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Is China Changing?

October 27, 2008

Joint Military Exercises with India are Related to Anti-Terrorism
By Rajinder Puri
The Statesman (India)
October 25, 2008

Does the government know something that people don't? Otherwise why
would it participate in joint military exercises with China's
People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Indian soil at this point of time?
And was there compelling need for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to go
to Beijing to attend the Asia-Europe summit? Recent events have not
inspired confidence in China's intentions towards India. China's
stranglehold embrace of Pakistan remains. During President Zardari's
recent visit to China, Beijing commissioned two new nuclear reactors
for Pakistan. China's claims on Arunachal Pradesh remain firm.
China's buildup of infrastructure on India's border continues its
frenetic pace. Chinese intrusions into Indian territory have not
stopped. And yet our government persists in wooing China. Why?

Possibly, just possibly, the government may be aware of Beijing's
attempts to introduce desirable change in its policies. One is sure
there is no dearth of intelligence inputs from western nations that
might influence the MEA. Readers might recall that this scribe for
over a year has ventured through these columns the view that a major
policy shift in China could be under way. Unfolding events have done
nothing to dampen that hope, nor have they in any substantial manner
confirmed it. The direction of possible change, and the symptoms that
provide hope that it may occur, are worth recapitulating.

In this scribe's view the change began with the transfer of power to
President Hu Jintao from Jiang Zemin. It was during Jiang's tenure
that the negative policies pursued by China reached their zenith.
Domestically corruption escalated. Disparity between illegally
enriched party cadres and peasants in rural China widened to an
alarming degree. Economic imbalance between the southern coastland
and the north grew. State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were allowed to
deteriorate dangerously close to bankruptcy. Chinese banks were in a
mess. They were forced to continually give bad loans to keep alive
SOEs that employ 60 per cent of China's urban population. All this
occurred during China's stupendous rate of growth achieved through
foreign capital and virtually enslaved Chinese labour. The Shanghai
group loyal to Jiang Zemin accomplished this. It was during this time
that the PLA provided arms aid to Islamist terrorists in South-east
Asia, and through them to India's North-east insurgents, as well as
to ISI directed jihadis. It was during this time that China unleashed
nuclear proliferation to rogue nations through Pakistan's Dr AQ Khan.

It was during this time that China colluded with the Taliban and
Osama bin Laden. These facts are confirmed by credible authorities.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao did not belong to this
group. They came from peasant stock. After Jiang Zemin was forced to
resign from chairmanship of the Central Military Commission which
overlooked the PLA, Hu Jintao tried to root out corruption. He did
not hesitate to punish senior party leaders who were Jiang loyalists.

There was a covert power struggle. The contours of the struggle were
blurred by the role of a third party in the struggle, the PLA. Unlike
Deng Xiaoping, who had participated in the Long March, neither Jiang
nor Hu exercised full authority over the PLA. As a result of this
shadowy struggle foreign analysts were confused. They found it
difficult to fathom who was winning and who was not. There were mixed
signals from Beijing. There were contradictory signals during the
North Korean nuclear crisis. There were contradictory signals in
relation to confidence building measures with India.

For example, the timing of Beijing's reiterated claim to Arunachal
evaporated the good vibes created by Premier Wen Jiabao's meetings
with the PM. It could not be determined whether this double-faced
approach reflected Beijing's diabolical duplicity, the impediments
created by Jiang's loyalists still exercising influence, or by the
intervention of the PLA.

Gradually, however, President Hu Jintao appeared to be consolidating
his position. North Korea was compelled to toe his line. The most
important change of policy direction, in the view of this scribe, was
China's change of attitude towards Japan. Is it possible that
hard-headed self-interest will lead China to substantively alter its
attitude to India as well? If it does, this change would indicate
China's past policies extracting their price. China, which colluded
with terrorists in the past, is now itself grappling with terrorism.

This is not due to a change of heart but to compelling developments
of its own making.

Earlier China used the threat of Xingjian separatism as a figleaf to
cover its covert collusion with terrorists. Some years ago Beijing
sought information from Islamabad about certain Uighurs training in
Pakistani camps. This indicated full awareness of Uighur
participation in terrorist activity. Pakistan trained Uighur
terrorists eventually were expected to go to Chechnya. Osama had
guaranteed the PLA cooperation in Xingjian in exchange for telecom
aid to Afghanistan during Taliban rule. The situation has dramatically altered.

Beijing supplied arms to Iranian backed Shiite jihadis. This help
most likely was motivated not by the desire to aid terrorism but to
please Iran. China's energy needs were desperate and supplies from
Iran were crucial. Alas, the Iranian aided Shiite jihadi*s were in
direct conflict with the Al Qaida Sunni terrorists who until then had
a cozy relationship with China. Pakistan's jihadis guided by Al
Qaida's Zawahiri started targeting Chinese in Islamabad and

Baluchistan. The Al Qaida-Beijing truce over Xingjian seems to have
collapsed. That is why Beijing now has developed new interest against
terrorism. That is why it is currently coming down heavily against
Islamic mosques in Xingjian by interfering even with religious practice.

Beijing may have given Pakistan two new nuclear reactors to snub
India. It has not provided bailout money. After President Zardari's
recent China visit, Beijing officially linked terrorists on Chinese
soil to training camps in Pakistan. China's forthcoming joint
military exercises with India are related to anti-terrorism. Taking
everything into account should India therefore encourage closer ties
with Beijing?

The answer is no, not yet. India must clearly draw the line which
China should not cross. Beijing must reconcile itself to eventual
emergence of SAARC as a South Asian Union minus China. It must stop
encouraging our neighbours against us. It must try to develop
economic and trade ties with South Asia as one entity, and not seek
most favoured nation treaties with individual nations. In other
words, it must respect India's turf. It should instead focus on its
own trouble-spots, especially Tibet and Xingjian.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
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