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India's strategic debate: China bigger threat than Pak?

Last updated on: June 6, 2012 15:58 IST

India's strategic debate: China bigger threat than Pak?

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B Raman

The debate over China and Pakistan has been between a group of classical thinkers and a new generation of thinkers who perceive themselves to be forward-looking and visionary, writes B Raman.

For over a year now, a strategic debate has been going on in Delhi on the future threat scenarios relating to State and non-State actors.

Our preoccupation till now has been with the continuing threats from the State of Pakistan and from the jihadi terrorist organisations nursed by it. It has also been with China's continuing collusion with Pakistan and the dangers of a two-front war arising therefrom.

The debate has been between a group of classical thinkers and a new generation of thinkers who perceive themselves to be forward-looking and visionary.

The classical thinkers do not underestimate the implications of increasing Chinese military and cyber activism. They are worried over the sustained pace of modernisation of the Chinese armed forces and Bejing's economic clout which enables it to pursue its agenda of power projection.

They are equally worried over the increasing Chinese military capabilities in the outer and cyber space. They are, therefore, all for paying additional attention to measures required for strengthening our capabilities vis-a-vis China -- by way of infrastructure development, modernisation of our armed forces, intelligence agencies and cyber capabilities and revamping our diplomatic skills required to deal with a rising China.

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Image: People's Liberation Army soldiers demonstrate their martial arts skills
Photographs: Reuters

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Our present focus on Pakistan is overdone

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To some measure, there is a convergence of thinking between the classical thinkers and the forward-looking. The forward-looking thinkers are even more worried about China than about Pakistan and want India to take not only the conventional measures outlined above, but even go far ahead by way of building up strategic convergences and co-ordinated thinking with other powers such as the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

The new generation of strategic thinkers looks upon our present focus on Pakistan to be overdone and advocate mid-course corrections in order to be able to divert more resources for coping with China.

Both the classical and new generation thinkers have agreed that 'how to cope with rising China' -- politically, economically and militarily -- should be the central question in our strategic debates. However, whereas the new generation of thinkers tends to take a more relaxed attitude towards Pakistan without letting an obsession with it distort our strategic thinking, the classical thinkers keep cautioning that in our anxiety over the implications of a rising China, we should not forget our painful historical experiences because of the compulsive hostility of the Pakistani State and non-State actors towards India.

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Image: A banyan tree, which Border Security Force officials said grows on the India and Pakistan border in Suchetgarh, is seen southwest of Jammu
Photographs: Reuters

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No historical enmity between India and China

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According to the classical thinkers, there has been no historical enmity between India and China. China's interests are limited to asserting what it claims to be its sovereignty over certain border areas as in Arunachal Pradesh. It also wants to ensure that no threats could arise to its control over Tibet from the Tibetan diaspora in India. Beyond that, they feel, it has no objective of wanting to keep India weak and divided by adding to its internal security problems.

On the other hand, Pakistan's hostility to India is historical and multi-dimensional, relating to Jammu & Kashmir and its objective of keeping India weak and divided by constantly adding to its internal security problems.

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Image: A Tibetan exile shouts slogans during a protest against the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, near the venue for the BRICS Summit in New Delhi March 29
Photographs: Reuters

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India needs to avoid becoming second-rate power of Asia

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Whoever may be the ruler of Pakistan and whatever may be the overtures and concessions made by India, the 'go for India's jugular' instinct of Pakistan should remain the constant worrisome factor in India's strategic thinking and planning. So, the classical thinkers feel.

By all means, we should be able to cope with China better so that we don't become a second rate power of Asia, but in our anxiety on this count, we should not let our capability to protect our jugular from Pakistan be weakened.

This is a timely and healthy debate. It is hoped it will lead to a healthy mix of our strategic priorities.

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Image: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao applauds as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh walks to address the audience in New Delhi
Photographs: Reuters
Tags: India , Pakistan , Asia , China

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