May 24, 2020
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Peking Ducked

Why is India worsening the China syndrome?

Peking Ducked
BEIJING’S initial reaction to the Indian tests in May last year  was rather subdued. It might have stayed that way despite defence minister George Fernandes’ description of China as enemy number one. But the leak of Vajpayee’s letter to world leaders, particularly US president Bill Clinton, citing the security threat posed by China as the reason for conducting the tests, provoked the Chinese to react harshly. "If we had just cited self  defence, perhaps the Chinese reaction wouldn’t have been so strong," asserts China expert in the IDSA , Dr K. N. Ramachandran.

"With its ridiculously rigid position, the government of India has painted itself into a corner," concurs Giri Deshingkar of the Instit ute for Chinese Studies. There may have been "functional delegations" from both sides, but no "political movement", he adds.

India’s bullish attitude subsequently didn’t help. Then, of course, there’s Tibet. "The Chinese were suspicious of Fernandes for obvious reasons: his linkage to the Dalai Lama and Tibet are hardly a secret," says Ramachandran. While mouthing platitudes about bettering ties, the government allowed junior ministers to make statements on Tibetan independence. Then it let the Dalai Lama address a CII function in February despite Chinese protests.

"The Chinese wanted some concrete proof that India was sincere about its desire to better ties," says an old Beijing hand who asked  to remain   anonymous. Instead, it got conflicting signals. "Beijing was amenable to talks, but the Indian government kept deferring. When will India realise that playing the Dalai Lama card won’t help, nor does it exert the kind of pressure the government thinks it does?" asked the source. India’s chief assertion— that China’s help to Pakistan vis- a- vis its nuclear and missile programme posed a threat to India— is also under attack. "India is seen by most of its  neighbours as a Big Brother, a regional bully," notes the source. "Look at the latest defence tie- up with Russia: is it any wonder that the Pakistanis too wanted to bolster their defences?" In real terms, he points out, "the Chinese military aid to Pakistan is but a fraction of the Russian defence deal with India".

That may be true, but, warns Deshingkar: "Interaction between the Pakistani and Chinese military has grown considerably over the past decades. And the People’s Liberation Army ( PLA ) leadership is far more amenable to Pakistan’s view of India as an enemy. So if any of these PLA officers reach a position of power in Beijing..." Besides: "While China has become a major factor in our strategic and defence planning, does the same thing apply to the Chinese?"

The 11th meeting of the Joint Working Group (last year’s meet ing   was cancelled due to the N- tests) led by foreign secretary K. Raghunath may have eased the friction, but the fact that it represented a caretaker government diluted its credibility somewhat.

So where do we go from here?

"India is keen to further develop its ties with China, both economically and politically," says a government spokesman. But then, as the Chinese would say, talk is cheap.

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