The Chinese puzzle

By J. Mohan Malik, August 2000

The CIA in its latest report to the US Congress has once again stated that China has stepped up its missile-related sales to Pakistan.

During his recent visit to India, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan had dismissed Beijing's nuclear and missile technology transfers to Pakistan as 'normal' and described them as similar to links that India has with other countries.

China-watchers have long acknowledged the vast gap between Beijing's declaratory and operational policies. This is especially true in relation to India, with China refusing to address key issues bedeviling the bilateral relationship. These are: Beijing's nuclear/missile proliferation activities, the border question, its ties with Pakistan and Burma, terrorism, Tibet, multipolarity and UN Security Council expansion. Instead, Chinese official statements are full of well-worn platitudes, meaningless principles, empty rhetoric and statements of good intent. They purposely avoid discussing the nuts and bolts of bilateral relationship.

Chinese Embassy spokespersons in New Delhi continue to caution Indians against some discordant noises that contravene the friendly trend. If the Chinese are really concerned about discordant noises that contravene the friendly trend, they should demonstrate their good neighbourliness and friendship by enlightening Indians on the following questions:

Why did Beijing not recognise Kashmir's legal accession to India at the height of cordial relations in the 1950s even though India accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan?

What factors explain the resolution of China's territorial dispute with Moscow and the Soviet successor states in Central Asia (also a left-over from history) in a record time when it could not be resolved for five decades? Was it not a decisive shift in the balance of power in China's favour post-Soviet Union that acted as the catalyst?

Is it not true that a resolution of the Sino-Indian border dispute would lead to the deployment of India's military assets on the India-Pakistan border and thereby decisively shift the power balance against Beijing's all- weather friend? Is there not a third party involved which influences Chinese conduct towards India? Is that not the reason why China refuses to even define, let alone delineate, the Himalayan border?

Is it not correct that India is now seen as China's number one land-based threat as Beijing's other military engagements (such as the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea) are primarily air/maritime in nature?

Is nuclear China's opposition to India's nuclear capability not violative of the Panchsheel principles of equality among states and respect for national sovereignty? And given China's stated commitment to no-first-use, how does Beijing explain the presence of tactical nuclear weapons in Tibet?

Given Beijing's concern about growing Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in Xinjiang, why is China reluctant to join India in condemning terrorist acts?

Why can't China hold talks with the Dalai Lama to grant the promised autonomy and stem the flow of Tibetan refugees into India? What specific measures China is taking to ensure a safe and quick return of 200,000 Tibetan refugees from India?

What are Beijing's views on India's place in the multipolar world? Is it correct that the multipolar world sought by Beijing is based on an inner core which includes China, the United States and Russia but not India and Japan?

Given its desire for a just and equitable world order, how does Beijing explain its opposition to India's membership in global and regional forums: The ASEAN Regional Forum, P-5, N-5, Asia-Pacific Economic Conference, Asia-Europe Meeting, ASEAN+3, and the Shanghai-5? Why can't China support India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council despite the fact that India supported China's entry into both the UN and the Security Council as well as the Non-Aligned Movement and World Trade Organisation (WTO)?

Why cannot China join India, ASEAN and Japan in curbing growing piracy on the high seas and ensuring the safety of sea lanes of communication? Does Beijing not want to uphold the legitimate rights and interests of the developing world and promote peace and stability in the world?

China's foreign policy mandarins would do a great service to the cause of Sino-Indian friendship by providing answers to these questions. The age-old principle Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and not meaningless, rhetorical declarations of peace and friendship, will provide a solid foundation for Sino-Indian amity. It is deeds, not words, that matter in human as well as in inter-state relationships.

Beijing's actions continue to cast grave doubts on Chinese professions of friendship. Three D's duplicity, deceit and double standards characterise China's India policy. Here are some examples.

China saw the former Soviet Union's military alliances with Mongolia, Vietnam and Afghanistan not as part of normal state-to-state relations but as containment. An end to such alliances was made a pre-condition for normalisation of Sino-Soviet relations in the 1980s. But when New Delhi seeks an end to China's arming of India's neighbours, Beijing accuses India of violating the Panchsheel principles and attempting to establish Indian hegemony in South Asia. Beijing wants India to believe its supply of India-specific nuclear-armed missiles to Pakistan and the deployment of Chinese naval assets in Burma demonstrate China's goodwill and friendship towards Indian people.

Likewise, a dramatic increase in Chinese incursions along Ladakh and Arunachal frontiers in 1999 was nothing but a demonstration of Beijing's total commitment to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border. The Chinese formulation that the border dispute will be resolved when the conditions are ripe basically means when the balance of power has shifted in China's favour as it did vis-a- vis a weak Russia and Central Asia. Meanwhile, an unresolved border dispute gives China the option to mount direct military pressure on India through border incidents. (Under pressure from New Delhi, China has now offered to start negotiations on demarcating the Middle Sector of the dispute boundary but its settlement will make no difference to India's force deployment posture on the Sino-Indian border.)

Pakistan serves China's geo-strategic interests by keeping India bleeding. After all, it is China's last and best bet to prevent Indian dominance of southern Asia from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits. A secure and stable Pakistan at peace with India could make New Delhi focus on China/East Asia. A section of the Chinese national security bureaucracy also entertains doubts about the prospects of India's survival as a nation-state over the long term seeing it as a soft state characterised by religious, linguistic and regional faultlines and cautions against any initiative that will augment India's power. Others call for the strengthening of the China-Pakistan-Burma axis.

Interestingly, whenever China's relations with the US deteriorate over issues as diverse as the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Taiwan, theatre missile defences, WTO negotiations and human rights, Beijing retaliates by taking it out on India: That is, by stepping up its transfer of nuclear and missile technologies to Pakistan.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? It is worth remembering that Beijing s proliferation activities helped create the context within which India decided to unveil its nuclear weapons and the US came up with national and theatre missile defence plans.

China is now using openly its nuclear and missile technology transfers to Pakistan to intimidate India and blackmail the US into curbing its arms sales to Taiwan. Senior Chinese policy adviser Yan Xuetong has publicly attributed China s increased missile transfers to Pakistan to a recent pro-India shift in US South Asia policy, especially the US acceptance of India as a de facto nuclear state (Far Eastern Economic Review, 20 July 2000).

Beijing has now emerged as a calculating, strategic proliferator. To the extent that India, the US and Japan are preoccupied with dangers posed by Chinese-supplied unconventional weaponry in the hands of the Talibanised military of Pakistan, the mullahs of Iran and Kim Jong Ils of North Korea, they are distracted from the threat China itself poses or at least be less capable of dealing with it. A country that deliberately engages in proliferation of weapons mass destruction, repeatedly violates its international treaty commitments, condones acts of international terrorism, aligns itself with militarist, pariah regimes in Pyongyang, Rangoon and Islamabad (the latter making jihad as the cornerstone of its foreign policy) indeed displays roguish behaviour.

Condemning US pressure on Israel to cancel a $ 250-million airborne radar deal, Beijing said no other country has the right to interfere in bilateral relations between China and other countries. But Beijing had mounted open pressure on President Clinton earlier this year not to skip Pakistan during his South Asia tour. It has also been asking Washington to pressure New Delhi to sign the non-proliferation treaties so as to strip India of its nuclear capability. Apparently, only China retains the right to interfere in other nations bilateral relations. Whilst Beijing seeks multipolar world at the global level, its vision of regional order is essentially bipolar (US versus China) and therefore at odds with India s view of multipolarity at both regional and global levels. Independent India since Nehruís days has entertained hopes of a joint Sino-Indian leadership of Asia as a counter to Western influence, but the Chinese have shown no enthusiasm for sharing leadership of Asia with anyone, least of all India.

Beijing s opposition to India s membership of global and regional forums is designed to keep India down. India s rise as a major power would obviously frustrate China s ambition to be the unchallenged Asian power. The existing asymmetry in international status and power serves Beijing s interests very well. If the 21st century s first decade indeed turns out to be India s decade (in terms of a rapid increase in its economic might) just as the 1990s belonged to China and the 1980s belonged to Japan, China will devise new military and diplomatic strategies to keep India in check.

India could take a leaf out of China s book and pursue its national interests in the same way the Chinese pursue theirs. International diplomacy is a cold, hard-headed tit-for-tat game, not a showground for magnanimity. If the Chinese claim to have a flexible and evolving policy on Sikkim, India too can have a flexible and evolving position on Taiwan and Tibet issues left over frm history. If Beijing does not adhere to one India policy, New Delhi has no reason to stick to one China stance. Just as the Indian Ocean is not Indiaís ocean, New Delhi cannot accept South China Sea as China s sea. If China can justify nuclear/missile assistance to Pakistan as part of normal state-to-state relations, so could India to its all-weather friends, Vietnam and Mongolia. China should know it has not taken out an exclusive patent on trade in nuclear/missile technologies.

Unless a genuine attempt is made to resolve contentious issues amicably, the future of Sino-Indian relations remains bleak. India will continue to react to China s policy initiatives whether in Pakistan, Tibet, Burma or on the nuclear and missile proliferation front. If overt nuclearisation was an attempt to break free of the straitjacket put on India by China and the West, New Delhi s efforts to form strategic partnerships with the US, Japan and Vietnam are in response to Beijing s containment and encirclement strategy.

If past is any guide to the future, Beijing s attempts to force India to play a second fiddle are doomed to fail because historically, culturally and civilisationally, India never played a second fiddle to China. In the ultimate analysis, Beijing s actions, not meaningless platitudes and rhetorical professions of friendship, will determine India's China policy in the future.