Saturday, February 04, 2012

India-China: Need for a two-pronged policy

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In a prepared testimony before the US Senate Committee on Intelligence on February 1,2012, James Clapper, Director, National Intelligence, is reported to have stated as follows:"Despite public statements intended to downplay tensions between India and China, we judge that India is increasingly concerned about China's posture along their disputed border and Beijing's perceived aggressive posture in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region.The Indian Army believes a major Sino-Indian conflict is not imminent, but the Indian military is strengthening its forces in preparation to fight a limited conflict along the disputed border, and is working to balance Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean. Although Chinese leaders have affirmed their commitment to a peaceful and pragmatic foreign policy - and especially to stable relations with China's neighbours and the rest of the world - Beijing may take actions contrary to that goal if it perceives that China's sovereignty or national security is being seriously challenged."

2. It is an unhappy formulation which has given rise to some sensational stories as if there is an undercurrent of tensions in the relations between India and China and the Indian Army is preparing itself for the eventuality of a limited conflict with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) if these tensions are not resolved.

3. So far as I could see, there are no tensions in our bilateral relations with China. The bilateral trade continues to develop impressively. Exchanges and strategic dialogue at different levels---political, bureaucratic and security forces--- continue to take place and efforts are being made to identify new areas of co-operation such as counter-piracy.

4. However, there are serious concerns in India, which require careful management so that they do not damage the attempts being made to increase mutual trust and the comfort level between the two countries. If these concerns are not understood and appreciated by China and if attempts are not made by it to address them, the relations could take a turn for the worse in the medium and long-term.

5. The persisting Indian concerns relate to the apparent Chinese determination to change the sovereignty status quo in the Arunachal Pradesh area which has been coming in the way of a mutually satisfactory border settlement, the continuing temptation in Beijing to use the Pakistan card against India, the growing Chinese military capability , particularly its capability to fight a covert cyber warfare without being detected, and China’s strategic activism in other countries of South Asia and in the Indian Ocean, which could prove detrimental to Indian interests.

6. If China is really keen to qualitatively and strategically improve its relations with India, it has to take due note of these concerns and remove the question marks in the Indian mind as to what China is up to. One does not get the impression that it is doing so.

7.Behind a fa├žade of smoothening phraseology, it continues to take a rigid stand on the question of sovereignty in the Arunachal Pradesh area and to strengthen its military-relevant infrastructure in the areas of Tibet bordering Arunachal Pradesh. This naturally adds to the suspicion in the Indian mind that China has not ruled out a possible enforcement of its territorial claims through military means, if satisfaction through diplomacy is not possible.

8. China’s action in practically recognising Pakistan’s sovereignty over the disputed territories of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan while avoiding recognising Indian sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and reports of Chinese military activism in the Gilgit-Baltistan area have added to India’s past concerns over China’s military, nuclear and missile supply relationship with Pakistan. The growing Sino-Pakistan axis, which has now assumed new and ominous dimensions, cannot but come in the way of a totally normal relationship between India and China.

9. While Indian strategic thinkers and planners had been aware of the implications of the modernisation of China’s military capabilities and its infrastructure development in Tibetan areas adjoining Arunachal Pradesh, only now they have become aware----not yet adequately---of the implications of China’s growing and well-concealed cyber warfare capability. In the past, we allowed ourselves to lag behind China in infrastructure development in the border areas and only now we are trying to catch up with it. We havebelatedly woken up to the realisation that despite being an important IT power, we have remained in the dark about China’s cyber warfare capabilities.

10. We still do not have a well thought-out policy on how to deal with Chinese activism in other countries of South Asia and in the Indian Ocean---particularly in the Indian Ocean countries which used to be close to India----such as Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Countering Chinese activism in the Indian Ocean area requires not only a strengthening of our navy, but also our capability for naval diplomacy, a subject that has remained neglected till now.

11. If China is genuinely interested in a normalisation of its relations with India, it must take note of these concerns and address them, but it has not been doing so. Under these circumstances, India has only two options of equal importance: strengthen its national capabilities so that it is not taken by surprise by Chinese intentions and build up a network of strategic relationships with countries such as the US, Vietnam,Japan, South Korea and Australia which feel concerned over Chinese intentions, objectives and capabilities for their own reasons.

12. How to follow this two-pronged policy without giving rise to unmanageable tensions in our relations with China is a question that needs to be discussed in depth by our strategic thinkers and policy-makers. One gets an impression---rightly or wrongly—that we are not doing so. Adhocism and casualness continue to be the defining characteristics of our China-related thinking and policies. ( 4-2-12)
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.