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India's security and China

India?s security and China

The real threat from China, if it can be so designated, has a larger
political and economic content; the contest is for power and influence
in Asia and the international system.

The Hindu (New Delhi)
October 5, 2000

By P. R. Chari

IS THE Chinese threat real or imaginary? Opinion is fairly divided in
India on this question. Sino-phobes believe Pakistan is the persistent
threat, but China is the long-term security threat that India cannot
ignore. Why? China is plainly expansionist and has used force to assert
its irredentism, as it did in Tibet and parts of India. China is a
blatant proliferant and the chief supplier of nuclear and missile
technology to countries of proliferation concern such as Pakistan, North
Korea and Iran. Examples of its casuistry are legion; China says one
thing and does the opposite.

Further, the Chinese threat to India primarily arises from its close
political and military nexus with Pakistan and is plainly directed
against India. This policy is explicable by Chinese strategic
calculations; this requires the boxing of India into the geographical
confines of South Asia to stultify its stature as an emerging global
power. Since the United States, too, is interested in bolstering the
entity of Pakistan, despite its drift into social chaos and financial
bankruptcy, an axis of powers ? Pakistan, China and the U.S. ? with
palpable anti-India compulsions is visible. In brief, Mr. George
Fernandes is not wrong in identifying China as the major future threat
to India, despite much confusion being created thereafter about this

Sino-philes, on the other hand, argue that Indian obduracy largely
occasioned the border conflict in 1962 that resulted in humiliating
defeat. The primordial suspicious that have persisted thereafter inform
India?s placing the worst possible construct on China?s legitimate
pursuit of its national self-interests. Its achievement of global status
and challenge to U.S. supremacy was possible due to two decades of hard
work and sacrifice; India would do well to trim its flaccid political
and economic system and emulate China if it wishes to compete
successfully with it.

Indubitably, China has developed a close relationship with Pakistan
since 1965; this was largely designed to restrain Soviet expansion into
the Indian Ocean via Afghanistan. Sino-Pakistan cooperation has
manifested itself by the transfer of conventional weapon systems; they
are basically vintage Soviet-copied systems like the whole series of MiG
aircraft but are hardly a match for India?s latest generation weapons
systems acquired from both Soviet (Russian) and increasingly now from
Western sources. The jury is still out on the extent of military nuclear
assistance China has provided Pakistan, but this has been greatly
exaggerated by the CIA, which seems to be the main source of Indian
intelligence on Sino-Pakistan military and nuclear linkages. In short,
the Chinese threat has been considerably inflated by vested interests in
India to promote their own agendas.

How is the Chinese threat perceived officially? The latest (1999-2000)
Annual Report of the Ministry of External Affairs blandly notes ?we
(India) seek friendly, cooperative, good-neighbourly and mutually
beneficial relations with China? ?we seek a long-term stable
relationship in which both sides are responsive to each other?s
concerns?, and ?we remain committed to the process of dialogue to build
a constructive cooperative relationship?? There is no hint of concern
visa-vis China. The latest Annual Report of the Ministry of Defence is
less euphemistic. Whilst noting that ?the border areas have remained
largely peaceful?, and that both countries ?wish to seek a reasonable
and mutually acceptable resolution of the boundary question through
peaceful dialogue?, it highlights China?s improvement of its long-range
missile force, the likely entry of Chinese nuclear submarines into the
Indian Ocean, and its growing trans-border military capabilities due to
improved mobility, firepower and inter-service coordination.

Earlier, Ministry of Defence reports pinpointed China?s assistance to
Pakistan?s nuclear weapons programme and the transfer of missiles and
missile technology to Pakistan. But attention was also drawn to the
India-China agreements to 1993 and 1996 that envisage maintenance of
peace and tranquility in border areas and the negotiation of military
confidence-building measures along the Line of Actual Control. Here,
again, Sino-phobes and Sino-philes are divided on the reasons for slow
progress of the negotiations of the Joint Working Group. Sino-phobes
believe China has no interest in addressing this disputed seriously to
normalise its relations with India, because its strategic calculus
requires balancing off India against Pakistan. Sino-philes argue that,
on the contrary, India remains unclear about its own stand on the
border; there can be no take without give. So what does India have to
give to finalise the India-China border alignment? Is there a national
consensus on what territory can be exchanged?

So the whole issue has become circular without even the glimmer of a
solution on the horizon. Nevertheless, the question remains germane at
the beginning of the new millennium and a decade after the Cold War
ended: what is the Chinese threat to India?

Is there a nuclear threat to India? Official references to Chinese
nuclear submarines entering the Indian Ocean or nuclear missile in Tibet
embody concerns that they could become instruments to coerce India.
Could nuclear weapons be used against India? The late General Sundarji
speculated that if the Chinese faced an Indian counter-offensive
proceeding beyond certain limits into Chinese territory during the
course of a major Sino-Indian conventional border war, then ?there could
be a high probability of a nuclear threat to India. That too only if the
Chinese decide to go back on their no-first-use pledge?. Scenario
builders can conjure up any scary situations, however bizarre. But how
probable is this nuclear threat?

The possibility of another conventional Sino-Indian war must be rated
negligibly low. What about sub-conventional conflict? Would China foment
dissension and support the several insurgencies in the Northeast? There
is ample evidence that it pursued this policy by providing moral and
material support to the Naga and Mizo insurgents during the 1950s. This
policy, conceived within China?s then guiding philosophy of supporting
?wars of national liberation? worldwide, has long been abandoned.

By this process of elimination the only threat from China arises now
from its policy of transferring nuclear and missile technology to
Pakistan. It is another matter that China?s strategic objectives from
this policy are incomprehensible. How does it serve China?s interests to
provide India with the perfect rationale for weaponising and deploying
its nuclear capabilities? This has affected Chinese security adversely;
it is plainly evident that the strategic direction of India?s missile
programme is against China, and that India?s current nuclear posture of
?creeping proliferation? would eventually include China. India could
also profitably re-evaluate its policy of dealing with Taiwan in the
present gingerly fashion and deepen its relations with Vietnam as part
of an extra-regional strategy, apart from engaging China to mitigate the
negative aspects of their bilateral interaction. That would be wiser
than moaning about China?s military and nuclear assistance to Pakistan.

The real treat from China, if it can be so designated, has a larger
political and economic content; the contest is for power and influence
in Asia and the international system. India cannot compete with China
unless it puts its own house in order. It needs to accelerate its
reforms process by tackling hard issues such as reducing subsidies,
disciplining the civic and civil services, restructuring the public
sector, curtailing budgetary deficits and so on. It also needs to
display the will to govern; abject surrender to hijackers and kidnappers
and trade unions are not the attributes of a nation aspiring for global
status. The real threat from China arises therefore from its ability to
make sacrifices to meet such challenges to its economy and social order
without succumbing to the siren-lure of populism.
(The writer is Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New