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June 15, 1998


E-Mail this story to a friend Rajeev Srinivasan

The Danger from China

The Tiananmen Square massacre took place on June 4, 1989. This incident, in my opinion, is an excellent example of the way the Chinese government thinks -- it is a dangerous, authoritarian, hegemonist state following in the footsteps of ancient empires. Consider just three things: China has been appallingly cruel to conquered territories (especially Tibet); it has shown utter insensitivity to its own population; and it has been merciless in the use of its new-found muscle to intimidate and browbeat others.

I am genuinely astonished when I see various apologists for China (eg India's Communists, what feels like pretty much the entire faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Bill Clinton's State Department -- truly a motley crew) bend over backwards to appease China. Surely, war-like Chinese actions speak louder than their honeyed words? These are not cuddly little panda bears!

And Bill Clinton wants China to have a role in subcontinental affairs! I think America thinks China owns Asia. I, on the other hand, am reminded of the Panchatantra fable about the monkey who is asked to divide up a loaf of bread in equal parts: the Chinese are clearly part of the problem, not part of the solution.

In my opinion, China is a dangerously explosive mix of great pride and memories of great humiliation: a surefire recipe for fascism -- almost exactly like Germany between the two World Wars. China remembers its imperial glory, and the vanity that it was the "Middle Kingdom" -- and all foreigners were gwailo inferior foreign devils whom it despised. China also remembers the ignominy heaped on it by European and Japanese conquerors, and it harbours notions of repaying them in kind.

And China appears to be obsessed with lebensraum, space to live, space for political and economic domination. This was precisely the rationale for German imperialists who attacked the Sudetenland; and Japanese imperialists who conquered parts of China. Now the Chinese are using it to justify their heinous acts there.

China needs lebensraum for its teeming, surplus Han Chinese population, and has settled such large numbers of them in Tibet that Tibetans are now a distinct minority in their own land. The Tibetan Web site also documents how the water table in Tibet (which feeds many of Asia's rivers: the Indus, the Ganges, the Mekong, and the Brahmaputra) is threatened with nuclear waste by the Chinese. The Tibetan high plateau has become a nuclear dumping ground; furthermore, the Chinese appear to have set up a number of their long-range missiles with nuclear warheads in the plateau, aimed at India.

Tibet has systematically been looted, and its fauna-photographer Galen Rowell has written movingly about the virtual extinction of its entire wild animal population. Tibetans have been reduced to refugees -- and their culture, in spite of their best efforts to keep it alive in Northern California or in Dharmsala, India is likely to be extinguished in the not too distant future. I am not sure what to call this -- ethnic cleansing, genocide, cultural extinction.

The conquest of Tibet was an experiment as far as China was concerned -- Mao and his gang were consumed with the idea of raising China from the depths of low self-esteem it had fallen after a century of European and Japanese colonisation. Tibet was the first example of muscle-flexing by a newly reawakened and nationalistic China, which viewed all of Asia at its natural hinterland. Emboldened by foreign indifference to this act of thuggery, they have continued.

China is attempting to establish the South China Sea (the name has 'China' in it and so it must be China's private lake, you see) and its potential mineral (natural gas and oil deposits) as its own private property. The activities around the Spratly Islands, Mischief Reef, the Paracel Islands etc are well-known -- China simply walked in and grabbed these, paying no attention to prior Vietnamese, Malaysian, Taiwanese and Filipino claims, for instance.

In the Korean conflict as well as the Vietnam War, China played a fairly key role, which, I will note in passing, impressed the Americans, who understand nothing better than brute force. And then went on to war with the Vietnamese when they showed a little independence of thought. China has also thumbed its nose at world opinion in its continued brutality against its own population, the most vivid example being Tiananmen Square.

As further examples of its cavalier attitude to its own citizens, it is believed that during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward 30 million Chinese died of famine, starvation, and forced migrations. Shockingly, there were instances of cannibalism as well, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1997. I also read the interesting statistic that last year China executed more than three times as many people as the rest of the world put together! I wonder how many were Tibetans and another restive minority, Uighurs.

I saw a Richard Gere film recently -- Red Corner -- admittedly a bit of a polemic about the Chinese police state (and nothing to write home about, alas, in purely cinematic terms). It seemed very true to life, though average Chinese are severely ill-treated. I also enjoyed the James Rubinesque (of US State Dept fame) embassy official in Beijing who explains to Gere (framed in a murder case) that the ambassador cannot help him because of "geopolitical factors -- a big deal is going down". But, of course, trade takes precedence over a man's life.

In terms of its long-term strategy, China views the Indian Ocean as strategically important for its future trade relationships; in particular its oil imports from the Persian Gulf. Therefore, they have been making moves to establish their ability to control the key shipping lanes, for example, the Straits of Malacca. This has led them to establish strong relationships with Myanmar/Burma, and as a fringe benefit, their Cocos Islands outposts help them keep a close eye on India.

As part of its overall strategic imperatives, China has also embarked on building up a blue-water navy, capable of projecting its force far into the Pacific and Indian oceans. If I were Australia, I'd worry a lot about this; after all, Australia is an empty continent-sized country. And China has throughout its history been looking for land to dump its excess population on -- this has caused wave after wave of Chinese migration into Southeast Asia.

The other imperative for China in developing a blue-water navy is the goal of completing one leg of its triad of nuclear weapons delivery systems -- nuclear submarines that can roam the oceans and act as an undetectable second-strike force. I am not sure if China has any such at this time, but we can be sure it's high on the People's Liberation Army's (love that euphemism!) shopping list.

I think China views India as its only potential rival in Asia that has the size and the resources to be its equal. Therefore what better than to actively try to hobble India by 'containing' it using its little pal Pakistan as its cat's paw. I also have the sneaky feeling that China looks upon India as a dress-rehearsal for its coming conflict with the West. Well, thanks a bunch, Mountbatten, Nehru and the whole lot of you, for having partitioned India and created this opportunity for China.

Nawaz Sharief of Pakistan proudly announced that his country had exploded six nuclear bombs. No prizes for guessing that the technology came from China; I would not be surprised if the actual devices had a fair amount of Chinese components in them. Security experts have also suggested that a Pakistani device was tested previously at Lop Nor in Xinjiang. Of course, China had been 'taken into confidence' in its tests, says Sharief -- well, I suppose that was necessary if the thing came from China.

It is with all this in the background that the laughable story put forth by China recently about 1962 needs to be considered. Exactly how dumb does Xinhua news agency and the mandarins in charge of Chinese propaganda believe the world to be? To suggest that Indian troops climbed over the Himalayas and actually attacked the Chinese is a lovely example of double-speak. War is Peace. George Orwell must be laughing, bless his soul!

In truth, 1962 found India completely unprepared for a high-altitude war. Lulled into a false sense of security with all that utopian talk of Indo-Chinese solidarity, India simply had not a single mountain division at the time. It is reported that many Indian soldiers froze to death -- hastily moved to the high Himalayas after China attacked, they lacked even the basic clothing to fight in the mountains.

In 1986, the Chinese initiated a skirmish in a place in the northeastern area, Arunachal Pradesh, formerly known as the North East Frontier Agency, at a place called Chomdurong La, I think: I may be a little off in the spelling. This time they found the Indian mountain divisions well prepared, and not the pushovers they were in 1962. Therefore, China decided to redouble its flanking attack on India through arming Pakistan. For instance, the Pakistani bomb, say those in the know, dates back to a 1987 device based on a simple, tested Chinese blueprint.

They followed the classic Sun Tzu tactic of attempting to win a war without fighting a single battle -- by using Pakistan, they achieve their goal of emasculating India; while at the same time, they look like the benevolent Great Power in the neighbourhood, dispensing advice to India about signing the CTBT and the NPT. Pot calling the kettle black and all that -- China is well-known to have proliferated weapons of all sorts. Except, of course, as far as the myopic Americans are concerned, who are dazzled by the elusive dollar signs China waves about in front of them.

My forecast is that, if unchecked, there will be continued Chinese military adventurism in Asia. I predict that by 2003, the Chinese will cross the Ussuri River and attack Russian Siberia, citing flimsy historical claims; impoverished Russians will have no way of defending themselves.

Further, I suspect China will either threaten to, or actually conduct, an atmospheric nuclear blast over Japan by 2005, with the clear threat of frying all their transistors -- and thus infrastructure -- with an electromagnetic pulse. America will stand by, powerless, and its nuclear umbrella for Japan will turn out to be a fiction.

China will almost definitely attack Taiwan by 2002; I wonder if it makes sense for India to befriend Taiwan, and perhaps even offer it certain nuclear components, including blueprints and enriched uranium, returning China's favour vis a vis Pakistan. The chances of China attacking India over Arunachal Pradesh have perhaps receded a little after India's clear indication that it will deploy nuclear missiles. The Chinese understand belligerence -- they practice it and respect it.

I am no expert at global strategy, so I am quoting people who are: Caspar Weinberger, formerly US secretary of state, projected the Taiwan scenario to happen in 1998; the Economist suggests the Japan scenario. Well, okay, I made up the Siberia scenario myself: it stands to reason.

A couple of years ago, I read a review of a hugely successful Taiwanese book called Yellow Peril, in which a series of altercations between Taiwan and China end up in a few nuclear bombs being exchanged. I think the PRC attacks Taiwan, which retaliates with an atom bomb; Russian and American nukes enter the picture somehow. The final scene is yet another sorry exodus of Chinese -- by boat towards Australia, and by land over the Silk Road towards Central Asia. In the end, that is the issue, isn't it -- lebensraum?

If India wants to avoid becoming a Chinese colony and dumping ground for Hans, a la Tibet, then it has to stand up and say, Enough! Which is exactly what India has done recently with her thermonuclear bomb and the continued development of the GSLV/PSLV satellite launch vehicles, in other words, inter continental ballistic missiles. Once bitten, twice shy -- India cannot afford to be taken in again by completely hypocritical Chinese make-nice.

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