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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Richard Fisher

March 07, 2003

'China is bigger security concern to India than Pak'

Richard Fisher, Adjunct Fellow of Asian Studies at the Center For Security Policy, edits the Jamestown Foundation's China Brief, an analytical weekly newsletter. He is currently writing a book on China's People's Liberation Army.

A keen observer of elections in Cambodia, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan, he has given testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has testified twice before the US-China Security Commission on the modernisation of China's military.

In an exclusive interview to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, Fisher discusses the India-China security situation and Asian concerns about a likely war in Iraq.

How do you read Asian concerns over Iraq?

It is true many Asian governments are apprehensive about our position to disarm Iraq and liberate the Iraqi people. My hope is people in this region would understand that regime change in Iraq is as much as in their interest as it is for the people in the US. It's necessary to change the regime in Iraq because the rulers in Iraq are building, stockpiling and will use weapons of mass destruction against all governments who have opposed Saddam Hussein.

But the global opposition to US intentions is very strong.

I don't think so. I view the American cause as just and in the interest of the safety of the world. It is being supported by the American people for the purpose of their self-defence. Osama bin Laden has demonstrated quite graphically and quite tragically that you don't have to have a state with an army, navy and air force to cause maximum destruction of the targeted society.

The ability of Saddam Hussein to arm terrorist organisations is immense. These terrorist organisations are not just looking to kill Americans, they are looking to kill Indians, Chinese and Afghans too. This is a scourge on humanity. I am thankful my president has taken a leadership position to eliminate this scourge.

Do you agree that American and Asian concerns vis-à-vis Saddam Hussein are different? Are you taking note of these noises against war which are much louder than in 1991?

There were differences back in 1991 too. Allies who help us win the 1991 Gulf war are largely with us for the next Gulf war. Be it Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Japan, Australia and Britain, of course.

Even India has voiced reservations, but there is no overt or strong opposition to a change in regime in Iraq. My hope is  Muslims in this region, and India in particular, will have the maximum humanitarian concerns about the Muslims of Iraq. They will have a much better life without Saddam Hussein. And it falls on the United States, a non-Muslim country, to help usher in a better age for the Muslims of Iraq.

We understand it is a humanitarian requirement to help Saddam Hussein into his next career! This is the burden of leadership and I am proud to say my president is willing to carry the burden of leadership even though there are others who don't realise this action as a necessity for the sake of humanity.

I would not like to second guess my government or my military leadership. Indian friends should understand that regime change in Iraq is as much in their interest as much as in anybody else's interest.

Since you are an expert on China's military power and the capability of its political set-up, what is China's stand on Iraq?

China has a spoken policy that it is not in direct opposition to what the US is trying to do, but it is amongst those who are leading the 'go slow' faction. It wants to give United Nations efforts another chance. But to my mind Chinese policy on Iraq loses its credibility when one considers the extent to which China has been exporting technology to Iraq which has been used to target American aircraft.

China has improved the military capability of Iraq just as China is actively involved in the arming of Pakistan with nuclear ballistic missiles, just as China is working very hard to surround India with its military power and military influence, just as China has proliferated ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia. China is a major supplier of military equipment to Iran.

A responsibility of our leadership is to hold on to our values and principles. At this time America has a unique burden in terms of advancing freedom and prosperity. When the job is done, when the Iraqi people have time to sort out their affairs, when they begin the new era of democracy, peace and prosperity, I guarantee that the United States will go home.

The United States is not an imperial power. We would like, more than anything, to be able to pack up our forces and go home.

How do you assess India's national security concerns vis-à-vis China?

I believe India's concerns over China's growing military power is completely justified. Pakistan's nuclear ballistic missiles are Chinese. Their technology is entirely Chinese. They have agreed to arm Pakistan and that is a threat not to just India, it is a threat to the whole world.

Now, Pakistan has participated in secondary proliferation of Chinese nuclear technology to North Korea. In turn North Korea has exported missile technology which is also based on Chinese technology. China stands as an author of proliferation to two world states. China now has an obligation to the world. It is enormous and immense. It must now reverse the proliferation it has started or else it will justly receive the blame for any nuclear missile that is used based on Chinese technology. This to me is horrific.

This is perhaps the beginning of the conflict. China is the author of this. It is a grave threat to the world right now. It is unfortunate that my government is simply not structured to be able to address more than one crisis at a time. But this decade is going to be one of continuous conflicts.

Right after Iraq we will have to deal with a nuclear North Korea. Then the world has to decide whether it is going to permit China to gain the benefits of civilisation or not. Today it shows the world the means to destroy civilisations. This is a clear challenge to the world. It is my hope friends in India will join us in meeting these challenges. And if necessary in combating these challenges.

What about Pakistan? The supply of Chinese technology to Pakistan cannot be construed as less dangerous by Americans than it is to North Korea. Why this hypocrisy?

It is not hypocrisy. It is only expediency. Our Indian friends must understand if we pull out all the stakes from Pakistan it will collapse! The terrible instability and more terrorist activity will not be in India's interest. We are in Pakistan to prosecute the war against terrorism. The assistance we provide to Pakistan allows that state to exist. But have no illusion that America is blind to what's happening to Pakistan and that we don't care. We care intensely. It is a fantastically difficult challenge. If India has any bright ideas on how to fight the war on terrorism and lead Pakistan to a democratic future we are all yours!

What are your conclusions of your study of China's military expansion? How will Chinese military expansion affect India's national security interest?

It is my estimation that by the end of this decade the PLA will have more than 1,000 to 2,000 short range ballistic and cruise missiles. These will all be mobile and targeted by radar and electro-optical navigation satellites. The cruise missiles will be on the newly built long-range nuclear submarines. Short range ballistic missiles will be highly mobile. That can be moved on wheels or by aircraft all over China.

All these suggest to me that India requires a basic level of missile defence. It is very complex and very expensive. It iks a reported fact that the Indian government has been interested for quite sometime. At this point of time India's interest is focused on tactical missile defence. Such as Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missiles system or Russia's S300V system.

The US and India are engaged in a dialogue for missile defence. I hope it will result in a level of cooperation to allow the Indian government to protect the Indian people from the Chinese missiles.

A few American Congressmen are campaigning against India's move in this direction.

Like the Indian Parliament, the American Congress is full of many diverse ideas. These individuals are free to express their opinions. But there are many in Washington who believe American interests are better served by allowing and even enabling India to achieve a level of missile defence that meets its military and budgetary requirements. That is not proliferation, that is not threatening. Missile defence entails only non-nuclear short range missiles. It does not contain long range nuclear missiles.

Can you elaborate on your research paper on Asia's theatre missiles programme which China is opposing?

The United States is engaged in designing and developing local missile defence system on a bilateral basis. We have a long standing programme with Japan to help Japan develop its short range missile defence. We sell missile technology to Taiwan.

South Korea wants a destroyer which would in future have limited missile defence capability. We already have long standing missile defence cooperation with Israel, United Kingdom and Germany. I am suggesting that India as well should have its own missile defence. Whether all these missile defences can be connected (whose commands are in different countries) someday is the question for our leaders.

If that would be the desire, the United States in the future could take a very quick lead in providing that connectivity simply out of the virtue of our outer space presence and our advanced communication technologies.

I am talking about the connectivity between countries, combining their radars, satellite resources to provide a common picture of the missile attack. So that the best counter attack is possible by intercepting missiles or laser systems.

How seriously does India take the missile threat?

It's my observation that the Indian national security establishment is most concerned about the growing challenge from China. It is a concern that is very often shared with the United States and vice versa.

Don't you think economic competition and cooperation between India and China will reduce tensions between the two nations?

I would offer the example of Taiwan. Not only has Taiwan developed into an advanced middle class and prosperous economy but it has begun a trend of massive investment in mainland China. This degree of interaction and even integration have not decreased Beijing's imperial designs on Taiwan. The government in Beijing continues to build up one of the most threatening and offensive military combines to keep active against democratic Taiwan.

The lessons for India is this: As long as you are a democracy that cherishes freedom the government in Beijing, which is controlled by the Communist Party and Politburo, will be suspicious of India, and will harbour animosity and undermine India's security.

Don't you think China is changing?

China has changed. It has become more prosperous. One hopes that openness, access to foreign sources of information and prosperity will create greater Chinese interest in political freedom and peace with its neighbours. But they have not reached that point yet. The government in Beijing is a hardcore Communist government that stays in power because it oppresses its minorities and maintains a repressive military police force designed to suppress any form of dissent.

As long as the government in Beijing configures itself, it will deal with the outside world from any direction as a threat to its existence in order to justify its continuous build up of its military strength. This cycle is ongoing, it appears to be impervious to China's growing prosperity.

As long as these negative trends are underway it becomes necessary for all democratic governments to do what is necessary to defend their freedom. What the US is doing is just that. It is preparing for the challenges to defend freedom. India is doing the same thing. You are modernising your military to defend your freedom.

From an American point of view, how do you weigh Pakistan and China's threats to India?

China is a bigger security concern than Pakistan. Because half your problems with Pakistan come from China. China is empowering Pakistan.

Design: Dominic Xavier


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