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The Rediff Special/Claude Arpi

Is China encircling India?

October 04, 2004

Deng Xiaoping used to say that it 'does not matter if a cat is white and black as long it catches mice.' So whether Jiang Xemin or Hu Jintao is in full control of the Communist Party's machinery (including the People's Liberation Army), Beijing's attitude towards Delhi will remain the same (even if today the cat calls itself a 'peaceful cat').

In early 1950, a few weeks after India decided to be the 'first nation' outside the Communist World to recognise Red China, a young Bombay journalist running a magazine called Mother India prophesised the invasion of Tibet. It was several months before Mao's troops walked on the Roof of the World.

He wrote: 'It is quite on the cards that soon she [Tibet] will be added to Mao's territorial possessions. But the story is different with Nepal. Mao will perhaps wish to reach out through Tibet and interfere with Nepal's present status. Nepal has good defence resources, though an out-of-date political structure, and India will be particularly interested in the security of this neighbour of hers, since there are sixteen railroads leading from the Nepalese border into our country and the Gurkha soldiers are an important part of our own army. An extension of Mao's rule to Nepal will lay India open to easy attack by him and consequently cannot under any circumstances be tolerated. It will mean definitely a prelude to a war between China and India.'

There are several interesting features in this article, the first one being that the journalist, K D Sethna, was a disciple of the great Rishi Sri Aurobindo and that all his articles were vetted by the master who several times pointed out at the danger of Communist China reaching India's doorsteps and engulfing what Mao named the palm (Tibet) and the five fingers (NEFA, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Kashmir).

Another remarkable feature of Sethna's piece is that 54 years later, the situation does not appears to have improved and the threat over India remain the same.

In the same article, Sethna stated: 'What the alarmists declare is that if we did not recognise Mao he would precipitate a military clash with us.'

However, today the position is poles apart: nobody is alarmed either in the corridors of South Block or the media. Particularly after Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit last year to Beijing, India is again becoming a friend (if not yet a brother) with China and the new government (like its predecessor) is actively 'engaging' China.

Nevertheless, it remains that the situation today in Nepal, as was 55 years ago, is very worrying and the ascendancy of the Maoists, whether they are supported by Beijing or not, is not a good omen for India. One can only hope that the new foreign secretary, who has been posted in Kathmandu and should have some knowledge of the situation, will do something to 'engage' the king and his government and encourage the creation of conditions to have the populace with them and not against it.

In the meantime Beijing is more and more 'engaged in Nepal. An agency report mentioned: 'Nepal's Crown Prince Paras' first visit to China resulted in the establishment of a series of aid projects for Nepal. China has agreed to provide nearly Nepali Rs 450 million (US $6,250,000) to Nepal this fiscal year to support ongoing projects as well as to initiate new ones.' During his visit, Paras met Chinese President Hu Jintao and invited him to visit Nepal.

Another difference from the early fifties is that today China is a power to reckon with. Remember when Tibet was invaded in 1950 China was nothing. She was recognized only by a few 'fraternal Communist nations.' During his stay in Moscow in 1949-1950 for several months, Mao had had to literarily crawl in front of Stalin to get material support for his country. At that time, India pushed hard for the new Beijing regime's recognition, but very few cared for what India believed and Beijing remained isolated.

In 2004, though Red China is dead and gone, under the banner of 'the peaceful rise of China,' the Forth Generation's leadership has transformed the Middle Kingdom into an Eden of wild capitalism. China today is on top of the world or to put it more correctly, on the top of Olympus. In August, when Dora Bakoyannis, the mayor of Athens, handed over the Olympic flame to Wang Qishan, her Beijing counterpart, China was indeed triumphant. New China was perhaps not able to get the better of the United States (they just had won 32 golds, three less than the US), but as an Indian newspaper puts it: 'Western sports officials and journalists no longer talk of China taking over the US supremacy of world sport -- unchallenged for a century -- as a possibility. Rather, it is an inevitability. When Chinese officials boast of 'winning 50 gold medals in Beijing,' nobody sniggers.'

This has not come by wishful thinking or prayers, China has work hard and invested much for this: their sports budget is astronomical. The PLA Daily reported that Beijing spent $720 million a year of their Olympic sports programme alone.

At Athens, China took part in 26 of 28 disciplines. Many, at least in China, feel the investment was worthwhile: $20 million for one gold medal. It is a good return not only because China can now await 2008 with regained confidence. In the Chinese psyche, 'face' is most important and the leadership knows that in four years time, the Middle Kingdom will be able to find its true place at the centre of the world.

In an essay published recently in Foreign Affairs magazine, Peter G Peterson, secretary of commerce in the Nixon administration prophesised that the US are 'riding for a fall.' More and more analysts feel that one of the consequences of the US decline will see China taking the lead in the world during the 21st century. Hu Jintao and his colleagues in Beijing firmly believe this. The 'peaceful rise of China' means that Beijing will do everything to keep the image of a peaceful nation till China rises to the top in 2008. The date of the Olympics is not just symbolic. It is a long planned programme and the investment in gold medals is only a tiny aspect.

Till then, it does not mean that Beijing will do nothing and merely watch the world. In recent months her foreign policy has never been so assertive, especially against an India (with its one and only silver) considered very weak. It is not only in Nepal that China is keeping the pressure on India, it is in all her neighbourhood.

I had written earlier about the mysterious lake in Tibet. Beijing has managed to keep the state of Himachal Pradesh on tenterhooks for several weeks, causing tens of crores of rupees expenses to the exchequer, just because, the leadership in Beijing refused to allow an Indian team to access the danger. Road construction to the Indian border was probably the reason for the landslides and China was obviously not keen to inform Delhi about it.

In Manipur, where the agitation is linked to the murder and rape of Thangjam Manorama, a militant, by the Assam Rifles, a deeper angle has recently come to light. The web site reported: 'Raids on Manipur university professors and at least seven students unearthed details of telephone calls made to Hong Kong and visits to meet Chinese MID or military-intelligence department agents.'

'During questioning, one of the professors broke down and confessed to visiting Hong Kong nine times in the past six months. A proposal was recovered in the raid for Chinese mediation of the Manipur issue. A further trail led to five Manipuri insurgent leaders who had regular meetings with MID agents based in Myanmar, who were presumably road mapping the agitation.'

We know about Myanmar and Beijing's support to the military junta (and its aversion to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laureate who, let us not forget, studied at the Institute of Advance Studies in Simla for years and is considered close to India).

Beijing provides important economic assistance to Rangoon and since the coup in 1988, China has built important infrastructures (roads, bridges, power plants, harbour facilities), which in turn serve Beijing own strategic interests.

Official Chinese figures tell us that 1 million Chinese people live in Burma, but the real figure is probably around 3 million. Isn't this one more subtle pressure on India's borders?

Another worrying incident is the rising harassment and persecution of Buddhist tribals by militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM) and NSCN (K) in remote parts of Arunachal Pradesh. The militant outfits have demanded annexation of land from the Buddhist and issued a decree for their conversion to Christianity. The villagers were given two options only -- embrace Christianity or face capital punishment.

The objectives of the NSCN (IM) is to establish a 'Greater Nagaland' based on Mao Tse Tung's ideology. Its manifesto is based on the principle of socialism for economic development with a religion addition 'Nagaland for Christ.' A powerful cocktail!

We could continue the list with the supply of arms to Bangladesh; or the Beijing orchestrated saga of Dr A Q Khan in Pakistan, the enhanced Han presence in Central Asia, particularly in Kyrgyzstan where President Akaev has leased 125,000 hectares of the most valuable Kyrgyz land to China 'with glaciers full of fresh water and with a uniquely designed border outpost.' Though Kyrgyzstan has not direct borders with India, the encirclement is getting tighter by the day.

The rise of China, whether peaceful or not, should be of great concern to India. A leadership change in Beijing will not change this basic fact because, today as yesterday, Delhi is Beijing's only economic and geostrategic rival in Asia.

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