Saturday 26 October 2013

NATO laughs as India, China bicker (PO)

MD Nalapat
Saturday, October 26, 2013 - Far more than the UK, which from for the past six decades has handicapped itself in Delhi by the way in which it has sought to protect the interests of Pakistan, it is France that is the most influential European country in India. This ascent to the top of the Influence Sweepstakes came about in 1998, when Paris was noticeably less shrill in condemning the Indian nuclear tests of that year than were London, Washington, Ottawa and Canberra. Of the four, the most vicious attacks came from Canada and Australia, who evidently regarded India as an upstart nation suffering from delusions of equality with the NATO powers.

There was more than a tinge of outright racism in the comments and criticisms of the nuclear tests, which were based on the principle that only “civilized” nations had a right to the atomic bomb. Because of this belief in the virtues of ethnicity, neither Canada nor Australia (nor indeed London and Washington) have uttered a word against Israel, which was outed two decades ago as a nuclear weapons state. This is because Israel - to these countries - is a civilized state, owing to the fact that the majority of its population can trace their ethnic roots to what NATO impliedly regards as the only civilized corner of the globe, Europe. Committed as they silently are to the notion of the superiority of a single ethnicity, it was natural that this group of four (three within NATO and the other sheltering within the NATO umbrella) would oppose India having the same sorts of weaponry as “civilized” states.

The exception to this cacophony of abuse in 1998, led by US President Bill Clinton, was France. Those were the days when Paris was run by independent-minded leaders in the mould of Jacques Chirac rather than (0ccasionally growling) poodles of the Nicholas Sarkozy variety. Had the consort of Carla Bruni been President of France in 1998, it is very likely that he would have ensured that his country marched in lockstep with the UK, the US, Canada and Australia in condemning the 1998 nuclear tests by India.

However, he was not yet in power, and from the start, Paris made it clear that it was not willing to impose the harsh sanctions on India that Clinton was mooting. In return, a grateful Atal Behari Vajpayee and his de facto Executive PM, National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, gave France pride of place in commercial transactions, especially in the field of defense. That partiality has continued to the present, with lucrative upgrades of French equipment and multi-billion euro purchases of French defense equipment, especially aircraft, with India becoming only the second country in the world (apart from France itself) to trust that country with the sourcing of its advanced strike aircraft. Although Paris is not yet in Moscow’s league, where an airctaft carrier that belongs in the junkyard has been bought by India for close to $6 billion dollars once the full costs of maintenance and operation are factored in, yet Paris comes close to being among the important reasons why India has such a huge gap between its exports and its imports.

Interestingly, there are a group of French scholars who write regularly in Indian publication. Some are firmly tethered to the pro-Congress camp, regularly attacking the opposition BJP in language which comes directly off press briefings from 24 Akbar Road in New Delhi, the headquarters of the All India Congress Committee. Others have the reverse view, becoming even more strident of “the rights of the majority community” than even the more assertive Hindu organisations. Still others tack towards regional parties, adopting their stances as their own and building up contacts with their leaders. In such a manner, across the political spectrum, French scholars have influence in India. The core point that all of them make is the “China Danger”.

They regularly warn of the designs of China on India and demand a strong response from India. Of course, what usually goes unstated (except on a few occasions) is that the best way of countering the “China Danger” is to buy more weapons from France. By helping to create a scare about Chinese intentions vis-à-vis India, these articulate and persuasive commentators are proving of immense value to the French defense industry, which these days depends on Arabs and Indians for its survival. Given the need to create an atmosphere of tension between Beijing and Delhi, it is not surprising that these commentators have been scathing in their coments on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s just-concluded visit to Beijing. The fact is that Prime Minister Singh and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang, have gone far towards recreating an early-1950s mood of bonhomie in Sino-Indian relations. Both sides understand the importance of better ties for not simply matters of security but also of economic growth.

China can be the source of $40 billion in investment in India, and at least 2 million Chinese tourists can come to India because of their Buddhist heritage. Eventually that figure can go up by many times. It would be transformational for Asia were Beijing and Delhi to become friendly to each other and to cooperate in matters of security. Both Prime Minister Singh and Prime Minister Li understand this, as does President Xi Jinping. However, such a rapprochement will generate frowns across the brows of NATO policymakers. They are delighted at any symptom of tension between Delhi and Beijing, and at each newspaper headline or television report which portrays the Sino-Indian relationship negatively. The success of Singh and Li in burying old ghosts and in seeking to create a better dynamic for ties will be a matter of concern for NATO, even as it will be welcomed by the 2.5 billion people who inhabit China and India.

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