Friday, March 02, 2012

India: India's evolving China policy

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The need for balancing our strategic need for close relations with the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam in order to be able to cope with present and future security challenges from China with the tactical need for avoiding any action that could sound the alarm bells in policy-making circles in the Chinese Government and Communist Party has been a defining characteristic of our foreign and strategic policy and should continue to be so.

2. Both these needs are clearly understood in policy-making circles in New Delhi and in our intelligence community. We are not yet in a position to change the gear of our policy from a defensively cautious to a confidently activist mode. Our projects for infrastructure development in the areas bordering China are still in the process of implementation. Our plans for the modernisation of our armed forces lack the required urgency and have been hampered in implementation by the widespread atmosphere of suspicion in respect of defence procurement. This has been created by the public campaign against corruption and the activism---how wise, how unwise---of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India in scrutinising all commercial deals including those impacting national security with the yardstick of self-righteousness not tempered with the need to avoid creating bureaucratic and political diffidence in taking decisions in national security matters. Our intelligence community is still in the process of re-orienting its focus from Pakistan to China.Our intelligence priorities and capabilities in the light of the security challenges from the Sino-Pak region are yet to be clearly defined.

3. Presently, our assessments on China are almost exclusively based on our perceptions of China’s military and economic strengths and its cyber capabilities. China is undoubtedly an emerging power which is far ahead of us from the point of view of various parameters having a bearing on comprehensive national security. But it is also a power, which is facing increasing vulnerabilities because of its uncertain and unpredictable internal security situation. It has not been able to seek reconciliation with the increasing anti-Han activism of its Tibetan and Uighur minorities.Even the Hans in different parts of the country have been increasingly challenging the policy-makers on various issues in the town halls and in cyber space. It doesn’t know how to cope with the increasing belligerence of its netizens.There is greater defiance in the air---in real as well as virtual terms.

4.Unless we take into account the vulnerabilities of China in shaping our policy and in sowing the seeds of the architecture of our strategic co-operation with the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam we may end up with a policy which is over-focussed on traditional military aspects and under-focussed on non-traditional aspects of internal frictions and fragilities in China.China’s military and economic strengths should be a matter of core concern. Its increasing vulnerabilities should be a matter of core interest.

5. How to evolve a strategic policy , which will be the outcome of an intelligent blend of our core concerns and core interests in relation to China is a question which needs attention in our governmental and non-governmental circles which have an impact on our policy-making. It is also a question which should increasingly receive greater attention in our discussions with our perceived strategic partners.

6. It is necessary to evolve a comprehensive China policy which would strengthen our strategic manoeuvrability without damaging the basic strengths of our relations with China. It will be unwise to have a hostile and suspicious China on our border and in our periphery. At the same time, it will be equally unwise to avoid new thinking and new policy options for fear of adding to the suspicions and hostility of China.

7. It is in this context that one has to welcome the Indian stance in the talks between our Foreign Minister S.M.Krishna and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi which were held in New Delhi on February 29 and March 1, 2012. India was right in responding positively to the Chinese suggestion for maritime security co-operation in dealing with piracy . I have myself been advocating this for many years, pointing out that while talk of Sino-Indian co-operation against land-based terrorism was meaningless, co-operation against maritime terrorism and piracy has considerable sense and needs to be promoted.

8. One should also welcome the re-affirmation of India’s policy of dissociating itself from the anti-Beijing activities of the Tibetans while avoiding any action against them as repeatedly demanded by China--- a demand which was reportedly reiterated by the Chinese Foreign Minister.

9. While the exercise for new confidence-building measures with the Chinese should continue, the exercise for new opportunity-building measures with our strategic partners---the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam—should also continue to receive equal attention. It will be an exercise demanding considerable delicatessed’esprit and d’action. Our policy-makers are capable of it. (2-3-12)

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.