinese Government on these issues, the trust and comfort level will continue to be low and there is a limit beyond which the relations between the two countries cannot improve.
9.The time has come for India to re-examine its policies with regard to China. The improvement in economic relations has benefited China more than India. If one analyses purely on the basis of trade exchanges, both countries have benefited, but the adverse balance of trade in China’s favour and India’s dependence on raw material exports for keeping up the steady surge in bilateral trade dilute the significance of the surge in trade.
10. Other parameters of the bilateral economic relations tilt strongly in favour of China. The liberal opening-up of the Indian construction sector to Chinese construction companies has led to a situation where next to African countries, India has become a major dumping ground for Chinese engineers and semi-skilled workers to the detriment of the interests of Indian engineers and semi-skilled workers. Our opening up the doors to sensitive sectors such as telecommunications to Chinese private companies ---- private in name, but State-sponsored in reality --- has added to the major security concerns of our security agencies.
11. Unfortunately, we do not have a debate in India either in the Parliament or outside on the background of the Chinese companies, which have been entering India in large numbers and on the threats that this could pose to our national interests. Unchecked and inadequately monitored Chinese economic intrusions should be of as great a concern as unchecked and inadequately monitored Chinese troop intrusions into Indian territory across the border.
12. Our recognition of Tibet as an integral part of China and our acceptance of the one China policy of Beijing without a quid pro quo from Beijing in the form of acceptance of J&K as an integral part of India and of the One India policy have proved counter-productive. In our anxiety to avoid adding to the tensions and distrust between the two countries, we have let Beijing dictate what should be the nature of our interactions with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees. We avoid open interactions with His Holiness and are not even prepared to associate him with the project to revive the Nalanda University.
13. Our hopes that closing our eyes to the worrisome aspects of the economic relations and imposing restrictions on our relationship with His Holiness could contribute to a change of Chinese policies have been repeatedly belied. China has taken advantage of the lack of assertiveness on our part to advance what it regards as its core interests in the region with total disregard for our core interests.
14. Better relations with China on mutually and equally advantageous terms and not on terms which favour China alone, but not India should be our policy. A clear message in non-provocative language has to go to Beijing that India has been disillusioned by the self-centred policies of Beijing and its lack of reciprocity in respecting our core interests. Strategic relations have to be a two-way traffic and based on quid pro quo. For China, they are a one-way traffic benefiting only its core interests. We should no longer accept this.
15. China has taken a major lead over us in building up its strategic strengths, strategic presence and strategic alliances. Its economic and military strengths and its building-up its military-related infrastructure in Tibet have given it a confidence that it can impose its will on India ----through subterfuge so long as it is possible, through open action if and when it becomes necessary.
16. We are lagging behind China in all these fields. Neutralising the advantages which China has acquired for itself should be the main objective of our future policies. Expediting the completion of our infrastructure projects in the border areas and adding to our China-specific military strengths in a time-bound manner should be an immediate objective of our policy-makers.
17.Re-fashioning our economic relations with China in order to rid them of elements which are to the exclusive advantage of China should receive equal priority. There is a need for a re-think on our Tibet-related policies without reversing our recognition of Tibet as an integral part of China. We have to be more assertive in pursuing an One India policy as a quid pro quo for our accepting the One China policy.
18. India should do everything possible to avoid a confrontational situation with China, but should be prepared for it if China seeks to create a confrontational situation at a time of its choosing. We should pay more attention to the China-specific dimensions of our strategic relations with the US, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea.
19. In our interactions with US policy-makers and non-governmental strategic experts, we have been over-focusing on Pakistan and terrorism. China should receive greater attention from now onwards. A greater focus on the thinking and respective concerns of India and the US with regard to China should be an objective of the forthcoming talks when President Barack Obama visits New Delhi in November.
20. Signals from the Obama Administration are confusing. It has not hesitated to express openly its determination to counter the Chinese designs in the South China Sea and to maintain the primacy of the US Navy in the Pacific as well as the Indian Ocean. It is taking interest in the talks of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Chinese Government and party. At the same time, it does not seem to view with the same concern as India China’s developing relations with Pakistan and the possibility of Pakistan becoming China’s strategic surrogate in Afghanistan too. After having taken a strong stand on the right of the US Naval ships to visit and hold exercises in the Yellow Sea, it is showing signs of being responsive to Chinese sensitivities over the question of US aircraft-carriers visiting the Yellow Sea.
21.It still looks upon China as an useful intermediary in relation to North Korea and Myanmar. It has greater confidence in Beijing’s ability to influence the military junta in Myanmar than in the Indian ability. It has a low opinion of the Indian ability to influence Governments, policies and events in the Asian region. Under these circumstances, it is unlikely to be enthusiastic to any idea of an India-US understanding on China. Despite this, we should not fight shy of turning the primary focus of the talks with Mr.Obama on China. We do not need strategic alliances in relation to Pakistan. We are capable of taking care of Pakistan with our own means. We would need strategic alliances in relation to China. Hence the importance of free and frank talks with Mr.Obama on this.(9-9-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E—mail: email@example.com )