Saturday, 16 October 1999

Two to Tango - A Partnership with China

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

While Gandhi’s teachings were ignored in India, there has
been no repudiation of his concepts. Despite first socialism
and then liberalisation, the armed liberation of Goa and then
Pokhran, this country still professes to take Gandhism seriously,
so much so that "liberals" worked overtime to ban a play that
gave a politically incorrect view of India’s greatest 20th century

The Chinese, however, seem less hypocritical. Since the
1980s, the name of Communist China’s founder, Mao Zedong,
has become increasingly less acceptable. In particular, Mao is
faulted for having instigated the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution in the 1960s, that led to the humiliation of many
senior leaders at the hands of teenagers. The conventional
wisdom in Beijing is that the Cultural Revolution period
represented a "lost decade" during which China could more
usefully have embarked on economic modernisation rather than
the social and political engineering its leader attempted.

A contrary argument can be made, which is that the Maoist
tactic of “Bombard the Headquarters” resulted in a collapse of
the Confucian ethic that had held back progress for centuries
because of an unquestioning obedience to authority. During the
period of the movement, all (italics) dogmas became subject to
re-examination, and the effect was to free the Chinese people
from the tendency to unquestioningly accept received doctrine.
It can be argued that but for the shifts in mindset generated by
the Cultural Revolution, the moderniser of China—Deng
Xiaoping—would not have been able to rally his party behind a
total overthrow of Marxist orthodoxy in the economic sphere.

Geopolitical Realities
Unlike India, which has often been half-hearted about pursuing
its interests, the Chinese government has been clear about the
course that it needs to take in order to retain the social compact
between the Han people and the Chinese Communist party. In
the 1970s, Mao himself welcomed President Richard Nixon to
Beijing. Thus, there are grounds for optimism that the Communist
Chinese government will adjust to the geopolitical realities
demonstrated by Pokhran II, and seek to build a friendly
relationship with India in the 21st century. On the Indian side,
there needs to be a re-examination of the paradigms that will
underpin such a partnership.

The bottomline will naturally be an acceptance by Beijing
that India is a strategic power. Second, that no future efforts will
be made, whether directly or through surrogates, to develop
strategic capability in third countries. It is not in China's interests
to export nuclear and missile technology outside its borders.
However, should Beijing continue to do so, New Delhi may be
tempted to follow suit. Thus, India can play the same game as
the Chinese have been with Pakistan, unless Beijing restrains
both itself and its satellites from transferring strategic technology
and material to countries hostile to India.

Papal Status
On New Delhi’s side, it can be made explicit that political
changes within China are matters solely for the Chinese people
to decide. Unlike Washington, New Delhi has worked closely
with members of the Communist parties in several countries,
and, therefore, does not share a commitment towards eradicating
this philosophy. Indeed, in Central Asia, for example, former
Communists are playing a positive role in holding back the
growth of religious fundamentalism. In China and Vietnam, the
Communist party has itself taken several bold initiatives towards
encouraging private enterprise.

New Delhi has always accepted Tibet as a part of China, and
it will not be a reversal of policy to state explicitly that there is
a difference between cultural and political autonomy. There
cannot be a reversion to the pre-1950 system in which the Dalai
Lama exercised both spiritual and temporal power over Tibetans.
Hopefully, there will be an agreement between Beijing and the
Dalai Lama, in which His Holiness can return to Potala Palace.
However, this will have to be as a purely spiritual head, akin to
the Pope of today, rather than the Popes of yore, who were in
effect heads of states and not merely religious figures.

It would be unreasonable to expect the Chinese to interpret
"autonomy" as control by the Dalai Lama over the administration
in Tibet, and New Delhi needs to make this stand clear, especially
when a contrary view is being expressed in other major
democracies. Simultaneously, India needs to continue to ensure
that no element within the Tibetan refugee community in this
country gets trained in violence or prepares an attempt at armed
rebellion within Tibet. As for demonstration and agitations, as
long as these are non-violent, they need not be banned. Regarding
Taiwan, there needs to be a reiteration of the One China policy,
and also that future unification should be peaceful. Meanwhile,
New Delhi needs vigorously to conduct business with Taipei
that does not have military connotations.

The India-China border has remained quiet since 1986, and
care needs to be taken by both sides to prevent incursions across
the line of control. The deployment of troops on both sides needs
to be of a defensive nature, and over time must be thinned to
insignificant numbers, with frontier police replacing soldiers.
The goal should be an eventual settlement of the Sino-Indian
border dispute on the basis of existing ground realities, analogous
to the one informally suggested to Pakistan over Kashmir: We
keep that we control, you retain the rest. However, it will require
a cooling period before such a solution becomes politically
feasible. This process must be begun now.

Asia’s Stability
Within the Chinese Communist party, as with any other large
organisation, there are differing points of view. While some
aspects of policy appear moderate, others—such as the transfer
of strategic technology to Pakistan—appear to be the handiwork
of hardliners with an ultra-nationalistic perspective that seeks to
block India from emerging as another Asian giant. This group
needs to be kept in check by the moderates, and this is possible
only if it is clear that hardline policies will not pay. Thus,
together with an imaginative policy of engaging China, New
Delhi needs to develop cooperation with Japan, South Korea,
Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia so that closer economic and
other linkages are formed along this arc. Myanmar too needs to
be engaged more intensively, as part of a plan of developing the
North-east through cooperation between Yangon, Bangkok and
New Delhi. Friendly cooperation between the world’s two most
populous countries are essential for stability in Asia, but for this
both hands need to clap.

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