One thing Beijing must understand is that India is not obsessed with being a threat to China but only wants a rightful place for itself in the world, says Sanjeev Nayyar.
There have been several articles in Chinese state-run Global Times, considered as the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, this year suggesting that China is making a mistake of comparing the National Democratic Alliance 2 government with previous NDA1, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and United Progressive Alliance governments.
The articles also believe India to be: a nation fighting poverty and domestic problems which cannot rise above them in the international arena; a nation whose people blame China for trying to contain and frustrate India; a smaller nation which must always bow down in front of its neighbour who is a much bigger economic and geopolitical power; and a nation that can be contained by supporting Pakistan.
On April 6, the GT carried an article on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which China vehemently opposed, titled India’s use of Dalai Lama card tactless.
Referring to India’s objection to China blocking its bid to blacklist Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, the article said, ‘Recently, India has been strongly dissatisfied with China for not supporting its membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Its request to name Masood Azhar, head of Pakistani militant group, to a UN Security Council blacklist was disapproved by China.’
However, it should be kept in mind that India is unhappy with China for reasons more important than these.
Former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan G Parthasarathy once wrote, ‘It is now acknowledged that by 1983 China had supplied Pakistan with enough enriched uranium for around two weapons and the designs for a 25-kilotonne bomb. Deng commenced missile collaboration with Pakistan, with the supply of short range Hatf 2 missiles. This was followed up by assistance to manufacture Shaheen 1 (750 km range) and Shaheen 2 (range 1,500-2,000 km), at Fatehjang.’
Moreover, insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir started in 1989 only after Pakistan had obtained nuclear capability with Chinese help. Pakistan belongs to the ‘Ivy League of terrorism’ mainly because of Chinese support.
In spite of such provocations by China, India did not retaliate by selling the Akash surface-to-air missile system and BrahMos missiles to Vietnam.
The GT article further said, ‘New Delhi probably overestimates its leverage in the bilateral ties with China. If New Delhi ruins Sino-India ties and the two countries turn into open rivals, can India afford the consequence?’
The biggest leverage that India has is its ballooning trade deficit with China which stood at $53 billion (Rs 3.44 lakh crore) in 2015-16 and $47 billion (Rs 3.05 lakh crore) between April 2016 and February 2017.
If China decides to retaliate against India by restricting its exports to us, it will indirectly support 'Make in India'.
It is because India is a significant market for China that Modi's call for an expansion of steel capacity drew a sharp rejoinder from the Global Times which expressed concerns whether India could become a global ‘steel-producing colossus’.
In a challenging tone, the article further said, ‘With a GDP (gross domestic product) several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India’s turbulent northern state borders China, if China engages in a geopolitical game with India, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?’
China should remember that out of the 196 countries in the world, the only true ally it has is Pakistan.
Moreover, India is aware of China's military capabilities but it believes that the latter will not want to engage in an open battle, singly or with Pakistan, at least till relations with the Donald Trump administration settle down.
India is confident enough to not be deterred by the Chinese threat of playing Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh against it. The present Indian government has made special efforts to build good relations with each of these countries, even if it meant taking a tough stand to convey a message.
The Kashmir card too has lost its relevance as the world has seen through Pakistan’s game.
If, on the other hand, as a result of Chinese actions, India changes its Tibet policy, China would have only itself to blame.
In another article about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal on April 4, the GT quoted a ‘Chinese expert’ as saying that ‘India is using Dalai Lama’s visit to upset Beijing’.
‘The Dalai Lama’s visit to the controversial area, especially Tawang... will affect relations between China and India,’ it said.
By making such points, the ‘Chinese expert’ appears to have forgotten the 2005 agreement signed between the two countries on the ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question’, which stipulates that ‘the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled population in the border areas’.
On March 16, days after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s massive victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, the GT wrote in an article titled BJP’s win has impact on Sino Indian ties: ‘In the international arena, (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi changed India’s previous attitude of trying never to offend anyone and started to take a clear stance in controversies among other nations to maximise its own interests.’
The people of Uttar Pradesh must be surprised to know that their votes affected India’s ties with China.
Also, Indians should be glad to have a prime minister who wants to maximise national interests rather than be a perennial good boy.
The article further said, ‘That said, we can still be optimistic in resolving our divergences, including border disputes, with New Delhi during Modi’s term as long as both sides are willing.’
India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal had written, ‘In 1996, China agreed to ‘clarifying the alignment of the LAC (Line of Actual Control) in those segments where they (the two sides) have different perceptions’. In 2002 (when the writer was foreign secretary) China decided to repudiate this agreement unilaterally.’
This time, let China make the first move by clarifying the alignment of the LAC.
On March 6, arguing against India’s opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in an article titled New Delhi’s objection to CPEC in Kashmir not to its own benefit, the GT wrote, ‘India should be flexible and pragmatic, and be more open to economic activities in the Kashmir region conducted by Chinese companies.’
It appears that the Chinese are upset with India’s repeated and forceful claims on Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir through which the CPEC passes. There seems to be an apprehension that their investment could be at stake in the unlikely case of the status quo being disturbed.
As a counter-move, China could be upping the ante in Arunachal to bring Tawang on the negotiating table.
In another bid to highlight China-Pakistan relations, the GT quoted Prof Lin Minwang, an expert on South Asian studies, as saying, ‘India always wants to portray Pakistan as a 'supporter of terrorism' in the international community, which makes it easier for the country to link counter-terrorism issue to Sino-Pakistani relationship and blame China's support to Pakistan for some issues.’
Lin also said that India does not understand the significance of Sino-Pakistani friendship.
Perhaps the expert couldn't see that Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan. More than 65,000 lives have been lost because of Pak-fuelled terrorism in Kashmir, Punjab and other parts of India.
No special efforts by India are needed to show the world that Pakistan supports terrorism.
In January, after India successfully test-fired its long-range ballistic missile Agni-IV, the GT wrote, ‘China should realise that Beijing wouldn’t hold back India's development of long-range ballistic missiles. However, Chinese don’t feel India’s development has posed any big threat to it. And India wouldn’t be considered as China’s main rival in the long run.’
In the article after the BJP's victory in UP polls too, the Chinese daily had said, ‘Modi enhanced New Delhi's ties with China and Moscow and applied to be a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Yet he also upgraded defence collaboration with the US and Japan, articulated his support for the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific strategy and Washington's stance on the South China Sea issue.’
One thing China must understand is that the Indian government is not obsessed with being a threat to China but only wants a rightful place for India in the world.
India must not fall for Chinese praise of its manufacturing prowess and the capabilities of the Indian Space Research Organisation.
A Chinese retaliation can come in any form. It could play the Brahmaputra card by changing the river’s course, step up support to insurgents in the north-east or undertake simultaneous incursions on the LAC.
India, therefore, needs to be careful. And while it must make necessary political statements, it should refrain from provoking China into taking a decision driven by sheer arrogance.
IMAGE: Chinese President Xi Jinping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the former's visit to India for BRICS-2016 summit in Goa. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
Sanjeev Nayyar is an independent columnist. He tweets @sanjeev1927.