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Tactical Firmness, Strategic Flexibility

Chinese policy-makers have suffered two diplomatic set-backs--one vis-a-vis India regarding the Dalai Lama and the other at the hands of the US regarding Uighur detenus

Tactical Firmness, Strategic Flexibility
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-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

During the last one month or so, Chinese policy-makers have suffered two diplomatic set-backs--one at the hands of India and the other  at the hands of the US.

The diplomatic set-back at the hands of India relates to the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese claim as their territory and refer to as Southern Tibet.

For over 10 weeks, the Chinese Communist Party controlled media and spokespersons of the Chinese Foreign Office have maintained a high-profile campaign against the visit. The purpose of the campaign was to exercise pressure on the Government of India not to allow His Holiness to go to Arunachal Pradesh. The Government of India has declined to intervene in the matter and maintained the position  that as a Buddhist leader, His Holiness was free to go anywhere in India so long as he does not indulge in any activities of a political nature. While Beijing tried to project the visit as part of His Holiness' political machinations to split Tibet from China, New Delhi politely, but firmly stuck to its stand that the visit was purely a spiritual one in his capacity as a highly venetrated leader of the Buddhists.

Now that China's high-profile media and diplomatic campaign against the visit has failed to produce results, the question is what next. Will the visit have a negative impact on Sino-Indian relations? Will it add to Sino-Indian cross-border tensions? Will China further step up the diplomatic  and media pressure on India as it sought to do against France and some other European Union countries  last year to pre-empt a movement for the boycott of the Beijing Olympics?

It will take time for clear-cut answers to these questions to emerge, but there are already some indicators to show that Beijing is keen not to allow its set-back to affect its over-all relationship with India. After a long time, the Party-owned People's Daily has come out on November 4, 2009, with an unsigned article on Sino-Indian relations, which is refreshingly positive. The text of the article is annexed.

After reviewing the over-all relations, the article says:

Generally speaking, Sino-Indian relations witnessed smooth development over the past decades, but some pending issues and unnecessary misunderstanding have plagued bilateral ties. It is of vital importance to combat various pressures and challenges through collaboration. Media from both countries should play a constructive role, creating a healthy environment to facilitate public opinion. China and India, the two neighbors with the world's largest population, are forging ahead towards peace and development, which is the common wish of both leaders and people.

The diplomatic set-back at the hands of the US related to the Chinese demand that the Barack Obama Administration should hand over to China six Uighur detenus in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre against whom no evidence warranting their prosecution on terrorism-related charges could be found. The Chinese contended that these Uiighurs belonged to the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, which is an associate of Al Qaeda. The Obama Administration politely turned down the Chinese demand and sent the Uighurs away to the Pacific island nation of Palau. It has stuck to the policy of the Bush Administration of not handing over to China Uighur suspects detained in Afghanistan on suspicion of their involvement with Al Qaeda-- a suspicion which could not be ultimately proved. Human rights and Congressional circles in the US have been strongly opposed to these Uighurs being handed over to China lest they be executed by the Chinese as terrorists.

On November 6, 2009, the Government-controlled Xinhua news agency disseminated a strongly-worded criticism of the US action in which the US was accused of connivance with the Uighur terrorists and of double standards in counter-terrorism, but this commentary seems to be a purely proforma expression of Chinese unhappiness over the US action, which will not affect Sino-American ties.

On the eve of the forthcoming visit of President Obama to China,  to which  both countries attach considerable importance, the Chinese media and Government spokesmen continue to highlight the positive in the bilateral relations without overplaying the negative. This is evident from an article on Sino-American relations carried by the "People's Daily" on November 2,2009. It has been written by Wang Xinjun, an associate researcher of war theory and strategy at China's Academy of Military Sciences.

This article, which is a review of the recent visit of  Xu Caihou, Vice-Chairman of China's Central Military Commission, to the US, has expressed satisfaction  over the developing military-military ties with the US and says:" In the post-cold war era, China has put an end to its ideological restrictions and striven to develop its cooperative ties with countries the world over on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit; China has earnestly learned from all advanced things from the U.S. with an open approach instead of following the beaten track of taking the nation as its "sworn foe". Objectively speaking, the achievements China has so far attained contain much sophisticated experience and technologies it has imported from the U.S.  In face of the current world beset with crises, any single, individual force is inadequate to cope with crisis. China and the U.S. are important countries in the world, and have unshakable responsibilities for global peace and security. Both nations should deem it their own duty or responsibility for the promotion of permanent peace and security for humanity; both should discard the cold war mentality, act in line with new principles of equality, respect and cooperation, seek the common ground while reserving their differences, reduce suspicion, and increase the mutual confidence, so as to build up a Sino-U.S. strategic partnership in the 21st century and work together to meet stark challenges facing the humanity. This could bring happiness to their people and to the people around worldwide as well."

These articles relating to India and the US bring out the dual Chinese policy of tactical firmness and strategic flexibility. This consists of tactical assertion of what they look upon as China's core interests while  not allowing such assertions to affect their strategic relationships with the two countries. 


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.

ANNEXURE
China, India expected to forge common prosperity and development
People's Daily commentary of  November 4, 2009    

During the talks in the resort city of Hua Hin, Thailand, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh agreed that the two countries should forge a strategic partnership to maintain regional peace and stability, achieve the goal of common development and harmonious prosperity. On the disputed border issues, the two sides agreed to narrow the differences through dialogue on the political principles already reached, and jointly work out a solution that goes in line with the interests of both sides. The two sides also need to ensure peace and create a friendly environment in border areas, as well as enhance cooperation and bilateral ties in various aspects.

The consensus between Premier Wen and Indian PM Singh is just like a gentle breeze, clearing up all the suspicion and misunderstanding that have hindered bilateral relations over the past decades.

Sino-Indian relations are steadily on the rise despite the ups and downs over the past decades. Leaders from both countries reached agreement that China and India would never regard each other as a threat, which served as a political foundation for the development of bilateral ties from strategic perspective.

Economic and trade cooperation between China and India witnessed robust growth, with bilateral trade volume standing at 51.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2008. India is among China's top ten largest trading partners, and China is India's largest trading partner. Two-way investment also experienced fast growth.

In military cooperation, the military from both countries conducted exchange visits and maintained regular communications, and signed memorandum of understanding on defense exchange and cooperation, putting forward the idea of regular, long-term and large-scale cooperation in terms of training, anti-terrorism as well as joint research-and-rescue operations.

The two Asian neighbors also expanded cooperation in the fields of social exchange, culture and education. In international affairs, China and India have made unrelenting efforts in tackling global economic downturn, climate change, energy security, food security, anti-piracy and anti-terrorism operations.

Generally speaking, Sino-Indian relations witnessed smooth development over the past decades, but some pending issues and unnecessary misunderstanding have plagued bilateral ties. It is of vital importance to combat various pressures and challenges through collaboration. Media from both countries should play a constructive role, creating a healthy environment to facilitate public opinion.

China and India, the two neighbors with the world's largest population, are forging ahead towards peace and development, which is the common wish of both leaders and people. 

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