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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Opinion: China flexes muscles

November 4, 2009

India must be firm, but restrained in rhetoric
by G. Parthasarathy
October 30, 2009

THE mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party, the
People’s Daily, claimed on October 14 that the
Indians have become "more narrow minded”. It
accused India of “provocation” on border issues
with China and asserted that as “nationalism
sentiment” rises, the Indians are turning to
“hegemony” in relations with neighbours. The
People’s Daily called on India to give a
“positive response” to China’s efforts to resolve
the border issue. Pakistan was referred to as one
of the countries suffering from Indian
“hegemony”, as India allegedly sought to
“befriend the far (United States and Russia) and
attack the near (Pakistan and China)”. The
Chinese conveniently forget how they colluded
against India with the Nixon Administration
during the Bangladesh conflict in 1971 and with
the Clinton Administration after India’s nuclear tests in 1998.

While China has relentlessly sought to denigrate
and undermine India’s relations with countries in
its Indian Ocean neighbourhood, even going to the
extent of transferring nuclear weapons designs
and knowhow to Pakistan, India has yet to fashion
a coherent policy on the fears that China’s East
and South-East Asian neighbours have of China’s
efforts to dominate the Asia-Pacific region.
Assured by the support it received after a visit
by Deng Xiao Ping’s to Washington, China launched
an unprovoked attack on Vietnam in order to
“teach” Vietnam a “lesson” in 1979. Deng
proclaimed that the “lesson” was meant to be
similar to that administered to India in 1962.
China again used force against Vietnam when it
forcibly occupied the Paracel islands in
1974.There was yet another military engagement
between China and Vietnam, when China occupied
the “Johnson Reef” in 1988. In July 1992, China
occupied Vietnam’s Da Lac Reef, establishing its
first military presence there since the 1988 clash with Vietnam.

China claims that its territorial waters engulf 3
million square kilometres out of the total area
of 3.5 million square kilometres in the South
China Sea. Given such claims about its
ever-expanding maritime frontiers, China is today
engulfed in maritime disputes with the
Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei,
Indonesia, Japan and both North and South Korea.
Earlier this year, China complained about an
“official landing” by Malaysia on the islands it
had claimed. The same week, Philippines President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed a decree laying
claim to two islands that China had claimed. In
February 1995, China militarily occupied the
“Mischief Reef” in the Spratlys Islands, which
was claimed by the Philippines. A month later
Philippines forces seized Chinese fishing boats
and destroyed Chinese markers in "Mischief Reef."
Malaysia and Vietnam have joined hands to counter
Chinese expansionism, by jointly submitting a
proposal to the UN Convention on the Law of the
Sea questioning China’s claims and definition of
its continental shelf. It is precisely such
belligerence that prompts China’s Asia-Pacific
neighbours to seek a US presence in the region.
India would be well advised to seek a more
wide-ranging strategic engagement with China’s
Asia-Pacific neighbours like Vietnam and the
Philippines in response to China’s policies of
seeking to undermine India’s relations with its immediate neighbours.

While intimidating its smaller neighbours on
issues of its maritime boundaries by its growing
military strength, China finds its quest for
hegemony hampered by two large Asian neighbours
--- Japan and India. It seeks to exclude the
United States and India from regional forums by
calling for the establishment of an “East Asian
Community”. Concerned by such Chinese moves,
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
asserted: “I think the US has to be part of the
Asia-Pacific and the overall architecture of
cooperation within the Asia Pacific”. This fear
of Chinese expansionism is accentuated by the
virtual paralysis in Japanese foreign policy in recent times.

The Chinese have spread fears about a revival of
World War II Japanese "militarism" and put Japan
on the defensive by protesting about the visits
of Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine, which
is dedicated to the memory of the soldiers killed
in the service of the country. Having emerged as
the largest trading partner of Asia’s three
largest economies -- Japan, South Korea and India
-- and a major trading partner of ASEAN, China
appears determined to combine its economic clout
and its military potential to emerge as Asia’s
dominant power. Apart from using its maritime
strength to enforce its territorial claims in
Asia-Pacific, China now seeks to become a
dominant player in the sea-lanes of the Indian
Ocean. Hence its proposal to the Commander of the
US Pacific Fleet that in return for the
recognition of American dominance in the eastern
Pacific, the Americans should acknowledge that
the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean Regions as China’s sphere of influence.

China’s growing belligerence on the border issue
should be seen in this context of its
determination to be the dominant power in Asia.
Given Japan’s readiness to succumb to Chinese
pressures, Beijing’s rulers see an emerging
India, which shows the potential for rapid
economic growth while being respected in the
comity of nations as a stable democracy, as an
irritant and challenge to its larger ambitions.
The unresolved border issue serves as a useful
tool to keep India on the edge and under
pressure. China knows that no government in India
can agree to its claims on populated areas like Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

One of the greatest failures of China’s Communist
revolution is that despite the Han Chinese
constituting 91 per cent of the country’s
population, the Chinese are paranoiac and
insecure about their ability to handle 9 per cent
of their minority population in the strategically
important Buddhist-dominated Tibetan Autonomous
Region and in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang
province, despite bringing in Han settlers to
reduce the indigenous populations to a minority.
Tawang is seen as symbolically crucial in Chinese
eyes as a centre of Buddhist spiritualism. By
laying claim to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh,
China puts India on the defensive, diplomatically
and militarily, and seeks to influence gullible
sections of the public in India to "compromise" on Tawang.

The Prime Minister told his Chinese counterpart
in Thailand that India regarded the Dalai Lama as
an "honoured guest" and a spiritual leader. Even
as the dialogue with China continues, to maintain
peace and tranquillity along our borders, India
should not buckle under Chinese pressure, by
reversing its decision on the Dalai Lama’s visit
to Tawang. Firmness, together with restraint in
rhetoric, and not appeasement, is required for
dealing with a growingly jingoistic China.

The author is a former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan
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