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India-China relations worse than in 1962!

By T P Sreenivasan
Last updated on: December 21, 2010 15:55 IST
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'Those who know China would not be complacent enough to think that the Chinese threat is an illusion,' says T P Sreenivasan.

The bewildering questions that haunt mankind, like 'who?' and 'when?', may have nothing to do with the names of Chinese leaders Hu and Wen, but they bewilder us as much today as the eternal questions always did.

Even the best Indian minds are unable to fathom the intentions and inclinations of the duo, which is poised to take over the leadership of the world. After the latest Wen visit, it is no more a question whether there will be a confrontation between India and China, but 'when' it will take place and 'who' the dramatis personae will be when it occurs.

We have assurances from those who know China well that 1962 will not happen again. They contend that China is no more an isolated dragon, learning the art of breathing fire into the neighbourhood. As it has grown huge and powerful, it has become domesticated and responsible and would like to tango with the elephant. The elephant can relax in the thought that the dragon will not step on its toes or its fiery breath will not incinerate it.

But there is one condition: The elephant has to tango to the tune of the dragon. The dragon, in the meantime, grows big enough to swallow the elephant at short notice. But we are also assured that the dragon is not as strong as it appears and it has bad entrails, which may afflict it at any time.

The year 2010 is certainly not 1962. At that time, there was only a border dispute and the presence of the Dalai Lama to provoke a war. Today, those two still remain and China misses no opportunity to remind us that there was 'a certain unpleasantness' in the relationship some time in the past.

According to our calculations, China still occupies 38,000 square kilometres of Indian territory in Ladakh and another 5,000 square kilometres, ceded to it by Pakistan in Kashmir. Nothing has changed in that situation since the devastating defeat of 1962.

On the other hand, there is much at the close of 2010 which should cause us concern. In 2010, 1,600 km of the border between India and China suddenly disappeared from Chinese maps, which amounts to nothing but handing over Kashmir to Pakistan. It is not even a disputed territory anymore. One has to see whether China has extended its border with Pakistan by the same extent.

In 1962, China had not gifted Pakistan with nuclear weapons. In 2010, China has added two more nuclear reactors to a country which has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world.

In 1962, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and those who worked there could get Chinese visa on their Indian passports. Today, they have to use Chinese staples to attach themselves to their motherland.

In 1962, China did not characterise India-China relations as fragile, but in 2010, China warns us that it is so fragile that India should take on the responsibility to not let it break.

India and China were not incommunicado in the years preceding 1962. Prime ministers met and talked, but China gave no inkling of its intention to take the law into its own hands. The dozen meetings our prime minister had with Prime Minister Wen, including the one at the end of 2010, should give us no cause for comfort.

Stung by India's attendance at the Oslo ceremony, Prime Minister Wen made it a point not to concede an inch on the core issues of concern to India. Is there any precedent for such a result in previous meetings?

The trend of 2010 was for the most powerful States in the world to come to India to sign contracts, which could have been signed at other levels. In fact, many of those contracts were finalised years ago at the level of experts. President Barack Obama got %$15 billion, President Nicolas Sarkozy got $16 billion and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao got even more. President Dmitri Medvedev must be having his own package to carry home.

The friendliest among them all was the one who got the least, Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK, who put Pakistan on notice for terrorism against India in so many words. President Obama at least reprimanded Pakistan for giving safe havens to terrorists and expressed his hope that one day India would be a permanent member of the Security Council. President Sarkozy expressed dismay that India was not on the Security Council as yet.

All of them sang for their supper, but Prime Minister Wen took the contracts and gave nothing in return. No opposition to Pakistani terrorism, no talk of permanent membership of the Security Council. He cannot even do without staples! The increase in trade envisaged ($100 billion by 2015) will benefit China more than India. Unlike the others, he did not think it was necessary to make political concessions for economic benefits.

Indian assertiveness in response too is a far cry from 1962. At that time, India had just completed its mission to get the People's Republic of China its rightful place in the world, having even declined the permanent seat in the Security Council offered to it instead of China. We had not challenged Chinese suzerainty over Tibet.

India had never provoked China even to the extent of taking the position we have taken in 2010 that if Tibet is important for China, Jammu and Kashmir is equally important for India.

Prime Minister Wen offered the panacea of trade for all the ills in the relationship. To think that the situation today is better than that of 1962, one has to be an optimist with a vengeance. Perhaps, war clouds are not gathering over the Himalayas because of the nuclear status of the two countries. Perhaps, the future war will be in cyberspace and there will be no clouds to detect.

We could take comfort in the fact that China's rise is peaceful and the dragon is more than willing to tango with the elephant. We may also take comfort in the fact that we are cooperating with China in Doha, Copenhagen and Cancun. Otherwise, those who know China would not be complacent enough to think that the Chinese threat is an illusion.

'Grandpa Wen' played with the children and spread sunshine and cheer. But his visit was a clear signal that, if anything, India-China relations are worse in 2010 than it was in 1962.

T P Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India to the United Nations, Vienna, and a former governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. He is currently the director general, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.

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